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Your Manager Can’t Code? They Shouldn’t Be Your Manager

wagslane profile image Lane Wagner Originally published at qvault.io on ・3 min read

IT Crowd Episode 1 - Jen People Person

The post Your Manager Can’t Code? They Shouldn’t Be Your Manager appeared first on Qvault.

Managers who can’t code are an outdated artifact of corporate America circa 2005. The best managers that I’ve had spend ~80% of their time coding, architecting, or doing technical work that requires engineering prowess. If your manager thinks coding is “beneath” them then they need a dose of humble pie. Your organization would likely be better off without them.

But Managers Manage People!

There is a long-running stigma associated with developers, that we are all geeks who can’t handle interpersonal relationships. Due to our code monkey nature, we need “people people” who can go to meetings for us and communicate our efforts effectively to the higher-ups.

introverted programmers are an outdated meme

While the above is still funny, it’s outdated. As the developer community has grown exponentially in the last 20 years, so too has the personality diversity amongst its members. In other words, it is not hard to find developers with the soft-skills necessary for management positions.

Managers Should Help

I am a firm believer in the following:

While the manager doesn’t need to be the most talented developer on the team, they must at least be technically literate. When a team member goes to their boss with a technical proposal, the manager should be able to give valuable feedback.

In this study from Harvard 35,000 employees from the US and Great Britain were polled about their job satisfaction, and metrics were gathered about what influenced their happiness at work. The results showed that the single greatest influencing factor on employee satisfaction was whether or not their boss was technically competent. I practice what I preach, so at the Qvault app, all engineering leadership will forever be responsible for pushing code.

Contrast the idea of a competent boss with the all-too-familiar experience of going to a non-technical middle-management type with an engineering problem, only to be stuck in a teaching session because the boss has never heard of a pub-sub system.

Managers Need Empathy

A good manager has empathy for those who report to them. If the boss doesn’t code or hasn’t written code in a long time, they won’t understand the daily problems that their team is faced with. A good engineering leader will not only understand modern problems, but they make it their role to actively seek technical solutions in an ever-changing innovative landscape.

INB4: “So the CEO needs to be able to code?”

No, but the CTO does!

I am sympathetic to the idea that the CTO will have plenty of business and product-related work to focus on, but they can’t let their technical chops slip. In order to run the engineering arm of an innovative company, the person at the top should have a firm mental grasp on the implementation difficulties. If this just means reviewing architectural diagrams and reviewing pull-requests so be it, but nothing beats hands-on engineering work to stay sharp.

Feedback Please

Have you had problems with non-technical leaders, or do you disagree completely with my opinions? Let me know through one of my social profiles.

Thanks For Reading

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The post Your Manager Can’t Code? They Shouldn’t Be Your Manager appeared first on Qvault.

Discussion (2)

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miketalbot profile image
Mike Talbot

I really think it depends on the organisation. A CTO that isn't an engineer in a software company will have a hard time, a CTO in a company seeking to innovate a service space may not need to be a former programmer. Frankly, CTOs in lots of businesses are worried about legal compliance, infrastructure and making sure everyone can access the tools they need to make the business operate - if only a few of those tools are homegrown they may not need to be an expert in building them.

I know a fair few CTOs and there is a range of skills - "former developer" is certainly one of them. In my role as CTO, I believe I'm primarily a product evangelist and vision maker - that does normally involve a lot of architecture and technical understanding.

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wrldwzrd89 profile image
Eric Ahnell

Based on what you're saying and the cascade principle, 99.5% of the workforce fails this test at my employer. That does not seem right at all... as we're doing just fine!

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