An ex colleague let's call him.. uhh .. Vivek, who was my peer at MegaCorp many years ago who is presently VP of R&D at [very well known company, a variant of MegaCorp] called up a few minutes ago to see if I could help make a connection to someone he wanted to meet up professionally with. I am fairly well connected in Bangalore, having lived here more than a decade. In the chit chat that followed he asked "So what are you doing right now? " And I answered, "well I was coding when you called ...". His response was "You are still stuck coding!!!?"
Umm.. yeah. Kinda Sorta. I am still coding. I am not really stuck though. "Stuck" implies an involuntary inability to change position.
My last job title had "Program Manager" in it. I've turned down multiple offers to "move up".. I am good at what I do, make more money than many "Directors" and most importantly am happy building systems (vs managing people who do).
I think it is a very *Indian* (or perhaps Asian) thing to expect good developers to "move up" to be managers or directors or Vice Presidents. We are a very hierarchical society and people are very often judged on where we are seen to be on some arbitrary hierarchy. People who work with their hands (or their keyboards) are often considered "inferior".
One of my friends who is an engineer at a Japanese automaker's Indian subsidiary told me about how the visiting Vice President (who was Japanese) rolled up his sleeves and jumped in to fix an engineering problem that had come up on the line and of the hush that fell on the factory floor with the Indian managers looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Specifically in software, when is the last time you saw someone very high in the company hierarchy do a code checkin? My last boss at MegaCorp was hired later than I was and the first thing he said to me when we met was (remember I was also a "manager" on paper), "You know, any monkey can code, but we need good managers". :-).
I think one of the main reasons is that we in India still don't have any local role models for people who made a great deal of money (or had a significant impact on the world) by writing code.
Once we have our Torvalds and Stallmans and Brins and Pages and Grahams and Norvigs "coding" won't be such a dirty word after all.
Meanwhile it is very amusing to see the contortions people go through to (a) deny that they are "just" developers or (b) "move up" to management. The lack of early stage startups doing innovative cutting edge software in India and the preponderance of "India Development Centres" (set up to grind through the crappiest work in the company) contribute to this state of affairs.
Very occasionally the inverse happens. Once upon a time not very long ago I was working alongside a group of managers and there was some discussion about product financial strategy. I was asked what I thought and I went into some detail about the financial break up of a proposed initiative and some of the industry trends we would encounter and the strategy we should (have) adopt(ed). After the meeting, a "Manager(Strategy)" came up to me and said "Hey I didn't know you were in Product Mangement. I heard your title as 'Architect' My mistake". I had to smile and say "No mistake, I am a technical person not a manager, but that doesn't mean I can't read and think for my own". The poor fellow didn't know what to say.
The funny thing is, in the Indian Software Industry, *most* "managers" (or directors or .. whatever their titles are) have no real power within the company at large and their responsibility is just to implement decisions made in California or Boston or Tokyo. The most important game is "climbing the corporate ladder" and the most important subgame is "suck up to the boss". Why would anyone (who has a choice) **want** that life?
At ThoughtWorks, when I worked there, we had an inside joke. Every technical person would call himself "Just a Developer" and there weren't any hierarchies among developers except ones of peer acknowledged competence (though I hear that things have changed and there's all kinds of intra developer hierarchy these days , based more on "years of experience" than skill levels, but that is hopefully just a rumour) .
When teams from other companies would visit us, as the round of introductions progressed, all the TW technical people would introduce themselves as "My name is ... . I am Just A Developer". Sometimes the visitors would get completely bewildered at all the "low ranking" developers attending important meetings, and hilarity resulted.
To conclude, I am "just a developer". I choose to be one of "those people" :-).
Thanks for your understanding. :-)
Update: The point I was trying to make is NOT that managers don't add value. Many of them don't to be sure, but many of them do. And some add very significant value, sometimes far more than an individual developer can, especially in large corporations.
my point was about how people *assume* that one wants to "move on" from being a developer or creator to someone who manages development.