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The Illusion Of Technically Competent Managers

Filed Under Human Factors, Software Process


The role of technical manager is inherently flawed by nature.

It is insanely rare that you can find someone who is both technically competent and has the people management skills to accomplish this job – so already you are working against the odds. Jurgen’s recent opinion that most software developers are utterly unqualified for such a position, although it comes off a bit harsh, it is probably just as valid a statement as saying that most people-only managers are utterly unqualified to manage technology.

Now, this is why I believe that the technically competent manager is as magical or mysterious as the Loch Ness…

The attrition rate of your understanding and skills is directly proportional at the rate of which your environment changes. This isn’t like building a bridge, bridges have been the same for thousands of years, thus being promoted to a bridge building foreman it would be safe to bet that your last 20 years of bridge building knowledge will suit you just fine until retirement.

This logic just does not hold true in technology. Although you may have an opportunity to code, you are not coding enough to really understand the quirks and turns that a particular software niche contains as it moves and grows.

Even roles such as being an architect take you away from the basic skills that have caused the promotion. These are all very flawed roles by nature.

Perhaps I have been reading to many Zen or Tao books where the core message is to be truly great at something it must be the single thing that you do. And from that perspective the technical manager will always be flawed since it is two roles in one.

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8 Responses to “The Illusion Of Technically Competent Managers”

  1. Luke Melia on May 26th, 2008 7:30 am


    I think there is an opportunity to address this problem for agile teams. I wrote up

  2. Dew Drop - May 26, 2008 | Alvin Ashcraft's Morning Dew on May 26th, 2008 7:58 am

    […] The Illusion of Technically Competent Managers (Max Pool) […]

  3. Mike on May 26th, 2008 2:07 pm

    So what’s a possible solution?

  4. Arjan`s World » LINKBLOG for May 26, 2008 on May 26th, 2008 2:14 pm

    […] The Illusion Of Technically Competent Managers – Max Pool So there’s no hope for devs… glad that Max agrees in that software building is *not* (I repeat *not*, did you hear?) like building a bridge, an example that was even given again by a speaker at Microsoft DevDays 2008 […]

  5. Dominique on May 27th, 2008 12:25 pm


    don’t yout think that technical manager should resemble generalizing specialist? As Scott Ambler wrote in his famous article: “…someone with a good grasp of how everything fits together”.

  6. Max Pool on May 27th, 2008 1:03 pm

    @Dominique –

    Good question, and to be honest…I don’t know.

    Sure having someone who knows how the boxes and arrows are aligned is valuable, but does it make them skilled to manage the people building the boxes and arrows?

    If a “true” technical manager is impossible – what is the best runner-up? A generalist, a non-techie people manager, a technie non-people manager…what?

  7. daniel on June 3rd, 2008 8:23 am

    I do not agree that both concepts of technical and manager are totally diametrically opposed.

    This question is not limited to just software, consider a medical consultant or registrar who has a great overall understanding. However they may not be aware of the latest techniques, they have a team to do this for them. The same holds true in biological and medical research

    A software technical manager who has done all the technical stuff before and can quickly grasp the concepts regards new and evolving development techniques is a good bet.

    A must for a technical manager is the ability to build and maintain a very good team that is good at the specific technical roles.

  8. Ben on June 11th, 2008 4:20 pm

    That was a very cool way to explain this concept!!!

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