In the conferences and meetup, when I ask people “What are you doing? (in your company)”, I usually get these answer “I am a project manager”, “I am a team leader”, “I am a CTO”. OMG, too many PMs, CTOs here, where are our developers? These conferences don’t just open for the management positions only.

Then I found that some of them just tell me their titles, not their real jobs. It seems similar to the case of my friend, Bob, a very talent and skilled developer, became a project manager (PM) and then CTO after graduation and joining his company in 4 months. He is of course right to tell me his title but does he know what jobs need to be done by a PM or CTO? Why should a small outsourcing company, that does every project it could bid, need a CTO?

Let’s see the definition a common title (by Wikipedia):

Software project management is the art and science of planning and leading software projects. It is a sub-discipline of project management in which software projects are planned, implemented, monitored and controlled.

And look back to Bob’s daily work. How many time share of his daily coding in his project? 50%, 60%, 70% or 80%?

80%, sure, Bob is not a PM, he is a developer in PM title. Even though he choose 50%, he is still a developer. It seems a common case in a small company where the number of PM equals to a large company.

Why?

There are 2 reasons I see.

Small project. A small company usually does a small project with team size is about 3 to 6 members (sometimes 1 or 2) compares to large team in a bigger company.

Benefit. Company gives Bob a title (and may pay a little extra money for this title) for getting a very big benefit from him. Life is not fair. Bob feels more important as being a PM of project? Sure. Bob is mainly responsible to the success of project? Right. And what would Bob do? Double his work hours day by day. If you are a best technical and skilled guy but work in PM title, it would be a nightmare. I guess Bob hope that he is not good at technical. But if he is, it’s so difficult for Bob in getting the chance to have PM title. It sounds funny.

The pitfalls

Renaming jobs by a title this way may bring some issues to the both employee and company sides.

Bob thinks that he has enough knowledge and skills of a PM and doesn’t want to be a developer so far although he is still a good developer and bad PM in a lot of successful projects. Some months ago, I had an interview with a good candidate who truly believed that TL or PM is a position suits him and didn’t want to be a developer any more because he have worked as PM for 3 years and completed some projects well. But I asked him “How many teamwork issue did you find in the most recent project?”, “Hmm, 1 or 2”, he said. “You seems not a good PM. No matter with your teamwork issue, 1, 2 or 100, how you answer me with “hmm” and “or” shows that you didn’t monitor and control it well”. Yes, he didn’t monitor project as he should do because he spent too much time focusing on development. He was just assigned to PM position to fulfil project roles and couldn’t get enough time to do the main tasks. But it’s so hard for me to convince him joining us in a developer title although every developers manage works and the technical stuffs themselves here. The title illusion has killed a developer’s career softly.

It’s unreasonable to promote the best developer to PM position where he can show off the bad management skill but why is it the common way we are doing? It seems an easiest way to keep him here and reach out his coding competence – but it just works in a short term. If we still want, please keep him out of coding time (or at lest, have a plan to decrease it), he need to have overall view of what is going on in this project while the team is working.

The project cannot scale that way. Sure, developer is just a developer even though he is in PM title for a long time.

It’s exact my case in some years ago when I worked for a small company in several small projects and was proud of how they introduced me, PM or “Web product director” sometimes, until I spent a whole day to look back what jobs I had done, how much time shares I had spent for in this project. Then I quit thinking that way. We cannot change our jobs by just renaming them. And I see it’s the common case of the young guys especially the graduated students who always have big ambition and want to quickly have big steps in their career path. But they don’t have enough knowledge to identify it’s just a trap by the title outside.

But why shouldn’t Bob answer me “I am a developer”? I don’t know, he may feel better by “I am a PM”. But I believe in some next years, Bob may say “I am a developer, a guru”.

Let the daily main jobs set your title.

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