Thursday, June 21, 2007

How I made the jump to technology manager

My first experience as a manager was horrible, and I swore I would never be a manager again, convincing myself that lead programmer was the be all and end all.

I eventually made the permanent jump to manager purely by accident. As a lead developer who mainly worked alone coding, I was always tagged along by a Project Manager on client meetings and projects. As we grew, I soon got sent to clients without a PM, and had to assume that role, copying what I had seen the PM do. Not even on-the-job training, more trial by fire. I coded 50% and project managed 50%. I can't say I was great, I stumbled through it, losing one client along the way. But I made it through because I communicated frequently on what was going on, and asked for lots of help when I got stuck.

My next experience was hiring and leading a technology team at my own consulting company. Managing people was way different (for me) than managing projects. I squeaked by getting the job done, but I had no touch for the "soft side" of managing people. In hindsight, I wouldn't have enjoyed working for me!

It wasn't until I got the CTO title that I started realizing that my success was dependent on supporting my team to succeed. I also realized that being a good technologist didn't translate into being a good manager (step 1 in 12 step program?). I started soliciting (and listening to) feedback on what I was like as a manager, from everyone. I made mistakes, slipping back occasionally into my lead programmer ego, but at least I was aware of these mistakes, and able to modify my behavior each time.

When learning as a technologist, I was downloading, practising and mastering new technology (think Trinity in the Matrix just before she pilots a helicopter). A difference between my technology and management experiences is that I learned technology from just a few mentors, but learned management from everywhere and everyone. And I realized management wasn't about becoming a master, but a permanent student!

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