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Why are Software Developers so Difficult to Manage?

I'm not going to lie. And as a lifelong software developer, I can say this:

Software developers are notoriously difficult to manage. We're a pain. Just like professional salespeople, we tend to be prima donnas because we know that without us, the company will have a tough time functioning.

Does that sound arrogant? Of course, it does. That's why we're difficult to manage.

The best software developers tend to be the A players and type-A personalities. You can give one of these developers a very quick, concise briefing of a feature or business problem, and they'll run with it and solve it. This is why it's important to have them around.

Managing software developers means finding out what they need and like in order to get maximum productivity.

They also have their own quirks and eccentricities. Some developers like to work with the lights out, and some want all the lights in the room turned on. (When you put both types in the same room, that's a problem.) They want the latest and greatest equipment, so if you're going to skimp on something, don't skimp on the chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse, or computer. They want flexible work hours. They want to sleep in late and write code at night. They take two-hour lunches but solve big problems on Saturday afternoons. They hate meetings, formal processes, and administration. They hate documenting things.

Some like Macs, some like Ubuntu, and some like Windows. Some want workstations and some want laptops. And they want good managers. They want managers who understand them and who understand the systems they are building. They want managers who stay relevant with the ever-increasing rate of change in technology. The list goes on and on.

The trick to managing software developers is to basically give them what they want (within reason) and make them feel important. I've learned this as a manager of software developers: When someone wants something, I'll get it for them.

Because if I do, I'll get a lot higher productivity out of them.

Imagine what your company would be like if you got maximum productivity out of a roomful of A-team software developers. They would be worth their salary, and you would accomplish some amazing things with them.

Now imagine what it would be like if they were unhappy over something simple and inexpensive.

Back in 2002 or 2003, I was working for a major telecom giant as they were starting their downward spiral due to fraudulent accounting practices. Before the RIFs (reduction in force) were announced, they started waves and waves of cost-cutting as a way to save money. One of the things they cut was the office coffee. They just said no more coffee.

It probably didn't save them all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it had the most momentous impact on morale. People were purposely being less productive, just over the coffee. The message the company inadvertently sent to the employees was devastating, and the nominal cost savings were quickly eliminated by the decreased productivity.