Changing career from manager to programmer or how to give advices

Last week, I was attending a presentation at a Flex users group. When people were about to leave, a guy stood up and asked for an advice on how he could change his career from managing people to Flex programming. In particular, he was interested in what book on Flex to read and what

else to learn. This was his statement:

“After doing the middle management thing for the last 13 years, I have decided to go back to my roots, programming. My formal training was

old school, procedural based stuff. I did some Paradox and C++ programming in the mid-nineties but have not coded since then.

I know, I am a dinosaur. But I am no dummy. I graduated fourth in my class outta high school, studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon

on scholarship and went on to code an entire business suite as well as develop the code that runs the NYC Transit Authority “s emergency

communication system. Since then I have managed a large staff, run my own company, etc etc. Plenty of real world experience in a variety of

roles. rdquo;

Since this was a Flex gathering (Flex is a domain-specific tool for creating front end of Web applications), people started giving advices on what else to learn beside Flex. With all my respect to the advisors, I was surprised to hear suggestions like learn Groovy, and learn Erlang. But these advices motivated me to write this blog.

When a person asks you for an advice, s/he opens up, trusts your opinion and the chances are s/he will follow your advice. This means that you should be very careful here. Spend some time trying to put yourself into the shoes of this person. Ask some questions. Try to understand the motivation and the goals of this guy or gal.

This particular case is kind of unusual. Typically, people try to switch careers in other direction. Sometimes it goes to the extremes. During my recent visit to India, I was surprised to learn that if you are 35 and still programming, you are considered to be underachiever .

But going back to coding? In America, it “s fine to be a coder even if you are 60. I have a friend who “s 73 now and does Cobol/CICS programming making several hundred dollars a day. But age matters, especially when we are talking about the bleeding edge technologies. Say, you are 35 with some rusty coding skills, and you want to enter the market populated with people who are ten years younger, having the only liabilities like a cell phone bill and a room rent totaled $1200. Can you compete with them? Yes, if you know what they do plus something else that they don “t.

A person who spent more than ten years has very valuable communication skills, which these young polyglot programmers don “t. But if I “ll be hiring you as a programmer, I “ll want you to know how to write programs using modern languages. I “ll be looking at your personality too. Can you accept the fact that now I “m the manager and you are not anymore? Do I really want risk putting myself into a situation with two cooks in the kitchen?

Are you ready to stop bossing around and start working on programming assignments? Can you keep your mouth shut during the team meetings without telling other people what to do? Think hard. And if you can “t, just keep doing what you “re doing ndash; just try to be a better manager. If management career choices are limited in your organization, start looking elsewhere. Leverage what you already have. And if you really have a burning desire to create cool things as a programmer, learn Flex, if you really like this tool and do it as a hobby after hours and create an online photo album #321.

If you think you are ready and can afford a manager-programmer career switch, start slowly. Test yourself if you can revive that state of mind when you “ve be writing code in C++. BTW, why did you stop coding? Are those reasons gone?

Which books to buy? You can buy any intro book, but, ideally, you should enroll into an instructor-led professional training class taught by a person who “s using the tool day in and day out in the real world FOR A LIVING. There is no book in the world that can replace mentorship and the guidance of a practitioner. Remember you don “t have much time in your hands. You can “t spend six months learning the basics of a tool ndash; the world won “t be frozen for six months. It “ll move ahead leaving you behind.

Back in 1998, I was making a switch in my career from PowerBuilder to Java. It was not as dramatic as from a manager to a programmer, but I paid $2500 out of my pocket for a week of training in Weblogic, which was hot at the time. The instructor was knowledgeable, and I was able to find my first Java contract pretty quickly without even lowering my hourly rate.

Which server-side language to learn? Why not Groovy or Erlang? Because this person is trying to switch career and hit the job market. Do you think there is a big demand in people who know Flex and Erlang or Flex and Groovy? I don “t think so. But I do know that people knowing Flex and Java are in big demand today. Half of the enterprise IT runs on J2EE and it “ll stay this way for many years to come regardless of cool new languages that will come into life.

If a person asks you for a career advice, tell him to learn something that will help in finding programming jobs and not something the evening fun.

To finish up this rather long lecture, I “d suggest this person to start with learning Flex dedicating to this process at least eight hours a day. The more, the better. Purchase several Flex books, sign up for the training, read blogs, stop sleeping. Short breaks for food intake (optional), personal hygiene (optional) and sex (optional) are allowed. The rest is studying.

The chances are that after living for a month in such regime, you “ll decide that switching from manager to a coder was a stupid idea. An you know what, being a manager was not so bad, was it? But hellip;if you won “t feel burnt out, keep pushing, learn Java and J2EE and welcome to the exciting word of software development!

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