Minimal Skills of a Manager in Software Engineering

BY MARKUS SPRUNCK

The motivation to write this short article was a statement I heard not long ago - "The successor for this managerial position (software engineering team) could also be a former Cookie Factory Manager".  

What is a Cookie Factory Manager?

The term Cookie Factory Manager was completely new for me. So, my first idea was that this has something to do with a clever design of a web application. In the further discussion I realized - that this was just a sample for a manager without any technical and/or technological know-how in software engineering.

Don't get me wrong I'm sure that there are a lot of excellent managers working for cookie factories. Not all shoot their employees in the back of the head (see also Cookie factory manager faces charges after 'shooting employee in the back of the head...) at least this happens very seldom.

Pros of a Cookie Factory Manager

An experienced and talented Cookie Factory Manager leading a software engineering team may have the following skills:
  • high emotional intelligence
  • leadership skills
  • common sense 
  • economical knowledge
  • political smart
  • excellent presentation skills
  • self motivation 
All this is important and not directly related to software engineering. Leading a software engineering team needs all the skills mentioned above, but for sure it's not enough.

Cons of a Cookie Factory Manager

To provide sustainable solutions and have long term success with a software engineering team (software developers and/or infrastructure experts) you will need a deep understanding of software development and IT operations. Some of the additional skills and/or know-how will be needed:
  • evaluate the quality of a technical solutions, design and/or source code
  • good coding skills in several state of the art languages
  • rate the skills and results of experts in the team 
  • understand what skill will be needed in future
  • deep understanding of development infrastructure and processes
  • methodical know-how , e.g. review techniques, test management, agile tool s
  • psychology of development process, quality and team dynamics in software engineering
  • basics about software architecture
  • language of IT

Recommendations

  • The idea - that you need just an experienced manager and let lead him any team independent from technical skills – is stupid and dangerous. Don't even think about doing this.
  • It is absolutely necessary to find a person with excellent technical and managerial skills. This may be difficult, but being a technical lead requires both.  
  • If you are a technical lead and don't have these skills, it is just difficult to get the respect of software developers. So, don't forget to keep your technical skills up to date.

Change History

 Revision  Date  Author  Description
 1.0  Dec 7, 2012  Markus Sprunck  first version
 1.2  Feb 5, 2013  Markus Sprunck   picture added

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