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.

The best thing you can do at this point is get the rationale out of your head in front of you in black and white.  Jot down the reasons for your decisions and force yourself to make them into something tangible.    

Are they things like?...


  • I hate meetings.
  • I avoid giving negative feedback.
  • I'm a 'hands on' kind of person.
  • I love to solve technical problems/puzzles.
  • Technology interests me more than business processes.
  • I've been writing code since I was 10 years old and it's what I do best.


You should consider a transition back to a developer if your reasons are similar to the ones above,  your gripes are about a necessary function of a project manager or they strike at the core of your work preferences.


Take stock of your skills


Now that you're confident in your decision, you'll need to determine the extent of your 'management lobotomy'. 

If you've been away from development for about 2 years and you've been 'pitching in' during that time then you could probably get away with a month of self-study.  If it has been longer than 2 years or you have been removed from development completely then you should try to get more involved writing code on your current project in addition to the self-study. 

Neither of these will make you proficient, but it will allow you to pass the technical quiz if an interview is in your future.


Having 'the talk'


Before decreeing your re-found calling, have a plan of what to discuss with your manager.  You should avoid proclaiming “I just want to develop”.  Try to have some vacant position in mind.  If there are no current openings, then do your best to suggest a potential role that you might fill.

If you'd like to assume a development role on your current project, then make sure that there is appropriate budget for it.  As the current project manager, you should have visibility into such things.

You should present your case in a positive manner and avoid whining.  Highlight how your prior management responsibilities will make you a more competent and business-oriented developer.  Follow that up with a suggestion of someone that would be a suitable replacement and  offer training to that new project manager.




Making your way back to your developer roots will have potential consequences.  It is up to you to decide if the side effects are acceptable.


Pay cut – In some companies, a project management position is considered a promotion.  Therefore, it's only logical to assume that moving back as a developer is a voluntary demotion.

Difficulty taking orders – Even though you've decided that management is not for you, it may be difficult for you to let go of controlling the project.  This is especially true if you are stepping into a developer role on the same project you were managing.

Buyer's remorse – After you've taken some action to step aside you may second guess your decision.  You'll think about things you could have done differently when you manged the project. 

Stigma – Your move may be perceived as having an inability to take on more responsibility, not career motivated, a flight-risk, etc. 

Lack of career advancement - If your company doesn't have a separate management and technical career track you could get stuck in your developer position for a long time.  This is especially true if your company sees the career ladder as something like Junior developer -> Developer -> Senior Developer -> Technical Project manager.


Do what you want to do


It's definitely not easy to making the transition, but if you were born to write code then you'll most likely be happier doing that.  Most people spend more time at work than they do with their families.  You should, therefore, strive to do things that are aligned with your strengths and your passion. 



Career | Development | Management

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