Author Topic: I think I'm not interested in career progression. How to handle the talk w/ mgr?  (Read 2240 times)

moustacheverte

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I've been a software developer for 5-6 years now. I make decent money while only being a "simple" developer: I don't manage anything or anyone, and I'm very rarely the engineer that gets called when things break to fix in an emergency.

I was thinking about it recently, and I like it this way. I could make a lot more money becoming a lead, or a manager, but when I see the insane amount of hours and stress my betters experience I'm not sure I want it.

I probably have another 7-8 years to work before I can FIRE, and I think I'm happy staying a developer with very little responsibilities to the business.

But my manager wants to develop a career plan, personal growth plan, etc. It's very nice they're thinking about this, and I appreciate their concern but I'm perfectly happy staying in my current role. The only career progression I'd be interested in is more money for less responsibility, but I don't think it exists.

How so I approach this kind of conversation? I don't want to sound complacent because I need the income to save for quite a few years still, but I'm really not interested in burning the midnight oil and play the promotion game. Any advice from others who have been in that position?
« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 07:17:34 AM by moustacheverte »
From Canada, began out FIRE journey in Oct '14
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Meowmalade

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Um, me!  I just got my first promotion in 8-9 years, my own fault because I felt the way you do.  I was already performing at that level and should have pushed for the promotion a couple of years ago because I make more money now and could have gotten a raise earlier.

I'd just tell your manager that you're happy continuing/growing as an individual contributor (or whatever they call it at your company) and that you're not interested in leadership roles.  It's part of your manager's role to help you grow, so they're just doing their job and making sure that they can help to guide you if needed.  Someone's got to be a worker bee; can't have everyone become a leader!
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Sarah Saverdink

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I'm 11 years into my engineering career and have been an engineering manager for the past 3 years, overseeing electrical, mechanical and technicians. From a management perspective, it's pretty easy for to me tell who is a highly ambitious go-getter and who is not. Your boss may already suspect that you aren't one to seek more responsibility/promotions. Still, as a manager, I am required to have career planning discussions with all of my employees.

My recommendation is to say you are happy with your current role and want to focus on continuing to develop your technical skillset / be an individual contributor. Maybe list a few specific technical areas that you are interested in learning more about/becoming more proficient in. That should allow you to avoid a leadership path, at least for now.

My only caution is that, yes, you do sound complacent and it may hinder future income growth opportunities. I was just discussing with my husband (who is also an engineer) last night that in the past 4 years, both of us have experienced substantial growth in our incomes. He switched jobs in 2013 and after receiving his yearly raise earlier this week, his compensation has essentially doubled in 4 years. My compensation has increased almost 50% in the past three years. It's insane. We each had one promotion and substantial yearly raises (6% - 10% each year) and bonuses in that timeframe. If you're willing to put a little more into your job, it is a prime time to boost your income - which carries forward and can accelerate your FIRE timeline.
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rothwem

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I'm in the exact same position, and I haven't found a good way to phrase it either.  I used to run a lab of 21 people, it sucked, it was babysitting.  As long as my pay continues to track inflation, I'll be happy.  I'm not sure how much longer I can get away with it though, since I'm one of the only engineers in our department that is fairly extroverted with social skills.  I think I'm going to get forced into leading a group at some point if I stay here. 

neo von retorch

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I've been a software developer for 17-18 years now. Mostly I've done web sites and web applications (some of the front-end stuff, but mostly Cold Fusion, classic ASP, .NET and more recently, MVC.) In that time, I've had 11 jobs, so you can figure out that the average length of my jobs was about 1.5 years. (Most are 2-3 and one was nearly 6, but a few were much, much shorter.) While I've had, probably 11+ different titles, almost all of the jobs were the same. I implemented the provided requirements. Personally, I think I'd do well in a people-centric management role, but the problem seems to be that I'm pretty good at implementation, but I don't stick around, grease the right palms, and end up in a position where that sort of career shift opportunity (I'm loathe to call that "progression" or "advancement") would present itself.

Now, I'm still a good 5-8 years away from FIRE, depending on a few variables and decisions going forward... and I am tired of being in this developer/implementation role. I'd enjoy being an architect, developer manager/team lead, or even fully independent (I enjoy freelance projects where I develop, sometimes teaming up with a designer). But there's no easy way for me to get there. (Well, maybe I could try to apply for that kind of job, and try to fake my way in...) So I'll likely have to grit my teeth and stay on this path for now.

For the most part, I don't regret keeping my head down and implementing software all these years, but when I was in your position, I felt like it was the place I wanted to be, so I just changed jobs to get a raise. I've yet to work anywhere that cared enough about what I wanted to give me a big raise just to keep me around. Career progression is what your manager and employer want. Promote you out of your comfort zone, and replace you with a less expensive new developer. Now it's your domain knowledge and experience in the company that's valuable, rather than your skills in software.

I have a feeling that doesn't answer any of your questions, but it might give you some insight into your future. As someone who's aware of the "high earner, low spender, early retiree" path, you might be able to plan out the next several years of your life/career much more intelligently than I have. (As said before, I've done this over 17 years, yet still have quite a few to go before I'm financially independent.) So if you can keep your working career short enough, you might be able to skate by in low-responsibility limbo just long enough to reach the finish line. On the other hand, if you're still in the work force 10 years from now, you might be kicking yourself that your options are a little more limited, and you can't rapidly accelerate your plans through advancement and promotion.

sokoloff

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Agree with Sarah; as an engineering manager, I'm perfectly happy to have SWEs who are totally self-sufficient stay as individual contributors. (I'm also happy to support those who want to move into squad, tribe, or org leadership positions as well.)

As long as you're staying current technically and aren't making trouble for the rest of the team, I'm happy to have you retire a decade from now as an individual contributor.

However, I will caution you that I read a lot of complacency and DGAF about the business in your post and that's worrisome. If you're rarely the engineer who gets called for an emergency, is that because they don't trust your competence and don't view you as a critical member of the team? Having minimal responsibilities to the business sounds good from a work-life balance angle, right up until the business hits a rough patch and has to let someone go to stay on the right side of cash flow numbers. If you are the one let go in such a situation and you go interviewing without any demonstrated current skills/passion and without a strong referral from current leadership, you could be in for a long job search, especially if there is an industry-wide downturn and you're competing against thousands of people with strong github portfolios, an app they made on the side, obvious passion, and willing to work for 2/3rds of what you're making now...

I don't see any strong prospect of that looming on the horizon, but it's wise to understand the "prepare for winter" case.

BoonDogle

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I would approach the conversation by telling your manager that you are interested in a slower career development plan.  Maybe you have some personal goals you are working toward that you want to accomplish first.  That leaves the door open if you change your mind plus doesn't give your manager the impression that you will never be interested in any additional responsibilities.  That will probably buy you at least 4 or 5 years and by then you are only a couple of years from FIRE.

Sarah Saverdink

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sokoloff has some really good advice. You need to make sure you a high-performer, even if you are not looking for fast career advancement. Layoffs can happen and you need to protect yourself.

I also want to mention that I have some FANTASTIC individuals on my team who rarely work more than 40 hours, but when they are at work, they work their tails off. There's a big difference between doing a good, solid job every day during normal working hours and having an IDGAF attitude that carries over into your work product/efficiency. High-performance does not always correlate to "works lots of extra hours" - if you give 110% working a standard schedule, that alone will let you stand out amongst your peers.
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Uturn

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It really depends on your manager.  Let's look at my former employer.  I had a manager that realized that I am a high achiever and get things done.  Because of my efficiency and skill level, the team was actually one person smaller than before I hired on, although I didn't put in a full 40 hours most weeks.  He also realized that I had no ambitions to move up.  I was in my sweet spot of highly technical, low management/administration.  Although I would have happily taken a raise, I wasn't chasing money.  I won multiple employee achievement awards.  After three years, he moved on to another company and I got a new manager.   During our get to know each other meeting his first week, he asked about my career goals.  I told him that I was very content where I was at.  The company is getting very good value for their money, and I am happy.  He looked at me quizzically and asked why I don't want to move up to management.  I asked why would I want to move from a position that I am great at and enjoy to one that requires skills that I don't like using or don't possess?  He said that I am just lazy, the whole purpose of a career is to move up.  We had quarterly employee reviews there, and immediately my scores started to drop.  I was still doing my job as I always had, but now my reviews went from high achiever to satisfactory to under performing.  That company lost a great asset and I lost a job that I loved doing. 
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sparkytheop

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We have individual development plans at work, and every so often the boss goes over them.  When I first start this job (last year, after a hellish situation at my last job) he asked me the "where do you want to be in five years" question.  I told him I want to be a happy (current position title).  He said "that's it, you don't want (promotion)?"  Yep, that's it.  I'm happy where I am.  I'm more than capable of the job the promotion entails, but I don't want it, any part of it.

I do let him know if there is any training I want to do though, or if he has a suggestion on training.  But only if I can travel for it.

Roboturner

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I'd just tell your manager that you're happy continuing/growing as an individual contributor

Yeah the buzz word for us is "I'd like to stay technical" - i think that puts a positive spin on "I don't want to be a manager"
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Dave1442397

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My company has figured out a promotion scale that allows for technical people to stay technical. I have no interest in managing people, even though I've done it before and was good at it. At 51, I'm one of the youngest developers on the team. We have a couple of people in their late sixties who are still coders (and damn good at it).

The product we take care of has 85% of the market share in the US, and has billions of dollars running thru it every night. Management are quite happy to leave us alone and keep the profits rolling in.

moustacheverte

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Maybe there is some IDGAF in my reasoning. This is something I have developed over the years to protect my sanity. I used to be a perfectionist and care about the business a lot. I eventually burned out a few times, because companies are schizophrenic masochistes and will eat you alive if you let them. when something is urgent it usually isn't really 95% of the time. And so you spend your time and energy worrying about things and fixing things asap for the business because of self inflicted/arbitrary deadlines. Sometimes you miss a deadline, and the world is still running. I already do the best I can, to the best of my abilities while I'm on the clock so why should I push myself more, lower my quality of life, and waste energy into things that don't ultimately matter all that much only to make the company's shareholders a little richer? I know this isn't a popular opinion in North America, and amongst managers so I keep it to myself.

This feeling is also probably why I absolutely don't feel like playing the game and sinking even more of my life than is necessary into receiving an income. Because of that, I also don't think I have what it takes to get involved beyond individual contributor.

I realize these are unpopular views, I have my flamesuit on, and I'm happy to discuss this in a civilized manner.
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RyanAtTanagra

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I've had the same discussion with my manager.  He wanted me to take on more of a managerial role.  I just said I wasn't interested, and that I like doing the nitty gritty work and had no interest in having employees under me or going to more meetings.  I flat-out told him 'if I had to do your job I would quit'.  We were on really good terms and I knew he'd take that the right way, and it got the point across.

It depends on your manager.  When I tell some people I have zero desire to get into management, and yes I know that means I'll hit an early career and salary ceiling, and yes I'm ok with that, they look at me like I have two heads.  Not wanting to climb the salary ladder just does not compute for some people, so you need to read your manager.

Bicycle_B

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@Moustacheverte, I think your views are pretty reasonable.  The issue is whether employers do.

Clearly from the varied nature of the responses, you can see that not all companies and not all managers are alike in  their view of a reasonably skilled dev.  For now the key is:  Does your manager want you to have a development plan because the company requires it, or because he/she thinks it's a good management technique, or some other reason?  Your response should address the supervisor's needs and mindset.

Depending on the situation, you could go with something like: "I appreciate that you are taking the time to ensure that I can keep growing with this company.  I've noticed that teams need a mixture of different roles, and I like contributing in technical areas.  I admire the interpersonal energy that a skilled leader delivers (nod in their direction) but I think that my growth would be more sustainable in a technical direction rather than a management role.  When possible, could I (fill in the blank with some achievable request that sharpens your tech skills)?"

You've avoided insulting their career path while stating your own.  You've also given them something to fill in the blank of their form if they are required to show that they have developed a growth plan for you.  If nothing else, look for a certification that you can get easily, and use that as your "growth goal" for this year.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 11:26:40 AM by Bicycle_B »

Zamboni

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^This seems like excellent advice.

historienne

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Depending on the situation, you could go with something like: "I appreciate that you are taking the time to ensure that I can keep growing with this company.  I've noticed that teams need a mixture of different roles, and I like contributing in technical areas.  I admire the interpersonal energy that a skilled leader delivers (nod in their direction) but I think that my growth would be more sustainable in a technical direction rather than a management role.  When possible, could I (fill in the blank with some achievable request that sharpens your tech skills)?"

Agree with this.  There is lots of skills development stuff you could talk about as part of a technical career path.  New programming languages, or projects that would help stretch your skills in your current stack.  This is all stuff that should make work more fun for you - use this as an opportunity to work towards the technical niche that you personally would find most satisfying. 

Roots&Wings

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I'd just tell your manager that you're happy continuing/growing as an individual contributor

Yeah the buzz word for us is "I'd like to stay technical" - i think that puts a positive spin on "I don't want to be a manager"

Yes, this. Many companies have technical tracks and reward this along with management, which is an entirely separate skill set. My company tried to push me into mgt, and I politely declined and pushed for technical. They instituted a technical track after several discussions.

Proactively showing your willingness to develop your technical skills to the highest ability/industry standard in your field will enhance your manager and benefit your company too.

dividendman

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My advice is to fake like you want to progress so you might get a promo/higher rating/more money as an individual contributor.

It never helps monetarily to say you don't want to progress.

Now, you will have a few managers out there that appreciate a no drama individual contributor that just gets the work done, but most managers are shitty and want to hear you say the dumb crap that nobody believes, so just say it (again, if your goal is more money).

If they do end up promoting you to a higher individual contributor role you can still do the same amount of work, it'll be just fine, except you'll have more money. Also note that higher ratings/money usually go to people management wants to promote later, so it's in your interest to appear to be going for a promo even if you don't want it.

So... fake like you want to progress for more money, if progression occurs then don't actually do more stuff if you don't want and presto, you have more money. They'll never fire or give a low rating to someone they just promoted because management doesn't want to seem incompetent.

Yeah, it sucks to be fake, but that's what corporate work is all about. See: https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/is-it-so-horrible-to-love-your-work/msg1495902/#msg1495902

FLBiker

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I'm in a totally different field (academia) but a similar situation.  I've actually been promoted (reluctantly) several times over the past 8 years (my department went through a huge period of growth / change) so I'm in a mid-management admin role already.  I thought I always wanted to be a teacher, but there are definitely some pros to admin.  Anyways, it has also become clear to me that I have no interest in climbing any higher.  Most of my peers, and certainly my superiors, have terrible work / life balances -- they respond to emails / calls 24-7.  I don't.  That isn't to say I never check email outside of work hours, but I do so in a very limited, intentional way.

When my former director was promoted a year or so ago, I had a very frank discussion with him about the fact that I wouldn't be applying for his job.  He understood.  If I make any career moves before FI, I suspect I'll go back to teaching (giving up ~50% salary for summer's off).  We'll see.

For me, the "trick" to establishing work life balance has been to just do it.  And I don't love managing people, but at the same time it gets easier.

birdman2003

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posting to follow

damyst

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Since this was mentioned only in passing so far, I wanted to point out that switching employers in a timely manner can be a powerful tool in your strategy.
As your experience grows, your "street value" as an individual contributor rises. Your salary is unlikely to keep up as long as you're with the same employer, unless you get yourself promoted rapidly (which you say you don't want).
Switching jobs (at least in a good economy like we have now) resets the clock, often leading to a large pay rise with less responsibility.

Kaspian

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moustacheverte --> I am in the exact same position only I'm a web application developer and database administrator.  I'm as high as you can go in the organization without moving into team lead or management.  I've been asked a few times about it and also told it would show career incentive during my evaluation.  Being a paper-pusher instead of hands-on would make me incredibly miserable.  The best I've come up with is to fully explain my situation honestly while semi-flattering them, "I really like the hands-on aspect of my job.  I know I've gone as far as I can in that area but I don't particularly manage well with fulltime paperwork and all-day teleconferences--I honestly don't know how you guys do it!  Those long phone calls are so tedious, aren't they?  You must have some serious patience.  Kudos to you."
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