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Ask Slashdot: Is Development Leadership Overvalued?

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the or-is-followership-undervalued dept.

Programming 252

gspec writes "I am an engineer with about 14 years experience in the industry. Lately I have been interviewing with a few companies hoping to land a better position. In almost all those interviews, I was asked these types of question: 'Have you been a leader in a project?' or 'Why after these many years, you are not in a management? Do you lack leadership skills?' Sometimes these questions discourage me and make me feel like an underachiever. I found an article in which the author talked about exactly this, and I agree with him. I think in this modern society, especially in the U.S., we overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they do not have good followers."

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Leadership Styles (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502653)

Leadership doesn't always equal management...Watch Shrek - who is the leader?

Re:Leadership Styles (5, Funny)

Zalbik (308903) | about a year ago | (#44502823)

Watch Shrek - who is the leader?

Lord Farquaad of course. He sent Shrek on the quest, married the woman he wanted, and did it will all the evil pointy-haired management techniques required by modern business.

His big mistake was failing to invest in appropriate levels of dragon defense.

Did you not watch the same movie I did?

Re:Leadership Styles (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502907)

Ah, but donkey led the quest itself.

Re:Leadership Styles (4, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#44503337)

Watch Shrek - who is the leader?

Lord Farquaad of course. He sent Shrek on the quest, married the woman he wanted, and did it will all the evil pointy-haired management techniques required by modern business.

His big mistake was failing to invest in appropriate levels of dragon defense.

Wrong. Everything is correct in what you said, except identifying Farquuad as a leader; it shows your confusion between leadership and management. In a very terse statement, the difference is illustrated by:
* management - about doing things the right way (take care about the logistics of the process: time, resource, quality at the least)
* leadership - about doing the right things (if the course/actions are not perceived as right, the team will refuse to enlist their entire support).

Re:Leadership Styles (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503097)

This. I've recently transitioned into management at my current employer, but I evaluated all the possible career paths. Where I work, from staff engineer, you can either move to management or take one of two non-management paths (architect or principal engineer). Both of those paths can lead to a VP-level engineering positions that don't involve managing other developers. But even at the staff engineer level, you're expected to lead and mentor more junior engineers.

The reason leadership is important and why they might want to ask those questions is a lack of career development can be indicative of someone who doesn't apply themselves. If someone is passed over for promotion many times, they may be lazy or have a bad attitude. Also, if someone hasn't advanced to a leadership position by a certain point, their salary requirements will likely be out of line with what you pay people in more junior positions.

Still, my company isn't the only one that I've seen that looks for ways to allow engineers to move into leadership positions that don't involve managing other developers. There are a number of companies that have "distinguished engineer" roles or something similar.

Microsoft, Google, etc. (5, Informative)

jmcbain (1233044) | about a year ago | (#44503409)

Parent is correct.

At large corporations such as Microsoft, Google, and others, there are always two tracks: management and individual contributor. You can reach the same levels of seniority and pay in either track. At the top of the management track, you can excel to be a director and then VP, etc. At the top of the individual contributor track, you can reach principal engineer, then distinguished engineer, etc.

If the music industry were like this (3, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#44502665)

Suit: Bono, Unforgettable Fire was excellent. We're promoting you to regional manager.

Re:If the music industry were like this (4, Insightful) (1935296) | about a year ago | (#44503405)

It's the Peter Principle ( in action. As someone who has gradually been promoted away from I love doing, because I was a decent coder with some leadership potential, I wonder how much better my life would have been if I'd just stuck with coding.

No (2)

Mitreya (579078) | about a year ago | (#44502677)

Is Development Leadership Overvalued?

The law of headlines says the answer is always "no".

Someone has to herd cats (er... developers). You may prefer not to go into management, but someone does need to do it. Even if some developers think that project can complete itself organically with no managerial coordination.

Re:No (1)

peragrin (659227) | about a year ago | (#44502779)

while true in the usa we have vice presidents for managers for managers for managers. All to watch a mere 100 followers work.

People like to make fun of the unions and OSHA for the sometimes bizarre requirements, but in reality neither one has anything as complicated as middle management that corporations use.

Re:No (4, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#44502879)

Sure, we seem to need managers. And I say "seem" because there is good argument that we don't really need them. Management, that is, in the form of full time, trained professionals who do nothing but. What we need is leaders (who can be found amongst the "Indians", even those who profess to have no interest in a management career), and coordinators, who again can be recruited from the rank and file, and which if you structure your projects well is not a full time job in any way shape or form.

But the submitter and article aren't even asking whether or to we need managers. This is about the idiotic notion that all leaders should be managers, and that management is the only career option after senior engineer, and that there is something wrong with those whom do not choose that career path (except perhaps the few gifted individuals who become principal consultants or CTOs). This appears to be the case in most modern organizations, but if you turn away an experienced engineer just because he is happy not to be a manager, you are wasting talent.

peter principle / dilbert principle (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44502983)

In some places some of the mangers are the dilbert principle PHB's. Other places have the peter principle where you can take good tech people move them to managers rolls where they fail at in or spend to much time on the tech side.

Also some tech people want to do the tech work and not want to push papers all day long.

So The Best Answer You Can Give Them Is (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about a year ago | (#44503133)

I have not yet been promoted to my full level of incompetence.

Re:So The Best Answer You Can Give Them Is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503213)

I'm just wondering how you know that? Just starting out eh?

Re:peter principle / dilbert principle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503263)

managers rolls

That sounds like either a fun activity or a really disgusting type of sushi.

(hint: I think you meant roles...unless you meant the manager rolls, as in the list of managers)

Re:No (1)

internerdj (1319281) | about a year ago | (#44502895)

Careful. This is probably why the guy isn't doing well with the management question. Schedule, estimation, project organization, purchasing advisement,... If you are experienced then you can (maybe should) pick up all this stuff without a single direct report.

Re:No (1)

Zalbik (308903) | about a year ago | (#44502903)

You may prefer not to go into management, but someone does need to do it.

Someone also has to empty the trash bins at night, but they don't get 2-3x the compensation of a typical developer.

I've worked for good managers. I've worked for terrible managers. I've worked for mostly absent managers. The one variable I've noticed that is a better predictor of success than anything else: how good is the team?

Even if some developers think that project can complete itself organically with no managerial coordination.

I don't know any developers that think this. However, I do think that a good development team can complete a project with minimal managerial coordination.

Re:No (3, Interesting)

ron_ivi (607351) | about a year ago | (#44502997)

The one variable I've noticed that is a better predictor of success than anything else: how good is the team?

So we can logically conclude that Software Mangement has two very important roles that do correlate with success:

  • A good software manager knows how to hire a good team.
  • Software management positions in a company are useful as a place to put the bad people on the development team, without having demoralizing layoffs.

Re:No (1)

AuMatar (183847) | about a year ago | (#44503379)

A big no on #2 there. The skills that a good manager needs are different from the skills a good developer needs (although there is some overlap). Management isn't the place to stick the bad devs in- you want to put the moderate devs who have more skills in that side of things than they do in development in those roles, to maximize everyone's abilities.

Is there a question here? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502685)

Well, is there a question, is there?

No. (2)

MrEricSir (398214) | about a year ago | (#44502687)

It's totally reasonable for a company to have every employee in a management position within a few years, while unpaid interns do all the actual work. What could possibly go wrong with this model?

Re:No. (0)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44502739)

The point that these interviewers are probably wanting to know, is why the submitter hasn't been promoted. Not everybody can be promoted, but generally you're probably only interested in hiring the people who were valued enough to be promoted.

It's not perfect, as that tends to skew psychopathic, but ultimately, if you want somebody that works hard, knows their stuff and contributes, they're probably not going to be going for long periods of time without being promoted. Either via a promotion or by quitting and getting a job that's more matching their ambition.

Coders that lack ambition aren't always happy where they are, some of them are too stupid or too lazy to go any further.

Re: No. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502939)

Engineers in leadership? Just say:

"Our project leaders were all MBA nepotists who didn't need to know anything to succeed. The only thing they were missing was me - a brilliant experienced engineer to make them appear competent. My old company is the primary inspiration for Dilbert."

Also wear your tie turned up at the interview.

Re:No. (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#44503421)


I give OP demerits for dividing the wold into Leaders and Followers. It is quite possible (and often even desirable) to go your own way, and be neither.

Leadership (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44502689)

The primary responsibility for a manager is to get your projects done on time. Say something to that effect and that you consider yourself a manager of yourself who knows how to coordinate with others, etc, and you will have no problem with that kind of question. Above all sound confident in however you answer.

Re: Leadership (3, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | about a year ago | (#44502785)

We always have 'project leads' that are there to help guide development on common path and to break ties between competing ideas. It is more than just telling people what to do, it is about building consensus. That's what leadership is.

Re: Leadership (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44502933)

I've always found a baseball bat or pipe wrench very useful for building consensus.

Re: Leadership (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503143)

I am amazed that 98% of people don't get the difference between management and leadership. As you say, management is a line responsibility. Leadership is getting people to want to follow you, in the broadest sense. As a leader, I was grateful for good management that shielded us from irrelevant meddling, and as a manager I was even more grateful for great leaders who made it possible for me to succeed at that job.

Robert Heinlein understood this.

Re: Leadership (5, Interesting)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44503367)

"You've been an engineer for a number of years, why haven't you decided to push paper for a living, by now?"

Sounds an awful lot like miserably married people with children asking people who enjoy their lives "when are you going to get married and have children? Why haven't you squired out children, yet?"

Management sounds miserable, frankly. Since when has liking the career and field you've chosen become a negative? Do we go around asking MBAs "so, you've been a paper-pusher for five years, now, how come you haven't picked up a keyboard and started coding?"

Glory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502717)

Do you lack leadership skills?

Tell them the truth:

Your team will die for you, but your former employer frowned on the level of necessary casualties.

I'm a damm good Indian!! (5, Insightful)

titanium93 (839011) | about a year ago | (#44502725)

Some people are Indians, Some people are Chiefs. I tried my hand at being a Chief, But I came to the realization that not only did I enjoy being an Indian, I'm a damm good Indian! (And there is nothing wrong with that)

Re:I'm a damm good Indian!! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503187)

Are you a big endian or little endian?

Re:I'm a damm good Indian!! (2)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about a year ago | (#44503201)

And some people are wild monkeys. These are the type I usually have to deal with.

It's about trust (1)

djupedal (584558) | about a year ago | (#44502743)

...they want to know why, after all this time, someone hasn't already trusted you to take management's side against the rank/file in the past. Trusting you to do things you might not have had the stomach for earlier in your career, etc.

An example is being an editor - defined as the guy that walks down the hill after a battle, shooting the wounded and keeping your mouth shut about it.

So, yes, it is an important step to get behind you as early in your career as possible.

Re:It's about trust (1)

e_armadillo (14304) | about a year ago | (#44502851)

Bullshit. Trust is built by delivering on commitments, not by taking on responsibilities that you don't have the skill/desire to take on, and *certainly* doesn't require acting as upper management's hired thug as you seem to insinuate. We *need* leaders, but not everyone needs to take that role.

Leadership value (5, Insightful)

Larry_Dillon (20347) | about a year ago | (#44502759)

I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

Re:Leadership value (3, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#44502921)

The first mistake is confusing management with leadership.

Re:Leadership value (5, Insightful)

AcidPenguin9873 (911493) | about a year ago | (#44503119)

I saw this picture recently and it sums it up nicely: []

Re:Leadership value (2)

ndrw (205863) | about a year ago | (#44503455)

This picture is brilliant, thank you for sharing it.

I recently have been reading Strengths Based Leadership (Rath, Conchie), and though they are focusing on leaders, they talk a lot about why people follow. In general, they say people follow because of their need for TRUST, HOPE, COMPASSION, and SECURITY. A commanding/directive leader can still provide all of these things to the people that work for them, but I think it's much more challenging than a leader who is willing to roll up their sleeves and get down in the trenches. Of course, because the leader is relied on for HOPE for the future (requiring some kind of inspiring vision of the future), they also have to be capable of taking the strategic, company wide view. I personally see a good manager as a translator between the goals of the business and the employees who get the work done.

Re:Leadership value (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | about a year ago | (#44503021)

I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

I don't think you answered what the FP asked. Yes, truly great leaders have an immeasurably large benefit to an organization. A great leader can take a run-of-the-mill team and get top-notch results out of them... I didn't think much of Steve Jobs as a human being, but if I had ever had the chance to hire him to lead a project/team/company for me, I would have done so in a heartbeat.

But does everyone need to try to lead? TFA makes an excellent example with Jane the furniture-maker - Jane did well because she kicked ass at making furniture, not at managing people; moving into a leadership role actively hurt her company's productivity and the quality of its output. I would say the exact same thing about my own programming skills - I love programming. I eat, sleep, breathe it. In my free time outside work, I write code for hobby projects. At the same time, I have zero interest whatsoever in telling other programmers what to do, or filing paperwork that talks about programming, or trying to explain to complete non-programmers (aka "the board") for the fifth time this year why they can't have a complete in-house replacement for Win7 by next week, no matter how much the CFO didn't like his new laptop that came with Win8 on it.

So I don't think the FP meant in any way to minimize the value of good leadership; rather, he wondered why our culture shuns people who simply strive to do to the peak of their ability.

Re:Leadership value (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503127)

While I can appreciate your perspective, I want to point out that the phrase, "lead, follow, or get out of the way," is meant to encourage you to take leadership initiatives and learn how to corral people even if they're not your direct reports. Taking it as an instruction to fall in line and follow the boss is the wrong interpretation; that particular aspect is meant to convey that you should have respect for the chain of command. Get out of the way is a nice way of saying, "if you don't want to be here, I'm willing to accept your resignation anytime, Jack."

In your particular case, it's great that you have hobby projects and outside interests. It sucks that you lack the social skills to contribute your experience back to other less experienced coworkers that can learn from you. All those papers that talk about programming and engineering are meant to act as your proxy for when you don't have the time available to take a direct mentoring role.

Re:Leadership value (5, Insightful)

Princeofcups (150855) | about a year ago | (#44503265)

I think it's nearly impossible to over-value great leadership. I think the problem is that some tend to over-value the people in leadership positions (regardless of their actual leadership skills.)

That's the response that I expect from the majority of Slashdot, but I have to disagree. The concept here is that it's us (the developers) verses them (management). We've all been burned by bad management, and is more the norm than the exception. But a good leader/manager, with technical skills, can be worth 100 engineers. How do you ask? Well one engineer can only do the work of one person. But having 100 engineers working on a project that is pointless, has no potential, has no value, that is a waste of 100 people. A good leader is one who gets those engineers working on worthwhile projects, playing interference from those trying to sabotage it, and make sure that the result is complete and used properly. These leaders are few and far between, but you know the names of those with successful, groundbreaking, and influential products. We use them every day. And those would never have come to being with even the best engineers working without direction and constant interference.

Yes and NO (3, Informative)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44502761)

Being a good programmer/engineer/admin/etc.. does not indicate that you will be a good leader. It is two separate skills, and two separate ways of thinking. The military has had "leadership" schools for a very long time for just this reason, and most private sector companies do also. It is much harder to lead a squad of riflemen than it is to be a riflemen. Driving and motivating others requires different psychology than driving and motivating yourself.

The question I think you are trying to get answered is "How do you prove leadership abilities when you have not been assigned such a job title?" In this case, play on what you have done. Lead team meetings in the managers absence, set up training courses for our level 1 people, built wiki pages for new products and worked with engineers to ensure support, etc... If you have done nothing like those, I would doubt your abilities to lead too.

I have been in the business for 25+ years, much of that being a team lead role. To the people that ask me why I have not been a manager, the answer is simple. I love the technical work more than I love the political skills required to be a good manager. I love writing the tools and pulling out numbers much more than I like to present them to the audience. It's fun for me to teach people, not fun for me to be responsible for them.

Re:Yes and NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503131)

I agree with everything except the statement that it's harder to lead a squad of rifleman than to be a little. It's just different, not inherently any harder. I'm sure there are people who couldn't even fire a rifle that would do a fine job leading them.

Re:Yes and NO (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#44503245)

The reason it is harder is because if you are leading riflemen you are also a riflemen. I think you are confusing a squad leader with some brass watching from the Pentagon.

Re:Yes and NO (4, Interesting)

Frobnicator (565869) | about a year ago | (#44503353)

I'm in similar shoes. I am a creative individual who wants to stay in the creative field. I have no interest in being a people-manager, balancing time off requests in the schedule, and having spreadsheets open all day.

This isn't because I cannot do that job. Instead it is because I have no interest in doing that job.

The OP gives the questions: '(1) Have you been a leader in a project? (2) Why after these many years, you are not in a management? (3) Do you lack leadership skills?'

My answers are: (1) I have been a leader, but I have not been the manager. I prefer to create and innovate rather than monitor schedules, balance time off requests, and ensure others are working. (2) I am not in management because I prefer creating things and the creative process over the process of herding workers. And finally, (3) Leadership and management are different tasks; I can lead and mentor others, but I am not interested in management.

Of course if the OP was applying for a managerial position, there is an alternate take. He might consider answers like: (1) I have been a leader but not a manager, management is always pyramidal and up until now I was content with being a producer; now I'm interested in managing people. (2) I am not in management because in the past I wanted to be a producer. Now I'm looking to stop doing engineering work and start managing people, schedules, and tasks. (3) Leadership and management are different skills; I have never been a people-manager before, but I have been a leader and brought many projects into existence.

Do you REALLY hear these questions in interviews? (2)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year ago | (#44502763)

>> Why after these many years, you are not in a management? Do you lack leadership skills?'

That sounds more like what you might hear from your parents around the Thanksgiving table.

>> Have you been a leader in a project?

That sounds more likely. Every top programmer I know, regardless of social ability, has had the ability to answer "yes" to this. Even if they were the kind to back away from formal management responsibilities, a guy who's been coding for 14 years should have had a couple of experiences where he just stepped up as said, "look, I don't want to run the team permanently, but either you follow my lead on X or we'll all fail" by now. (If they haven't, no, I don't want them on my team.)

Leadership... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502781) a gift...given by those that choose to follow.

That is how I would answer their question.

My Sttrengths (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#44502789)

My strengths are in development, not managing people. I'm a good team player, but I'd rather play Short Stop than be the team manager/coach. I've not found the right team leader that wasn't really "manager with poor pay" to accept, or I would have more team leader on my resume. In practice, I'm "team leader" in almost every job. I'm good at my job, and others come to me for help/support.

The problem isn't your resume or experience, but your interviewing skills.

Doing the work is more interesting than managing. (2)

phoophy (1189235) | about a year ago | (#44502791)

As a software engineer with 30 years under my belt, I'd answer "I find doing the work and solving the problems far more rewarding than managing a team". Being the software lead is fine; I've found that being management doesn't do it for me.

Re:Doing the work is more interesting than managin (2)

msmonroe (2511262) | about a year ago | (#44503121)

Yup, I am in the same boat. Management didn't work for me, it seemed like a thankless job with little pay or benefit advantage. The politics are rough as well, not to say that politics in development aren't rough as well. I try and be as agnostic as possible, I write code better than anyone else. Give me a project and a deadline; walk away and trust me to deliver, that's what you're paying me for... I don't care about politics, that's what your getting paid for.

So answer the question (5, Insightful)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year ago | (#44502825)

"I haven't taken a leadership position because I don't want to. I like being a developer, not a manager, and I want to stay as close as I can to the work."

It's not a bad thing to assume that, in 14 years of work, you would acquire skills that you'd be able to pass on to others. You'd naturally assume a mentorship position, with leadership organically flowing out of mentorship. But that doesn't have to happen, and as long as you convince the interviewer that a lack of desire for leadership doesn't have to correlate with a lack of desire for work, you should be OK.

It's a hostile question, sure, but those come with the territory in looking for a job. As with most other hostile questions, the best way to disarm it is to politely disagree with the inherent assumption.

Re:So answer the question (3, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | about a year ago | (#44503171)

I would argue that any senior developer must have leadership skills- if you think your ideas will be taken up by other members of the team based purely on technical merit, you are sadly mistaken.

Re:So answer the question (1)

fredprado (2569351) | about a year ago | (#44503199)

But that doesn't have to happen, and as long as you convince the interviewer that a lack of desire for leadership doesn't have to correlate with a lack of desire for work, you should be OK.

Unfortunately it is far from OK. Refusing a position of leadership almost always means earning less. Leadership is important, but so is technical work. The problem is not in giving value to the former, but in giving far more value to it that to the latter.

Re:So answer the question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503423)

I'd only make one change to this.. Change "leadership" to "manager." You have not taken a FORMAL management position, but that is not to say you haven't done leadership. Ever trained a new employee? Have people coming to you with questions? You are a mentor, leader etc. Ever worked a project that you where responsible for that was successful? Did anybody help you? You are a successful leader.

Management tasks may not suit your skills or liking. I'd personally HATE to dole out yearly reviews and raises while trying to motivate folks to get the job done. I'm not that fluent in interpersonal relationships and get easily lost in the office politics as a result. You DON'T want me as a manager... But I can take customer requirements and lead a team that turns out a system that meets their needs. Management is not my gift, technical ability to turn out what the customer wants IS my gift and my skills as a leader are still under development.

The answer is in your question... (3, Informative)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a year ago | (#44502857)

Not being unsympathetic, but if after 14 years experience in industry you've never held a position of responsibility, then there is probably a reason for it.
Look into that - which you can do better than any of us here - and reflect upon it.
Then you can explain it well in the next interview...

The problem seems to be that you're looking for a "better position" - good - but maybe without realising that these days everyone is told to hire "potential" as well as immediate competence.

Right or wrong? I don't know, but that's the way it is.
Will be hard to get out of your rut without making some kind of effort...
You could perhaps get involved with a non work-related activity which shows leadership & responsability; coaching kids football, military reserves...
Or do a part-time MBA :)

Re:The answer is in your question... (1)

fredprado (2569351) | about a year ago | (#44503233)

Your idea leads to putting in management everybody that has any potential and leave just the incompetent ones doing the work, and that is why you need so much people to do so little these days...

Re:The answer is in your question... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#44503501)

Not being unsympathetic, but if after 14 years experience in industry you've never held a position of responsibility, then there is probably a reason for it.

Great. Not only that we have the confusion between leadership and management on the table, let's add the "responsibility/governance" one on top of it and the things will be as clear as mud
(hint: any member of a team has the responsibility for the part of their work).

Absolutely not (1)

Roogna (9643) | about a year ago | (#44502863)

Good project leadership is invaluable. What IS overvalued is assuming that whether you've had the title or not qualifies you for a leadership role.

I've run across many great project managers who weren't technically the leader on the project, and just as many "leaders" who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. Sadly, neither is usually visible within a one hour interview. Especially in this day and age of debating titles and buzzwords rather than actually just talking to people

In my workplace, skills are highly valued (2)

hyperfine transition (869239) | about a year ago | (#44502883)

Where I work, a government scientific organisation, you can be promoted according to either skill or responsibility, at least to a point. So there are instances of someone supervising half a dozen people, several of whom are employed at the same level as the supervisor. The management path is a bit easier though, and promotion on skill alone pretty much tops out at the level equivalent to supervising half a dozen people.

A friend who works at a large company said that they had two promotion paths too: management or technical skill.

Agreed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502891)

I agree. Not just in development or even the business community, but in most any organization, leadership has become a buzzword and is somewhat overvalued.

The conventional wisdom is probably based on the notion that a team composed of a good leader and mediocre followers will do better than a team composed of a mediocre follower and a few mediocre followers plus one great follower. Thus, if you're looking for someone who will contribute a lot to the organization, leadership skills are considered more valuable. To some extent, this is true. Almost everyone can relate to having a frustrating experience with a manager who did not know how to best utilize his resources, and those experiences probably reinforce this belief.

On the other hand, this can be taken too far to the point that most of what interviewers are looking for is leadership qualities, especially if the person they are looking for is older. This age bias is especially common in the software development industry, possibly because people just tend to associate programming with being something young white males do. (See

My organization pays some people who are considered to be "technical experts" as much as the middle-to-upper managers, but proving yourself as a "technical expert" is a lot harder and rarer than getting a job as a manager. There is no formula for balancing technical expertise vs. leadership expertise, but most organizations right now could do with less focus on leadership and more on just good old-fashioned competence.

Scotty (1)

ichthus (72442) | about a year ago | (#44502923)

As Scotty told Geordi, "Don't ever let them promote you. Engineering is where it's at, baby." Or, something like that. I'm an embedded systems engineer with 10 years in the field, and I have absolutely no desire to ever move "up" into management. Sure, I've been the lead on projects, but I always want to have a hand in the development.

Those who can't do, manage.

Unskilled, Skilled, and Specialized Labor (3, Interesting)

Bob9113 (14996) | about a year ago | (#44502925)

Unskilled labor has the greatest disparity between the value, and the cost, of labor and management.

Skilled labor, like data entry or bricklaying, has a somewhat lower disparity.

Specialized labor, like software engineering or acting, compensation ratio runs from something like 10X one way to about 10X the other way.

Many companies in software engineering have high end software engineers who also understand business managing their software engineers, in which case the manager is usually paid more. Some have high end business people running the developers, and the manager gets paid more. A lot, though, have project managers who are actually doing the management of the programmers, and they get paid less.

It is still common in software engineering, in the project manager case, for there to be a high end software engineer or business person as the formal manager. That person gets paid more and is above the software engineer in the org chart, but the day-to-day task management is done by the project manager.

So, in short, if you want to get paid more than your tactical effective manager, go work someplace that has project managers.

Its because I'm short (1)

ClassicASP (1791116) | about a year ago | (#44502935)

nobody likes to take orders from a short guy, and everybody gladly follows a tall statuesque manager, even if he has no idea what he's doing. seen it.

Re:Its because I'm short (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503041)

nobody likes to take orders from a short guy, and everybody gladly follows a tall statuesque manager, even if he has no idea what he's doing. seen it.

Well you might be wrong on that one. I'm a short guy. I don't flash by how tall I am. I wait until those taller than me have had their say. Usually it's just crap. Then I let everybody know what I think. Guess what, it's usually not the tall guy they follow.

Truisms? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44502937)

Most, if not all, of what I say here are bound to be truisms. It is possible that, when strung together, they may become something more. Here are my observations at the midpoint of my highly technical engineering career:

1) Management/leadership are distinctly different skills than engineering skills. Being a good engineer may be necessary to be a good manager of engineers, but it is in no way sufficient.

2) In much the same way as "a knack for numbers" is only the first step to being a good engineer, "a feel for people and organizations," is only the first step to being a good manager. These are all skills to be honed and bodies of knowledge to be learned and understood and, when necessary, extended.

3) Not everyone can be a team lead. This should be transparently obvious just based on numbers, and yet some people forget it. Even at the middle and the end of your career, unless you are the sole survivor of a high-churn environment, not everyone in your cohort can be a leader. It just isn't possible.

4) Corporate cultures vary on this point. It has been my experience that truly large corporations actually occupy both sides of the curve-- some have no advancement track that does not end in management of some sort, while some recognize the virtue of having deep technical experts on par with, but not equivalent to, management.

5) That said, I find immense value in engineers, at the mid-point of their career, taking a minor team leader role-- under guidance and supervision from an experienced team leader-- for two reasons. First, it might fit them better than expected. Second, even if it doesn't, there are some insights into management you can only absorb by doing it. Even if you hate it, it may make you a better member of a team afterward.

Wrong Question (2)

sg613 (3011887) | about a year ago | (#44502965)

The right distinction is between people who do something and people who don't do anything. Managers can be terrible leaders and do nothing but have "responsibility". A good coder can lead by what he creates in software and ideas. Often managers and architects just don't do anything other than sit between the executive function and developers and translate. But in a dev organization think about productivity in a day if no managers showed up vs. one if which no developers showed up.

Leadership is harder than followership (1)

david.emery (127135) | about a year ago | (#44502967)

It takes talent and/or training to lead a technical team, let alone larger groups. That's a skill that some companies are desperately searching for.

It's worth taking some training and trying the leadership/management track. If you're not good at it, or not happy at it, that should be OK. The problem, though, is that in many companies these days, experience as a developer is not valued. There's the view that developers/engineers are "plug replaceable resources" that they can get for lowest price.

If you're a senior tech person (and you're good at it,) you'll want to find companies that value experience. (Hint, if they do 'buzzword matching' on your resume for this year's "hot technologies" and that's all they ask about in an interview, it's probably not a god thing...) Or, you're going to have to establish a value proposition some other way, e.g. expanding to other kinds of engineering/roles within the company, sales/marketing/field engineering, etc.

Unfortunately, it's not a good world out there those with technical expertise and not much else on their resumes. (And a lot of the sh*tty software we have to put up with reflects the lack of experience by those that developed it....)

two tracks: engineering and manager (2)

tommeke100 (755660) | about a year ago | (#44503007)

Our company, and I'm sure many others, have two tracks of equal 'level': engineering and manager. So as an engineer, you can be junior, regular, senior, principal or lead. Once above this level, which is already pretty high, is a Director. Manager track is junior manager, regular, senior, Director, VP, etc.. So it's very possible to be a principal engineer, but 'higher on the ladder' than another manager. I'm sure many other companies also value their engineers and other technical people as much as they do managers.

Re:two tracks: engineering and manager (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | about a year ago | (#44503079)

Also, it's not because you're not a manager that you're not managing. I'm sure a programmer with 14 years of experience must have designed some systems, worked together with other people where he had to direct and/or manager, explain implementation or tell other people how some pieces of the software should be implemented etc... In short, being the technical lead for some projects. That's the kind of things you need to answer to questions like 'why have you never managed?'

Of course for a couple of key reasons (1)

Stonefish (210962) | about a year ago | (#44503025)

There are a couple key reasons for overvalueing management
1 Management key job is to make you do your job for the least amount of pay. This tends to make them avoid rockstars.
2 Management don't like indians being paid more than them. It happens but if you listen to their conversations behind the scenes they bitch madly about this behind the scenes.
3 Management overvalue themselves because they are managers.

Your response should be
1 I don't enjoy management, I enjoy development etc
2 With self motivated ....... people like me your managers can manage larger teams allowing for a flatter management structure with larger teams.

It's not the leadership... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503029)

... it's the BULLSHIT we value.

Get a line of reasons why you are so good in your current job that no one wants to promote you because you'll then have to leave the job you're doing, and watch the job offers come flying in...

From a certain point of view (4, Insightful)

jxander (2605655) | about a year ago | (#44503039)

The problem isn't leadership, necessarily. The problem is who is attracted to leadership roles.

It's a job that pays more, for less actual work, doesn't require keeping up to date on the latest and greatest tech, and is transferable to basically every sector. You can manage an IT shop or a machine shop, without any knowledge of coding/scripting or how to operate a CNC Machine. And if things go wrong, deadlines slip, code comes out half baked... you can shuffle around the blame on poor workers below you, and upper management above you.

Management also stresses politicking and shmoozing over any quantifiable skills or abilities. Are you a good manager? Bad? Who knows? A good Indian can make a terrible Chief look good, and vice versa. And if that terrible Indian got the job because his/her parent works for the company in an even higher management role, well ...

Management also attracts corruption. Or perhaps it's just the power that corrupts, but either way I've seen more than my fair share of managers direct purchases of hardware X over Y because they have a family member who works for company X. Or simply because a friend uses that brand. Regardless of any tangible reasons, technical or monetarial. I'm sure we've all seen the nepotism rampant in certain fields, and in certain companies specifically. (anecdotal : there's a rather large chip manufacturer here in San Diego that will remain nameless, but might have a football stadium named after them : during new-hire orientation, they out and out asked "how many people here have a friend, family member, spouse, etc working for the company that got them this job," to which nearly the entire room raised their hands)

All this adds up to managerial roles that reward lazy, corrupt, blame-shifting, individuals. Not in spite of these traits, but directly due to them. And we wonder why sometimes management roles seem overvalued.

You're misunderstanding the question on leadership (2)

Qbertino (265505) | about a year ago | (#44503047)

You're misunderstanding the question about leadership.

What they're actually asking you is 'Can you work overtime for free whilst delivering a steady 120% of output and wipping (i.e. "leading") our 5 other underpaid junior developers to do the same?' The talking down about 'lack of leadership' is an attempt to make you insecure and coax you into doing another extra few years of goodwill of being paid as a regular but doing the extra "leadership" work for free and be thankfull for the opportunity, even though you're experienced enough to know better, i.e. that it will lead nowhere other than into your next burnout.

I basically get the same stuff too in recent years - I'm 43 now, so everybody knows I'm old enough not to be bullshitted with crappy pay and goodwill promises anymore. It's a carefull balance of using my experience to my negotiation advantage and not scaring the employer away. (more details on that at the bottom)
Allthough my portfolio and my recommendations are so pimped out that they dare not ask me about lack of leadership experience directly, they try to put me down/cheap me out using other means, such as rather addressing me with informaly (in German) than formaly - which basically mount to 10 000 Euros/year less in salary ("We're all buddies here and we've got foosball tables too ...") or attempting to keep a straight face whilst noting that I don't have an academic rank (Note: I *do* have 27 years of programming experience and 10+ successful project in my field).

I've recently moved on to tell people right away that I want to work part-time (1/2 or 3/4ths of an occupation) for the equivalent pay, thus curbing stupid questions about "leading" (50+hrs/week for 40hrs pay). You get a little less money, have way more free time and don't have to put up with stupid questions, outrageous expectations, shitty production pipelines, dumb PMs, asshole co-workers, pointy-haired bosses or tickets that come in 20 minutes before closing hours.

In my last interview ws the first time I actually flat out told the employer that I'm not interested in foosball tables or party events and that I simply want to come to work, do my work, get paid, maybe bring in my experience if it is requested and mutually benefitial and otherwise go about my life. And low and behold, right now it looks as though I'm going to join the team. A team of fifteen, with aprox. 5-7 regular devs and no versioning in place and a lead who's nice but is so backwards I would let within 10 yards of any project ... gee, am I glad that that is not my problem.

My 2 cents.

Re:You're misunderstanding the question on leaders (1)

PurdueThumbs (1126001) | about a year ago | (#44503345)

they try to put me down/cheap me out using other means, such as rather addressing me with informaly (in German) than formaly

they try to put me down/cheap me out using other means, such as addressing me with "casual perks" (in German) than "formal compensation"

The rest was pretty good english.

overvalued? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503099)

Yeah right. Where would apple be without steve jobs?

Age discrimination (4, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | about a year ago | (#44503109)

The question has nothing to do about leadership and everything to do about age discrimination. What they're getting at is they won't hire you for typical skills (Java, C#) because they can get someone else younger and cheaper. They would be willing to pay more for a manager, but guess what, they're not actually hiring any managers because they only promote from within.

The way to beat age discrimination is to do all of the following:

  1. Change jobs in a good economy
  2. Have niche skills
  3. Interview with people who are older than you and/or have more degrees and qualifications than you.

Hands On (1)

caferace (442) | about a year ago | (#44503111)

As a manager, you tend to get very little inside info into what your miscreants are up to because you're dealing with administrative bullshit. I'm managed. Not fun. I've actually demoted myself from management so I I could go back into the code base.

Leadership (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about a year ago | (#44503137)

Leaders are needed but above manager, I think they are over compensated these days.

By almost 100%.

Hopefully when the employment situation tightens up in 2016 on wards, the shoe will shift to the employees.

Don't Confuse Leading w/ Managing (1)

businessnerd (1009815) | about a year ago | (#44503145)

The key disparity here is that you are assuming being a "leader" on a project means you were a project manager or officially managing others in some formal fashion. I don't think that is what any of these interviewers were asking. You don't have to be in an official leadership role to lead. It could be as simple as leading by example, or it could mean that others look to you for guidance or direction. Did you ever take any extra initiative to accomplish something new or particularly challenging that no one else had that guts to take on?

Now if they really were asking about formal leadership roles (i.e. Manager), then you should have given a similar explanation to what you posted in your question (except maybe without the whole, "I like being a follower", part). You get more satisfaction from solving engineering challenges hands-on than you do being a manager. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, some may worry that because you desire to stay in relatively the same place for a long time, that you will still want regular pay increases beyond cost of living adjustments, which means you will be very expensive relative to your peers. This may be OK assuming you can justify your larger salary and by justify, I mean prove on a regular basis. But this then brings me back to my first point about leadership vs. managing. Your greater level of experience should translate into you being a leader amongst your peers and explains why you have been asked such questions during interviews.

It's not about the question, but the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503159)

I don't think there is anything wrong with asking that question. Asking someone "why after all these years aren't you in a leadership role" is an excellent question for catching someone off-guard and seeing how they handle what could be considered a difficult situation. How the question is answered can also provide a lot of good information about the candidate.

If they get defensive, or seem insulted by the question, that can tell you something about how they would react to feedback. If they strongly state, "I enjoy being in the trenches, getting the difficult work done and my hands dirty in the process", that also says a lot about the person. A "good follower", as you put it, is going to handle these sorts of questions with style and grace. Because a "good follower" should be ready and prepared to be challenged, to accept feedback both good and bad and to get through difficult situations without breaking down.

I have asked plenty of questions during interviews that are likely to elicit an emotional reaction, because you want to see how the person responds. The interviewer has a few hours, sometimes less, to make a decision to be stuck with someone for possibly years. And the interview-ee has had time to prepare and compose themselves, hiding the faults that are likely to surface after hiring.

Consider having an excellent answer to that sort of question as being a prime opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest of the people being interviewed, rather than the opposite.

Assessing your true motivations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503183)

Sometimes I've asked these questions in order to make sure the interviewee is interviewing for the right job. That is he/she does not expect to be put into a management role and is fine with doing actual work.

Self worth (4, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#44503197)

The best teams that I have ever seen were almost leaderless. Typically the "leader" was someone much higher up in management who would be given regular presentations and they would then be the sanity check to make sure the project wasn't going off course.

Often the key programmers were damn good and while not project managing would apply project management skills in discussions where features were prioritized etc.

Typically the worst teams had a very structured and detailed leadership org-chart. Junior programmers, Senior programmers, project lead, project manager etc.

Often the managers in these situations had become managers through 3 routes. One was seniority, where they had just put in a bunch of years and then one day they were managers. Were those good years or bad years, nobody seemed to care, did they have a knack for leadership, nobody seemed to care. The second route was they were horrible horrible programmers and just moved into management as a way to not get fired as terrible programmers. And the third were refugees from other departments. They would close the call center and suddenly the call center manager was in charge of development. These last managers were usually the worst. The skills that served them well were usually all political and cunning. Thus they saw all smart programmers as a threat. Some programmer might actually want to manage, would take a course from the PMI and were fired in 3 seconds.

As I said, the best managers were often barely managers at all. They knew exactly what they wanted and that was the bulk of their management style. They would repeatedly ask, "Are we making progress to what I want?" Then they would look at everything, cut through the technobabble and either be happy or not. But the key here is that they knew Exactly what they wanted. This is only a shade different from the aloof manager who sort of knew what they wanted. Those projects turned into a pile of sick in the first week. The goalposts would move daily with feature requests being a classic game of buzzword bingo.

I witnessed a moment that would be hard to replicate; a project had failed around 5 times over as many years. So the head of marketing temporarily took over the development department of around 20 programmers. He said, "You can form into teams of any size and you don't have to have anyone on your team you don't want. Also there is no seniority. So if the two newest guys want to form a team then fine. But whichever group makes me happy before September(5 months) will form the core of a new programming department and I will lavish a bonus on you that will make my top salesmen jealous. Also if I hear any complaining you can clear out your desk. And again, your goal is to impress me. Not anyone else in this company. If someone tells you that you are doing it wrong tell me and I will tell them to clear out their desks."

A team of 4 guys (all with Junior programmer titles) won in just over a week. My favorite complaints from the largest group of soon to be ex-employees (9 were fired) was that there wasn't any documentation, the wrong language was used, and that their coding wasn't to company standards.

So to answer the original question. Often the worst companies are looking for someone to pigeonhole into their complicated org-chart; while the best companies are looking for someone who will fit into their squad. Most companies are crap at development BTW and don't seem to care.

leadership != management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503223)

But don't count on managers to understand that. Leaders who happen also to be managers will, though.

My definition of leadership (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about a year ago | (#44503229)

Leadership is about being able to obtain power to make the decision, the art of making the decision, and either through admiration or intimidation getting others to follow your in that decision. Is it about getting yourself to the forefront of a large band of lemmings and being able to, if you so choose, getting them to follow your straight off the cliff.

Whether your decisions are good or not is fucking irrelevant.

Managers and Management (3, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year ago | (#44503255)

Managers are a much derided group today. The reason is the way American managers are trained and developed. Poorly. And with little recognition that the skill set is something that you can't develop working as a line employee. Yet it really is critical to the success of an organization.

Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine illustrates an example of good management.

Gregory Peck's role in 12 O'Clock High is also a good example of effective management.

Leadership, on the other hand is much over-rated.

Definition of 'valued' (1)

Livius (318358) | about a year ago | (#44503291)

If by "development leadership" you mean people with 'manager' or 'leader' in their job title, then it is vastly overvalued (and overpaid) relative to the actual value it adds to the endeavour.

If in contrast you mean true leadership in the sense of motivating and inspiring those under your authority, then I guess I can't offer an opinion because I have never experienced actual leadership in any development job I have held.

A couple of observations as a Manager (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503293)

First, there are a subset of Managers that can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be a Manager. They think that everyone with any amount of experience wants to climb the corperate ladder. After all, that's what they want / did. In their mind if you don't have that goal, then there is something wrong with you. If that's the case, you don't want to work for those types of people anyway.

Second, you mentioned you have 14 years of experience and are looking for a better position. Typically better positions typically require a higher skill set, including leadership skills - not necessarily management skills - there is a difference. If you want someone else to tell you what to do and set your goals, then you are going to top out eventually, and there won't be a "better position" out there for you. Management is leading other people. You can develop leadership skills by leading yourself. Do you wait to be told what to do, or do you take the lead and do what needs to be done on a project without being told that it needs to be done? How active are you in the projects you are on? Do you only highlight problems, or do you highlight problems and give potiential solutions / options? Mentoring younger people is another leadership skill too.

Don't sell yourself short. Think about what you do on a day to day basis, and honestly evaluate yourself. Don't be afraid to promote yourself. However, if you look at yourself, and don't see any basic self leadership skills, then chances are you won't get a better position anywhere else.

Leadership is a valuable skill (4, Insightful)

dave562 (969951) | about a year ago | (#44503299)

After close to fifteen years of experience, it is a reasonable expectation that a competent developer has enough experience to contribute to a team effort. IT is very much a technical trade. There is an expectation of a master / apprentice style of relationship between senior team members and their junior counterparts. It is strange to have fifteen years of experience and not having demonstrated some quantifiable leadership traits.

You are at the point in your career where you are going to hit a salary cap if you do not want to step up and be a bigger contributor to the teams you are a part of. I know guys in that position and they are comfortable there. They are making six figure salaries and are okay with the trade off between a smaller paycheck and not having to deal with all of the project management and personnel / mentorship expectations that come along with leading teams.

Leaders are over valued because there are so few of them. Good leaders are hard to come by. There are plenty of people in leadership positions who should not be there. There is an old saying, "The person who wants the power the most, is the last person who should be trusted with it." There are plenty of people with degrees in "management" who do not have experience with the work the team they are managing is doing. In IT, those people are deadly. They have no idea what it takes to really get the job done, because they have never done it, do not know how to do it, and do not have any interest in learning how to do it.

Look at yourself. You do not have, or do not seem inclined to manifest, leadership attributes. There are a lot of people like you. A lot of followers who want others to lead. I just hope you are not the kind of follower who complains about other leaders, without being willing to be a leader yourself.

I moved into a management position after thirteen years in the trenches. I now have a staff of three (and growing). I provide guidance and advice to the CIO, and to IT staffs at Fortune 50 corporations. At this point in my career, my experience and ability to articulate in why the company needs to pursue a given IT initiative is significantly more valuable than my ability to push buttons, develop scripts and deploy a specific technology. My ability to vet vendors and see through the smoke and mirrors because I have enough successful implementations under my belt is more valuable than my ability to implement a given technology.

Management sucks and it requires some specific skills to deal with the levels of suck inherent in management. There are so many "leaders" who cannot even meet deadlines, or develop project plans, or articulate what their team spent the last week doing, and what they will be doing for the next week. There are plenty of leaders who say YES to everything because they cannot understand risk or do not know how to define the scope of a project.

Given your nearlly fifteen years of development experience, if I were looking to hire you, I would expect that you have been on enough teams to know what works and what does not. I would expect you to be able to run a team. I would expect you to be able to setup a source code repository. I would expect you to be able to manage an SDLC. In short, I would expect that you can do more than just crank out good code. What else are you bringing to the table? What good habits are you going to impart into the rest of the team? If your answer is, "I am going to show them how to sit in a cube, do their jobs and not contribute beyond that." the odds are I am going to pass you over for someone else who wants to be a senior level employee.

I was once told that a good leader empowers their employees, and then gets out of the way and lets them do their jobs. Can you help the people who you work with be better at what they do? If you can, grow a pair of balls and step up to the table. If you cannot, accept it and focus on what you are good at.

Re:Leadership is a valuable skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503465)

Honestly, you sound like a terrible manager to work for because you seem to think that your personal career choices and ambition are superior to others, including your staff. It doesn't take balls to take on a management job, it takes balls to turn one down. I'd rather eat broken glass than have to talk to some lame brained CIO regularly about pie in the sky crap that he read in Computer World magazine.

Setup a source code repository? I expect an ops guy to do that. That's a waste of an engineers time.

Re:Leadership is a valuable skill (1)

dave562 (969951) | about a year ago | (#44503467)

One more point here... " I think in this modern society, especially in the U.S., we overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they do not have good followers."

This has been the opposite of my experience. I was promoted into a leadership role because I was so good at what I do, that I was doing it 12+ hours every day and getting burnt out. I got to the point where I said, "Either find me some help, or I am leaving." At a good company, the executives are going to empower employees who are getting the job done. Sometimes that means giving them subordinates to lighten the load. I was entrusted with the careers of other people because I was able to articulate what needed to be done and provide strategies (project plans, business cases, etc) that demonstrated how to accomplish what needed to be done. The business knew that I was going to make good use of whatever resources they gave me.

If one of my guys quits, I can step into the breach and keep everything going until we find someone else. Conversely, I am grooming my team to step in and take my position when I get to the point that I want to do something else. I make sure that they have the technical skills and training to do their jobs, and for those who are interested, I also pass along what I am learning about management. The same relationship exists between me and my boss. He is teaching me how to be an executive.

Have you asked? (1)

Thiarna (111890) | about a year ago | (#44503323)

If you have 14 years experience, and are in a reasonably strong job market, you should know what you want in a position and what you have to offer. Just because you are asked questions about leadership skills doesn't mean they are a requirement for the position, but companies want to know what they are getting when they take someone on. If you have a valuable skill they need they will probably want to build a role around you, and while you may want to be hands one providing technical leadership but not supervising a team, someone else with the same skills may want to delegate much of their less challenging tasks.The interview should be a two way conversation - if you dont like a particular line of questions ask if they are core to the role.

If you are looking for a senior position though you will need to be a leader in some way, this may be thought leadership or more direct,

Avoid Project Management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503325)

They're asking 'have you lead a project' and 'why aren't you in management' so they're probably looking for 'project managers'

This is an awful dead end to find yourself in, so be glad you avoid it, as you'll spend your time in plannng meetings, getting frustrated when progress falls behind the plan (because it wasn't done realistically) and then getting stick for that from the senior management.

You need to find some 'senior developer' roles that really are for senior developers with a proven track record that can mentor a team, empart valuable experience to less experienced developers, deliver good quality by avoiding all the bad decisions you've seen others make during your career and appreciating what really worked well and lobbying effectively to implement those things in your new place.

After that you can step up to 'technical architect' level that focuses on infrastructure, methodology as well as development and strategic technology choices, but beware : this kind of role varies even more wildly in what it really entails from company to company. With the long development experience you have, if you really care about the context within which you develop, a focus on quality issues and have managed to remain enthusiastic about using new technology to develop better systems more efficiently you should do fine.

You also need to really develop an ability to 'let go' and appreciate that the work that more junior developers produce may be 'inferior' to the way you would have done it, but is a 'good enough' solution. Then you can discuss this with them and help to start guiding them along the path you have already travelled.

Most managers are mere babysitters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503333)

Most software managers are reduced to babysitting developers. Usually they are not technical enough to make architecture or design decisions. Most technical leaders who are capable of making architecture and design decisions do not want to manage/babysit anyone or attend countless meetings. Why these two roles seem to be combined into one position is beyond my understanding. Hire a babysitter that stays out of technical discussions. Then hire a strong technical leader to make design decisions a stay out of the babysitting. I have only seen this in place once and it worked.

Banana Hootenanny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503341)

Given the high demand for developer talent: Experience still takes the cake. Unless you are applying for a Lead role, interviews like these should raise a red flag about the company culture. I've worked at a number of companies whose infrastructure has gone off the rails due to executive pissing contests. Usually it takes an outside consultancy to come in and lay down the law (enforce all the things the lower staff have been expressing a need for for years). If their focus is leadership, maybe it's a sign that things have gotten a bit muddled and they're hoping a new sheriff might level the town.

That said: Leadership, in my opinion, is the ability to drive a team toward a common goal while unblocking members of technical obstacles. It isn't overvalued as much as it is diluted by people who lack the initiative to keep abreast of technology. In other words: A good leader can deal with bureaucracy in a professional manner AND grab a keyboard to assist a team member in resolving an unexpected and elusive task blocker. Furthermore, a good leader contributes a significant amount of time to bringing others on the team up to speed.

I've known a few very talented developers who lack social skills entirely. They work in their silos producing undocumented artifacts, and lash out at others (including clients) during meetings. Technical prowess is important, but so is a healthy workplace. I'd rather be short staffed than have a genius sociopath in my company.

FTFY (1)

sstamps (39313) | about a year ago | (#44503447)

"We overvalue the leaders and undervalue the followers to the point that we forget that leaders cannot do any good if they are not also good followers."

In my experience, the best leaders are the ones who want to lead the least. They make the tough decisions, then get the hell out of everyone's way and get back to work getting the job done.

It kind of goes back to what someone said earlier in the comments.. the best chiefs are found amongst the indians.

Leaders and Managers are not same (1)

camus1 (2929993) | about a year ago | (#44503507)

Managers and Leaders are two different things. Managers are defined by their roles and Leaders relates to a skill. So a Manager can be a very bad leader and samely a code developer can be a very good potential good leader. The main issue is we tend to mixup managers and leaders. Anyway, the current industry pattern which is also driven by the society, is to reward who frontend with the higher manamegment. This is all about accountability. Management needs someone (single person) to blame and those who can answer all their questions and stupidity. Most of time the presentations of CEO or CTO are prepared by someone who is much lower in the ranks but they don't get any rewards but the newspaper headlines praise all for the CEO. This is the harsh reality..

how I answer the question (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#44503545)

The question "why aren't you in management? do you not have any management skills?" I can honestly say, I tried that, spent a few years at it, and I don't like what it does to me. You know Merrill's personality types? I'm a Driver - Driver. I tend to pound the table. I deliver ultimatums, and follow through with them. In short, as a manager, I'm an asshole. Make no mistake, I will get things done, but in a surprisingly short amount of time everyone will hate my guts, including me. So tried that, didn't like it. I'm happy being an individual contributor.

It's worked so far.

Being a team lead (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44503559)

Does not mean you are an uninvolved manager. The problem may be that you have held the role but not nominally so. Some organizations don't bother being explicit about it if things are healthy enough that the role is naturally fulfilled.

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