The Maker’s Dilemma

So here’s the problem if you’re a maker and someone is looking at you to be a manager.

On the one hand, a manager can accomplish far more than a maker, in the aggregate: look at Steve Jobs. One could almost look at Apple as an expression of Steve Job’s will; he has assembled some of the brightest minds to accomplish some really fantastic things–all in accord to his sensibilities.

On the other hand, being a manager is, for a died in the wool maker, a really shallow and annoying job.

And there is an additional penalty as one makes the transition from maker to manager. The difference between a really experienced software developer and a mediocre developer is, according to The Mythical Man Month, something like a factor of 25 in productivity. Further, when you start managing people, you find yourself spending time in meetings–meaning you can kiss about half of your day goodbye unless you adhere to a very strict scheduling regime. And even then, at best you can save four days out of five.

So this means that your first employee–being inexperienced at the product being worked on–will cause you to lose at least a factor of 5 in productivity in order to gain 1.

There is, in other words, a depression–a chasm–which forms between your best productive days as a maker, and as a manager leading a large team. The least optimal environment to be in is as a maker at the top of your game managing 2 or 3 makers who are just getting started.

In the end, if you continue and persevere, you can be even more productive–eventually–than you ever were as a maker. Maybe.

It becomes worse when the transition takes place when there is a need: in essence you’re doubling or tripling the salary burn rate while reducing overall productivity at a time when you can ill afford the lost in productivity.

And of course don’t forget you’re moving into that dreaded position: middle management, a position which, during the current recession, has proven to be expendable.

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