Training Software Developers in Project Management

07 September, 2015

The software industry is huge in Ireland. Indeed, the worldwide market for software products and solutions is creating a massive demand for software skills. The European Commission estimates that the industry in Europe will be short one million software developers by the end of the year.

However, the emphasis in software undergraduate degree courses and in short (e.g. six months) courses by organizations like Solas (Fás as was, or – if you are as old as me - AnCO) is to teach programming. Effectively, the software houses worldwide are populated by programmers. This is fine when you are in your twenties, but what do you do when the hands-on technical work loses its appeal and you no longer relish coming to grips with newer and better technologies?

Your choices are stark: you either go into management or sales. Some programmers effectively become academic researchers, if their organizations offer a technical career ladder, but most will have to take on management responsibilities or enter into a technical sales support role.

Being a training company dedicated to developing the skills of Project Managers, this is great news for us here in Velopi. Because very few graduate programmers have any sort of basic project management training, they really benefit from the training Velopi offers.

But, while we can train up programmers in the mechanics of project management, are these programmers really ready for a front-line management role? Programmers tend to be introverted, more comfortable relating to a computer terminal than to other people. Their whole academic focus has been on learning the mysteries of computing and not on the business of software development.

Compare this with civil engineers. During their academic pursuits, these would-be engineers get their hands dirty and learn about concrete and soil densities. But their goal is not to mix the cement or drive the piles; their future lies in directing construction projects and assessing the feasibility of proposed initiatives. Their expectation is to be Project Managers and this is a sizeable part of their undergraduate training.

Whatever about the lack of preparedness among programmers for the next step in their career ladders, what about the industry as a whole? Because a large part of its front-line staff has no interest in management or business, where do the front-line software Project Managers come from? Sadly, many programmers are forced into management roles where they are very uncomfortable. By inclination, most of these cling onto their technical work and program as intensely as before, neglecting their management responsibilities – perhaps in the hope that they will go away. Alternatively, they are given no chance to develop their management skills, because senior management insist that they continue their programming work as well.

Ideally, academia would start offering two software-related courses. One would focus exclusively on programming and equip the student with the necessary skills to write software and to work effectively in a project team. The second would be a true software engineering programme, where the students would learn how to plan and direct software projects. Their career goal would be to become a software development manager.

Until this happens, our advice for anyone running a software department is to get everyone aware of the needs of project management. What does a programmer need to provide in order to assist the Project Manager? How can s/he create meaningful estimates for the tasks s/he is assigned? What is an effective progress report? How do you identify risks? These basic project management concepts are explained in our Introduction to Project Management and Project Management Essentials courses. Knowing the basics will make the Project Manager’s life easier and, who knows, some of the team may become so enthusiastic that they start showing interest in taking on management responsibilities themselves.

If your organization is struggling to complete its work on time, within budget and to a quality standard that does not tie the whole place up in maintenance work then you may have an issue with project management. So why not give Velopi a call? With decades of project management experience between us, mainly in the software industry, we are confident that we can help you out.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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