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I've been working as the sole back end developer at a small startup for 2 years, and this has been the entirety of my software career. The front end work was all done by a similarly inexperienced part time developer, so I have no real dev team experience. I'm in my mid/late twenties. I now have a shot at a managerial/product lead job at a new but well-funded company - I'd be in charge of getting a major project completed by whatever means necessary, including hiring and contracting, and then running it or hiring someone to the position above me. I'd be the only tech guy until I hired more.

Essentially, I have no experience working in a development team but could have an opportunity to run one. I can fight for this job and, if I get it, could be in a managerial capacity for quite some time if all goes well. I'd gladly take the role and work as hard as I can, and I believe I have the capability to succeed at it. However, I have many questions about the feasibility of the role and whether it's a good idea career-wise. First, would anybody worthwhile come work with an intelligent, hard-working manager with limited development experience? Second, if the company doesn't work out, would there be any jobs for somebody with 2 years development experience and 1-3 years managing and writing a little code? Lastly, am I fooling myself that a junior developer has the knowledge to manage a team?

  • I went down the management track relatively early (but built my own team over a number of years so a lot easier method of getting there); I would pay a lot of attention to HLGEM's answer... – Ben May 12 '15 at 21:29
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First if you do this, you are moving into the management track and out of coding. It may be difficult to get back if you stay in it any length of time. Do you really want to do that? If you really enjoy coding, it might not be the best move for you.

Next, management is a seriously different skill. You will need to be much more people-oriented than a developer needs to be, you will need to understand office politics, and you will need a capacity to spend your days in meetings. You will need to be able to handle passing both good and bad news up the chain to your bosses and down to your subordinates.

You will need to have the technical knowledge to guide the team and the ability to divorce yourself from the technical and let them get on with the doing. You will need to understand the business end of things. You will need to be more aware of keeping the customer(S) happy, keeping senior management happy, meeting deadlines, etc.

You will need to be able to plan out the tasks that need to be done in a project and then make sure they get done on time and on budget. You will need to manage the people end too.

It is easy to manage a great team. 95% of all teams are not great teams. You have to deal with underperformers and people who are good at what they do but who irritate everyone around them and people with unrealistic expectations. You will have deny raises (or raises at the level they want), insist on better work habits or sometimes just plain fire someone. You may need to find a replacement for a critical person due to a suddenn resignation or personal emergency. You might to need to tell a good person that his job is being eliminated.

You will have to be able to keep secrets because managers are privy to knowlege that is not yet available to everyone else, sometimes for legal reasons. Management is not an easy path and the dealing with the people problems is often the hardest part.

As to whether you are ready? Who knows. I personally would susepct it is more in your best interest to look for a team where you can learn from a good project manager before you try for that role, but if management is where your heart lies, and the list I gave above is not daunting to you, then you might be ready.

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    Summarized my recent experiences and fears to the letter. Well written, bravo. – Luceos May 12 '15 at 17:17
  • Interesting - so you see the difficulty as coming more from the soft skills side than from the angle that the manager or lead will be far from the most experience person in the room? – pail May 13 '15 at 2:21
  • Management is about 90% soft skills. – HLGEM May 13 '15 at 13:09
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You should be extremely careful about having a manager with little to no knowledge of the department they lead. It CAN work, and sometimes very well, but only with the right people working under you and the right approach to managing.

Don't Micro manage

Developers HATE micromanagers, even if they are very knowledgeable in the trade, a manager who is not knowledgeable will just piss them off (and honestly likely create more problems than benefits)

Self motivate team

This is the critical piece. Being your limited in experience you really have to just trust the judgment of your developers. With a good self motivated team this can be effective, however; with a team of lazy or untrustworthy developers you're going to have to go entirely an baseless gut instinct on whether their estimates are fair and if they're doing honest work. (which will go badly since making accurate estimates is probably the hardest part of planning for even a knowledgeable developer, you have no choice but to just trust whatever they tell you)

Morale

As the less experienced developer managing more experienced ones you really need to focus entirely on morale and working conditions. If you try and throw your developer knowledge against your more experienced peers it will likely irritate them. Not to say you shouldn't give insight in areas you do know well, but I wouldn't push my view on others in this situation.

You can still make people happy by being a good manager. Preventing disruptions, feature creep, and ensuring the developers have what they need to be successful. Pass down priorities then get out of the way unless someone asks for help or is struggling to deliver. Make sure your developers are both properly compensated and appreciated for their efforts, etc. None of these things take any developer knowledge or experience, but with the right team will make for an extremely effective team, plus will be greatly appreciated.

Involve the team in direction

This is key, as manager you'll likely have to make choices that will impact your team where their expertise will really help. Such as who to hire, how to handle an issue, what technology to use, etc. If you've got people with more experience than you have them handle the "how hard" and "does this make sense" you work about the financial side of things. (not saying you can't be involved in the technical side of things, just if you have people with more knowledge make sure you utilize that knowledge)

Summary

It can work, but usually doesn't. If you take this on be mindful you need to be very careful how you lead or you'll be setting up you and your team to fail.

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