How can I learn to manage programmers if I'm not a developer?


I'm not a developer but I'm getting involved in a startup focused on web apps. I don't think I can be a hardcore programmer but do want to understand how things work on the technical side so I can properly manage the developers and know what's possible and what's not. Is there a resource for that?

Web Dev

asked Mar 7 '11 at 08:34
141 points
  • Hi Matt, can you clarify your question? Are you wondering, "How much technical and programming knowledge would be helpful for me to have so that I can properly manage the developers?" Or are you asking, "What are some good management principles in general - not related to the technical side?" Or are you asking both questions? Also, can you clarify what your position is in relation to your developers? What is your job description? Thanks! – Aaron Gray 13 years ago
  • Sure thing, Aaron. Edited my question to clarify things a bit. – Matt 13 years ago

4 Answers


I'd go straight to the source: The Programmer's have answered this already.

answered Mar 7 '11 at 13:01
Michael Pryor
2,250 points


I am a developer and have been for many years.

The best bosses I have worked with are the non technical people that understood they where not developers and they did not try and interfere on the projects at a technical level but they are good managers.

The worst managers are the ex-developers that think they understand the new techie stuff and their interfering always leads to large delays and issues.

So my advice to you is this:

  1. Make sure your developers do not baffle you with jargon.
  2. If they don't explain something clear enough to you in laymans speak, they don't understand the problem or solution.
  3. If you, using your non technical mind, think something sounds fishy, odd, strange, doesn't make sense, etc, call the developers on it.
  4. Never let the developer develop for months on end never showing you the progress made, when you see it a week before the deadline, it will be a disaster.
  5. You need a short feedback cycle. See the deliverables often and give feedback often.
  6. The worst thing for a developer and a project is a boss that swoops in, has no idea what the project is or whats going on with the project and demands changes because he is the boss and thats what he wants.

I would also visit as this is a good resource to ask and discuss development / programming issues and such.

I would also suggest reading a few of the pragmatic books.

Specifically Release IT Ship IT, and the Pragmatic Programmer.

The Agile Scrum methodology might also help you and your team in adopting a mentality of release early and often and Fail early not Late.

Good luck.

answered Mar 7 '11 at 17:18
Seti Seeker
236 points


@Matt, the body of your question sounds like you're looking for resources to learn how to program, but the title of your question sounds like you're looking for resources about how to manage programmers.

I'm going to address myself to the question of how to manage programmers if you're not much of a programmer yourself:

  1. Get what ever you can. Learning the skills and technologies associated with software development is hard and takes time. Be persistent and don't get discouraged. Read blogs about software development, and ask your developers to explain what they're doing and walk you through their code.
  2. Hire expert programmers. Do this even if it means hiring a programmer just to help you hire an expert programmer. Programming is hard and many a project will fail. If your programmers aren't qualified to see a project to completion, and you're not qualified to review their work and gauge progress you'll certainly be doomed.
  3. Trust your programmers and appreciate them. Programming is not data entry and it's not even like writing an English paper. Programming is an exercise in creativity and problem solving. Let your programmers manage their own time and their own work. Nothing is more demoralizing than being pressured or micromanaged by a manager with no conception of what it means to develop software.

In summary:
Hire programmers who are good enough to manage themselves, and let them manage themselves.

answered Mar 7 '11 at 17:25
241 points


Note: I'm both a developer and manager. I've written a short post about how developers function: Nothing really about how to manage them, but more about what to expect from them.

answered Mar 7 '11 at 19:56
655 points

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