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I'm 26. Long story short: I've been programming for over half my life all the way from 8088 ROM BASIC to TP to VB to C++ to C#.

Lately, I've been less interested in coding, and more interested in overall project design (particularly UI design), managing a team, and taking care of clients. Don't get me wrong -- coding is still fun and I'm effective doing that -- I just feel more drawn towards a managerial role. I'm targeting a technical management role such as program manager, not a purely project management role. There are different, difficult, and exciting challenges there.

I know that even asking this question means I have some inner work to do, but I'd like to know the community's opinion on issues like:

  • How can I be hired for such a role, never having been explicitly in this role before?
  • Will I be taken seriously by my subordinates? Co-workers? Superiors? HR (see 1st point)?
  • Am I making a big deal out of nothing?

I have a little bit of team management experience from my latest project (5 months)... and that's all the management experience I could put on my CV. There aren't any more projects here where I have the opportunity to gain more experience. I've been actively reading books on management theory to lay some formal foundation that I can use every day.

All thoughts on the subject would be appreciated, as I think I'm in a relatively rare situation.


Related question


UPDATE: Thank you all very much for your ideas and encouragement! I've added comments to most of the replies here. You've all given me a lot to think about, and even more work to do. ;)

17

I hate to rain on your parade, but my first advice would be to make sure you want to do this. I have been a manager for three years now. And the only fun I have is the rare times I can steal a chance to do some of my own programming. This usually happens when someone on my team tells me it can't be done, and I have to show them it can. For me at least, while being a manager can some times be rewarding, coding is FUN. Big difference. Make sure you want to walk away from coding. Because as a general rule you can't be a programmer and a manager. Your eyes can only fix on one horizon at a time. Make sure you organization offers sufficient support for you to be able to take care of your clients as well as you will want to. And as far as managing a team, unless your organization believes in disciplining non-performers, up to and including termination, be afraid, be very afraid!!

7

How can I be hired for such a role, never having been explicitly in this role before?

Start by being promoted to that kind of task in your current work. After that, get enough experience to be hired by some other employer. They always look for some experience for the role you are applying for.

Will I be taken seriously by my subordinates? Co-workers? Superiors? HR ?

You must be confident that your experience counts to be taken seriously. If you are good at the job almost everyone will respect you. Remember: software development is a social activity. If you are interested in managing people you need to focus on developing soft skills (negotiation, leadership, communication, etc.) to add more value to your technical background. Joel has a lot of good advice about that on his blog.

Lately, I've been less interested in coding...

A good piece of advice, from a developer perspective: to be taken seriously by your co-workers being a "hands on" technical manager, architect, team leader or whatever role you name is a essential. In my experience best managers are people who used to code a lot and with a solid background in the whole development process. So, even if you are less interested in coding don't low your interest to zero :)

7

I'm 23 and am currently a product manager.

People take me seriously because I take my work seriously and am knowledgeable about our products. If you act like a child they might not respect you, but so long as you're capable of performing your responsibilities I don't see why your youth would be an issue.

6

I agree completely with "Developer Art". For the decision to be a manager, your age is irrelevant. Your experience is also irrelevant, since you have to start at some point. What is important is a genuine enthousiasm for the art of managing, but to me it is already a very clear sign that your interest in coding is fading and the interest in management is growing. You are drawn to it: so go for it!

How to get in such a role? I have seen it done in many ways. I can only tell you stories from my experience.

1) One colleague of mine had no management skills, but he was renowned for his independence, precision and working hard. He got small amounts of responsibility (projects) and did it really well (first class results, reporting and everything on time). He started getting more and bigger projects, and amazed everyone by his "reliability" (leave it to him, and it will get fixed). Once you acquire this reputation, more and more people will automatically look to you when a "leader" is required, and you will get your own project sooner or later automatically. Again holds: perform well, and you will get more, in time. If somehow it should go wrong, no worries: you now have your experience on your CV, and you can start again at another company, but start higher.

2) Another colleague did a lot of management training courses, asked for projects and got them. This is also a way: school yourself, demand for such positions, and eventually someone will give you a chance.

I think the first route is really the best: find a place, a way, a boss who will give you more and more responsibility. Make sure you do it well, and make sure that your bosses notice this: try to give people the feeling that stuff runs smoother because of you (without showing off too much - you have to actually MAKE stuff run smoother).

Another advice: try to look at the managers around you and spot the characteristics of the ones you admire. You will notice there are good ones, and bad ones. Try to find out what makes the good ones good. In my opinion, it is important to be a good listener, a dependable worker (people need to be able to trust that whatever they leave to you, will be taken care of) and a good "darlingkiller" (kill your darlings: weed out the less important things in favour of the focus).

Good luck : - )

5 accepted

Your age is just fine to get a managerial role if you have the necessary skills. Don't even worry about it.

Now to your questions:

How can I be hired for such a role, never having been explicitly in this role before?

Everyone starts in this role one day without having experience. Sometimes you can be forced into this role because somebody needs to do it. Sometimes you show signs of being good at small submanagerial tasks, your superior notices it and promotes you. Sometimes you just talk about your inclinations and you are given options to prove yourself in this desired role. If you wish it, arrange a meeting and talk about it.

Will I be taken seriously by my subordinates? Co-workers? Superiors? HR (see 1st point)?

If you have good colleagues without attitude problems and prejudices, they should treat you based on your merits not on age, origin or whatever. With HT it maybe more difficult, it's rarely an authority that can see a potential in a candidate of any type. Be self-confident and behave during presentation so as to persuade them you're up to this role. If it comes out naturally, then you can simply be yourself which is then seen from a mile.

Am I making a big deal out of nothing?

Yes and no. Yes, because this is a valid concern No, because there have been lots of people who did management at about your age and younger. My first manager was also 26 and he was the guy who taught me many valuable things. He did great. So can you.

2

If you have to ask then you are not ready to be a manager in the first place. A manager has to be confident, has to have seen enough of project management (although not neccessarily have been one) to know the big things (e.g. how to deal with people) and little things (e.g you are never too young IF you can do the job excellently and can work legally.)

Now, for some of your direct question. Project Management is something you learn on the job. You have to be ready to fail at first before you have success. So, having not been one before will not hurt you. However, not having good/great people who you can model your skills after can (and this seems to be your case but I can be wrong).


People under you, bosses, HR etc should take you serious because you affect them as a manager. While you cannot control HR and people outside your control, people under you have no choice but to respect your position. You have to gently yet firmly make it clear if they hesitate they they better take your serious or else- stackoverflow now has a career-search service. That being said, you have to know the techical knowledge to back-up the respect you have. It is hard to work under someone less knowledegable than you.

I do not think you are making a big deal. However, I do think you may need to hold off on management until you get more experience from good/great models, confidence and have more people to learn Project management from. Part of it cannot be learn from books but only by watching people.

2

Applying for a job, leveraging your current leadership and project management experience to small companies makes the most sense to my mind. In small companies you may have to wear many hats so it may suit you more.

As for being taken seriously, maybe, maybe not. In small companies there isn't likely an HR person so that can be scratched off the list. While you would have subordinates and co-workers, if you can understand that you are part of a team and be professional and respectful, that may go a long way. You could study leadership styles if you want to have more knowledge but I'd think getting some experience is key.

No, you aren't making a big deal out of nothing. You are taking this seriously and asking for help which I'd consider a wise move. Now, how well you take all this free advice and see what works and doesn't work for you, that's your next challenge.

At my first job out of university, the CEO of the company was 29 just to put out there that sometimes someone young can get into those power positions.

2

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 role before?

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.

1

The organization I work for has an I.T. Director who is 31 so if you have the skillset and can satisfy all of the requirements your organization is looking for I don't see why your age should be a limiting factor.

1

Of course not! If you have the capability and the wherewithall to get the skills needs I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to do the role. As with all jobs/career shifts generally you need to be able to demonstrate the skills to others. I would really really recommend what colour is your parachute as the real eye opener on how to find and secure jobs in this situation.

Good luck.

1

Its illegal for a prospective employer to even ask you your age during the interview process so like the others said, as long as you show them you have the technical chops that the job requires you should be fine. Of course if you look like your 18 there will be some employers who will have a negative first impression no matter what.

Even though both are important I'd take a project manager with technical skills over one with great managerial skills anyday.

Good luck.

1

Ask yourself 5 times - 'Why do I want to move into management?'

If you get anywhere close to 'more money', stop yourself, stick with programming and convince your employer of your worth.

1

Everyone has already made great points about how being younger does not matter as long as your talent and work command others' respect.Absolutely true.Equally important is the EQ aspect of the role.

In the enthusiasm to prove oneself to people older than one, it is easy to forget the human side of it all. For no good reason, people who have been around for longer than you may likely feel threatened by your authority/position.(In fact people can feel threatened by all sorts of things, but in your case your age may be a factor). You will need to be able to not only keep your head at such times, but also conduct yourself in such a way that it convinces others of your mettle. Once way to diffuse such situations would be to listen and respect others' opinions and bring about a healthy team culture with the right balance.If you think you have the ability to do this and are capable of putting others at ease despite their insecurities, and still perform well in your tasks, then you have the EQ required for a young manager. That may get people to work "with" you no matter what your age.

A good self-test would be to watch out for people's reactions to you when you are providing leadership of some sort in your current role, and your own reaction to their reactions :-) Goodluck.

1

Just make sure you have the necessary prerequesites (i.e. skills). Of course "experience" is something you can only get once you are there, but you should at least read some books, e.g. "Herding Cats: A Primer for Programmers Who Lead Programmers" by J. H. Rainwater, and maybe attend some courses.

I would also strongly recommend that you talk to some people who already have made that transition, since the other job might be not as funny as you think. For example, I've been in a manager position for some years and I'm glad to be back to a (mostly) developer position.

1

I wouldn't worry about your age, but I would echo something that previous responders have already pointed you at, (and that you hinted at yourself), management is inherently different than hands-on technical work. Depending on talent / predilection, one or the other will be more challenging. I've been doing technology related management for about 9 years after a coding career of about 9 years. I personally think that the problems that one faces in management are a little more difficult to deal with than the ones that I faced when coding because there are no docs and few absolutes with people, but everyone is going to have their own perspective on that.

If you are interested in figuring out how to interpret technology for people (customers), how to organize teams to work effectively on problems and how to communicate about technical trade-offs with people who have little, if any connection with technical realities, then management is probably a good choice for you. If it's really about money, as a previous poster pointed out, there are better ways to make more money.

Good luck with whatever path you choose!

1

Consistency is key to getting respect. If a problem keeps cropping up, and you keep putting it on your agenda, it lets people know that you are serious.

Obviously, you have to attack the real problem (i.e. sloppy testing, rather than specific bugs), and you should focus on management areas (soft issues, and unromantic things like keeping the spec up to date), but the way to do that is to keep nagging.

If you blow up at people, seem erratic (i.e. you keep attacking different things without any apparent reason), attack problems that originate elsewhere, or attack obvious problems (that they were onto already) then they won't respect you. But if you keep nagging people over genuine problems that aren't getting solved, then you will be respected.

Being liked (having people skills, and recognizing accomplishments) and motivating people (by setting clear expectations) are also important. Good communication (both up, down, and sideways) is also essential. But if you want respect, consistently attack real systematic problems.

At 26, there will be some people who won't respect you, and will claim that you are too young to manage them. Guess what - they didn't respect the last guy either. These are the people who are stuck at the age of 15, thinking that everyone giving them instructions is an idiot. Just say that you're under pressure because of the oppressive Dilbertesque world that we all live in, and you just want them to help you humor the management gods. Or words to that effect.

But don't run in chanting some reform mantra. Unless you are diving into a crisis, you don't have to reform anything in the short term. You'll see the big problems later on, and you don't want to have cried wolf without having gained some perspective.

As a disclaimer, I'm not actually a manager.

1

Some guy called Bill Gates started a little company called Micro-Soft when he was 20. Calendar age is not a deciding factor in whether you are capable of being a manager, technical or otherwise.

0

There will always be someone who might question your age, but really the only one that should concern you is YOU. Have confidence in yourself and you should do fine, especially since you are already taking rational steps to prepare yourself for management. Only 5 months experience? That is more than most Individual Contributors! Langkg's comment is spot on, make sure you want to do it. Whether or not you can continue coding as part of a technical lead really depends on the culture of your organization, I've been in orgs where it wasn't possible to be both management and technical, and those where it was natural to do both.

People your age have commanded warships and aircraft, led all sorts of companies big and small--don't limit yourself.

0

Guys ! I recently have been invited for a Technical Program Manager at Amazon.com.

I had applied for SDET position and after the phone screener(for SDET position), the interviewer decided to send me in for Technical Program Manager position!!!(that was quite surprising) . I guess the interviewer really really liked my coding skills.

I have around 2 yrs. exp in Software Industry.

Anybody have any idea on what to prepare for TPM interview. I have not been in a role like this before.