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Software Development Manager Career Guide

What is a software development manager?

A software development manager leads a team of developers in creating, testing, and maintaining software systems. In the tech-driven world, this role is pivotal, as it directly influences the development and execution of digital solutions that drive modern businesses and industries.

These managers ensure that solutions align with an organization’s strategic objectives. They efficiently manage resources, timelines, and the development process to deliver software products on time, within budget, and according to quality standards. The role is central to maximizing productivity, fostering innovation, and delivering value through software solutions.

Duties and responsibilities

Duties and responsibilities cover all aspects of the software development lifecycle. These managers oversee the planning, design, development, testing, and deployment stages to ensure projects stay on track and within budget.

Software development managers assemble a competent team of software developers, assign tasks, and monitor team performance. They also serve as the primary contact for stakeholders, coordinating communication between the development team and other business units.

The role includes involvement in strategic decision-making, contributing to technology selection, process improvement, resource allocation, and risk management. Understanding current and emerging technology trends ensures the team’s work remains relevant and competitive.

Work environment

The typical work environment is an office setting, but the role is increasingly remote-friendly. Projects are highly collaborative, requiring constant interaction with software developers, project managers, stakeholders, and clients.

Given the critical nature of the role, software development managers often face high-pressure situations, mainly when dealing with project deadlines, technical challenges, or resource constraints. The ability to remain calm under pressure, think strategically, and make sound decisions is critical.

Typical work hours

The typical work hours are full-time during a standard business week. Additional hours, including weekends or holidays, may be required during critical project phases, near deadlines, or to troubleshoot urgent issues.

As the tech industry increasingly adopts remote and flexible work arrangements, some managers may have the option to work from home or choose flexible working hours. However, this flexibility depends on the specific organization and the nature of its projects.

How to become a software development manager

Becoming a software development manager involves acquiring technical skills, leadership abilities, and project management expertise to oversee software projects and teams. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to follow:

Step 1: Obtain a degree in a relevant field

A bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, information technology, or a related field is typically required. These programs provide a strong foundation in programming, software development methodologies, and project management principles, which are essential for the role.

Step 2: Gain practical experience in software development

Hands-on experience in software development is necessary for understanding the technical aspects and building the necessary skills to manage software projects effectively. Obtain work in software developer, software engineer, or systems analyst positions to gain practical experience in programming, software design, and systems integration.

Step 3: Develop leadership and management skills

Managers must possess strong leadership and management abilities to guide teams, delegate tasks, and resolve conflicts effectively. Seek opportunities to develop these skills, such as taking on team lead responsibilities, participating in leadership training programs, or pursuing a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or technology management.

Step 4: Hone your project management expertise

Project management skills are needed for successfully planning and executing software development projects. Familiarize yourself with popular project management methodologies, such as Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall, and consider obtaining a project management certification, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified ScrumMaster (CSM).

Improve your skills in project management with the help of online courses:

Step 5: Gain experience in team management

Seek a promotion within your organization or a management role with another company to gain experience supervising software development teams. Hands-on experience will help you develop the necessary skills to lead larger teams and projects in the future.

How much do software development managers make?

A primary salary determinant is the level of education, with advanced degrees in computer science or software engineering commanding higher wages. In addition, software development managers with certifications in project management or relevant technologies may earn more.

The specific industry and type of software development projects can also significantly impact salary. For instance, those working in high-demand sectors like cloud computing or artificial intelligence (AI) may earn more. Similarly, managers working in industries with traditionally high IT budgets, such as finance or healthcare, often receive higher compensation.

Geographic location, years of experience, and the size or prestige of a company are other factors that influence salary.

Highest paying industries

  • Information Services: $171,670
  • Finance: $167,420
  • Computer Manufacturing: $164,490
  • Software Publishers: $162,390
  • Data Processing: $159,990

Highest paying states

  • New York: $190,390
  • California: $185,640
  • New Jersey: $181,410
  • Virginia: $172,790
  • Delaware: $169,710

Browse software development manager salary data by market

Types of software development managers

The role may vary based on the nature of the projects and the organization’s structure. In this career guide section, we will explore the different types of software development managers, shedding light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus. 

Enterprise software development manager

Enterprise managers lead the design and implementation of software systems across large corporations or organizations. They manage teams working on applications for various business functions like human resources, finance, and supply chain management. Their work often focuses on integrating multiple systems, ensuring scalability, and meeting diverse user needs. 

Product software development manager

Software products are routinely created and enhanced for the external customer market. Product managers collaborate closely with UX designers and marketing departments to shape a product’s vision, prioritize features, and manage releases. Their teams work on desktop software, mobile apps, SaaS platforms, or other consumer-focused technology products.

Systems software development manager

The systems software specialty includes developing and maintaining operating systems or system-level software, such as server software, middleware, or embedded systems software. These systems often form the backbone of other software and hardware operations. Managers in this role oversee developers and ensure all systems work seamlessly and reliably.

Web development manager

Web managers use their in-depth knowledge of web technologies and best practices to design, build, and maintain websites or web applications. They coordinate with front-end and back-end developers, UX/UI designers, and sometimes content creators to deliver functional, visually appealing, and user-friendly web experiences. 

Mobile development manager

As mobile device usage grows, so does the need for iOS, Android, and cross-platform software applications. Mobile managers lead teams that use various development languages and frameworks to create or modify mobile applications. Frequent testing ensures that applications deliver optimal performance, provide a good user experience, and meet the mobile platform’s specifications. 

Agile development manager

Agile managers lead software teams that use agile methodologies for projects. While this is more of a style than a specialization, it’s a significant aspect of many management positions to facilitate agile processes, help remove obstacles, and foster an environment of continuous improvement and adaptation.

Top skills for software development managers

Software development managers need a deep understanding of software development processes, exceptional team management skills, proficiency in project management, and strategic thinking abilities are required. A high-performing manager ensures efficient workflows, fosters a productive team environment, and aligns software solutions with business objectives.

A solid technical foundation includes knowledge of programming languages, software architecture, testing procedures, and software development methodologies like Agile or Waterfall. Technical expertise allows these professionals to understand challenges their teams might encounter, make informed decisions about technology choices, and ensure the delivery of high-quality software.

A key part of the role is leading a development team, including recruiting and hiring talent, providing coaching and mentoring, and fostering a positive and productive work environment. Managers must encourage collaboration, facilitate communication, and resolve any conflicts. These skills enhance team morale, increase productivity, and lead to more successful software projects.

Software development is complex, involving multiple stages, deadlines, and stakeholders. Managers in this role need proficiency in project management to plan, organize, and supervise processes, such as defining project scopes, setting and managing deadlines, allocating resources, and mitigating risks. Effective project management ensures software development projects stay on track, within budget, and meet objectives.

Thinking strategically and aligning goals with broader business objectives is essential when planning software projects. They need to understand the market when making decisions about design and implementation, foreseeing any future needs or challenges. Strategic thinking contributes to meeting current software requirements and providing a solid foundation for future growth or adaptation. 

Software development manager career path

The career path often begins with a technical role, such as a software developer or engineer. This stage is vital for gaining hands-on coding experience and understanding the intricacies of the software development lifecycle.

After accumulating experience and demonstrating solid technical skills, a transition to a senior software engineer or lead developer is possible. These roles involve advanced programming tasks, leading smaller development teams, and contributing to architectural decisions.

At this point, promotion is possible to team lead or software architect. In these positions, the focus is less on coding and more on designing software systems, managing teams, and driving the technical aspects of projects.

Progression to software development manager usually follows and includes a significant shift toward leadership, such as overseeing multiple development teams, managing the entire software development process, and aligning software projects with broader business objectives. Soft skills like communication, delegation, and conflict resolution are as necessary as technical prowess.

As these managers gain experience, they can advance to higher leadership positions such as director of software development, VP of engineering, or even chief technology officer (CTO), where they set the technology strategy for an entire organization and manage larger teams or departments.

The role is experiencing substantial changes due to the rapid pace of technology and the shift in software development methodologies. The rise of Agile and DevOps practices redefines software builds and deliveries, emphasizing continuous integration and deployment. As a result, software development managers must foster a team environment that supports these practices and cultivates effective communication and collaboration.

Another significant trend is the wide adoption of cloud services. Managers are increasingly overseeing teams that develop for and in the cloud, necessitating a solid understanding of cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

Further, the growth of AI and machine learning has influenced software development processes. Managers are expected to integrate these technologies into software applications.

In addition, as remote work becomes commonplace, managers in this role must lead distributed teams, ensuring productivity and engagement while overseeing projects from a distance.

Employment projections for software development managers

As of the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupation of “Computer and Information Systems Managers,” which includes software development managers, is projected to grow by 16% through 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is mainly due to the need for firms to bolster their digital presence and develop innovative software solutions. Given the rapid advancement in software technology and the ever-increasing reliance on digital platforms, the demand for experienced managers should remain robust.

Software development manager career tips

Understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses

Managing teams effectively involves understanding each member’s strengths and weaknesses, unique skill sets, and how they can best contribute to the team. By leveraging these insights, managers can assign tasks effectively, build a strong team dynamic, and enhance overall productivity and morale.

Stay updated with technological trends

In the rapidly evolving field of software development, staying updated with the latest technologies, languages, and methodologies is crucial. This knowledge helps to guide teams effectively, make informed decisions about technology choices, and maintain the competitiveness and relevance of products.

Foster a culture of collaboration and communication

Successful software development often depends on collaboration and clear communication within the team and with other stakeholders. A culture encouraging open dialogue, cross-functional cooperation, and constructive feedback can significantly enhance a team’s performance and software quality.

Embrace Agile and DevOps practices

Agile and DevOps practices are widely adopted in software development for their benefits, including efficiency, adaptability, and product quality. Understanding and embracing these practices can help to lead teams more effectively, align closely with business objectives, and consistently deliver higher-quality products.

Continuous learning

Staying current and enhancing skills are essential in the role, so take advantage of learning opportunities by:

  • Attending industry conferences and workshops
  • Subscribing to relevant industry publications and blogs
  • Pursuing certifications such as Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Learning about new project management tools and methodologies

Build a professional network

Networking can provide valuable opportunities for learning, mentorship, and career advancement. Here are some professional associations and networks to consider:

  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
  • IEEE Computer Society
  • Project Management Institute (PMI)
  • Scrum Alliance

Prioritize team development and mentorship

Effective managers support their team’s professional growth by offering training opportunities, encouraging new challenges, or mentoring them to develop new skills. Prioritizing team development can enhance a team’s skills, increase job satisfaction, and improve retention rates.

Master project management techniques

A software development manager is a project manager in a technical context. Mastering risk management, time management, and resource allocation is important. These skills can help to plan and manage projects more effectively, ensure timely delivery, and stay within budget.

Where the software development manager jobs are

Top companies

  • Amazon
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Oracle
  • Walmart
  • AT&T

Top states

  • California
  • Washington
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Dice
  • Glassdoor
  • GitHub Jobs


What educational background is usually required for a software development manager?

The role typically requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. Some managers also hold an MBA, which can be beneficial for understanding the business aspects of software development. Equally important is professional experience in software development, as practical knowledge of programming, software architecture, and project management is critical for the role.

What key skills are required for a software development manager?

Managers need a combination of technical and managerial skills. Technically, they should have a strong background in software development, including knowledge of various programming languages, software architecture, and Agile methodologies. Leadership skills, strategic thinking, excellent communication abilities, and problem-solving skills help to oversee teams and projects effectively.

What role does a software development manager play in the development process?

Overseeing the development process, they manage the team, set and track project milestones, ensure quality, and make critical decisions on technologies and methodologies. Liaising with other departments and stakeholders ensures alignment between the software development process and the business’s objectives.

What types of certifications can benefit a software development manager?

While not necessarily required, certifications such as Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Project Management Professional (PMP), and Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) can help demonstrate competency. 

How important is understanding business strategy for a software development manager?

They must ensure that software development aligns with a company’s business objectives, which requires a clear understanding of its strategy. Decisions on technology investments, resource allocation, and development priorities can significantly impact the company’s success.

What kind of work environment does a software development manager typically work in?

The typical environment is an office in the technology, finance, healthcare, and e-commerce sectors. As the role is mainly managerial, they commonly work in a team setting, often collaborating with other managers, developers, and stakeholders. With the rise of remote work, some may also work from home or oversee remote teams.

What is the role of a software development manager in team building and management?

Managers are responsible for hiring and training new team members, fostering a positive and productive work environment, setting performance expectations, providing feedback and support, and resolving team conflicts or issues. They also ensure the team has the resources to carry out tasks effectively.

How involved is a software development manager in technical decisions?

While the level of involvement can vary depending on the organization, managers are typically very involved in technical decisions. This can include decisions about the overall architecture of a software solution, the selection of technologies and tools, or the adoption of specific development methodologies. These decisions require a strong understanding of technology and its potential impact on the project or business.

Do software development managers need to stay updated with the latest technologies?

Staying updated with the latest technologies and trends in software development is crucial, as this knowledge can inform strategic decisions about technology investments and ensure that the team’s skills and tools are up-to-date. Good options for enhancing knowledge include continuous learning, attending industry events, and following relevant publications.

Is creativity important for a software development manager?

While the role is technical and managerial, it also involves solving complex problems and making strategic decisions, which can require innovative thinking. Fostering a creative environment allows the team to develop innovative solutions and improvements.