Who are more capable – Architects or Managers?

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One of the threads which branched off the previous post on software management was knowledge and breadth of the ‘manager’ in the technology in question. A lot of people seem to believe that to be a good manager, one needs to know the underlying technology in and out.

My question is.. why?

Yasser asserts that a manager should know details about the underlying technology in order to negotiate better with the client. Adnan siddiqui says that knowledge about the underlying technology, its benefits and nuances is the job of the architect, and not the manager. My contention is, why cant they both work together but still be roles done by different people?

There’s already a large shortage of skilled architects, professionals who live and breath technology, since many of them are seen moving towards careers in management, where they eventually get disillusioned by what the job brings (constant struggle to maintain status quo, the politics, the leg pulling and the juggling). My point of view is, managers and architects are cut from different cloth and there are very few, if any, similarities between them. A manager’s first and foremost priority is to meet the schedule and time lines, an architects priority is to fully exploit technology and gain the edge through creativity and brilliance.

So i put forward this question to you, Who would you side with? Yasser or Adnan?

Facebook comments:


  • Management is pure administration. An architect may or may not be a good administrator but she needs to be an outstanding leader. Only then an architect can drive the technical vision and get it executed. Managers – you can always get them. Architects who know business and can sell technology as business are hard to find.

    Good post Mansoor!

  • IMHO, to borrow an analogy from Edward de Bono, ‘manager’ and ‘architect’ are two hats that can be worn by two different people, or they can be worn by a single person.

    In the later case, if that person has a big enough head, he can probably wear both at the same time and avoid the inevitable introduction of noise that is introduced when two people (wearing those two hats) communicate – if his head is small, he will end up shuffling them off and on.

    If two people wear those hats, they can go their own ways and focus on what they do best, and maybe share certain responsibilities if both their heads fit those two hats and their brainwaves are compatible.

    It doesn’t really have to be binary, does it?

  • babar: true, these kind of people are hard to find, yet they are the easiest to recognize.. just look for the one who commands respect of their peers. but that’s a topic for another post.

    punslinger: too many hats spoil the hairdo (or broth or something :p) true, they are roles and can be performed by a single person. However, there is a limit to just how much a single person can do. most of what i write is for established companies looking to break the barrier, instead of startups. when in a startup environment, wearing multiple hats is not only a preferred way, its the only way! however, once you get out of that stage, you realize that there is much more to be done to get to the next stage of the organizational ladder, and having bottlenecks by relying on one person to do everything doesn’t resolve the issue, infact only hurts it in the longer run.

  • I mostly agree with you mansoor – it is just a matter of context, and I think the actual question needed some clarification.

    Yasser is thinking in terms of a 7 developer team, because I know that he is running a startup, and therefore, he is absolutely right from his point of view – There are numerous examples of success starring a technically competent manager/architect in that particular scenario.

    You are probably thinking in the range of a few hundred people making “enterprise-level” solutions (god I hate that phrase), where such specialization is actually needed. There, a manager can survive and thrive with good people skills, given a half-decent technical team, instead of spreading himself thin filling two hats.

    This is why i say it doesn’t have to be binary – no two cases are alike.

    So to answer the original question: “Who would you side with? Yasser or Adnan?”
    Why do I need to pick sides? Can’t I side with both of them?

  • mansoor, thanks for starting a new debate on this topic. i think we have some excellent commentary above already so i want to raise some interesting follow up questions (perhaps topics for new posts):

    Dont all technology companies aspire to maintain their startup culture? So why should we focus on a strategy for a “large enterprise”? Shouldnt we strive to keep the startup culture irrespective of how big the company becomes? Did google and apple, two of the most successful tech companies of this decade, lose their startup culture?

    So punslinger, i am not just thinking of 7 person startups. I think irrespective of the size of the compnay, no technology team should be more than 20-25 people. Its like that programming analogy. If your function is more than 40-50 lines of code, you are probably not modular enough and need to redesign irrespective of whether that function resides in a 100 LOC app or a million LOC app (profuse apologies to non-programmers for techy terms).

  • “A manager’s first and foremost priority is to meet the schedule and time lines, an architects priority is to fully exploit technology and gain the edge through creativity and brilliance.”

    Well yes priority wise, but when a technology project is stuck, I think the solutions comes from within the technology, more often than not. So a sound knowledge of technology itself would be preferable.

    My 0.02 dollars!

  • punslinger: yes, it really is a matter of context. since my specialty lies in taking companies from 5 to 50 headcount, i guess im seeing the world through an expansionism lens. as for boolean, the OR operator also is allowed :)

    yasser: the startup culture works quite well.. however, i would argue that a startup culture doesn’t limit you to headcount. i’m totally in sync with you that a team size shouldn’t be greater than 25 people, however, a software project can have multiple teams. in the end, it boils down to economics, the more useful and sale-able a product is, the more money you are going to make, the more money you make, the more people you bring on to make the product even better or work on better ideas.

    since you’ve already mentioned google and apple, i ask you this… there are many engineers working for google who come up with amazing products, however, have you ever thought about the training involved in making those engineers into good managers as well?

    i find it hard to believe that a company with thousands of employees running on just technical competence..

  • Comparing Architects with Managers is like comparison between Apple and Oranges.

    Babar bhai, well said.

  • One should follow this thread on LinkedIn.

  • Yasser:

    “Dont all technology companies aspire to maintain their startup culture? ”

    Many companies do not have a startup culture in its latest sense to begin with, so I doubt we can generalize.

    Regarding the team size, Mansoor stole my words – there are global projects spanning multiple locations and components, and the sheer size of the project and multitude of technologies used makes it very hard (though not impossible) for a project manager to be well-versed in all of them – it becomes sufficient if he knows the capabilities of each technology, something that a primer level document can easily deliver to an intelligent manager, so that he can leave the nitty gritty technology decisions to the specialists i.e. the architects, and he can consult with the architects during client negotiation phases.

    In fact, when this post says “Manager” it does not clarify whether it is a “Project Manager” or a “Team/Personnel Manager” that is being discussed, I believe they are two different roles. In the above scenario, a Project Manger managing a huge project could be a domain expert (of financial or scientific applications for example) rather than a manager-formerly-known-as-architect.

    In another permutation, one can have resources contributing to multiple projects, each with their own architect, and in this case also, a manager would usually focus on time/task allocations and let the architects estimate and do their own jobs.

    Disclaimer: This is my own world-view which may be pretty distorted.

  • It’s very difficult for Senior Architects to fins a better position in Karachi these days. What wouls you say about this scenario. They either try to move into Management position or move out of the country for better opportunities. i happen to know a person who’s given 7 years to It here but still unable to get into a good Architect position. Industry these days look for a 2 – 4 year experience only. Why?

  • mansoor

    By no means did i want to suggest that the size of the team should limit the size of a company or that one company should not have multiple teams. That would be quite a ridiculous suggestion, wouldnt it :) My point was that when your team starts becoming bigger than 20-25 ppl, something is amiss somewhere. At that point, you need to modularize your project, break it up into smaller pieces and assign each piece to a separate team headed by a technical manager. Unfortunately even the project modularization is a pretty technical task itself so no marks for guessing who i think should do it :) As for management training given to technical people at google etc., I agree with you 100%. Management is a skill learned by training or experience and engineers shouldnt assume that they can automatically become good managers. However, i think our discussion is about the need for managers to know technology rather than the importance of management as an acquired skill.

    punslinger, my assumption is that we are primarily talking about project managers here. I am interested in knowing who a team/personnel manager is and what exactly does he/she do in a technology group?

    Let me also add my disclaimer to pulsinger’s. These are my views, heavily tainted by the views of people like steve barley and bob sutton – a couple of profs i studied with. Bob Sutton actually goes so far as to say “sometimes the best management is no management at all.”

  • Nosheen, can your architect guy move to lahore? Ill offer him a position at my company immediately :)

  • yasser: i’ve been reading bob sutton’s blog lately, and that guy has some really amazing ideas. I see now where your ideas are influenced from. :)

    and i echo both your disclaimers, however i do believe our realities are what we make of it or whatever lens we are wearing at the time..

  • Excellent post and discussion!

    Nousheen has made a good point about career ladder. Somehow all good architects end up being project managers … but that requires a different skill set and you need to be wired differently to do that job well …

    I feel (and hope) that the time is coming when the Architect will have a higher salary than the PM. Although he may report to the PM …

  • yasser: In a couple of organizations that I have worked with have distributed teams tackling large technological problems with each module having a tiny but highly specialized team, the role of project manager has sort of evolved into the role of a “personnel manager” – one who facilitates and coordinates the team(s?) for the project without going too deep into the technological details being part of his job description. In one of those organization, the guys filling that particular role has a degree in theoretical physics and certainly does not know any technology being used inside out.

    Others may have a different term for this concept (the problem with language) – this paper explains my context more clearly:

    These two organizations are probably exceptions though, which would make this a bit off-topic.

    Another slashdot-esque car analogy that came to my mind when I first read this post was that of a mechanical engineer driving a car vs. a car mechanic driving a car. If the car breaks down, the engineer will probably better appreciate the causes of failure, but at the end, the mechanic will probably fix it faster.

  • punslinger, thank you for the link. I was only able to read the abstract as the article is not free. Seems like the personnel manager plays an HRM type role, which i agree is very very important in any organization, especially big ones.

  • punslinger: thanks for the clarification. its great to know these concepts are being taken up elsewhere as well. as with all things, the usefulness are relative, and i believe that we should atleast be abreast of this knowledge if we are to take our organizations up to the next level.

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