Can Techies be Leaders?

Although I am a techie myself one thing that I am passionate about is teaching management skills to new managers and talents both online and on-site.

One thing that I have learned myself through teaching management and mentoring talents is that transitioning from a tech person to a manager is quite difficult for most people. I often hear from my senior engineers that “I do not see management capabilities in myself”.  You may think that this may be a self esteem-related issue, which is somewhat correct, however we have to bear in mind that lack of confidence can rise from lack of knowledge and skills.

I have also witnessed that companies tend to promote technical staff (e.g. senior developers) to tech leadership positions. Although in rare cases it turns to be a successful experience, in most cases it does not end well.

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In fact my personal experience with this has been appalling! In 2005 when I was asked to manage a team for the first time, I was actually a senior developer who had many good ideas and was able to deliver work fast and with good quality. But I am not sure if it was enough for me to become a manager. From what I remember, the first few weeks went well but then issues started coming up. There were quite a few reasons for that and amongst them the most important one was my “Technical Mentality”!  A “Technical Mentality” is the thinking process of technical guys (e.g. engineers, developers etc) which is very black and white. 1 + 1 is always equal to 2 in a techie’s mind, and white is always white!  Plus, they tend to think that they are always right, and it is too hard to convince them otherwise!

So you may ask that “isn’t 1+1 equal to 2?”. Or you may ask “What do you mean that white is not always white?”.

The fact is that for good managers and for leaders, there is always a gray area and they tend to find a win-win solution when the disagreements arise. They are flexible and instead of insisting on their own opinion or solution, they listen actively and try to underestand where the other person comes from. For them a win-win situation is better than a triumph in a technical debate which  may damage the other person or even the entire team’s engagement, positive energy and moral.

You may not believe that how many tech guys I know that they dislike someone else just because the other person is not as good as they are in technical subjects! Unlike these types of techies, leaders never like or dislike any of their teammates for their strengths or weaknesses. A manager’s job is to focus on people’s strengths and help to improve their weaknesses. What I believe and  always say is that: If you do not love your team, you cannot do anything good for them!

But is this “techie mindset” fixable? My answer to this questions is “Hell yes!”.  A techie mindset is like a crooked tooth! What it needs is some force in the right direction and then over time it will go where it should go to! The force for tech people and new managers is courses and/or books, and direction comes from mentoring! Just like any other job, one can become a manager by learning the concepts and skills, then putting them in practice and making them a habit!

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