I don't think 26 is too young - I took on my first official lead/management role at about that age, after doing it informally for a year or so before that point.
More important, I think are some level of the following:
- experience with the corporate culture or a very similar corporate culture -- knowing the personalities adn how to get things done within your infrastructure is key to being a good manager. Also knowing what 'rules' you can and can't break.
- experience with full lifecycles of the product or a very similar product, so you know some of the common pitfalls.
- a bag of tricks in the "soft skill" department, ie, ways to get smart people to do what you want them to do without being resentful.
- a bag of tricks for getting management and external parties to do what you want them to do - usually this is a different set of tricks from the first set.
- writing skills, particularly about making technical subjects clear from a business perspective
- enough technical skills that your people will trust you with their problems -- I may be the voice of dissent here, but I don't think the manager needs to be as good a coder as the rest of the team. A fabulous coder is unlikely to be a fabulous manager. And a fabulous manager will end up taking too much time away from the code to remain a fabulous coder... even if he was when he was promoted.
That's what's important for getting a manager job done, although it may not be the set of skills that will get you a manager position in a given company. Each company has it's own criteria for how it promotes managers. Generally, I've seen companies determine who should be a manager based on a combination of gravatas (years of experience in the company and/or years of experience in general) and technical prowess.
To answer the specific questions:
How can I be hired for such a role,
never having been explicitly in this
I think you are well on your way by being unofficially in the role. By taking on some management work, you're already starting to show that you can handle it, even if you're not the one with the official hat.
Also - I recommend talking to your current management about wanting to move towards this role. I know that in my company, showing an interest is vital, especially if you are younger than what is considered the "norm". All things being equal, a smart company will promote the person who wants the job, and not every coder wants to be in management.
If your management knows this and supports the idea of you becoming a manager, they would be smart to throw mini-management work your way. Work that is either related to management tasks, or managing a small, less high profile team before throwing you in the deep end of the pool.
Will I be taken seriously by my
subordinates? Co-workers? Superiors?
HR (see 1st point)?
The way I get respect is by giving it. When someone knows I will listen to their problem, ask serious questions, and give it careful consideration before making the decision, then they give me respect. Also - I've willing to grant anyone a chance to make a few mistakes before I step in make demands. That's gotten me a lot of respect - from both below and above the management chain.
This strategy does take time - the first few months of taking on a new role are critical here. It won't be immediate - people need to build up enough evidence that you're a good manager before they are ready to trust and respect.
But once built - I've never had a problem being taken seriously by anyone - inside or outside of the team, above or below me on the management chain.
Am I making a big deal out of nothing?
No, it's not nothing. Being a manager can be awesome --- if you get the team working to your liking. If you don't like being a manager, don't like the team, don't like the corporate culture or don't like your management -- this could easily be an awful experience and a big mistake. But if you do make for yourself a scenario where all these things are great or neutral, you have a very different kind of fun than you have coding.
One more thought - it sounds like with the current situation in your company, you are in the mind to look for a new company.
I'll offer the caveat that because management is about helping a team get things done within a corporate infrastructure, you may not find a job that lets you be a manager immediately. I would recommend going to job interviews prepared to ask what the path to management might be and how long you'd be expected to prove yourself first. Different companies will have very different answers.