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I've been working in roles between IT and business for around 10 years - the time after graduating. These include project manager, product owner for applications, business analyst and similar roles. I'm normally quite involved in the technical aspects, but I'm not responsible for the development.

I'm doing OK, but feel like it's too much organization, communication and change management than I will ever feel happy with. These jobs require you to build consensus, influence people, etc. Whereas most jobs probably do to some extent, that's the very core of being the PM for example. It tires me. I'm not a natural consensus-builder or extrovert. I've always been best when I have to figure out things myself and propose/ build good solutions.

Whereas I've always been playing with coding a bit, e.g. to automate tedious tasks, I've now spent a bit more time on that and I do seem to have the ability to learn coding quickly and to use even the little knowledge I have productively. In the last three years I've managed to add value by automating half of my work (which, however, was an exception from those I listed above - normally I don't have much opportunity to automate tasks). I was also given some technical tasks, like creating automated dashboards, in some jobs and these were the tasks in which I really excelled according to my superiors.

Coding is fun for me. I feel much happier sitting and figuring out how to make a program do something than sitting in the endless political meetings and trying to influence a stakeholder to do something.

On the other hand, my PM/ PO salary is good and I don't see how I could transition from a role that's close to IT, but non-technical to a technical role without sacrificing my standard of life. As a junior developer I would earn about 30% of my current salary. Any ideas how it could work? I'm in Europe.

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EDIT: Thank you everybody. What became apparent to me after your comments is that thinking about changing a position into a more technical one doesn't make sense.

First I would work technically for a low salary, then, if I'm lucky get promoted to do... almost exactly the same what I've been doing in my current job, getting a very similar salary to my current salary.

The example you've given of what a developer does surprised me a bit, because I've already done/ been doing all of these things, including "tedious 'why is my build intermittently failing?' [as well as investigating that for other people's code] or 'what code style rules should we use?'" and taking architecture decisions. It seems I've already moved quite far into the (technical) IT without noticing and without ever being a junior developer.

I will still want to work on my programming skills, since it gives me more independence and self-confidence while talking to "my" developers and contractors and, who knows, it may help me to make myself independent in my area of expertise in a few years.

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    Did you talk to your current boss about it? They are the ones who can make the transition easiest. – Tymoteusz Paul Apr 19 '20 at 8:16
  • @TymoteuszPaul, I don't think getting a job as a junior developer would be a problem unless because of my age (I'm in my mid-30). The question is more about how to organize the transition for it to be easiest. I was thinking about setting up something myself for example, since I don't believe companies would offer me more than a junior dev. position and these aren't paid enough for me. But there may be better solutions. Hence the question. – user4320 Apr 19 '20 at 8:24
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    So... you've not talked to your boss about it? – Tymoteusz Paul Apr 19 '20 at 8:24
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    @TymoteuszPaul, it would be like asking for a big demotion. Even if I then decided not to do that, he would think I'm not happy at the current position, in which I haven't been for long. I don't think talking to my boss is what I need to o first. – user4320 Apr 19 '20 at 8:27
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    I am so surprised by the basic assumption of this question because I have never seen a product manager or product owner reach a mid-level developer salary in my whole career. And usually, I hear product people complaining that they want to move into development because of the much higher salary. – spickermann Apr 20 '20 at 14:35
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On the other hand, my PM/ PO salary is good and I don't see how I could transition from a role that's close to IT, but non-technical to a technical role without sacrificing my standard of life. As a junior developer I would earn about 30% of my current salary. Any ideas how it could work?

You are looking for someone to take a gamble and overpay you in hope that you will in a short amount of time (I would guess one quarter) grow not just into a junior developer role, but into at the very least a mid-level one. This is a very tall order to ask out of anyone to achieve, as experience needed to field mid-level+ dev jobs cannot be condensed into a 3-months-course. You very much only gain it fighting down in the trenches.

As you can guess from that description there will be very few people who will want to roll the dice like this, especially if they have no trouble filling the same position with an experienced developer instead. But there is one person who already knows your value, you already work for them, and assuming that you are doing a good job, will want to keep you. That is your boss, and you should speak with them about your career goals, how you would like to spend more time doing some hands-on coding and so on, and so forth, very much what you've said in your OP.

It will make it very clear to them that in order to keep you happy they either have to provide with the growth you seek as a developer or deal with the fact that, eventually, you are going to leave them for a place that will give you what you need. In the end, if you are a good-to-great employee, you should be able to find a suitable employer, who instead of offering you a higher salary will give you growth opportunities.

And if you are not that great of an employee (not being able to easily swap jobs is usually a good indication) then maybe you should reconsider your plans. Something for you to figure out, as you are asking for someone to pay for your training, instead of getting someone who can already do the job, and yet you are expecting a similar salary as them. If you cannot code professionally, nothing stops you from doing code in your spare time (be it open source or contracting) and slowly gaining the experience so in a few years you will hopefully be past the junior tier.

Even if I then decided not to do that, he would think I'm not happy at the current position

They will see it because, as per your own description you are unhappy with the current position. They may even know already, depends on how close you are and how big the company is.

Coding is fun for me. I feel much happier sitting and figuring out how to make a program do something than sitting in the endless political meetings and trying to influence a stakeholder to do something.

To say that devs don't sit on those endless meetings and trying to influence someone higher up the chain is quite naive. It may be to a lesser degree than a usual PM, but it certainly is still a notable part of devs life, especially as you climb the ranks.

I also want to add a bit of side note of what developer job actually entails, as I think you may have the wrong picture due to your limited experience.

I've now spent a bit more time on that and I do seem to have the ability to learn coding quickly and to use even the little knowledge I have productively

Words said by every junior developer I've ever met, that is before starting the first job. Right now you have the benefit of picking what you want to work on, and only applying yourself when you feel like it. When you move to become a developer you will have to deal with some of the tasks you would normally pick and can figure out how to fix, but you will also have work you have no clue how to solve thrown at you, and despite that, you will be expected to deliver it on a deadline.

You should take some time and do a proper self-assessment is that a job you would still like after having to deal with less-than-pleasant tasks for extended periods of time, as enjoyable gems are generally not the workload, especially for junior devs - it gets a bit different on senior/principle level. As a PM you know what usual developer goes through the week, grab workload of one of the more junior ones and try to solve all those tickets - make a weekend + evenings exercise out of it, see how far you will get through, and how much you will enjoy it.

I spent two paragraphs explaining it because you are thinking about making a serious career change, and that's not something to do lightly.

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    Thanks Tymoteusz. But I think you're overestimating the differences between roles a bit. I've managed plenty of projects I had no idea about/ no interest in but had to figure it out. Also, I've been assigned automations to perform/ selected most time-consuming processes to automate, no matter my interest. I don't think there are many employees who can only do what they wish to do at work. I also think, correct me if I'm wrong, that most developers don't spend 5-8 h /day in meetings. – user4320 Apr 19 '20 at 10:21
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    @user4320 I spent 20 years in this biz, doing PM, PO, Sales, dev, support and whatever else was ever needed to get the project through. But feel free to ignore it. – Tymoteusz Paul Apr 19 '20 at 10:25
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    The more senior the developer the more time they spend in meetings etc. and the less time they spend coding. The last time I found myself spending a significant amount of time coding on the job my boss had me hire an assistant to do that part of my job. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 19 '20 at 12:51
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    @user4320 Just to add another anecdote: I just spent my morning, answering mails, weighing in on some architecture discussions and project ideas on Teams and will now spend the next few hours reviewing pull requests and then look over/write some concepts for clients. If you think the life of a senior dev is mostly programming you'll be sorely disappointed. Junior devs? Sure, lots of coding, but junior devs don't make senior PM money for good reason. – Voo Apr 20 '20 at 9:34
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    The OP asks how to change roles, and this post speaks almost exclusively to the question of whether to change roles. While the OP might benefit from considering the points you've raised, this answer does not address their question. – Max Apr 20 '20 at 11:44
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The best way to make this transition would be to make it a gradual one within your current job. You will need to talk to your boss about this.

First learn as much as you can. You will probably need to do this in your own time and may have some expenses. You can consider going to university but most people are self-taught.

Second take on technical tasks at your current job. Start from something easy but concrete. Something not on the critical path.

So dip your toes in where you are working now. Technical roles can be hard. I love coding and making a great product. Doing that on someone else's schedule can be draining. You will still be spending days / weeks / months interacting with people

You may have been wrapped in cotton wool with any coding done by you in the context of vendor demos and freestanding automation

So, I strongly recommend you make a gradual change where you are working now and evaluate if you still enjoy it.

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I'm doing ok but feel like it's too much organization, communication and change management than I will ever feel happy with.

As Helena says in a comment, A lot of development roles require a lot of that kind of thing, especially as you go beyond junior level - taking a development career path won't necessarily allow you to avoid it.

These include project manager, product owner for applications, business analyst and similar roles. I'm normally quite involved in the technical aspects, but I'm not responsible for the development

If you're a product owner for applications, then it sounds like you are responsible for the development...? You might not be one of the people who gets their hands dirty with the code, but then that's often true of senior people in software departments.

In the last 3 years I've managed to add value by automating half of my work (which, however, was an exception from those I listed above - normally I don't have much opportunity to automate tasks). I was also given some technical tasks, like creating automated dashboards, in some jobs and these were the tasks in which I really excelled according to my superiors.

It sounds like you are getting some opportunities to do some coding. Maybe seek out and expand these rather than going for a wholesale change of direction?

It is also possible that while you enjoy relatively self-contained tasks, you wouldn't enjoy some of the more tedious 'why is my build intermittently failing?' or 'what code style rules should we use?' problems that plague developers' lives (and often also require some of that dreaded communication to solve)

Coding is fun for me. I feel much happier sitting and figuring out how to make a program do something than sitting in the endless political meetings and trying to influence a stakeholder to do something.

Again, many professional developers probably spend as much time in meetings and trying to get the communications going as trying to figure out how to make a program do something.

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Here's one more option that I haven't seen mentioned. It's not an easy one though.

As others (and you yourself) said, making a leap like that WILL come with a pay cut, probably severe. So one possible path to take is - accept it and figure out how to live with that. This will probably be a combination of reducing your expenses (lifestyle) and making substantial savings BEFORE taking the plunge. This is doable and there are plenty of websites out there teaching you how to do such things. (As for recommendations - the one that I personally like is Mr. Money Mustache but there are plenty others. Search for keywords "early retirement", "financial independence", "frugality").

This will probably be a difficult thing to do however unless you live alone. If you have a spouse and kids, you'll need to get them on board too which can be close to impossible. That however is something you'll need to figure out on your own. I know I probably would not be able to do it, but - I have also heard of people who have and are now quite happy.

In the long run though, you should be OK - a competent senior software developer usually has a very good salary - possibly even higher than your current one. But it might take a decade or more to get there.

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  • If you are truly happier doing development work and you can financially afford to make the change I would say you would be better off in the long run to make the switch. Being unhappy at work can be a big downer for your whole life. – rooby Apr 21 '20 at 1:02
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I don't see how I could transition from a role that's close to IT, but non-technical to a technical role without sacrificing my standard of life. As a junior developer I would earn about 30% of my current salary.

In your situation it's a pipedream.

Even your success automating parts of your role is not what it may seem at first. Precisely because you understand your role perfectly after years of experience you were able to automate it using basic programming skills.

There is one suggestion that has worked for many people, although it is not mainstream. And that is to look offshore in less developed countries. In some lack of qualifications and experience makes little difference to the locals as they have no idea anyway. In my own country I would guess that at least 90% of foreigners here would not get anywhere near the roles or money in their home countries, and some would be outright unemployable in their industries.

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    Given that op is unwilling to sacrifice salary to pursue this idea of being a dev, I doubt that moving to a different country is really an option for them, but a still good idea for others, +1. – Tymoteusz Paul Apr 19 '20 at 11:35
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    @TymoteuszPaul it's not for everyone, but the pay is usually pretty high often with housing and transport paid for. – Kilisi Apr 19 '20 at 22:05
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my PM/ PO salary is good and I don't see how I could transition from a role that's close to IT, but non-technical to a technical role without sacrificing my standard of life. As a junior developer I would earn about 30% of my current salary. Any ideas how it could work?

It's unlikely you can go from a 10-years-of-experience role to a newbie-developer role without taking some sort of pay cut.

But your best bet is to look at your current company and see if there's some way to make the transition.

Talk with your manager, explain what you'd like to do, and discuss the possibilities.

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You may want to consider building up some programming experience outside the workplace. There are a wide variety of open source libraries and applications that would welcome input from someone prepared to maintain them. This experience will count!

There are sites that can help guide you to somewhere that might fit your skillset:

https://opensource.guide/how-to-contribute/

https://www.firsttimersonly.com/

And then when you do go for a programming role, you will be able to point to real life experience and feedback on your work.

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