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Does Your Manager Deserve More Pay?

Filed Under Human Factors

Shawn Oster had some good thought food over on my last post. I thought I would reply on a post rather than getting lost in the comments.

I’ve always thought being a manager is just another skill like writing code or being a great graphic designer…

Completely agree, however it is very difficult for many developers to recognize that soft skills are just as hard to refine as hard skills. As a result, developers have a general lack of respect for managers because they can’t relate.

In my mind this also means that managers shouldn’t get paid any more or less than those they manage. They are just a person doing their job and the pay increases should go to those excelling in their positions, great devs or managers or tech support. Organizational hierarchy should not dictate pay hierarchy.

Again – completely agree. This is where the top C-level people have problems identifying with the hard skill grunts. They have built their companies predominately on soft skills such as the ability to talk and sell, so in turn, they will always value soft skilled managers as a greater asset than hard skill developers.

I find this completely idiotic. You can have a successful company built only with hard skilled people, but a company will never survive with a bunch of talkers.

Managers to some extent are nothing more than human calender keepers. Secretaries are calender keepers. Secretaries manage one or more people. Therefore, through boolean algebra we can assume that there is no difference and that secretaries are managers and thus should make more than the hard skill workers of the company that they serve. Of course this is completely backwards thinking in a capitalistic society – but why? If companies value soft skills so much – why isn’t this true? This is why I am so confused over company structures and salaries…

One justification for higher manager salaries is that only their necks are on the line; if a project goes south it’s only the manager that loses face yet this is rarely the case and where it is true I believe it should be changed so the entire team feels like their necks are on the line.

Completely and utterly – disagree. Shit always rolls down hill. The development team always ends up taking the heat for lost deadlines. Bad estimates, lost timelines, and bugs are always the center of attention but never lack of direction, feature creep, and fuzzy project visibility. The development team may not hear it, but behind closed management doors there is always finger pointing towards cube city.

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8 Responses to “Does Your Manager Deserve More Pay?”

  1. Scott Bellware on March 18th, 2008 9:24 am

    I think that for typical bean-count driven American production and management methodologies you’ve got a point. In lean organizations where team leaders and group leaders are capable of doing the jobs of anyone they lead, and do indeed do so when necessary, the pay should be commensurate with the expectation.

  2. Max Pool on March 18th, 2008 9:35 am

    @Scott –

    My point exactly. Lean organizations normally don’t fall in this category because they are normally ultra-aware that they are carrying dead weight…

  3. SteveJ on March 18th, 2008 10:27 am

    Doesn’t effect on the bottom line have to come in here somewhere? I mean, if there’s a great Business Development VP who can bring in six new contracts in a month, isn’t he worth more than me, a rockstar developer who can only be effective on one contract a month? On paper, it seems like you need six of me to match up with one of him. It seems that bringing in the contract requires less effort than actually building the solution, so I’m sure he’s not worth six times one of me, but I’m also not sure we’re even steven on worth to the business.

    I’m a codemonkey in the trenches, so I want to embrace this concept, but maybe I’ve been warped by too much business concept exposure. I hope you can convince me I’m wrong.

  4. Ian Suttle on March 18th, 2008 11:21 am

    I’m torn on your post. I began as a software engineer and moved into a very hands on management role. I think highly skilled managers are worth their weight in gold just as are highly skilled engineers. You can’t have all of one and none of the other however I do think finding a manager who possesses both the technical and personal skills to be an effective manager is far more difficult to find than a skilled engineer. In my mind the most effective manager is the skilled engineer with extra gravy.

  5. Max Pool on March 18th, 2008 11:53 am

    @Ian –

    I am very torn over my own post.

    You will always find diamond in the rough development managers that are worth their weight in gold, but in my experience all managers were over paid and never lived up to the expectations of the development team (maybe the client side, but never the dev team).

    I guess in the end, I am hopeful that time and development evolution will fix this issue, but I am not holding my breath in this lifetime…

  6. Brian on March 18th, 2008 3:56 pm

    Although I understand the point you are trying to make, I feel there are other issues at play here.

    1. No situation is the same. Might be similar, but never the same.
    2. In the new ‘global’ world, you have to have the soft skills. If you don’t, what is stopping the soft skilled talkers from outsourcing your job?
    3. A good manager puts himself in front of the team and even when behind closed doors, sticks up for his team. This takes a lot and shouldn’t be undervalued.
    4. I disagree with your disagreement. A manager’s reputation is based purely on the success his team has. If the team isn’t successful, the manager is to blame because the necessary changes were not made in time or he/she did not manage expectation well. His next job will entail a ‘why did your project fail’ question at the interview, the programmer will say that his code was great, the project was just mismanaged. Even if the manager says the programmers sucked, he has to answer the question of ‘why didn’t you adjust your team’.
    5. See number 1.

  7. Jeffrey Walker on March 19th, 2008 2:24 pm

    Awesome topic! But you gloss over some critical ways to look at skills and pay.

    Developers have valuable skills of their craft, but then so do great sales people, great marketing people, great CFOs, etc. The craft skill, to me, is the core of the problem you raise. In other words, if the sales manager or the financial manager cannot do the craft of sales or finance better than the team, or teach them how to do it better, then they are lesser managers. I always advise aspiring managers to remember their craft skills.

    I would be careful about polarizing dev skills vs. soft skills/talkers. This glosses over the craft skills necessary to do the jobs outside of engineering or the skills necessary to be a CFO or a CEO. Put another way, if a CEO is a blowhard who can’t do shit, then your logic is valid. But in today’s world, becoming a CEO is a tall order and requires a shitload of Craft Skills, each of which is as important as writing code. [As a former programmer, I humbly claim the right to make this claim! :-)]

    Salaries are set in a market, and a little Economics might help here:

    Supply – overabundance of lower skilled QA people drives these salaries down. Scarcity of great engineering managers drives these salaries up. Scarcity of great CEOs drives salaries up. Scarcity of project managers who are also strong technically drives salaries up. Bear Stearns’ demise in NYC ruins things for everyone in investment banking.

    Demand – great developers consistently command high salaries and often through downturns because the demand remains at some level. Marketing people are the first to be fired in a downturn.

    I would add Risk to this. Sales people are wiling to put half their paycheck on the line which is why the head of sales in some companies makes more than the CEO. A sales person at Oracle may have a lower base than many developers, but the commission could end up more than doubling their base.

    Risk applies to managers. Rather than focus on engineers vs. their manager, CIOs face tremendous risk, and as a result, their turnover rate is high. They can make a ton a money, but everyone bitches about IT.

    I’ll finish with perhaps something controversial to developers. Great engineering managers are extremely valuable because if they are great, they can predictably manage complex development. Software development in spite of agile and wonderful innovations is still hard to predict. Businesses rely on predictability, and an engineering manager who has the Craft Skills of planning and managing is rare and valuable. [See Supply and Demand].

    OK, now go at me!! Thanks Max for the post.


  8. Max Pool on March 20th, 2008 11:50 am

    @Jeff –

    Great engineering managers ARE worth their weight in gold; however, what burns me is that every manager is ASSUMED to be worth their weight in gold solely for holding the position. When they fail, they can either blame it on their team or on the complexity of predicting software.

    If you have a GREAT manager, not only will they not blame the team, but they will also not be able to hide behind the fog of war because they should have transparency through management techniques that SCRUM and Agile provide.

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