Can a Manager Be a Techie and Survive?

Computerworld recently ran an article titled “Can a Manager Be a Techie and Survive?“ In it, the author presents the view that it is the only way. I agree with her up to a point.

In both my opinion and the author’s opinion,

those who manage techies must have a blend or managerial skills, business smarts, top-notch technical skills and integrity in order to be effective.

In almost all cases, I think this blend is 100% crucial, but it is also important to get this blend in the right proportions. Having a manager that has a break down like this:

  • managerial skills - 5%
  • business smarts - 5%
  • top-notch technical skills - 70%
  • integrity - 20%

Is just as bad as having one that looks like this:

  • managerial skills - 55%
  • business smarts - 15%
  • top-notch technical skills - 10%
  • integrity - 20%

One of the issues that comes to play in this situation is that a large number of managers were former techies themselves. While being promoted to “manager” is usually viewed as a good career move, not all techies are capable of being managers. Some of them just want to be techies and that is how they manage. There is a great book written for developers who find themselves being managers called Herding Cats by J. Hank Rainwater. I highly recommend it.

At some point, however, as you progress up the management ladder you will reach a position that demands you to be a manager rather than a technical manager. I’m talking about those positions that are at the VP and Director levels (and higher). These positions are no longer about the technical realities of how to get the project done…they are about the logistics of how to get the project done and how it needs to integrate with the other product offerings and the overall strategy of the company. At this level, it is still important to be knowledgeable at the technical level but you shouldn’t be expected to still be a “techie”.