Must Israeli Software Engineer Managers Know How to Code?

Quick Summary - Skills are more of a constraint than funds for many Israeli businesses. While Israel has a highly educated workforce, it has a shortage of software developers.

Must Israeli Software Engineer Managers Know How to Code?

What’s the role of a software engineering manager?

A software engineering manager’s overarching mission is to maximize their team’s ability to deliver high-quality software, on time, and on budget. Aligning the team for the project is their focus just as the project is the team’s focus.

Every company’s list of engineer manager duties and requirements will vary, but many include points like:

  • Supervise the software development team.
  • Manage software development, deployment, integration, and security.
  • Evaluate technical solutions and system performance.
  • Prepare status reports and regularly engage with all stakeholders.
  • Accountable for software technical specifications, cost, and schedule.
  • Cultivate team excellence and implement skill development programs.
  • Responsible for hiring and complying with company goals.

Many companies will also specify that their engineering managers should also be highly skilled in specific programming languages (C++, Python, etc.). But, it’s highly situational as to whether the engineering manager must actually code. Most engineering managers spent little to no time coding.

Must software engineer managers know how to code?

Ideally? Yes.

Is it critical? No.

Software developers have two main career trajectories. Most focus on technically, advancing from junior to mid-level to senior developer often specializing in specific technologies or aspects of development (front-end, backend, DevOps, SecDevOps, ML/AI, etc.).

Only some opt to transition to management. Many developers find this transition difficult simply because they’re no longer involved in writing code. Everything about their new role focuses upon how they can better help their team to code.

Coding skills must either continuously evolve, or they will atrophy over time. Some developers “promoted to engineer manager” decide to return to being a developer. It’s not uncommon.

To get to the heart of the matter, let’s refer to Microsoft’s What Makes a Great Manager of Software Engineers? Of the 563 software engineers who participated in their survey, 75% favored hiring a manager with great social skills over technical skills. Engineers from Google were of the same opinion.

The extent of the technical skills they desired could be summarized as the ability to a) ask insightful questions, and b) know enough to make informed decisions.

Managing Agile Teams

It’s not uncommon for an Agile Team to question whether they even need a software engineering manager. While most everyone agrees that they do, their role transitions to working with the Big Picture – particularly as relates to team development.

Agile teams encourage cross-functionality where each team member is capable of acting in two or more roles. Agile teams also promote self-organization where team members typically gravitate to what they know and can do best. The job title does not equate to a precise Agile Team Role:

  1. Scrum Master – Keeps the team’s work organized in a transparent way – via standups and project management software like Jira.
  2. Project Owner – Stakeholder, release, and backlog management – the company representative who makes sure a quality product is delivered.
  3. Team Members – The developers, designers, testers, and specialists who actually do the work. Agile team members often include a business analyst and one or more subject matter experts.

The software engineering manager could be the project and/or product owner, business analyst, and subject matter expert. Leastwise, there is NOTHING within the Agile methodology that insists every team member must be a coder.

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Agile manager skill development

At least two-thirds of even a historical software engineer manager’s role involves non-technical managerial, administrative, and even HR-related tasks. Most of these tasks are almost as foreign to developers as writing code may be for a non-developer.

There are many other things that non-developers can bring to the table to more than compensate:

  • Company and industry knowledge to help UI/UX, internal metrics, prioritize objectives and analyze competitors.
  • Best general management practices for scheduling, planning, budgeting, observing company objectives and HR policies.
  • Potentially stronger social and interpersonal skills as there’s some truth in that many software developers tend to have more introverted personalities.
  • Not knowing all of the technical things can be a plus insomuch as instilling a need to verify the basis for all decisions.

With the skills and experience non-developers do have, it’s possible to sidestep a lot of the technical considerations by focusing on management and leadership skills and learning Agile:

  • Learn all you can about the Agile Methodology, and if working with an Enterprise, the Scaled Agile Framework.
  • Consider pursuing certification as a Project Manager Professional.
  • Learn how to use performance analytics like WayDev or Gitential to identify development issues by individual, team, project, and organization.
  • Learn how to effectively use project management and collaborative tools like Jira, Slack, Trello, Wrike, Clickup, Zoom, etc.
  • Work with your team to define and document coding standards, work processes (branching strategies), and other essential team resources.

A large part of being a software engineering manager involves developing a relationship with your team members. What are their interests, aspirations, career objectives? What programming languages do they know best and what would they like to learn? What obstacles can you help them clear to become better coders?

The job is also like managing or coaching a sports team – how do they work together? Can your work processes be improved? Are there tasks that can be automated? How can you facilitate knowledge sharing via code review pairing, pull request commenting, mentoring, standups, retrospectives, devising effective continuing education, and career path programs?

Why does the Agile approach work well for Israeli businesses?

One of the answers boils down to prioritizing resources. Israel has an awesome startup ecosystem, probably the best in the world. Having more startup incubators, accelerators, and venture capitalists per capita than anywhere else, funds are often less of an issue than technical skill sets.

Israel has no shortage of highly educated people. According to the OECD, Israel spends a larger share of its GDP on education than every other OECD country except Norway and New Zealand. Israelis with a higher education degree outnumber must other countries by nearly two to one.

Israel does have a shortage of experienced IT workers. Previously, we noted that about 9.7% of Israelis are employed in high-tech companies. The long-term goal of the Israeli Innovation Authority is to increase that to 15%. Even that won’t be enough, Israel will “have the demand” for as many IT workers as it can generate if only because there is a global IT shortage. The more Israel is able to supply IT workers, the more global companies will want to source to Israel. Local Israeli companies will still have to compete for local talent.

Fundamentally, being a software engineering manager is about managing a team of developers – not coding.

Your core management team

Many Israeli companies strongly prefer to hire locally. It’s always good for your core management team to be able to meet locally. In a lean business environment, “managers” are often your only employees. Everything else can be outstaffed or outsourced.

If your business has plans to develop software, the most important in-house role to fill is that of software engineer manager. The engineer manager needs to know your business and industry, the founding team’s priorities, and goals. It’s also good if they are aligned with the budgeting/funding side of the business so they can have a plan to scale up their development team.

Otherwise, it’s fundamentally not necessary for software developers to work from a central location. Telecommuting has been possible since the Age of Dial-Up Modems (going back to the 80s). It’s been slow to catch on, that is until Covid hit – and now, working from home actually is the norm for most developers. Moreover, if and when things do return to “normal” – it will be a new normal as more developers are insisting on working from home more.

Outstaffing software developers

Of Israeli companies who do outsource, 45% source their developers from Ukraine. Other popular outsourcing countries for Israel include Poland and India. Polish developers have a very slight edge (.21%) over Ukrainian developers – but their wages are substantially higher and there’s a smaller outsourcing pool available. Indian developers have the lowest wages, but have substantially lower technical proficiency according to SkillValue – and much have higher turnover.

Ukrainian software developers rank 5th globally with a score of 93.17% according to 550+ technical assessments. By comparison, Ukrainian developers performed 8.58% and 13.62% better than their American and Israeli counterparts, respectively. On actual value (as weighed by code quality and cost), Ukrainian developers rank second globally.

And as a matter of practical convenience, Israel and Ukraine are in the same time zone. Non-stop affordable Flights between Tel Aviv, Israel and Kyiv, Ukraine are available Sunday-Thursday. Flight time is around 3.25 hours. Non-stop or 1-stop flights are also available to Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kherson, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhia.

Additionally, short-term (less than 90 days) visits to Ukraine by Israeli citizens don’t require a visa, as per the Embassy of Ukraine in the State of Israel website.

We can help with your IT staffing requirements

Maybe you’d like to talk about your IT staffing requirements and how we can help you extend your team with Ukrainian software developers? Call us toll-free at 1-800-PERCEPTIONBOX or please use the form below. Also, you can get a no-obligation quote using our Team Cost Calculator. Tell us what you need and we’ll get back to you asap with the current going rates.


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