Moving From Tech to Management?

A very common question that I see asked is:

Should I make the transition from technical to management?

Let’s talk about this.  Why are you even asking the question?  The answer is probably because you’re looking for a raise, or for career growth, and your company/peers/mentors/society is telling you that making this transition is the only way to move in that direction.

So first of all, that’s not necessarily true.  Its true that a lot of companies do it this way, but there do exist enlightened companies where really, really good technical staff have their own career path.  I’ve been places where the top engineers made a lot more money than the managers, and also even had more influence in the projects and the company’s work. So one answer to the question is:

If you want to keep doing technical work, but have hit a ceiling at your job in terms of money or position, then make the change to another organization where you can grow.

I certainly realize that this answer is way easier said than done.  Many people don’t have the luxury of just changing companies. I have been in that position myself; I had a pretty good job at a company but was in a geographic area where there weren’t a lot of other choices, so I was stuck with figuring out how to make the best of where I was.

Or,  figure out how to change your current position.

What eventually ended up working for me, however, was that I was able to have open, constructive dialog with the senior leaders at my company, and over time was able to grow my position.  I asked for and justified raises, and received them. I proved myself to the managers that I provided value to the company, and that my thoughts and opinions were useful and relevant, so my advice was listened to.  The key to achieving this was patience.  I had been in a few jobs before where this wasn’t happening as fast as I wanted to so I moved on to another job.  It wasn’t until I gave it 3 to 4 years until it finally clicked. 1 to 3 years just isn’t long enough (in a mid-to-large sized company) for that type of evolution to occur.

But let’s say you’ve thought about the above things, and are still considering it.  Then the next thing to address is:

Where would you get more fulfillment?

Although money is an important motivator (and should be…we all have bills to pay), one piece of advice I hear over and over again from more experienced people is that money is only important to a certain degree, and after that there are more non-tangible things that you should look for.

  • Am I challenged?
  • Am I busy?
  • Am I contributing in a meaningful way?
  • Am I appreciated?

The key to these above questions is looking at where you bring the most value to your company.  You’re probably going to contribute the best with what you have a personal passion and interest in.  If you love Android/Java with open source backends, and dislike Swift with .NET backends, then if you’re working in a .NET shop then over time it’ll become harder and harder for you to contribute successfully.  So:

Do you enjoy management/leadership?

Some people enjoy technical management.  I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would.  One important reason was, since I’d moved into management from a technical track, is that I was able to do the job better (in my opinion) than a pure management-trained person.  So there was a sense of satisfaction and pride that I was contributing greatly to the team’s success by giving them a good manager, instead of a pointy-haired boss.

By looking at what you enjoy doing and what you are good at, and combining that with an organization that can make use of it, you’ll have a very good chance of achieving the success and career growth that you want.

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