Web Developer or Project Manager?
September 5, 2011 3:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm an exhausted hybrid web developer/project manager/computer support person and would like to specialize. Please advise me.

I've been working as a web developer/IT manager for a few years at a nonprofit and before that at a web development shop. I have a young child and am finding that while I previously enjoyed being the jack-of-all-trades IT person, I'd really like to specialize in project management or programming. Being everything to everyone is becoming increasingly exhausting. With my regular lack of sleep, I have a lot of trouble these days quickly shifting between programming, facilitating meetings, and fixing someone's Excel problem.

If I have to be objective, I'd say that I'm better at project management than programming. Specifically, I seem to have a knack for facilitating processes where stakeholders feels included and happy with the final product and the developers feel like they were able to code and not get drawn into decision-making chaos. However, I also like the challenge of programming and am involved in a couple of PHP and Python open source projects in my free time.

Does anyone have recommendations for how to decide whether to be a project manager or programmer? Do you find that one career is better than the other for people with young kids? What about for someone who wants to work part-time (25-35 hrs/week)?

I'd especially love to hear from folks who have made this decision already. My worry is that I go down one road and get stuck in the future. Of course, I think that it's probably equally risky to be an IT-everywoman and get burnt out.

On a side note, I'm sure this question has been asked before but I can't seem to find it.
posted by JuliaKM to Work & Money (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Seems easy and clear cut from your description:

1) You need a change.

2) It's either PM or code

3) You're better at PM (and that's a higher income bracket)

4) You like code

Answer: Change to PM, code as a hobby in your new found free time.

Wrong answer: Don't change, waffle on this so long you get frustrated, don't realize you can always change your mind in the future, and don't realize that often by taking steps forward--even steps that end up being in the wrong direction--are often required to know what's next (which is often impossible to guess without these steps)
posted by Murray M at 4:20 AM on September 5, 2011

Hey - I'm a PM and have children, and recently (2 years ago) moved out of the city to spend more time with my family. I guess with web based project management you can specialise in just one area and not really need to worry too much about that skillset becoming quickly redundant, as is sometimes the case with development. This one thing allows you to slip out of sight for a while and return without too much of an impediment to your career (I tend to work for 2 years and then take 2 years off). More recently Agile has become more popular and desirable, and right now (at least where I am) very highly sought after. It also favours a more flexible approach (but that of course depends on your clients), I'm finding it 100% less stressful than other methodologies I've worked with (Prince 2, mainly).

In addition, having a programming background makes for a better PM generally when working through issues with clients and teams (I don't have that background but wish I did from time to time).

I guess you have ask yourself - do I like working with clients and herding cats? The rest of it isn't really that hard if you put your mind to it.
posted by a non e mouse at 4:30 AM on September 5, 2011

One point about project management - Make no mistake, it will sell you, but if you like programming, project management represents a huge leap away from hands-on tanks. Stress the "M" in it.

So, do you want to code, or do you want to manage? Really not the same thing at all.

I would also ask whether you might just need another body at your current job. I had job where I worked as "the" IT guy, everything from helpdesk to programming to admin to the first guy to take a look at why the saw on line 2 went down. I loved the constant variation in tasks, but like you, I found myself overwhelmed and started to resent users who had mind-numbingly simple problems... "Seriously? You didn't think to check the emergency cutoff switch before calling me?".

And for the spoiler, I moved into a pure coding job, which I absolutely love... But I do miss the variety of tasks I had in that past life.
posted by pla at 6:08 AM on September 5, 2011

Thanks for the great responses. To answer pla's question about whether I want to code or manage, I really can't decide. I find project managing easier but coding both more and less fun depending on the day. In other words, the highs and lows of coding are bigger. I'm afraid that I'm guilty of waffling so far (a.k.a. Murray M's wrong answer).
posted by JuliaKM at 11:50 AM on September 5, 2011

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