From Developer to Manager: Navigating the Transition

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Developers who have refined their skills often want to take the next step in their careers. For example, developers with field experience in perfectly implementing UI design specifications to websites, those with a solid background in back-end services, and experts in building life-changing products are all working toward advancing their tech careers no matter the field they work in. Many times, they show interest in transitioning from a developer role to management. They start to consider how to secure these opportunities, adapt to the changes, and fit into the role.

Does this scenario describe you? If so, then keep reading.

In this post, you’ll understand the difference between an individual developer’s role and a manager’s role. We’ll also discuss the steps to follow on this path and how to fit into this role.

Dev Interrupted, a podcast from LinearB, is a fantastic resource for senior engineers who are looking to move up. In each episode, you’ll learn specifics about industry movers and shakers. The site has some helpful blog posts about moving into management as well.

OK, let’s get started with our big-picture look into becoming the best manager you can be.

Understand the Difference Between a Developer and a Manager

First, let’s cover the basics.

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What Does a Developer Really Do?

The responsibilities of a developer are demanding yet straightforward. You develop, implement, and improve software products or projects in the organization. This means you spend most of your time writing and improving code. Also, you attend meetings with the IT team to discuss ways to improve product design and implementation.

As a developer, your priorities are:

  • Ensure the project UI/UX designs are perfectly implemented.
  • Handle system testing and validation procedures.
  • Work closely with other developers, UX designers, and business and systems analysts to ensure software tools, processes, and metrics are properly deployed.
  • Observe quality assurance procedures to ensure the team meets all project requirements.
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What Does a Manager Really Do?

As you rise higher within the company, your responsibilities differ.  Becoming a manager is more like a total career change!

As a manager, you’re responsible for setting the overall direction for the team. You make sure the team meets or exceeds its goals and objectives. The other members of the team rely on your abilities to be analytical, detail-oriented, and decisive, with strong people management skills.

As a manager, you must understand the organization’s goals on a deep level. This knowledge comes in handy as you plan, communicate, encourage, advocate, compromise, and process.

As a manager, the team’s growth shows the impact you’re making. This lets you track performance and report it to stakeholders. Sometimes, you’re run off your feet. 

Now that we’ve discussed the basics, let’s talk about how to move up.

First Steps to Take on Your Way to a Management Role

Whether you’re seeking an internal promotion or a job at another organization, it’s vital to prepare for the path you’re about to take. To get started, research the engineering aspects of the project—how the system functions. Also, if possible, become active in the organization’s planning and administration. 

1. Understand the System 

A manager should have an in-depth understanding of the organization—especially its goals and projects. This knowledge puts you in a better position to give updated responses to questions and champion innovative ideas. You’ll have a better idea of what you should prioritize. And you’ll be able to contribute to meetings more productively. 

2. Volunteer

Volunteering comes with so many benefits: growing your network, learning new skills, and even advancing your career. As you move into management, volunteering can accelerate the process by helping you gain experience in the field.

Volunteering gives you a chance to learn and practice teamwork, empathy, and people management. You’ll further develop your  communication skills and your interpersonal skills. Of course, your technical skills are vital. But volunteering gives you the opportunity to develop the soft skills that many company leaders prize so highly.

For instance, many companies have annual conferences that require planning and organizing. When you volunteer for parts of these events—either as a moderator, marketer, or mentor—you indirectly improve your soft skills.  

3. Generate New Ideas

Tactfully suggesting improvements is a great way to capture the attention of your superiors and other team members. 

4. Be There in the Early Stages

When possible, be present in the preparation and planning stages of projects. This gives you insight into how the project is likely to play out. Also, you’ll be able to suggest ways to implement the project.

5. Mentor Others

Volunteer as a mentor to junior staff or interns. Also, help onboard new team members or facilitate meetings. All of these will slowly introduce the idea that you aren’t only developing software—you’re involved in planning and directing as well. The goal is to equip yourself for the actual role and to make your team members believe that you’d make a superb manager.

6. Connect With Other Managers

Even after you land a management position, keep a collaborative mindset. You can connect and interact with other managers outside your company through Discord, SlackLinkedIn, or Twitter. This gives you a chance to ask questions and learn from others’ experiences. It also opens the doors to new opportunities and a robust network. Just remember to keep your company’s sensitive information private.

7. Invest Time and Effort 

As a manager, you’ll likely be in constant communication with team members. Be prepared to be on standby to make decisions, give support, motivate, and provide oversight to every aspect of the organization.

Now that you’ve thought about preparation, let’s talk about transition.

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Taking on the Manager Role

When transitioning from a developer to a management position, acknowledge that you’re on a totally new path. Your role comes with a great deal of accountability and responsibility, and others will expect more of you. Here’s how you can smooth out that transition.

1. Equip Yourself With the Right Tools

As a manager, you’ll have access to information that would usually have had little or no meaning to you when you were a developer. You’ll see spreadsheets, data, algorithms, budgets, and so many other confidential documents. Controlling confidential files is a delicate task and often becomes cumbersome. Task management software (such as Bitrix24 or MeisterTask) can help.

The work of a manager requires one-on-one or group interactions that are focused on operations. Time management tools can be useful. You can set your daily and weekly targets using Scoro, ActiveCollab, Toggl, or other services. 

Always set clear expectations on how your team can meet and exceed goals. Set key performance indicators, and consider using analytical tools available in HR software. Doing so will help you measure team and project performance. 

2. Take Responsibility

Stepping up to your duties as a manager will show your superiors and team members that you’re capable of handling this position.  Here is a quote from executive Michael Korda:

“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility . . . . In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.”

Think of yourself as a leader, an assertive self-starter. As you switch from testing and evaluating new programs and writing and implementing efficient code, focus your attention on new responsibilities, such as:

  • Being truly present in meetings and guiding what happens there
  • Coaching team members
  • Delegating tasks
  • Planning and setting goals
  • Resolving problems and making better decisions
  • Managing the growth of the team and the organization
  • Being proactive, initiating projects that can help the organization’s growth. For instance, you can improve the documentation of the company’s projects and ensure it’s detailed, self-explanatory, and up to date.
  • Suggesting innovative improvements, such as revamping the team’s or company’s onboarding process

So far, this pretty much sounds like you, you, you, right? But there are other people who are essential to this process!

3. Trust Your Team

Many staffers want to leave a remarkable imprint on a company. As a manager, instead of trying to handle every issue, it’s best to delegate.

What can you do to help team members succeed? 

  • Communicate well with team members and have interpersonal relationships with them. For instance, reach out to team members individually by Slack, Discord, or a one-on-one call regularly. 
  • Provide fair and constructive feedback.
  • Listen to your colleagues’ ideas and suggestions.
  • Put your team members first to help them build trust in your leadership skills. This will motivate them to keep developing new ideas.
  • Study and understand your team’s strength and weaknesses, and then seek ways to improve on the weakness. Remember, your goal is for the team to run so smoothly that it can still be coordinated even in your absence.

This all sounds great, right? But what happens when things go wrong?

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Things Don’t Always Go as Planned

We all pray and hope to deliver the best services when taking up a new position. But of course, things will go wrong sometimes. As a manager, you need to see failure as an opportunity to learn. So, lean into the problems with your team, and deliberate on the best solutions. Find out how you or other team members may have contributed to the problems and how to remedy them.

The role of a manager requires you to think ahead. Create a contingency plan, just in case. 

For example, if you’re making a virtual presentation to stakeholders concerning a new project, a good Plan B would be to make soft copies of the presentation, share slides with stakeholders, or even prerecord the presentation. This will help avoid interruptions even if you encounter low bandwidth.

What else is important to know about becoming a manager?

Be Yourself

Everyone when assuming a new position hopes to be better than the last person who held it. But it’s never a good idea to imitate someone else’s style of leadership. Think about what fresh ideas and leadership methods you plan to implement.

As a manager, you should be open to bottom-up feedback from your team as regards your performance. That’s how you’ll grow. And your growth affects the team as well as the organization at large. How you relate to your team and respond to challenging situations is what makes you an outstanding manager. 

Learn All the Time

Although being a manager is demanding, it’s an opportunity to keep on learning. The skills you’ve learned to become a superb developer don’t always easily translate those of a manager.

Nevertheless, to be successful, you’ll need to learn how to manage people and information effectively.

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