4 Out Of 5 Developers Would Choose To Stay Developers. Is It Time We Let Them?

Following on from yesterday’s post about squaring the circle of learning and mentoring in software development, a little poll I ran on Twitter clearly shows that a large majority of software developers would prefer to stay hands-on if they had the choice.

I’ve seen many developers over my 28-year career reluctantly pushed into management roles, and heard so very many talk about how much they miss making software with their own hands. But in too many organisations, the only way to progress in terms of seniority and pay is to move away from code.

Some choose not to progress, making do with the pay and the authority of a developer and biting their tongues when managers who haven’t touched code in years tell them to do silly things. But then we often find that ageism starts to kick in eventually, making it harder and harder to get hired in those hands-on roles. “Why is she still coding?” There’s an assumption among hirers that to still be in these “less senior” roles at, say, 45 is a failure to launch, and not a success in being exactly where you want to be, doing what you love.

A conversation I had recently with a team highlighted what can go wrong when you promote your best developers into non-development positions. They found themselves have to refer technical decisions up to people who no longer had a practical grasp of the technology, and this created a huge communication overhead that wouldn’t have been necessary had the decision-making authority been given to the people responsible for making those decisions work.

I’ve always believed that authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand. Anyone who is given the responsibility for making something happen should also be given the necessary authority to decide how to make it happen.

Not all developers welcome responsibility, of course. In some large organisations, I’ve seen teams grow comfortable with the top-down bureaucracy. They get used to people making the decisions for them, and become institutionalised in much the same way soldiers or prisoners do. What’s for dinner? Whatever they give us. When do we go to bed? Whenever they say. What unit testing tool should we use? Whichever one they tell us to.

But most developers are grown-ups. In their own lives, they make big decisions all the time. They buy houses. They have kids. They choose schools. They vote. It’s pretty wretched, then, seeing teams not being trusted to even purchase laptops for themselves. When teams are trusted, and given both responsibility and authority for getting things done, they tend to rise to that.

And developers should be trusted with their own careers, too. If they were, then I suspect there’d be a lot more active coders with decades of experience to share with the ever-growing number of new developers coming into the industry.

Author: codemanship

Founder of Codemanship Ltd and code craft coach and trainer

2 thoughts on “4 Out Of 5 Developers Would Choose To Stay Developers. Is It Time We Let Them?”

  1. I have also been preaching for years that authority and responsibility are the same thing — no matter how much one may wish to deny or avoid it. Sure, one can blame others for one’s mistakes. But, fundamentally, when you use your authority, you take responsibility. Like it or not, you are *responsible* for the results of your decisions and commands.

  2. What level of trust do you have in your teams? What level of authority do you grant them?
    .
    I find it enlightening to ask this question:
    Who is allowed to put more toilet paper or paper towels in the rest rooms, when it runs out?
    (Those “highly valued corporate assets” are under lock and key, aren’t they?)
    .
    Your most junior software developers are making many decisions, daily, that will have mild to severe impacts on the business for decades. (And expecting that code reviews will “catch and correct all problems” is a fantasy of wishful thinking!)
    .
    To what extent are you empowering people? (like it or not)
    Where and to what extent are you restricting them? (perhaps arbitrarily?)

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