Project Manager vs. Developer: Which Is a Clear Winner?

Are you confused about which career path to take, whether it be a project manager or a developer? Well, both job profiles come with their unique set of pros and cons. As such, it depends on what you want from your career to know which is best for you. 

Being a project manager is the clear winner if you want to demand a higher salary, manage multiple teams, and hold meetings with clients and stakeholders. Whereas, if you want to primarily focus your energy on coding and creative problem solving, development is the better career choice.

In this article, I’ve put together an in-depth look comparing project managers to developers. We’ll be taking a look at their salaries, job responsibilities, work-life balance, and required qualifications. By the end, you should have a better understanding of each career option and know which one is best for you. 

Project Manager vs. Developer: Differences Compared

project manager vs developer
Being a project manager is something I wouldn’t enjoy. While I am fine with having meetings often, I don’t enjoy managing multiple teams. I am the happiest when I can code and focus only on that.

To help you better understand the differences between a project manager and a developer, I’ve put together a table comparing both professions: 

Factors to ConsiderProject ManagerDeveloper
Average Salary$104k/year$98k/year
Job ResponsibilitiesPlanning the project scope, schedule, and budget.

Making sure the project is on track in terms of deadline and budget.
 Communicating the project status to stakeholders.

Implementing the best industry practices to ensure optimal results.
Coding the product, or a particular part of the product.

Writing well-documented and scalable code.

Ensuring the product meets the required performance and reliability standards.
Day-to-Day Work LifeAttending meetings with clients and stakeholders to discuss the project roadmap and necessary budget.

Collaborating with the development & design teams to explain the product requirements, gather current progress status, and help them solve any obstacles. 
Coding the product.

Collaborating with fellow developers and the design team.

Brainstorming creative solutions.

Attending review meetings weekly or bi-weekly. 
Working Hours & Overtime40hrs work weeks.

Very little overtime.
40-45hrs work weeks.

Overtime is common before project deadlines.
Required QualificationsYears of experience working in a related field with increasing responsibilities.

At least a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (CS) or Business.

Specialized project management certifications like PMP.
Coding Bootcamp certificate.

Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Computer Science or Software Engineering.

Demonstrable skills in developing apps and writing well-documented & scalable code.

Now, if you’re looking for a bit more insight, here’s a more in-depth look at each factor. 

Average Salary

Going by Glassdoor, the average salary of a project manager is $104k/year in the US. An entry-level position will pay you around $73k/year and can climb over $148k/year as you acquire more skills and experience. 

Also, according to the data, the majority of the project managers reported a salary package between $90k-110k/year. 

In comparison, the average salary of a developer is $98k/year. The pay is around $68k/year for entry-level positions, whereas more qualified and experienced developers can demand close to $140k/year or higher. 

That being said, according to the Glassdoor reports, most of the developers got around $80-100K/year. 

Overall, both project management and development are high-paying career options. 

While the reports do indicate a difference of a few thousand dollars in favor of project managers, developers can also demand a similar package by gaining expertise in more in-demand and niche project types. 

I have an in-depth article about programming salaries, from junior all the way to senior. You can read about it at this link.

Job Responsibilities

The job profile of a project manager is noticeably different from that of a developer, with different responsibilities and roles to play. Here’s a look at some of the key job responsibilities of a project manager to help you understand what you’re expected to do in this role: 

  • In charge of the project planning, which means that you’re defining the project goals, schedules, deadline, and cost. 
  • Preparing a budget for the project and optimally managing the available resources. 
  • Attend meetings and keep stakeholders up-to-date on the project strategy, the current status of progress, and if any adjustments need to be made. 
  • Measure & evaluate the project’s progress and implement the best industry practices and techniques to optimize performance. 

On the flip side, as a developer, you’re mainly required to hone your programming skills and implement them to develop better creative solutions. 

Here’s a look at their primary responsibilities to give you an idea: 

  • Understand what the software needs to do, and then brainstorm how to deliver on that most efficiently. 
  • Development of the project/software. If you’re part of a large team, you might be tasked with only programming a particular section of the product. 
  • Collaborate & communicate with team members to streamline the development process. 
  • Write scalable and well-documented code so others can build on your work. 
  • Quickly troubleshoot problems and come up with practical solutions. 
  • Test, analyze, and debug the product before it’s publicly launched. 
  • Help & coach team members to ensure everyone is competent and capable enough to handle their part of the project. 

Day-to-Day Work Life

As a project manager, most of your time will be spent planning, attending meetings with clients & stakeholders, and discussing project status with the development team, but the specifics of your routine will depend on the stage of the project. 

For example, if the project has just been assigned, you’ll be tasked with understanding the project requirements, which includes talking with the clients and any related stakeholders. Based on the requirements, you will need to chalk out a project roadmap and an estimated budget. 

Once the project gets the green light, you’ll need to collaborate with the design and development teams. You need to understand the teams’ strengths and weaknesses and help them accordingly to ensure optimal results. 

Also, depending on the project’s current status, you’ll need to create reports to update clients and stakeholders about the project’s progress. 

In contrast, developers will spend the majority of their time coding and developing the product. 

You’ll work closely with your fellow developers, the technical lead, and the project manager. Also, expect to collaborate with the design team to understand the UI/UX of the product to optimize your code accordingly. 

Other than this, you also need to attend weekly or bi-weekly review meetings to update the project’s current status, share ideas, and consider feedback. 

Video: Day in the Life of a Project Manager

Working Hours & Overtime

Project managers typically have a great work-life balance enjoying the standard 40-hours workweek, typical for full-time positions. 

In fact, as long as you have put together a solid roadmap for the project and made sure everything is on track, everyone related to the project will enjoy a healthy work-life balance thanks to you. 

You’ll also rarely have to do any overtime unless the product deadline is coming up and the development team is behind schedule. Then you might need to work with the development team, re-plan the roadmap if necessary, and communicate the status with the clients & stakeholders, which can get a bit stressful. 

Developers also enjoy a stable work-life balance with workweeks ranging between 40-45hrs. 

That said, the notion of overtime is extremely common in this domain, especially before project deadlines. This is when you need to complete the remainder of the task, do proper debugging, make sure everything is working perfectly, among other duties. 

Required Qualifications

To become a project manager, you’ll need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree along with years of demonstrable experience in a relevant work environment. Having credible certifications and specialized training in project management can also help the hiring process. 

A few of the most notable certifications for project managers are: 

  • PMP: Project Management Professional
  • CompTIA Project+ certification 
  • CSM: Certified ScrumMaster 
  • CPMP: Certified Project Management Practitioner 
  • CAPM: Certified Associate in Project Management 

If you want more options, here’s a list of the top 19 project management certifications in 2023.

On the flip side, you can get hired as a developer just by completing a coding Bootcamp. Building a few apps or websites will also help in the hiring process. Having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is beneficial but not particularly necessary. 

For example, I got my first job as a web developer without a degree just by showcasing my few months of freelancing work experience and a coding Bootcamp certificate. 

How To Choose the Clear Winner

Both project managers and developers enjoy a bright career with great pay. As such, picking the “better” option boils down to which job profile is better suited to your temperament and expectations. 

You should consider project management if: 

  • You can create realistic and executable plans. 
  • You can predict the necessary resources for a project and ensure it gets completed within budget. 
  • You’re good at communicating ideas between different parties. 
  • You know how to manage teams. 
  • You can detect potential problems and neutralize them before they can cause harm. 

Whereas, a job as a developer is the better pick if: 

  • You like to come up with creative solutions to technical problems. 
  • You enjoy coding. 
  • You want a career that helps to hone your skills on a particular topic till you become a subject-matter expert. 
  • You want to work with people in the same field as you.
Video: Developer vs. Project Manager

Key Takeaways

Project managers typically enjoy a higher salary and better work-life balance than developers, but only by a small margin. Overall, both are excellent career options, and picking a clear winner depends on what type of work you want to do. 

Do you want to create plans, attend meetings, talk with clients, and manage teams? 

If yes, then project management is for you. However, if you enjoy coding, creative problem solving, and collaborating with like-minded people, then you’ll have a more fulfilling career as a developer.

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