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I have been in my career for 16 years and I've hit a ceiling where my skills as a developer make me more attractive as a hands on developer than as a development manager. I have successfully lead teams in the past as a "pseudo-manager" where I have mentored/trained/managed project and team responsibilities, but I was still expected to take on daily coding tasks.

Truth be told, I don't think I'm as effective a coder as I was 5-10 years ago when my eagerness compensated for my limited experience. On the other hand, managers look at my experience and knowledge and would prefer to keep me as a tactical asset rather than strategic. When looking for direct hire positions as a manager, the majority of the jobs have a hard requirement of a degree and/or PMI certification. I don't have my degree and PMI requires a certain number of years as a project manager to even sit for the exam. I guess my question is how do I take my career beyond being a code slinger?

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    Will probably be better served by: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/12887/it-careers-training ... – Karlson Apr 13 '12 at 20:09
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    If you think your skills are worse than 5-10 years ago then it sounds to me like you don't do enough self improvement in your free time. Despite what other people say with the work/life balance thing, it is the very, very rare job indeed that you can learn enough only on the job to continually grow your career and keep improving upon your skills. If you were really learning as you should then you should be a way better developer now than 5-10 years ago. You should be getting a lot more functionality accomplished in far less time. If not, then you've been neglecting your skills. – Dunk Apr 19 '12 at 21:33
  • @Dunk It's not that I haven't been improving, believe me I'm the biggest advocate of self-improvement. It's just that coding 40 hours a week just doesn't interest me anymore. Like I said, I'm more interested in decision making/directing ("the bigger picture") than being chin deep in code. – Michael Brown Apr 30 '12 at 12:40
  • @Dunk -- you bring up an excellent point -- that in the SE field, no on-the-job experience will keep you afloat for a prolonged period of time regardless of how awesome the opportunity is and comprehensive in terms of technology. however, that brings another question and that is: with technology evolving so rapidly, is the field of SE too high maintenance to keep yourself competitive, leaving you too little free time for leisure? In a field that evolves less rapidly, you have to spend less free time honing your skills. – amphibient Sep 27 '12 at 21:40
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If you are looking at the project manager direction, taking the PMP exam without the years as PM qualifies you for the CAPM. This then gives you a few years to get the "in the saddle" experience as a project manager. You may find your local university offers a project management course that meets the project management training required for the CAPM.

To get the degree requirement dealt with, you may want to look into first acquiring an associates degree from your local community college, then leveraging that to a 4 year degree at a later time. Most counties have a community college, and most community colleges offer evening classes, some even offer online courses. Many colleges only count courses 7 years old (or less) towards a bachelors, while the associate degree will "lock in" the first 2 years of school. This will let you take evening classes at a more leisurely pace suitable for someone with a family. I don't know about your state university system, but here in Colorado (and in my previous state of Florida), the state universities have to admit you (as a transfer student) if you have an associates from a community college in that state. So for older students who have to work and support a family, the community college to associates to state university to bachelors route is the most practical approach to getting that degree credential.

I'm an older software developer, and I don't really want to get into managing, so I'm working on a different degree (this won't be my first bachelors) to get credentialed in a different field.

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There are multiple career paths for developers. Project Management, functional management, software/system architecture, and senior development roles.

Project Management and functional management, like Development Manager, Team Lead, and CTO, are the management positions, with project management being more about managing project success and functional management being more in-line with team success, both tactically or strategically.

I've heard of developers heading into system architect roles, which is really just a senior level technical position that doesn't involve people management as much as it does determining the overall architecture of large systems.

Senior development roles are more like the position that you're in. Management likes people like you because you can use your experience to solve complex problems. While technologies do change a lot and you may feel like your coding skills aren't what they were in the past, the concepts behind problem solving are fairly static.

I've seen senior developer roles where the senior engineer was more independent, like a sole developer on a one-person team. A position such as this could be a great perk for an experienced developer who doesn't want to move into a management-type position, yet he/she still doesn't want to have the same type of hands-on management that a junior developer might face.

You might consider talking to your managers and finding out what your options are; they don't even have to be formal. If you're indeed a valuable person in the organization, they'll find a position for you that both utilizes your skills while also keeping you engaged.

Finally, a degree can help you break through this ceiling that keeps you from progressing. Consider discussing with your employer to see if they'd be interested in helping you obtain your PMI. It's not clear which path you're most interested in, but expressing your interest either way may at least let you know where you stand.

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how do I take my career beyond being a code slinger?

Change the job. Either within the same organization, or move to a different company. There are no ways around.

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PMI's years of experience requirement isn't necessarily PM-work, but years that you have been doing project-related work. This means that you can count contributions you've made on other projects towards the goal. If you've been doing project-related coding for the past 15 years, I'd be willing to bet that you have enough project-related experience to sit for the PMP exam.

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The biggest obstacle if you want to reboot your career like that is that it almost always involves accepting a pay cut for a few years as you build your experience in the new area. Remember that a considerable part of your current salary is probably based on your experience as a programmer. That doesn't necessarily help you as much in a different role that doesn't involve programming.

If you are open to taking a step back to take two forward you should be able to make the transition.

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