Developer to Manager

Interviews with experienced software developers on moving to management

Andy Crouch

Chief Technology Officer at Open Energy Market

Posted on October 08, 2018

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Hello! What's your background and what do you do?

I am 41 and have been in software and web development for over 20 years.

I started out programming a Pascal-based Pension Administration system called Profund. This came about after a brief stint playing in various bands. My first job was general office work which involved a lot of manual Excel data manipulation. I was bored and thought there must be a way to dodge doing this work. So I started to automate it using Office VBA. I had programmed games as a kid on Sinclair Spectrum's so I knew a little Basic. I did automate the work and was spotted by one of the systems programmers. They offered me a role and that's how I got into programming professionally.

From there I self-taught myself VB 6, C++ and SQL server. I soon migrated to working for numerous banks and process outsourcing companies. Each role saw me take a more senior position. By 2006 I was leading a medium size team. It was charged with supporting and improving a large Employee Benefit admin system. Around this time I decided that I didn't want to work for larger companies. I decided to move to a smaller, startup type business. I liked the idea of owning the product and working to build something from the ground up. I joined a startup that was building one of the first large-scale Recruitment systems on the web. I helped to grow the company from 4 to over 30 employees. From there I moved back to a 4 man company building an Emergency Response system. Again, I helped to grow that into an exit with over 20 employees.

Open Energy Market was formed in 2013. It was founded to introduce reverse auctions to the commercial utility contract market. We use technology to bring transparency and competition to an archaic industry. The industry was dominated with offline brokers that charge outrageous commission. They are usually tied to one or two suppliers and customers have little control over their data. Our platform allows all suppliers in the UK to take part in the auctions and they can benchmark themselves against other suppliers. We have a team of 30 people and recently closed an investment round from Calculus Capital. My role is still as varied and interesting as when I joined. I have grown a team of fully remote and highly skilled developers who make it fun to go to work each day.

How was your transition from software development to management like?

My transition happened without planning.

I love roles where I can make a difference and can feel that my work is benefiting the company. As my career has progressed I have found I have gravitated to a Team Lead role or Senior position. Switching to work with startups you find that you wear more than one hat anyway. Your role can be very undefined and so it keeps it interesting.

I am a very opinionated developer but also quite pragmatic. My experience of many large-scale projects has provided me with a wealth of experience. I have learnt how to design and build solutions quickly but in a way, that they can be maintained. This led to good experience in building teams, mentoring them and delivering projects. This was noticed by people in my network. Roles came from them wanting to use my experience and knowledge.

What does your day-to-day work look like, and what motivates you to do it every day?

My day to day role is very varied. It is divided between technical, management and driving the business forward.

I currently have a five-person Devops team based in the UK. I am also leading a project with a large offshore team based in Vietnam. All things relating to product and development fall under my role so my time is dominated by planning, project management and R & D. I still code about 20% of my time. But, I tend to work on fix's, R & D and isolated changes rather than big features that need considerable time. I am keen to mentor my team and firmly believe in enabling them and giving them time to learn. Micromanagement does not work with creative roles. Neither does distracting them with unnecessary meetings. We are pragmatic with our application of agile. I encourage constant changes and feedback to improve how we work.

As a director of the company, I am in constant discussions with the rest of the board and C Level team. My goal is to ensure that our technology is enabling our users and supporting the company strategy and growth. I hold regular conversations with all employees as they are our greatest asset. I do not believe in managers feeding back to the C Level. When you have this type of reporting line you miss details and feedback that are vital for the business. It also means that I am accessible to everyone, I am not hidden in some corner office.

The remainder of my role is working with suppliers and vendors. I ensure that the technology we use internally is fit for purpose and supports the growing team.

My motivation comes from growing the business and the product. In the last 4 years, we have year on year grown the company's revenue and customer base. The feedback from our users is fantastic and it is nice to be working on a product that is actually disrupting an industry. I also love the team that I have built and find that I am learning things from them as much as mentoring them.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?

There haven't been too many large challenges. There have been a few small ones.

I know how hard it can be at times managing technical and creative employees. I didn't appreciate how hard it would be in managing a whole company of employees. It really could be the subject of a book. Luckily we have outsourced our HR to a great company so a lot of that is not really a problem now.

Dealing with vendors and suppliers can be challenging. It is the part of my role I least enjoy. I have a high expectation on them and some have let me down, in one case very badly. Dealing with these issues becomes a distraction from my core role. This is ironic given that we engage these companies to take tasks away from us to allow focus.

What has been the biggest surprise so far? Something you didn't expect?

It has surprised me how much I enjoy the business side of my role. I have learnt so much about accounting, sales and marketing and finance. It was a steep learning curve but has given me a lot of insight.

What's the best advice you've received about being a manager?

The best advice I have received has been to focus. It can be very easy to be consumed or distracted by all the things that you could or need to do. Focus on your goals and how to achieve them and then have a steadfast focus on them. Your goals will change but there has to be a solid reason for the change. You need to be agile in any modern business.

Believe in yourself as well. It is easy to at times question what you are doing or the choices that you have made. I decided very early on at Open Energy Marke that I knew what the strategy needed to be. It has taken time to deliver the bulk of it due to constraints but my strategy has remained solid over the last 4 years. Use your experience to develop that strategy but be open to taking outside influence. Also, confirm your thinking with peers.

What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?

If a developer asked me if they should go into a management role then I would ask them what the want out of it. If it is a fancy title or salary increase then they are not right for the role. If they think they will spend 85% of their time "prototyping" features then they are not right for the role. If they are being pushed into the role by senior management then they are most definitely not right for the role.

If they are already managing a team and have a history of accomplishments then they are doing a basic form of the role. Do they want to take on responsibility for budgets and vendors? Do they want to expand the responsibility from the development team to the business? Do they see ways in which they can improve processes and add value to the company? If so then they should investigate how to progress.

One thing I would recommend is to start smaller and progress gradually. That is the path that I took and looking back I could have stayed at a lower level if that is what I wanted. I could have remained a Technical Architect or a Team Lead. I opted to keep going but for others, they may hit a level where they are comfortable and that is fine as well.

As per my previous answer, focus is key.

One final opinion that I have is that you need to have a good work-life balance. This can be an unpopular opinion and I have been sent job descriptions that state they expect 70 hour weeks from you. I have been there and I can guarantee that no one, no matter how good they are, does their best work in those conditions. You need time away from your role for family or travelling or hobbies. Whatever takes your brain away from thinking about work. If you are working more than 40 hours a week you are doing something wrong or have the wrong team.

Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can find me on the web in the following ways:

My blog and personal site is at https://amcrou.ch

My Linked-In can be found at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/andrewmcrouch

My twitter feed is at https://twitter.com/amcrouch

I occasionally post code to my Github (mainly to support blog posts these days) at https://github.com/andy-crouch.




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