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Ask Slashdot: Is Development Leadership Overvalued? 252

gspec writes "I am an engineer with about 14 years experience in the industry. Lately I have been interviewing with a few companies hoping to land a better position. In almost all those interviews, I was asked these types of question: 'Have you been a leader in a project?' or 'Why after these many years, you are not in a management? Do you lack leadership skills?' Sometimes these questions discourage me and make me feel like an underachiever. I found an article in which the author talked about exactly this, and I agree with him. I think in this modern society, especially in the U.S., we overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they do not have good followers."
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Ask Slashdot: Is Development Leadership Overvalued?

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  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:23PM (#44502665) Journal

    Suit: Bono, Unforgettable Fire was excellent. We're promoting you to regional manager.

    • by anchovy_chekov ( 1935296 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:30PM (#44503405)
      It's the Peter Principle ( in action. As someone who has gradually been promoted away from I love doing, because I was a decent coder with some leadership potential, I wonder how much better my life would have been if I'd just stuck with coding.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm the opposite - I've turned down being promoted to more 'management' type jobs several times in my career, exactly *because* I would rather be doing real technical work. In my last job I was the 'defacto team leader' that everyone else would come to with ideas, looking for my input & 'blessing' that it was a good direction to go in... and the boss liked it because I kept a lot of the daily technical stuff off his plate - while he played the politics, managed the budget, etc - and I kept being a tech

  • by Mitreya ( 579078 ) < minus threevowels> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:24PM (#44502677)

    Is Development Leadership Overvalued?

    The law of headlines says the answer is always "no".

    Someone has to herd cats (er... developers). You may prefer not to go into management, but someone does need to do it. Even if some developers think that project can complete itself organically with no managerial coordination.

    • while true in the usa we have vice presidents for managers for managers for managers. All to watch a mere 100 followers work.

      People like to make fun of the unions and OSHA for the sometimes bizarre requirements, but in reality neither one has anything as complicated as middle management that corporations use.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:39PM (#44502879) Journal
      Sure, we seem to need managers. And I say "seem" because there is good argument that we don't really need them. Management, that is, in the form of full time, trained professionals who do nothing but. What we need is leaders (who can be found amongst the "Indians", even those who profess to have no interest in a management career), and coordinators, who again can be recruited from the rank and file, and which if you structure your projects well is not a full time job in any way shape or form.

      But the submitter and article aren't even asking whether or to we need managers. This is about the idiotic notion that all leaders should be managers, and that management is the only career option after senior engineer, and that there is something wrong with those whom do not choose that career path (except perhaps the few gifted individuals who become principal consultants or CTOs). This appears to be the case in most modern organizations, but if you turn away an experienced engineer just because he is happy not to be a manager, you are wasting talent.
      • In some places some of the mangers are the dilbert principle PHB's. Other places have the peter principle where you can take good tech people move them to managers rolls where they fail at in or spend to much time on the tech side.

        Also some tech people want to do the tech work and not want to push papers all day long.

      • by gutnor ( 872759 )

        Funny side effect, have you noticed that the correct answer to "where do you see yourself in 5 years" is always something along the line "not doing this shitty job".

        Also that is very much domain specific. I have rarely heard somebody saying that he would rather have heart surgery by a fresh out of school surgeon whose career goal is to manage hospital staffing in Excel.

    • Careful. This is probably why the guy isn't doing well with the management question. Schedule, estimation, project organization, purchasing advisement,... If you are experienced then you can (maybe should) pick up all this stuff without a single direct report.
    • by Zalbik ( 308903 )

      You may prefer not to go into management, but someone does need to do it.

      Someone also has to empty the trash bins at night, but they don't get 2-3x the compensation of a typical developer.

      I've worked for good managers. I've worked for terrible managers. I've worked for mostly absent managers. The one variable I've noticed that is a better predictor of success than anything else: how good is the team?

      Even if some developers think that project can complete itself organically with no managerial coordinati

      • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <.moc.secivedxelpmocpaehc. .ta. .ontods.> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:53PM (#44502997)

        The one variable I've noticed that is a better predictor of success than anything else: how good is the team?

        So we can logically conclude that Software Mangement has two very important roles that do correlate with success:

        • A good software manager knows how to hire a good team.
        • Software management positions in a company are useful as a place to put the bad people on the development team, without having demoralizing layoffs.
        • by AuMatar ( 183847 )

          A big no on #2 there. The skills that a good manager needs are different from the skills a good developer needs (although there is some overlap). Management isn't the place to stick the bad devs in- you want to put the moderate devs who have more skills in that side of things than they do in development in those roles, to maximize everyone's abilities.

        • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:56PM (#44503677) Homepage

          There are several other skills that definitely matter:

          • Knowing when and how to fire people.
          • Making sure that the engineers have what they need to do their jobs.
          • Keeping other departments from making stupid or useless or distracting requests to the engineers
          • Making sure the bigwigs know about the valuable work the department is doing so they can get raises, promotions, etc.

          Management is easy to make fun of, but there's a definite difference between good management and bad management.

          Software management positions in a company are useful as a place to put the bad people on the development team, without having demoralizing layoffs.

          Yeah, umm, I'm gonna have to go ahead and sort of... disagree with you there. The trouble is the Dunning-Kruger Effect: If the boss is a lousy developer, then he'll have no way of determining which of his employees are good developers and which aren't. If you want to keep a well-performing team from being demoralized by a bad developer, first coach, then reprimand, and then if nothing else works fire the bad developer. If you want to kill a good team, promote a clueless person, because that sends the clear message that the path to career advancement is being clueless rather than being successful.

        • Most managers inherit a team already in place, and so they only need to hire replacements. When replacements are hired, a good manager relies on the advice from the rest of the team. So this part isn't really that vital overall.

          The important things I like to see in my managers are:
          - attention to details of the projects; what release numbers are we one, who is working on what feature, what are customers concerned about this week.
          - attend meetings so that I don't have to, and run interference for me. Ie, m

    • Obligatory link to EDS cat herding video: []
  • by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:24PM (#44502687) Homepage

    It's totally reasonable for a company to have every employee in a management position within a few years, while unpaid interns do all the actual work. What could possibly go wrong with this model?

    • Yes.

      I give OP demerits for dividing the wold into Leaders and Followers. It is quite possible (and often even desirable) to go your own way, and be neither.
  • Leadership (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:25PM (#44502689) Journal
    The primary responsibility for a manager is to get your projects done on time. Say something to that effect and that you consider yourself a manager of yourself who knows how to coordinate with others, etc, and you will have no problem with that kind of question. Above all sound confident in however you answer.
    • Re: Leadership (Score:4, Insightful)

      by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:32PM (#44502785) Journal

      We always have 'project leads' that are there to help guide development on common path and to break ties between competing ideas. It is more than just telling people what to do, it is about building consensus. That's what leadership is.

      • I've always found a baseball bat or pipe wrench very useful for building consensus.

        • by CptNerd ( 455084 )
          The Jayne Cobb School of Leadership says, "the 'chain of command' is the chain I'm going to beat you upside the head if you don't do what I say."
      • Yeah, that's leadership, which is different than project management.

        Project management is about getting the project done. It's nice to be a leader, but what happens when key people quit? Who arranges to make sure different parts are done? Leadership is an extremely good skill, but management is a different but also extremely good skill to have.

        To take an example from Ender's game,
        Ender - he was an amazing leader. People would follow him anywhere because they trusted him.
        Colonel Graff - a manager who
        • Yeah, that's leadership, which is different than project management.

          Project management is about getting the project done. It's nice to be a leader, but what happens when key people quit? Who arranges to make sure different parts are done? Leadership is an extremely good skill, but management is a different but also extremely good skill to have.


          Most of the discussion of this on slashdot just shows how little people bother to actually read what they are commenting on or how clueless they are about what leading a project actually entails. Managers in my experience very rarely lead projects. They assign teams to projects under a team leader who is responsible for getting the stuff done.

          Some people need very little direction given to them and some people refuse to take direction completely, but most technical teams of 5 or so people will have

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        Yep, a lot of people have a very draconian view that a leader or manager is someone who commands down their views and slaps their underlings into submission.

        But a good leader or manager recognises they're there not to command, but to enable their staff to do their jobs. Rarely that might mean giving them a kick up the arse, but mostly being a good leader is about being knowledgeable or knowing where to find knowledge (be it the internet, a training course, or a book) to assist staff who get stuck.

        A good lea

    • Re: Leadership (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:25PM (#44503367)

      "You've been an engineer for a number of years, why haven't you decided to push paper for a living, by now?"

      Sounds an awful lot like miserably married people with children asking people who enjoy their lives "when are you going to get married and have children? Why haven't you squired out children, yet?"

      Management sounds miserable, frankly. Since when has liking the career and field you've chosen become a negative? Do we go around asking MBAs "so, you've been a paper-pusher for five years, now, how come you haven't picked up a keyboard and started coding?"

  • by titanium93 ( 839011 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:27PM (#44502725)
    Some people are Indians, Some people are Chiefs. I tried my hand at being a Chief, But I came to the realization that not only did I enjoy being an Indian, I'm a damm good Indian! (And there is nothing wrong with that)
  • ...they want to know why, after all this time, someone hasn't already trusted you to take management's side against the rank/file in the past. Trusting you to do things you might not have had the stomach for earlier in your career, etc.

    An example is being an editor - defined as the guy that walks down the hill after a battle, shooting the wounded and keeping your mouth shut about it.

    So, yes, it is an important step to get behind you as early in your career as possible.
  • Leadership value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Larry_Dillon ( 20347 ) <dillon,larry&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:30PM (#44502759) Homepage

    I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:43PM (#44502921) Journal
      The first mistake is confusing management with leadership.
      • by AcidPenguin9873 ( 911493 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:01PM (#44503119)
        I saw this picture recently and it sums it up nicely: []
        • by ndrw ( 205863 )

          This picture is brilliant, thank you for sharing it.

          I recently have been reading Strengths Based Leadership (Rath, Conchie), and though they are focusing on leaders, they talk a lot about why people follow. In general, they say people follow because of their need for TRUST, HOPE, COMPASSION, and SECURITY. A commanding/directive leader can still provide all of these things to the people that work for them, but I think it's much more challenging than a leader who is willing to roll up their sleeves and get do

        • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

          In a previous (and less enjoyable) life, I worked at a school treatment facility, where, on occasion, some of the more seriously developmentally delayed students would need assistance in the bathroom (use your imagination).

          I was fortunate enough that I didn't have to deal with this very often, but the times that I did, I always recalled the principal being willing to do exactly the same thing just a few weeks after I started.

          This all translates to:

          If you're going to tell me to do something, you better know how to do it yourself, otherwise you are simply asking me to do something, and... well... I'm kinda busy right now.

      • The first mistake is confusing management with leadership.

        And the second is like unto the first: confusing management skills with necessary talent.

        Einstein was not famous for his skills as a leader, and in fact, when offered a leadership position (first president of Israel), he turned it down.

        He "led" by virtue of being a respected voice in the scientific community, but that's not the same thing as having the ability to get others to do the work for you.

    • by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:54PM (#44503021) Journal
      I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

      I don't think you answered what the FP asked. Yes, truly great leaders have an immeasurably large benefit to an organization. A great leader can take a run-of-the-mill team and get top-notch results out of them... I didn't think much of Steve Jobs as a human being, but if I had ever had the chance to hire him to lead a project/team/company for me, I would have done so in a heartbeat.

      But does everyone need to try to lead? TFA makes an excellent example with Jane the furniture-maker - Jane did well because she kicked ass at making furniture, not at managing people; moving into a leadership role actively hurt her company's productivity and the quality of its output. I would say the exact same thing about my own programming skills - I love programming. I eat, sleep, breathe it. In my free time outside work, I write code for hobby projects. At the same time, I have zero interest whatsoever in telling other programmers what to do, or filing paperwork that talks about programming, or trying to explain to complete non-programmers (aka "the board") for the fifth time this year why they can't have a complete in-house replacement for Win7 by next week, no matter how much the CFO didn't like his new laptop that came with Win8 on it.

      So I don't think the FP meant in any way to minimize the value of good leadership; rather, he wondered why our culture shuns people who simply strive to do to the peak of their ability.
    • by Princeofcups ( 150855 ) <> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:17PM (#44503265) Homepage

      I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

      That's the response that I expect from the majority of Slashdot, but I have to disagree. The concept here is that it's us (the developers) verses them (management). We've all been burned by bad management, and is more the norm than the exception. But a good leader/manager, with technical skills, can be worth 100 engineers. How do you ask? Well one engineer can only do the work of one person. But having 100 engineers working on a project that is pointless, has no potential, has no value, that is a waste of 100 people. A good leader is one who gets those engineers working on worthwhile projects, playing interference from those trying to sabotage it, and make sure that the result is complete and used properly. These leaders are few and far between, but you know the names of those with successful, groundbreaking, and influential products. We use them every day. And those would never have come to being with even the best engineers working without direction and constant interference.

  • Yes and NO (Score:4, Informative)

    by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:30PM (#44502761)

    Being a good programmer/engineer/admin/etc.. does not indicate that you will be a good leader. It is two separate skills, and two separate ways of thinking. The military has had "leadership" schools for a very long time for just this reason, and most private sector companies do also. It is much harder to lead a squad of riflemen than it is to be a riflemen. Driving and motivating others requires different psychology than driving and motivating yourself.

    The question I think you are trying to get answered is "How do you prove leadership abilities when you have not been assigned such a job title?" In this case, play on what you have done. Lead team meetings in the managers absence, set up training courses for our level 1 people, built wiki pages for new products and worked with engineers to ensure support, etc... If you have done nothing like those, I would doubt your abilities to lead too.

    I have been in the business for 25+ years, much of that being a team lead role. To the people that ask me why I have not been a manager, the answer is simple. I love the technical work more than I love the political skills required to be a good manager. I love writing the tools and pulling out numbers much more than I like to present them to the audience. It's fun for me to teach people, not fun for me to be responsible for them.

    • Re:Yes and NO (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:24PM (#44503353) Journal

      I'm in similar shoes. I am a creative individual who wants to stay in the creative field. I have no interest in being a people-manager, balancing time off requests in the schedule, and having spreadsheets open all day.

      This isn't because I cannot do that job. Instead it is because I have no interest in doing that job.

      The OP gives the questions: '(1) Have you been a leader in a project? (2) Why after these many years, you are not in a management? (3) Do you lack leadership skills?'

      My answers are: (1) I have been a leader, but I have not been the manager. I prefer to create and innovate rather than monitor schedules, balance time off requests, and ensure others are working. (2) I am not in management because I prefer creating things and the creative process over the process of herding workers. And finally, (3) Leadership and management are different tasks; I can lead and mentor others, but I am not interested in management.

      Of course if the OP was applying for a managerial position, there is an alternate take. He might consider answers like: (1) I have been a leader but not a manager, management is always pyramidal and up until now I was content with being a producer; now I'm interested in managing people. (2) I am not in management because in the past I wanted to be a producer. Now I'm looking to stop doing engineering work and start managing people, schedules, and tasks. (3) Leadership and management are different skills; I have never been a people-manager before, but I have been a leader and brought many projects into existence.

      • What do you do if you haven't been a leader or are just not good at it? Depending upon how that's defined, some companies want every employee at every level to be a "leader".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      . It is much harder to lead a squad of riflemen than it is to be a riflemen.

      There are many squad leaders, but there are few elite snipers.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:30PM (#44502763)

    >> Why after these many years, you are not in a management? Do you lack leadership skills?'

    That sounds more like what you might hear from your parents around the Thanksgiving table.

    >> Have you been a leader in a project?

    That sounds more likely. Every top programmer I know, regardless of social ability, has had the ability to answer "yes" to this. Even if they were the kind to back away from formal management responsibilities, a guy who's been coding for 14 years should have had a couple of experiences where he just stepped up as said, "look, I don't want to run the team permanently, but either you follow my lead on X or we'll all fail" by now. (If they haven't, no, I don't want them on my team.)

  • My strengths are in development, not managing people. I'm a good team player, but I'd rather play Short Stop than be the team manager/coach. I've not found the right team leader that wasn't really "manager with poor pay" to accept, or I would have more team leader on my resume. In practice, I'm "team leader" in almost every job. I'm good at my job, and others come to me for help/support.

    The problem isn't your resume or experience, but your interviewing skills.
  • As a software engineer with 30 years under my belt, I'd answer "I find doing the work and solving the problems far more rewarding than managing a team". Being the software lead is fine; I've found that being management doesn't do it for me.
    • Yup, I am in the same boat. Management didn't work for me, it seemed like a thankless job with little pay or benefit advantage. The politics are rough as well, not to say that politics in development aren't rough as well. I try and be as agnostic as possible, I write code better than anyone else. Give me a project and a deadline; walk away and trust me to deliver, that's what you're paying me for... I don't care about politics, that's what your getting paid for.
  • by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:35PM (#44502825)

    "I haven't taken a leadership position because I don't want to. I like being a developer, not a manager, and I want to stay as close as I can to the work."

    It's not a bad thing to assume that, in 14 years of work, you would acquire skills that you'd be able to pass on to others. You'd naturally assume a mentorship position, with leadership organically flowing out of mentorship. But that doesn't have to happen, and as long as you convince the interviewer that a lack of desire for leadership doesn't have to correlate with a lack of desire for work, you should be OK.

    It's a hostile question, sure, but those come with the territory in looking for a job. As with most other hostile questions, the best way to disarm it is to politely disagree with the inherent assumption.

    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:08PM (#44503171) Journal

      I would argue that any senior developer must have leadership skills- if you think your ideas will be taken up by other members of the team based purely on technical merit, you are sadly mistaken.

      • A developer can convince the manager, then the manager can convince the team. Of course some developers may want to promote their ideas to someone else directly (ie, badgering), but it should never be required as a skill. If you're great at it then great for you. If it's required of me then I'll go back to being junior again.

        Now there are some companies taking this too far. They want the senior developers (senior merely meaning years of experience) to actually be submitting software patents regularly, t

    • But that doesn't have to happen, and as long as you convince the interviewer that a lack of desire for leadership doesn't have to correlate with a lack of desire for work, you should be OK.

      Unfortunately it is far from OK. Refusing a position of leadership almost always means earning less. Leadership is important, but so is technical work. The problem is not in giving value to the former, but in giving far more value to it that to the latter.

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:37PM (#44502857)

    Not being unsympathetic, but if after 14 years experience in industry you've never held a position of responsibility, then there is probably a reason for it.
    Look into that - which you can do better than any of us here - and reflect upon it.
    Then you can explain it well in the next interview...

    The problem seems to be that you're looking for a "better position" - good - but maybe without realising that these days everyone is told to hire "potential" as well as immediate competence.

    Right or wrong? I don't know, but that's the way it is.
    Will be hard to get out of your rut without making some kind of effort...
    You could perhaps get involved with a non work-related activity which shows leadership & responsability; coaching kids football, military reserves...
    Or do a part-time MBA :)

    • Your idea leads to putting in management everybody that has any potential and leave just the incompetent ones doing the work, and that is why you need so much people to do so little these days...
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      Not being unsympathetic, but if after 14 years experience in industry you've never held a position of responsibility, then there is probably a reason for it.

      Great. Not only that we have the confusion between leadership and management on the table, let's add the "responsibility/governance" one on top of it and the things will be as clear as mud
      (hint: any member of a team has the responsibility for the part of their work).

    • People don't get offered positions of responsibility if they don't actively seek them out. It can often be inferred if someone wants the new manager job or not without asking.

      "Potential" does not mean leadership! Becoming a manager is not a promotion. "Potential" can mean that the person will work out and help out with the tasks assigned as well as being adaptable to new tasks and being able to work well without supervision. If a company is hiring all employees based upon whether they would make good fu

    • but if after 14 years experience in industry you've never held a position of responsibility,

      ... I develop OBOGS. I'm responsible for keeping fighter pilots from asphyxiating, dying, and crashing multi-million dollar pieces of equipment. It's mission critical. And if that damn warning doesn't go off they have no idea they need to manually switch over to bottled air and everything goes to hell. I sign for that. I'm responsible for it.

      Sorry for throwing all professionalism aside, but claiming that anything other than management isn't a "position of responsibility" is bullshit. Fuck you.

  • Good project leadership is invaluable. What IS overvalued is assuming that whether you've had the title or not qualifies you for a leadership role.

    I've run across many great project managers who weren't technically the leader on the project, and just as many "leaders" who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. Sadly, neither is usually visible within a one hour interview. Especially in this day and age of debating titles and buzzwords rather than actually just talking to people

  • Where I work, a government scientific organisation, you can be promoted according to either skill or responsibility, at least to a point. So there are instances of someone supervising half a dozen people, several of whom are employed at the same level as the supervisor. The management path is a bit easier though, and promotion on skill alone pretty much tops out at the level equivalent to supervising half a dozen people.

    A friend who works at a large company said that they had two promotion paths too: manage

  • As Scotty told Geordi, "Don't ever let them promote you. Engineering is where it's at, baby." Or, something like that. I'm an embedded systems engineer with 10 years in the field, and I have absolutely no desire to ever move "up" into management. Sure, I've been the lead on projects, but I always want to have a hand in the development.

    Those who can't do, manage.
  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:44PM (#44502925) Homepage

    Unskilled labor has the greatest disparity between the value, and the cost, of labor and management.

    Skilled labor, like data entry or bricklaying, has a somewhat lower disparity.

    Specialized labor, like software engineering or acting, compensation ratio runs from something like 10X one way to about 10X the other way.

    Many companies in software engineering have high end software engineers who also understand business managing their software engineers, in which case the manager is usually paid more. Some have high end business people running the developers, and the manager gets paid more. A lot, though, have project managers who are actually doing the management of the programmers, and they get paid less.

    It is still common in software engineering, in the project manager case, for there to be a high end software engineer or business person as the formal manager. That person gets paid more and is above the software engineer in the org chart, but the day-to-day task management is done by the project manager.

    So, in short, if you want to get paid more than your tactical effective manager, go work someplace that has project managers.

  • The right distinction is between people who do something and people who don't do anything. Managers can be terrible leaders and do nothing but have "responsibility". A good coder can lead by what he creates in software and ideas. Often managers and architects just don't do anything other than sit between the executive function and developers and translate. But in a dev organization think about productivity in a day if no managers showed up vs. one if which no developers showed up.
  • It takes talent and/or training to lead a technical team, let alone larger groups. That's a skill that some companies are desperately searching for.

    It's worth taking some training and trying the leadership/management track. If you're not good at it, or not happy at it, that should be OK. The problem, though, is that in many companies these days, experience as a developer is not valued. There's the view that developers/engineers are "plug replaceable resources" that they can get for lowest price.

    If you'r

  • by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:53PM (#44503007)
    Our company, and I'm sure many others, have two tracks of equal 'level': engineering and manager. So as an engineer, you can be junior, regular, senior, principal or lead. Once above this level, which is already pretty high, is a Director. Manager track is junior manager, regular, senior, Director, VP, etc.. So it's very possible to be a principal engineer, but 'higher on the ladder' than another manager. I'm sure many other companies also value their engineers and other technical people as much as they do managers.
    • Also, it's not because you're not a manager that you're not managing. I'm sure a programmer with 14 years of experience must have designed some systems, worked together with other people where he had to direct and/or manager, explain implementation or tell other people how some pieces of the software should be implemented etc... In short, being the technical lead for some projects. That's the kind of things you need to answer to questions like 'why have you never managed?'
  • There are a couple key reasons for overvalueing management
    1 Management key job is to make you do your job for the least amount of pay. This tends to make them avoid rockstars.
    2 Management don't like indians being paid more than them. It happens but if you listen to their conversations behind the scenes they bitch madly about this behind the scenes.
    3 Management overvalue themselves because they are managers.

    Your response should be
    1 I don't enjoy management, I enjoy development etc
    2 With self motivated ......

  • by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:55PM (#44503039)

    The problem isn't leadership, necessarily. The problem is who is attracted to leadership roles.

    It's a job that pays more, for less actual work, doesn't require keeping up to date on the latest and greatest tech, and is transferable to basically every sector. You can manage an IT shop or a machine shop, without any knowledge of coding/scripting or how to operate a CNC Machine. And if things go wrong, deadlines slip, code comes out half baked... you can shuffle around the blame on poor workers below you, and upper management above you.

    Management also stresses politicking and shmoozing over any quantifiable skills or abilities. Are you a good manager? Bad? Who knows? A good Indian can make a terrible Chief look good, and vice versa. And if that terrible Indian got the job because his/her parent works for the company in an even higher management role, well ...

    Management also attracts corruption. Or perhaps it's just the power that corrupts, but either way I've seen more than my fair share of managers direct purchases of hardware X over Y because they have a family member who works for company X. Or simply because a friend uses that brand. Regardless of any tangible reasons, technical or monetarial. I'm sure we've all seen the nepotism rampant in certain fields, and in certain companies specifically. (anecdotal : there's a rather large chip manufacturer here in San Diego that will remain nameless, but might have a football stadium named after them : during new-hire orientation, they out and out asked "how many people here have a friend, family member, spouse, etc working for the company that got them this job," to which nearly the entire room raised their hands)

    All this adds up to managerial roles that reward lazy, corrupt, blame-shifting, individuals. Not in spite of these traits, but directly due to them. And we wonder why sometimes management roles seem overvalued.

  • You're misunderstanding the question about leadership.

    What they're actually asking you is 'Can you work overtime for free whilst delivering a steady 120% of output and wipping (i.e. "leading") our 5 other underpaid junior developers to do the same?' The talking down about 'lack of leadership' is an attempt to make you insecure and coax you into doing another extra few years of goodwill of being paid as a regular but doing the extra "leadership" work for free and be thankfull for the opportunity, even though you're experienced enough to know better, i.e. that it will lead nowhere other than into your next burnout.

    I basically get the same stuff too in recent years - I'm 43 now, so everybody knows I'm old enough not to be bullshitted with crappy pay and goodwill promises anymore. It's a carefull balance of using my experience to my negotiation advantage and not scaring the employer away. (more details on that at the bottom)
    Allthough my portfolio and my recommendations are so pimped out that they dare not ask me about lack of leadership experience directly, they try to put me down/cheap me out using other means, such as rather addressing me with informaly (in German) than formaly - which basically mount to 10 000 Euros/year less in salary ("We're all buddies here and we've got foosball tables too ...") or attempting to keep a straight face whilst noting that I don't have an academic rank (Note: I *do* have 27 years of programming experience and 10+ successful project in my field).

    I've recently moved on to tell people right away that I want to work part-time (1/2 or 3/4ths of an occupation) for the equivalent pay, thus curbing stupid questions about "leading" (50+hrs/week for 40hrs pay). You get a little less money, have way more free time and don't have to put up with stupid questions, outrageous expectations, shitty production pipelines, dumb PMs, asshole co-workers, pointy-haired bosses or tickets that come in 20 minutes before closing hours.

    In my last interview ws the first time I actually flat out told the employer that I'm not interested in foosball tables or party events and that I simply want to come to work, do my work, get paid, maybe bring in my experience if it is requested and mutually benefitial and otherwise go about my life. And low and behold, right now it looks as though I'm going to join the team. A team of fifteen, with aprox. 5-7 regular devs and no versioning in place and a lead who's nice but is so backwards I would let within 10 yards of any project ... gee, am I glad that that is not my problem.

    My 2 cents.

  • Age discrimination (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:00PM (#44503109) Homepage

    The question has nothing to do about leadership and everything to do about age discrimination. What they're getting at is they won't hire you for typical skills (Java, C#) because they can get someone else younger and cheaper. They would be willing to pay more for a manager, but guess what, they're not actually hiring any managers because they only promote from within.

    The way to beat age discrimination is to do all of the following:

    1. Change jobs in a good economy
    2. Have niche skills
    3. Interview with people who are older than you and/or have more degrees and qualifications than you.
  • Leaders are needed but above manager, I think they are over compensated these days.

    By almost 100%.

    Hopefully when the employment situation tightens up in 2016 on wards, the shoe will shift to the employees.

  • The key disparity here is that you are assuming being a "leader" on a project means you were a project manager or officially managing others in some formal fashion. I don't think that is what any of these interviewers were asking. You don't have to be in an official leadership role to lead. It could be as simple as leading by example, or it could mean that others look to you for guidance or direction. Did you ever take any extra initiative to accomplish something new or particularly challenging that no
  • Self worth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:11PM (#44503197)
    The best teams that I have ever seen were almost leaderless. Typically the "leader" was someone much higher up in management who would be given regular presentations and they would then be the sanity check to make sure the project wasn't going off course.

    Often the key programmers were damn good and while not project managing would apply project management skills in discussions where features were prioritized etc.

    Typically the worst teams had a very structured and detailed leadership org-chart. Junior programmers, Senior programmers, project lead, project manager etc.

    Often the managers in these situations had become managers through 3 routes. One was seniority, where they had just put in a bunch of years and then one day they were managers. Were those good years or bad years, nobody seemed to care, did they have a knack for leadership, nobody seemed to care. The second route was they were horrible horrible programmers and just moved into management as a way to not get fired as terrible programmers. And the third were refugees from other departments. They would close the call center and suddenly the call center manager was in charge of development. These last managers were usually the worst. The skills that served them well were usually all political and cunning. Thus they saw all smart programmers as a threat. Some programmer might actually want to manage, would take a course from the PMI and were fired in 3 seconds.

    As I said, the best managers were often barely managers at all. They knew exactly what they wanted and that was the bulk of their management style. They would repeatedly ask, "Are we making progress to what I want?" Then they would look at everything, cut through the technobabble and either be happy or not. But the key here is that they knew Exactly what they wanted. This is only a shade different from the aloof manager who sort of knew what they wanted. Those projects turned into a pile of sick in the first week. The goalposts would move daily with feature requests being a classic game of buzzword bingo.

    I witnessed a moment that would be hard to replicate; a project had failed around 5 times over as many years. So the head of marketing temporarily took over the development department of around 20 programmers. He said, "You can form into teams of any size and you don't have to have anyone on your team you don't want. Also there is no seniority. So if the two newest guys want to form a team then fine. But whichever group makes me happy before September(5 months) will form the core of a new programming department and I will lavish a bonus on you that will make my top salesmen jealous. Also if I hear any complaining you can clear out your desk. And again, your goal is to impress me. Not anyone else in this company. If someone tells you that you are doing it wrong tell me and I will tell them to clear out their desks."

    A team of 4 guys (all with Junior programmer titles) won in just over a week. My favorite complaints from the largest group of soon to be ex-employees (9 were fired) was that there wasn't any documentation, the wrong language was used, and that their coding wasn't to company standards.

    So to answer the original question. Often the worst companies are looking for someone to pigeonhole into their complicated org-chart; while the best companies are looking for someone who will fit into their squad. Most companies are crap at development BTW and don't seem to care.
  • Leadership is about being able to obtain power to make the decision, the art of making the decision, and either through admiration or intimidation getting others to follow your in that decision. Is it about getting yourself to the forefront of a large band of lemmings and being able to, if you so choose, getting them to follow your straight off the cliff.

    Whether your decisions are good or not is fucking irrelevant.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:16PM (#44503255)

    Managers are a much derided group today. The reason is the way American managers are trained and developed. Poorly. And with little recognition that the skill set is something that you can't develop working as a line employee. Yet it really is critical to the success of an organization.

    Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine illustrates an example of good management.

    Gregory Peck's role in 12 O'Clock High is also a good example of effective management.

    Leadership, on the other hand is much over-rated.

    • by dbrower ( 114953 )

      Gregory Peck's role in 12 O'Clock High is also a good example of effective management.

      Leadership, on the other hand is much over-rated.

      Only if one believes in the mission above all else, including personal sanity. That's a pretty doubled edged example, there, Mr. Conspiracy! (Which is why it's a great story and film.) And I think most people would rate it as leadership first, management second. It's the General above Savage who is doing the managing.


  • If by "development leadership" you mean people with 'manager' or 'leader' in their job title, then it is vastly overvalued (and overpaid) relative to the actual value it adds to the endeavour.

    If in contrast you mean true leadership in the sense of motivating and inspiring those under your authority, then I guess I can't offer an opinion because I have never experienced actual leadership in any development job I have held.

  • by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @06:20PM (#44503299) Journal

    After close to fifteen years of experience, it is a reasonable expectation that a competent developer has enough experience to contribute to a team effort. IT is very much a technical trade. There is an expectation of a master / apprentice style of relationship between senior team members and their junior counterparts. It is strange to have fifteen years of experience and not having demonstrated some quantifiable leadership traits.

    You are at the point in your career where you are going to hit a salary cap if you do not want to step up and be a bigger contributor to the teams you are a part of. I know guys in that position and they are comfortable there. They are making six figure salaries and are okay with the trade off between a smaller paycheck and not having to deal with all of the project management and personnel / mentorship expectations that come along with leading teams.

    Leaders are over valued because there are so few of them. Good leaders are hard to come by. There are plenty of people in leadership positions who should not be there. There is an old saying, "The person who wants the power the most, is the last person who should be trusted with it." There are plenty of people with degrees in "management" who do not have experience with the work the team they are managing is doing. In IT, those people are deadly. They have no idea what it takes to really get the job done, because they have never done it, do not know how to do it, and do not have any interest in learning how to do it.

    Look at yourself. You do not have, or do not seem inclined to manifest, leadership attributes. There are a lot of people like you. A lot of followers who want others to lead. I just hope you are not the kind of follower who complains about other leaders, without being willing to be a leader yourself.

    I moved into a management position after thirteen years in the trenches. I now have a staff of three (and growing). I provide guidance and advice to the CIO, and to IT staffs at Fortune 50 corporations. At this point in my career, my experience and ability to articulate in why the company needs to pursue a given IT initiative is significantly more valuable than my ability to push buttons, develop scripts and deploy a specific technology. My ability to vet vendors and see through the smoke and mirrors because I have enough successful implementations under my belt is more valuable than my ability to implement a given technology.

    Management sucks and it requires some specific skills to deal with the levels of suck inherent in management. There are so many "leaders" who cannot even meet deadlines, or develop project plans, or articulate what their team spent the last week doing, and what they will be doing for the next week. There are plenty of leaders who say YES to everything because they cannot understand risk or do not know how to define the scope of a project.

    Given your nearlly fifteen years of development experience, if I were looking to hire you, I would expect that you have been on enough teams to know what works and what does not. I would expect you to be able to run a team. I would expect you to be able to setup a source code repository. I would expect you to be able to manage an SDLC. In short, I would expect that you can do more than just crank out good code. What else are you bringing to the table? What good habits are you going to impart into the rest of the team? If your answer is, "I am going to show them how to sit in a cube, do their jobs and not contribute beyond that." the odds are I am going to pass you over for someone else who wants to be a senior level employee.

    I was once told that a good leader empowers their employees, and then gets out of the way and lets them do their jobs. Can you help the people who you work with be better at what they do? If you can, grow a pair of balls and step up to the table. If you cannot, accept it and focus on what you are good at.

    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      One more point here... " I think in this modern society, especially in the U.S., we overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they do not have good followers."

      This has been the opposite of my experience. I was promoted into a leadership role because I was so good at what I do, that I was doing it 12+ hours every day and getting burnt out. I got to the point where I said, "Either find me some help, or I am leaving." At a good company,

    • This: The person who wants the power the most, is the last person who should be trusted with it.

      The skills needed to acquire power are not the same as the ones needed to exercise it properly.

  • Everything new is well forgotten old. Try to read Murphy's laws, Peter's principle, etc... []
  • by sstamps ( 39313 )

    "We overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they are not also good followers."

    In my experience, the best leaders are the ones who want to lead the least. They make the tough decisions, then get the hell out of everyone's way and get back to work getting the job done.

    It kind of goes back to what someone said earlier in the comments.. the best chiefs are found amongst the indians.

  • The question "why aren't you in management? do you not have any management skills?" I can honestly say, I tried that, spent a few years at it, and I don't like what it does to me. You know Merrill's personality types? I'm a Driver - Driver. I tend to pound the table. I deliver ultimatums, and follow through with them. In short, as a manager, I'm an asshole. Make no mistake, I will get things done, but in a surprisingly short amount of time everyone will hate my guts, including me. So tried that, di

  • More leaders = more entertainment.

  • "Well, do you want an average manager or a world class programmer?"

    Quite seriously, I don't understand that "need" to get into some sort of "management" position. We have a few programmers who reach the 50s soon, one of them reached it. None of them would be good managers if you ask me, yet they probably have a higher salary that most of our middle management idiots, and with good reason I may add.

    Put people into jobs they're good at. Why should I stuff someone who excels at understanding problems and break

  • At that point in the interview, I'd respond:

    *Shrug* No. I don't like telling people what to do, and I suspect I'm not good at it. NB this doesn't mean I lack social skills. I can work with people; I just don't want to lead them.

    Surely it's not hard to explain? It's how most people feel, after all.

  • The question you have to resolve is what do you consider a better position? If it is becoming a C-level executive (I always giggle at the C word), then you need to follow the management track, understand Machiavelli and practise fake smiles and insincerity.

    If you want more interesting or independent work, the interviewer asking you those questions has told you all you need to know about their company. Smile, say thank you, take a doughnut and leave.

    Try to remember, you are a valuable prize to any compan

  • point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they do not have good followers.

    Hence why they want good leaders... cause the company you're interviewing with obviously has incompetent management and is bound to fail. A good leader knows he needs to build a team, and a team with good members, skill-wise and culture-wise. Most teams out there are just plain dysfunctional. And that's why business love military guys as managers--they can built a team out of anyone (in most cases).

    FYI, 98% of companies

    • Also, yes, leadership is overrated, cause who owns the podium? The leader/managers.

      If the workers owned the podium, guess who would be overrated then? Scrum teams come to mind (cough/flamebait/cough)

  • Do you lack leadership skills?


    There's nothing wrong with that. If all lead, who follows? Or, with more brass tacks, if all wear suits, who works?

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham