Developer To Manager: What Makes A Great Tech Leader?

13 November 2019

Director Vs Developer 1 I Stock 1127886924

​In tech, effective leadership is essential for keeping focus and achieving commercial goals. But skilled developers don't always make strong (or willing) managers. In fact, Google ranks 80% of tech managers' 'key skills' as non-technical. So who makes the best tech leaders, and how do you find them?

We think it’s fair to say that most software developers share a few career goals – a desire to work in a role involving technology, in an innovative, forward-looking company. But when it comes to their feelings on progressing to management, feelings are mixed. 

Research from the Stack overflow report suggests that developers are divided on their own career plans, with around 33% aspiring towards management, but 25% saying they’d rather steer well clear. And the more professional coding experience people have, the less likely they want to be a manager. Put another way, developers are more likely consider management earlier on in their career (perhaps when they don’t know what’s involved – or at least what the cynics might say). 

But what does this mean if you’re an employer hiring for your technical team? You’re certainly going to need technical talent in the group, but also the right leadership skills to keep them on track. Here’s how to get the balance right. 

3 tips for getting the most out of your team:

1) Don’t fall into the old trap. Your best developers DON’T always make the best managers

The story often goes like this: There’s a team of developers that all work together on projects. Time and time again, one member of the team excels. They’re writing the best code, with the least bugs, in the fastest time. Their delivery can’t be faulted. So, they get promoted, tasked with motivating the team, setting priorities and negotiating with other stakeholders. The only problem is – the skillset required for their new role is totally different to their old position, and they struggle. And herein lies the error: Sure, managers need to be able to code, otherwise they’ll quickly lose respect from the team. But they don’t need to be the best coder in the room. Promotion should be on leadership potential rather than technical skill. 

At least that’s what Google found, when they set out to analyse what makes a great manager. Through detailed research, they came up with 10 key factors, 8 of which were soft skills based. So  when assessing promotion opportunities, it’s better to look for qualities like a desire to coach others, the ability to see the bigger strategic picture, and those who aren’t afraid to address conflict - rather than your best coders. 

2) Reward and retain excellent technical experts (the individual contributors)

One of the key reasons why developers leave jobs is a lack of progression in their current role. For those more concerned with progressing to technical excellence than climbing the management ladder, it’s easy to get bored if the right structures aren’t in place to ensure they are being challenged and learning new skills. Therefore, the best companies will have two career paths for technical staff; one for those looking to take the leadership route (to technical lead or engineering manager), and another for those looking to become technical specialists like senior software architects or consultants. Giving them regular time for technical professional development can be one way to do this. This way ensures that both aspiring managers, and talented technical experts are happy. Both types are valuable - you don’t want to lose them. 

3) Identify those with leadership potential, then train them to be awesome managers

People with a natural flair for leadership are often leading before they’re actually in a leadership role. To give them the chance to shine, and to help grow them into the technical managers of tomorrow, give aspiring managers the chance to lead on a project, taking more responsibility for business reporting and coaching others. Ideally this should be done in a structured way, starting with an open conversation at performance review meetings to discuss an individual’s career aspirations. If they see themselves as managers, give them the training and the chance to explore this in bite size chunks to see how they fare. Some might even decide management isn’t for them, which is also fine – better to realise this before they’re in management. 

Are you hiring developers for your team? Or even looking for a talented technical manager? If so, Pentasia can help: we specialise in placing technical staff across the igaming, fintech and wider digital space. Contact us here to find out more.