Being a PM is good for your career health

by Curt 30. April 2010 20:08

Stop hiding under your desk clutching your WPF manual.  That new project manager position may be just right for you.

I know its hard letting go of manipulating bits into elegant solutions, but a PM role will evolve your skill-set and likely lead to other opportunities.  Besides, transitioning back to a developer is not entirely out of reach. (You’ll probably be a better developer as a result.)

The reason I’m asking you to consider a PM role, is that it forces you to develop competencies that are typically at the other end of the spectrum for a developer.   Skills like communication, dealing with lots of ambiguity, and acquiring deeper business knowledge are not often practiced as a developer.

Let’s take a look at each one of these and how they can lead to something I know you’ve always thought about…  …starting your own business.


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Career | Management

PMs are banned from the Ivory Tower

by Curt 29. March 2010 21:50

As a technical PM, you’re not allowed in the ivory tower. (You know there’re too many people there anyway.)

It’s NOT your sole mission to simply bestow coding guidelines, check-in procedures, documentation structure, and continue to ask ‘Are you done yet?’.  Your project will be crushed if you take this disconnected approach and you'll end up with a turnover rate that rivals that of a fast food franchise.


Stay involved… …frequently


You have to avoid ‘ivory tower’ thinking and understand that delivering successful projects is about involvement throughout each person, level, and aspect of your project.  Unlike you, ivory tower mangers will never be found trudging through the weeds with their staff.

Despite having ‘manager’ or ‘lead’ in your title, you still need to have frequent participation in the low level stuff.  You do this, not by trying to do everyone’s work, but by going through a bit of a context shift from what you did as a developer.


Interactions are key


The primary way you stay involved in your project is through interactions with your team members. You use these interactions to shape how you pitch-in and add value to your project.


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Management | Techie Manager Tips

Why the hero on your project is dangerous

by Curt 13. February 2010 07:04

The ‘hero’ is that one person who swoops in and saves your project from imminent doom.  They have these unique super powers that make them such a critical person.


Critical production bug…  BAM!  FIXED!
Slow server response time….WHAM!  SPEEDY!
Obscure technical question…  POW! ANSWERED!


Why heroes are a threat


As much as the hero is reveled in your organization, few realize the risk they pose.  Yea, they get things done that other staff would struggle with.  But often times they perform their marvel and rarely communicate or document the solution. 

Why should they?...  Most heroes have this amazing capacity of knowledge and instant recall of information.  …and why do we care anyway?...  The hero has averted our disaster and they’re busy saving other citizens.  We shouldn’t burden them with such tedious knowledge transfer tasks.


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Management | Risks

3 Tales of Micromangement

by Curt 23. January 2010 08:27

Software projects tend to be susceptible to micromanagement.  Even if your project has healthy requirements definition, there are still so many hidden details that need to be worked out.  


I’m sure that you’ve experienced micromanagement in the past and it caused you a bit of grief.  However, you may not realize that other team members sometimes condition themselves and their managers into needing low level direction.


You may also be thinking that all micromanagement is evil.  Mostly it is, but it can sometimes be used as a tool when team members are having trouble executing.


Below are three stories of micromanagement to help you see these different forms.  I hope they allow you to identify when to use it and how it happens, so you can take appropriate action.


Jack the Robot


Jack, the developer, has transformed into a robot.  He has lost the ability to execute the simplest tasks without instruction.  When you, the project manager, are unavailable he wanders around aimlessly repeating “Need Input… Need input…”.  Regrettably, you may be to blame for his metamorphosis.

When you first began working with Jack, before he became the robot, you sensed something about him.  The ambiguity of project details, which was the norm for you, was frustrating for Jack.  You shrugged it off though, thinking it was just a developer striving for exactness.

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Developer to manager and back again.

by Curt 10. January 2010 07:50

You're done trying to control the chaos and you want your old development job back.  You're fed up with the endless stream of feature creep and politically motivated deadlines.  The hands on technical work that got you out of bed in the morning has been replaced with managing others to do that work.


Don't be rash


For the moment, hold off marching into your manager's office and requesting that you be 'unmade' a project manager.  Consider the rationale for your decision.  Make sure you not overreacting to something bad that just happened.


  • Did you miss a major milestone?
  • Did you make a bad call?
  • Did a key team member leave and cite you as the reason?


Events like this are painful, but they shape you into a better project manager.  They'll force you to do things differently and provide you with the best learning experience.


“I'm not being rash, I want out...”


Alright, perhaps your justifications are not related to one of the fires you couldn't put out. You feel that you have legitimate gripes about the core responsibilities of being a project manager.

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Career | Development | Management

A manager’s primer to using Silverlight 3.0 for LOB applications

by Curt 20. December 2009 09:12

Let me guess… An excited developer just went on and on about this new technology, called Silverlight. "It's going to change the web and the world as we know it", they say. You've heard it all before, but you're definitely curious.

Since I know you'd rather not sift through pages of Microsoft documentation just to answer a few questions, I wrote this post to give you a quick primer.


The web is so nineties


I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing my users complain about the 'web experience'. Even though web applications have been around for some time, users are still unsatisfied with using the web for line of business applications. Have you ever heard things like?…


"My session timed out, but I was still typing" or…
"I'm in East Sasquatch and I can't use your web application" or…
"Why does the page refresh every time I click on something." or…
"Why can't it work like <insert off the shelf or client/server name here>."


Benefits for end users

The most notable advantage of Silverlight is how it completely changes the user experience of web-based applications.


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.NET | Development | Silverlight

How to hire a mid-level developer

by Curt 13. December 2009 06:33

It must be great to hire top-tier developers. But what if it's just not possible, be it for budgetary reasons, not having that luxurious office space, or just not being that 'sexy' company.


Here are some tips on evaluating the fit of a mid-level developer


First, know what you're getting

Make sure you really consider the skill set that's needed. Don't expect to throw the spec. over the wall and tell them to come see you in six weeks (you should never do this anyway).


Mid-level developers are going to require some level of oversight.  This means more frequent one-on-ones and code reviews, especially on larger projects.

You should also anticipate that some training will be required to advance them to the next level.


Initiative and Enthusiasm 


A mid-level developer may not be able to point to a long list of technical skills, but they should demonstrate a passion for technology. Passion can be a great predictor of a candidate's drive for personal growth and commitment.


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Let’s get started...

by Curt 12. December 2009 17:07

I hated homework as a kid.  Even though I loved to learn (I still do) it was always in the way of doing something fun.  Yet, here I am as an adult volunteering for the homework of a blog.  So, you may ask, ‘Why?...”


Why I’m doing a blog

Well, I’m in this great field of software development, but it requires a commitment to learning that’s unlike any other career.  The reason for my self-imposed assignments is to learn by helping you, the reader.


I hope that my ramblings will benefit you, whether you’re a software developer, analyst, or software manager.  Working in the field of software development is exciting, but it can sometimes cause you to wonder whether being a greeter at big department store is a better choice.




I’d like to welcome you to my blog.  Please feel free to poke around a bit, I may occasionally have something useful to say.  Please feel free to contact me or learn more about me or my blog.



About Me

I'm a software project manager in the Boston area. More...

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