Ah, polo shirts and khaki pants. I miss Redmond. Where else can you go to the Gap on Sunday, come back to work the next day, and find twelve other program managers wearing the exact same thing you just bought?
I used to say that Program Managers who do not have the respect of developers are not going to be effective because they won’t get anything done. In my day on the Excel team the developers ate untechnical program managers for breakfast. It sounds from your anecdotes that you’ve seen some teams with the worst of both worlds: weak program managers and weak developers.
The truth is that the Program Management gene and the Software Development gene are mutually exclusive. The perfect program manager is a software developer with user empathy, organizational skills, and the people skills of a sorority leader — and there just aren’t enough of those to keep 45 buildings under control. At some point someone decided that coding was an expendable skill for this job, and, guess what? Who interviews potential program managers at Microsoft? Other program managers. Remember A’s hires A’s but B’s hires C’s?