The other day I had a discussion about leadership and management. When we came to an argument that there’s no chance to advance to a position where you can facilitate leadership and management skills in discussed organization several people (from present and from past) automatically came to my mind. They all have the same problem which they may overlook.
They all are (or were) great engineers. People you’d love to have on your team. But at some point of their careers they started to think about having their own teams, managing their own people. Hey, that’s natural career path for great engineers, isn’t it?
Well, actually it is not.
Do a simple exercise. Think who you consider as a great engineer, no matter if he’s a star book author or your colleague no one outside your company knows about. Now what do they do to pay the rent? I guess they are (surprise, surprise) engineers, tech leads, freelancers, independent consultants or entrepreneurs. I guess there are none who would be called a manager in the first place, even when they happen to do some managerial work from time to time.
Why? Because these two paths are mutually exclusive. You can’t keep your technical expertise on respected level in the meantime, between performance review of your team member and 3-hour status meeting with your manager. You either keep your hands busy with writing code or you get disconnected with other developers out there.
On the other hand what makes you a great engineer usually makes you a poor manager at the same time. If you spend all day long coding, you don’t have enough time for people in your team. And they do need your attention. They do much more often than you’d think. If you’re going to be a decent manager big part of your time will be reserved on managerial tasks. There won’t be enough time left to keep on technical track. Sorry.
That’s why all these people who I thought of have to (or had to) make a decision which way they are (were) going to choose. Technical leadership path means most of the time you won’t have people to manage but you may be respected as an architect, designer, senior engineer. If you’re lucky enough you can even get one of these fancy business cards with title of Chief Scientist or Chief Guru or maybe just a simple Co-Owner.
Managerial path on the other hand will make you feel lame during basically every technical discussion out there but yes, you will have people to manage. If you’re lucky, and I mean lucky, not competent, you’ll become VP or something.
You have to choose. Or you had to some time ago. What’s your choice? What do you regret about it?