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Programmer to manager – 10 essential skills you need for the transition

by Aripriya Basu September 8, 2020
programmer to manager

Sitting in front of the system. Coding your way all day long, is that what you want to keep doing as a software engineer?

Don’t you want to rise up and take a peek at the other side of the wall?

What might be there, you say? There lies your programmer to manager roadway.

Would I be a programmer forever? Surely you have asked this question to yourself, at least once.

While the answer to the programmer to manager dilemma might have been yes, do you know the road you must take to fulfill this software engineer to manager dream?

Indeed there are a few things you need to learn, but thankfully, you have all the primary ingredients sorted with your programming skills.

All that is left to do, is fine-tuning those skills so that you can take that leap of faith into your software engineer manager career path.

So let’s get right to it!

It’s not all development any more

For you, code might be poetry, but for a programmer to manager transition, your syllabus will now include prose as well.

Now there will be less technical work and more of explaining that technical work to the clients.

Your daily work will involve breaking through the technical jargon and explaining to the existing and potential clients why a certain piece of work will take more time and so on.

Sounds like your thing?

Well, it has to, because managing clients and your team will be the new KPI for you. So let’s jump right in.

You can also read about the soft skills needed to move ahead in your career.

Organization skills

If you want to transition from a programmer to manager, you can’t afford to be messy.

No, we are not talking about an unclean desk with sticky notes lacing the rim of your desktop. You can still have all that.

But to ensure the smooth functioning of the entire development project, some key organizational skills are required.

To that end, excel sheets are your new best friend. Befriend them as soon as possible and make life smooth!

Topping that, multitasking, prioritizing tasks, compartmentalizing operations should be on your to-do list.

Make a sticky note of that too!

Stick to your skill

The programmer to manager transition is not impossible. But it’s not easy either.

So, don’t get it any tougher by switching your domain. For instance, if you are a software developer, go a notch higher to become a development manager.

It’s advisable not to change streams and become a product manager right away till you figure out the key features of the role.

In short: The task of the manager is to get the work done by aligning the needs and wants of the developers and clients.

Its easier said than done, and working on your people’s skill is what you need to focus on.

Time Management

As a developer, you have perhaps felt the pang of deadlines. As a project manager, you will know what deadlines look like!

In turn, you will realize why managers push the developers to feel just the pang of the same, for you will be doing that!

Every project you will deal with will have its deadlines. As a project manager, you are expected to deliver within the deadline.

If not, you better have a strong excuse ready.

“My connection was conked” ( the most common excuse by developers) will not soak the beans.

But eventually, you will realize that it’s better to deliver within the given deadline than to come up with a strong excuse, for there is none!

So, if you want to drive through the programmer to manager road, get friendly with deadlines.

Your organizational skills will help you to this end.

Learn to be focused on your approach

Forget about the results of your actions while transitioning from a programmer to manager.

Instead, consider your approach carefully.

Always remember that it is very difficult to analyze your effectiveness as a manager. This heightens even more due to the positive and negative affirmations that keep hanging on your head.

But that does not mean you shut your doors to feedback.

On the contrary, welcome them! But remain rock solid about your approach.

Learn to delegate

You are a project manager. Not an Octopus. You cannot handle everything alone. Live with it. Once you have accepted that, dole out responsibility to responsible people!

You cannot develop, fix bugs, manage clients, and attend numerous meetings spread over the day alone. You need help or you burnout.

The choice is yours.

Additionally, clients require a flawless result. If one person is doing everything, the quality of the work is sure to fall!

So, learn to let others handle things. Remember, a team performs best when it’s democratic. Not fascist.

Communicate effectively

This is one key skill that you must develop for the programmer to manager transition.

Once you become a project manager your work will involve a lot of talking.

Not relentless talking of course. But talking to an end- developing the project to perfection.

Talking of course will not be limited to clients. You have to talk to your team and explain to them the requirements of the project.

Communication from your end should be transparent and specific. Remember the clarity of your communication will determine the end product.

Build relationships

You are a manger later. A team player first. This is one golden rule that dominates the programmer to manager journey.

To that end, start by building your relationship with the team members. Know their strength and weaknesses, understand their limits.

Pressurizing your team to get the work done might work for some time, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. As a project manager, you need to understand that.

That way your commitments to your clients will not be tainted with your expectations, but with hardcore realistic goals.

Understand what your client needs

This is something that makes or breaks a project.

When a client reaches out to you, they expect you to “visualize” their vision. Understand what needs to be done to meet the company’s goals.

While this will be difficult for a sales personnel or a content writer, as a transitioning programmer to manager, it will be easy for you to a great extent.


Because you know a great deal about UX/UI!

You know which WordPress plugin will create a smarter approach and which won’t.

So get in the habit of visualizing. Yes, it can be tricky initially. But hold on. You will get a hang of it.

Risk management

If MI movies have got your adrenaline pumping! Then the post of a project manager is just ideal for you.

Though it’s not very apparent, every project has its risks, and like the MI and MIB movies, you have to mitigate them before they can filter in!

The task of a project manager is more of a visualizer. He/she has to foresee the risk and install risk mitigation strategies in place before anything can go wrong.

This will involve asking some hard questions to the team members ( all the more reason they might not like you), getting them to conform to deadlines, and take some soul-crushing decisions.

It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

Of course, you are excited about the transition from programmer to manager, especially if you have got a recent promotion. But prepare for all the 10 commandments listed above.

Remember, that being the project manager is not the end. It’s just the beginning of an exciting career.

But only if you play your cards well.


What are the two most important skills for a project manager?

  • To transition from a programmer to a manager, one must inculcate:
  • Leadership skills: This allows project managers to oversee the operations of a given project better
    Organizational skills: A project manager must develop multitasking skills, compartmentalizing work, and also work on prioritizing tasks in hand.

What skills are required to be a project manager?

As a project manager, an individual is required to have a lot of skills. Topping that list are communication skills and conflict resolution skills. A project manager has to talk to clients and developers to deliver a flawless project within the deadline. To that end, having effective communication skills is the need of the hour.

Additionally, conflicts may arise within the team from time to time. Resolving the same is also heavily dependent on the project manager.

How to become a project manager?

To become a project manager first develop your core skills and take ownership of the part of the project you are working on. Determine the skills that you require and implement those for development. Additionally, you can also look into various certification courses and work on your managerial skills.