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Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation?

66 replies on 5 pages. Most recent reply: Jun 29, 2010 11:09 PM by robert young

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Anand Krishnaswamy

Posts: 1
Nickname: eroteme
Registered: May, 2010

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 29, 2010 8:31 AM
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<p>I think there are couple of aspects to this discussion. I think it centres around being genuine or contrived. If the career planning is being done for the sake of the organisation or for the sake of some certification, then it is pointless. If it is focused on the employee, then it does make a lot of sense. Several people need direction and discussing what one does and can do in the future makes sense to a lot of people. It is perhaps best earlier on in one's career. With 10-15 years into the industry, one probably laughs it off, as a seasoned chef would laugh off measurements in a recipe (or even following a recipe). For a greenhorn, it is useful.</p>
<p>Hence, as long as the career planning is genuine with the true intention of providing direction so that an individual can bring out the best in him/her and also align these things with an organisation's goals, it is fine and welcome.</p>
<p>Career planning means different things to different people at different stages in their career. If not formal planning, then even a mentoring relationship with the seasoned folks in the organisation might suffice (where you learn and grow by watching). I think there is nothing sissy about wanting to plan something out and it is usually those who don't like carrying a map or asking for directions who would brush off all planning as kiddish.</p>

Cameron Purdy

Posts: 186
Nickname: cpurdy
Registered: Dec, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 29, 2010 11:19 AM
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The real question: Why would anyone want to get promoted out of software development?

Peace,

Cameron Purdy | Oracle Coherence
http://coherence.oracle.com/

Andy Dent

Posts: 165
Nickname: andydent
Registered: Nov, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 30, 2010 4:11 AM
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@Anand
> Several people need direction and discussing what one does and can
> do in the future makes sense to a lot of people. It is
> perhaps best earlier on in one's career. With 10-15 years
> into the industry, one probably laughs it off, as a
> seasoned chef would laugh off measurements in a recipe (or
> even following a recipe). For a greenhorn, it is
> useful.

That's a good point, maybe the steps in those earlier years need factoring into smaller increments.

I'm reading Pragmatic Thinking and Learning which talks about the Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition: http://www.google.com.au/search?q=+site:pragprog.com+dreyfus+model and I highly recommend it.

Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 30, 2010 11:03 AM
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> I'm reading Pragmatic Thinking and Learning which
> talks about the Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition:
> http://www.google.com.au/search?q=+site:pragprog.com+dreyfu
> s+model and I highly recommend it.

I don't like its appeal to magic, wizzardry, intuition and all that. At some point one has to grow beyond reason into plain nature or the realm of enlightened Zen masters. The mystification of expertise looks much like an artefact of hierarchization to me. Somehow one needs an upper limit and this starts to grow into a mythical being.

On the other hand I do quite understand why you cite this and I sympathize with it far more than with the normative career ladder. Maybe a little mystification isn't too bad at least not as a form of public relation :)

Krisztian Sinka

Posts: 30
Nickname: skrisz
Registered: Mar, 2009

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 31, 2010 4:55 AM
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> The real question: Why would anyone want to get promoted
> out of software development?

As a manager he/she would earn more?

Cameron Purdy

Posts: 186
Nickname: cpurdy
Registered: Dec, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 31, 2010 12:28 PM
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> > The real question: Why would anyone want to get promoted
> > out of software development?

> As a manager he/she would earn more?

Unfortunately, the very attributes that define great engineers also define horrible managers. Promoting from engineering into engineering management is too often a waste of both engineering talent and a pox on those who will then be managed.

This is one of the things that Oracle does well: The decision to stay in engineering (at least theoretically) does not negatively impact salary. It thus helps to prevent the situation of good engineers becoming bad managers.

Peace,

Cameron Purdy | Oracle Coherence
http://coherence.oracle.com/

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 31, 2010 3:22 PM
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> > The real question: Why would anyone want to get
> promoted
> > out of software development?
>
> As a manager he/she would earn more?

This Keeping Up With the Joneses approach to life (the archetypal middle class treadmill), is what promotes group think; the willingness to bend to any directive to (hopefully) acquire more coin. Group think can further devolve to yet more evil expressions. I'll leave it to your understanding of history to know what some of those were.

If making more money is what one seeks, life insurance salesman is quite lucrative. Any sales job for that matter will finance a higher lifestyle than doing software development.

If the goal is to do the work that pleases you, the money isn't especially relevant, modulo spouses' desires for trinkets.

In any case, you assume that the manager class is more valuable than the productive classes. A dangerous assumption.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 1, 2010 10:19 AM
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> Unfortunately, the very attributes that define great
> engineers also define horrible managers. Promoting from
> engineering into engineering management is too often a
> waste of both engineering talent and a pox on those who
> will then be managed.

I have to disagree with you on this. The pox of my career (and my peers) is that almost no managers have any concept of what is involved in our work and therefore don't understand that development isn't just technical typing. And (on a side-note) why wouldn't you outsource such a tasks to the lowest bidder?

You asked "Why would anyone want to get promoted out of software development?". I'd turn it around to say why should someone have to leave development to manage? As others pointed out, there are many professions where deep understanding of the work being done is considered a crucial job requirement for management. It's only in the last few decades that this idea that engineers/developers can't be managers has come about.

My father was/is an engineer (thermodynamics) and has been managing a department full of engineers for decades. He's always deeply involved with the work but he's "not afraid to hire people that are smarter" than himself. When I used to do work with the Army Reserve Corp of Engineers, all of their leadership had engineering backgrounds. We actually caused a big fuss when we had an authorization message stating that 'managers' were not 'engineers'.

Could you explain what these qualities are that you believe prevent engineers from managing.

Cameron Purdy

Posts: 186
Nickname: cpurdy
Registered: Dec, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 1, 2010 9:56 PM
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> > Unfortunately, the very attributes that define great
> > engineers also define horrible managers. Promoting from
> > engineering into engineering management is too often a
> > waste of both engineering talent and a pox on those who
> > will then be managed.

> I have to disagree with you on this. The pox of my career
> (and my peers) is that almost no managers have any concept
> of what is involved in our work and therefore don't
> understand that development isn't just technical typing.

Please keep in mind that there are bad managers just as there are bad programmers and engineers. Just because some spineless a$$-kisser becomes a manager doesn't mean that all managers are spineless a$$-kissers, even if statistics would largely disagree with me.

> And (on a side-note) why wouldn't you outsource such a
> a tasks to the lowest bidder?

I wouldn't. In the 10 years since founding Tangosol, we haven't lost a single product team member, and the only out-sourcing we've done tended to be more expensive than our own people (but well worth it).

> You asked "Why would anyone want to get promoted out of
> software development?". I'd turn it around to say why
> should someone have to leave development to manage?

Don't confuse managing with leadership. Many great developers are also great leaders. But leading and managing are two different things.

> As others pointed out, there are many professions where deep
> understanding of the work being done is considered a
> crucial job requirement for management. It's only in the
> last few decades that this idea that engineers/developers
> can't be managers has come about.

I'm only a few decades old ;-)

Just because I'm arguing that the attributes that define great engineers make for poor management doesn't mean that I don't believe that engineering managers shouldn't be technical. Au contraire! There are great engineering managers who are not technical, but their work is so much harder because of their lack of technical understanding. Some good engineering managers whom I know were engineers but always showed a knack for management (much more so than for engineering), and thus moved in that direction; as such, they had good technical understanding that enabled them to be good managers of engineers.

> My father was/is an engineer (thermodynamics) and has been
> managing a department full of engineers for decades. He's
> always deeply involved with the work but he's "not afraid
> to hire people that are smarter" than himself. When I
> used to do work with the Army Reserve Corp of Engineers,
> all of their leadership had engineering backgrounds. We
> actually caused a big fuss when we had an authorization
> message stating that 'managers' were not 'engineers'.

My father is a mechanical design engineer (now retired). He complained of a few too many bad managers himself. Personally, having a job in "management", I can attest to the incredible difficulty of being a good manager (I personally consider myself a rather poor manager, which is why I work with a few people who are good managers that I can delegate all the real management responsibilities to ;-)

Managers, when they do their jobs well, are working for the people who report to them. They are enabling those people to deliver value to the customers and thus to the organization. A good manager is worth his/her weight in gold, or at least silver or copper, because they provide an environment within which "doers" can "do".

Managers act as conduits of information and decision trade-offs to a larger organization, and a mechanism for prioritization (and diligence i.e. execution management and follow-up) for the priorities and deliverables of their team. Done properly, they both help to enable the larger organization to consume the fruits of the labor from their team, while simultaneously helping the engineers in that team to reach their own potential.

> Could you explain what these qualities are that you
> believe prevent engineers from managing.

Great engineers are focused to the extreme. Some might call them "anal retentive" and consider it an insult, but I would suggest that it is actually a compliment. Attention to detail. Consiceness. Bloodhound debugging. Insane attraction to correctness and perfection. These things are attributes of almost every great engineer I have the privilege of knowing.

Managers are typically hobbled by these same traits. The term that comes to mind is "micro-management", i.e. an engineer's approach to management.

So to your earlier point, engineers can (and often must) be great technical leaders within an organization. But that does not make them great managers.

To be clear, there are some great engineers that are also great managers, but management is typically [unfortunately] a full-time job, just like engineering is a full-time job.

At any rate, I welcome the discussion.

Peace,

Cameron Purdy | Oracle Coherence
http://coherence.oracle.com/

Bill Pyne

Posts: 165
Nickname: billpyne
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 2, 2010 9:41 AM
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The old refrain that good developers make poor managers is too simple. My experience is that few good developers make the transition. The handful I've run into were actually good managers from an empathy standpoint. Effectiveness at getting what their teams needed did vary, which is more a function of social savvy within the particular organization. Larger organizations require more social savvy and not all people are cut out for it.

The poor managers I've run into were also poor developers. Frankly, they didn't seem to even like the field but stayed in it (I guess) for the relatively good pay.

Cameron Purdy

Posts: 186
Nickname: cpurdy
Registered: Dec, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 2, 2010 10:04 AM
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> The old refrain that good developers make poor managers is
> too simple.

Generalities are just that ;-)

> The handful I've run into were actually
> good managers from an empathy standpoint. Effectiveness at
> getting what their teams needed did vary, which is more a
> function of social savvy within the particular
> organization. Larger organizations require more social
> savvy and not all people are cut out for it.

I would agree with this.

> The poor managers I've run into were also poor developers.
> Frankly, they didn't seem to even like the field but
> stayed in it (I guess) for the relatively good pay.

I haven't witnessed poor developers becoming good managers, so that part makes sense, but I have seen good developers become poor managers. Repeatedly. Hence the generality.

Peace,

Cameron Purdy | Oracle Coherence
http://coherence.oracle.com/

Bill Pyne

Posts: 165
Nickname: billpyne
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 2, 2010 11:24 AM
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> but I have seen good
> developers become poor managers. Repeatedly. Hence the
> generality.

I've only seen 2 cases in which this was true. In both cases, I have no firsthand knowledge that they were good developers, just a hunch. In the first case, the guy lost interest in the field early on but didn't get out before family and mortgage took hold. The second case is a guy who couldn't let the joy of creating something go. He is a bit of a micro manager and isn't totally effective at getting the resources his team needs.

I certainly can see how the transition, from producing something to enabling others to produce, could be extremely difficult for many developers. But, I'm not willing to generalize into a statement that "good developers become poor managers". Individuals can surprise you.

(The danger of generalities is that they can form a prism through which you evaluate the world around you.)

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 2, 2010 12:17 PM
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> Please keep in mind that there are bad managers just as
> there are bad programmers and engineers. Just because some
> spineless a$$-kisser becomes a manager doesn't mean that
> all managers are spineless a$$-kissers, even if statistics
> would largely disagree with me.

There's plenty of that going on but it's not really what I'm talking about. I've see a lot of managers of IT and software development who fundamentally misunderstand what programming is. They aren't necessarily bad managers, it's just that the axioms they base their logic on are inconsistent with reality. An example of this is that I see a continual push to remove general purpose languages from IT departments based on the idea that simpler tools will make the job easier. In fact it's more like giving someone only a screwdriver when their job requires cutting 2x4s to size.

> Don't confuse managing with leadership. Many great
> developers are also great leaders. But leading and
> managing are two different things.

I know the difference. I've worked in environments where the leaders and the managers are different people (I work in one now.) It doesn't work nearly as well as when the leaders are the managers. I think that people want to believe it's just as good because it is more convenient than trying to get technical people to learn how to manage.

> Just because I'm arguing that the attributes that define
> great engineers make for poor management doesn't mean that
> I don't believe that engineering managers shouldn't be
> technical. Au contraire! There are great engineering
> managers who are not technical, but their work is so much
> harder because of their lack of technical understanding.

I would say it's so hard that most consistently fail, in my experience. And the idea that bad developers should become managers is a punchline. I don't think it's a good idea at all.

> Managers, when they do their jobs well, are working for
> the people who report to them. They are enabling those
> people to deliver value to the customers and thus to the
> organization. A good manager is worth his/her weight in
> gold, or at least silver or copper, because they provide
> an environment within which "doers" can "do".

I don't see that modern management is much different from what I do as a engineer. Contemporary management is about designing systems that allow people to work efficiently. A lot of my career has been as an analyst. I take a broken process or system, identify the flaws and fix them. I see a great overlap between this and management.

I think a lot of people (including managers) confuse 'management' with 'personnel management'. Personnel management is definitely a part of management but it is only a part of it.

> Managers are typically hobbled by these same traits. The
> term that comes to mind is "micro-management", i.e. an
> engineer's approach to management.

This is a problem that many managers have. It's really a matter of trusting your people. I'm looking at management as my career path not because I have an intense desire to be in charge (as is often the case but a different discussion) but because the problems that I have and that I see many others having cannot be solved technically. They are management level issues even though management often sees them as technical. In other words, many managers think their technical people lack technical ability when in reality management is making it impossible for their technical people to succeed.

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 3, 2010 10:40 AM
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We should distinguish managers from Managers.

Managers (cap) are similar to general officers; they determine the strategy and encompassing tactics.

managers (lower) are lieutenants who are told, "take that hill, and I don't care how many men you lose". Some will sacrifice the entirety of his troops with poor tactics (and may get the hill), while another will protect his troops to the loss of the hill, and there will be a few who take the hill while losing only a few men.

In between, strategy is reduced to ever more fine grained tactics by lower level Management, with attendant responsibility.

In the IT world, the general officers are most often Managers who know little, and couldn't care less, about what IT is, only that it is something which supports the overall organization. A general who doesn't know the naughty end of a tank, but knows he has two armoured divisions; in the real world, not as likely to occur, but you get the idea.

The managers (lower) that have been discussed here, fall into the lieutenants' type. In both milieus, this lowest level of management may, or may not, have authority to devise tactics of his own choosing. In military, likely not; at best, he can pick from a small menu. In business, lowest level management which behaves at odds with the group-think of Management (no matter the quality of the outcome) is soon removed. The notion that managers are judged by results is fantasy. Managers are judged by how well they adhere to the group-think of Management.

For example, it's clear (to me, anyway) from the reporting that BP management on site insisted on BP Management's insistence. They were just following orders. Lousy orders, but lucrative if nothing goes wrong. Lousy plan, from a military point of view, in that it had no contingency. But costs are socialized, so it is no skin off BP's nose. And likely won't be in the end. Too Big To Fail. Just watch.

The overriding goal of Management is to attain Too Big To Fail status, sometimes known as monopoly power. The rearing of managers to Management is the inculcating of that ethos. Or, as Jimmy Carter said, "the fish rots from the head".

Is there any reason, then, to strive to enter the management ranks? Only if $$$ is the most important thing in life, and personal integrity the least. So, to answer the title of the thread, yes Career Plans do damage; but said damage is irrelevant to the goals of Management. Or, perhaps, orthogonal.

John Zabroski

Posts: 272
Nickname: zbo
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: Jun 3, 2010 11:31 AM
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As Tom Wolfe quips, a "scene-by-scene, saga of the eyeless trying to march the clueless".

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