Do You Need a Computer Science Background to Manage Coding Projects?

Managing computer or software development projects is a rewarding and in-demand career field, and it’s likely that demand and average salaries will only increase from here. Our world depends heavily on technology, including software applications that make our lives easier and AI algorithms that increase our total capacity. Managers are necessary to ensure the high-level objectives of a given project are completed, both in a way that conforms to the standards set by the organization and promptly.

In most industries, it’s advisable to have ground-level experience before getting promoted or seeking a managerial role. But is this necessary in the programming world? In other words, do you need to have coding experience or understand various programming languages to manage coding projects?

Project Management Skills

As a project manager, your priority will be keeping the project on track. Accordingly, your skills as a project manager are going to be more important than any other skills you might have—including programming skills.

There are many ways to gain experience and/or notoriety as a project manager. The most straightforward method is to use an education program like EdWel to become PMP (project management professional) certified. PMP certification helps you learn some of the most important skills, materials, and protocols for modern project management professionals, and will make you a prime candidate for virtually any project management position.

You can also gain project management experience directly by working on other types of projects. For example, you could spend some time managing advertising campaigns or web design projects, then apply many of those same skills to the area of coding project management.

How Coding Knowledge Can Help

That said, having a baseline understanding of programming can be beneficial to you:

  • Timeline establishment. Knowing how coding works can help you set more reasonable timelines for your projects. You’ll know approximately how long it takes to develop an app or a website, and how long it takes to fix minor and major bugs. From there, you’ll be able to estimate a timeframe that makes your client happy while still giving your team reasonable deadlines to work with. If you don’t have this experience, you’ll be relying on best guesses from your team or demands from the client, neither of which are ideal.
  • Bug descriptions and recommendations. As you identify or report bugs to the team, you’ll be able to offer much better descriptions if you have some experience with coding. You’ll know which information is helpful and which information is unhelpful, you’ll know to describe steps to replicate the issues, and you might even be able to make a recommendation for how to begin solving the issue. Writing bug descriptions is a skill you can learn even without coding experience, but experience will make it better.
  • Obstacle navigation. Eventually, even an experienced team will run into an issue they don’t know how to resolve. They might struggle with how to add a certain feature to an app, or may see difficulty with completing an objective by a certain deadline. If you have coding experience, you may be able to assist in a more direct way, either by making recommendations and providing resources, or by getting your hands dirty and doing some coding on your own.
  • Client communication. Client communication is one of the most important elements in any project manager’s career. You’ll need to communicate effectively to explain the nature of the project, gather key details, set timelines, and explain when something goes wrong. If you have experience coding, you may be able to explain issues more effectively to the client; rather than conveying details secondhand, you’ll have firsthand experience on how those issues manifested.
  • Empathy and evaluation. It’s also important to communicate effectively with your team, and that means speaking to your team with empathy. Understanding the most challenging aspects of coding can make you more sympathetic with their plights, and make you a better leader overall. You’ll also be in a position to evaluate their efforts more objectively; you’ll know firsthand what it takes to be a successful programmer, and can guide them on areas they need to work on.

The Bottom Line

As a project manager, skills like time management, interpersonal skills, and organization are going to be much more important than knowing how to code. However, having a baseline knowledge on how programming works, and having some firsthand experience with coding can be beneficial. You can certainly get by without it, but consider using a resource like Codecademy to learn the basics of at least one programming language. You’ll feel much more confident as you manage projects, and will be able to communicate with your team and your clients more efficiently.

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