Software developers often fail when they try to become managers

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Rosie (all names are composites of multiple employees) is the strongest engineer on the team. She can navigate any part of the stack. And when people have questions about the code base, they ask her for help — after all, she wrote most of it. Sometimes she’ll patiently answer, but sometimes, if it’s faster, she’ll just roll up her sleeves and do it herself.

Rosie is fast. She gets things done. I can always count on Rosie.

So as the team grows and needs a manager, I ask Rosie if she’s interested. She seems reluctant at first, but she wants to help her team. And she’s never backed off from a challenge. She takes a couple days to think it over, and eventually, she says yes.

She seems fine initially, riding a wave of excitement and renewed confidence. But over the next few weeks, I can sense her energy dropping. She’s less on top of things. Her enthusiasm and confidence fall and she seems agitated. The rest of the team notices she’s far less effective as a manager than she was as an engineer — and even worse, things don’t seem to improve over time. I’ve fallen victim to the classic trope of losing a top engineer and gaining a mediocre manager.

Over a series of conversations with Rosie, she acknowledges that things aren’t going well. I offer my support and my confidence that if she wants to, we can make this work. Instead, she asks if she can transition back into a purely technical role. I agree, but even after her transition, her enthusiasm never recovers, and a few months later she accepts a technical role at a different company.

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