I am a development manager with a 20 years experience. Unfortunately my tech skills have gone soft. I try to pick up a tech project at work but I get distracted by the fire of the day and usually drop it. I am getting quite frustrated. My group has some Java, .Net and other technologies and I have tackled some minor development tasks in the past, but nothing substantial. The reality is that I want to jump and take on a large piece of development but I cannot disrupt my developers as the team is under the gun to deliver. I keep thinking that I can work on something outside of work, but family life gets in the way.

I am just curious if anyone else has dealt with this and how they addressed it. Also, what technologies would be best to learn? Things are changing so rapidly and it is mind boggling. I was going to start with getting my Java legs (Spring MVC) under me and then go from there, I hear a lot about JavaScript frameworks (Angular, React, etc.) and Big Data. Where is the best place to be?


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    Voting to close because this has all the makings of a popularity poll. The real question is: why do you feel the need to? If it's just as a hobby it isn't workplace related. If you want to brush up on low-level programming "innovations" (read: buzzwords) then that's largely wasted effort for someone with your experience. Why not just ask one of your reports to prep a demo during downtime? – Lilienthal Jan 21 '16 at 8:58
  • I disagree with the assessment of my question. I recently sat in on a meetup group for a volunteer technical organization. Many of the folks there are between opportunities and were desperately trying to sharpen skills. This is a relevant concern for folks in a management position where they get distracted by day to day issues and lose touch with the tech. Buzzwords are not enough. You need to understand it enough to guide your team and assess if they are going into a rat hole. – user2344442 Jan 21 '16 at 13:34
  • I'm not sure I understand your argument or even the basis of your question. Technical managers typically stay up to date by following what happens in their field at a high level. They might not be able to program in the latest new technology but they know what its strengths and limitations are. Non-technical managers don't need to know, they have technical managers that report to them. But whatever your reasons, your question is still ill-defined, as evidenced by the drastically different answers below. – Lilienthal Jan 21 '16 at 13:43
  • You ask about Java and (AngularJS). I doubt that many use both, so which does your team use? The best answer is probably to get involved in open source in your spare time, or a potentially money making side-gig, using the same technologies as your reports. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 18 '18 at 13:12

I think you may tackle your situation wrong. It is understandable that you want to go back to programming (it is fun) but maybe you should more focus on skills you need right now for your current position.

The tech skills of every manager will become outdated after a while. If you stop programming and focus more on leadership and managing this is a natural course of events. The question is: Is this a problem?? If you ask me: No. On your way up the corporate ladder you will leave behind some tasks you did and you will learn new ones. You can not do everything. The better approach on that topic would be delegation. If you are not sure if a certain framework will fit to a task at hand, ask the ones that do programming for a living: your developers.

If you feel that there is no one you can ask, you may make yourself smarter by reading articles. this is a very theoretical approach and you will have to ask your peers if the impression conveyed in the articles is right, but this will enable you to point your team in the right direction.

It may be hard for you, but your time as a manager should be spent with managing. Others do the programming for you now. You are the capitain, you have to steer, not to row.

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    Well, that looked more like spam than I meant, let's try this again: Great answer, exactly what I wanted to say, I also was going to link to this – deworde Jan 21 '16 at 9:16
  • Yes and the amount of direction you give as a manager often depends on a familiar you are with the technology. If you don't know anything about a particular framework your management style has to soften a bit and you have to trust your programmers to make the right technical decisions because they are the experts. – The Cat Jan 21 '16 at 11:24

I found the best way for me personally and the best in terms of relevant work was to go through the developers code and try and make sense of it. It gives me better depth on products that are actually meaningful in terms of my work and brushes up my own meagre skills at the same time.

I learn quite a lot this way and in rare instances get to surprise the developers with some intelligent insights.


You're a manager now, not a developer. As much as you might want to keep up with the latest technology, it's just not possible to do that at more than a basic level and still do your job effectively. A better idea is spend your learning time on things that will make you a better manager. For example, it would make more sense, career-wise, to become an expert in something like Agile. That will be a lot more valuable to you than learning Java Spring.


If I remember correctly from the Spotify engineering culture video's their line managers work for at-least 50% in the same role as their subordinates do.

Work in the team

So this is also what I suggest you could do, work with the team for 50% of your time. Make clear which days or parts of the day you will contribute, so they can depend on you. This will help your skills, help the team to meet their deadlines and as a manager you will truly understand what is holding the team back. Its a win win win if you ask me. To get yourself up-to-speed quickly start pair-programming with the team until you can work on your own towards the teams goals.

Wonder if you are not a manager based on the Dilbert principle, maybe the team doesn't really want you to develop. :)

The Dilbert principle refers to a 1990s theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.


  • Thanks for the quick and high quality responses. You have all given me something to think about. I must admit that when I look at software management jobs and they want experience with Java or .Net I wonder if they want someone who can code or someone who understand how to guide the team. – user2344442 Jan 21 '16 at 13:28
  • Good managers do not have 50% of their time to devote to programming One of the worst things you can do as a manager is continue to program. You cause delays in the rest of the project because you are not concentrating on your actual job and doing the fun stuff or you get bogged down in management stuff and cause delays on the piece you are programming. Managers should not code. – HLGEM Jan 21 '16 at 15:51
  • Personally I do not believe in dedicated managers, those managers are people making decisions while having the least knowledge. That is why I referenced the Spotify model, since they use a totally different approach when it comes to line managers. People managing other people should understand what those people actually do on a daily basis. Managers managing developers should code from that perspective. – Niels van Reijmersdal Jan 21 '16 at 15:55

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