Author Topic: switching to management track after lack of options in technical track  (Read 851 times)

TheGibberingPotato

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I am in my late 30s and work in science product development R&D.  I have been an individual contributor my entire career.  Generally I do well, am favorably reviewed/ranked and such, but have trouble getting much career growth.  Due to a series of corporate mergers/acquisitions, I ended up in a new group/company... where my career has appeared to stagnate.  I have started to become more and more vocal to my manager, who has told me that I have been screwed due to bad luck and there are not openings available now or in the near future for advancement/opportunities.

My manager has indicated that there is a potential opportunity available, but I would have to become a manager.  She has a pretty high opinion of me, but warns me that this is a little beyond what she would typically give to a new manager.  The management area is only tangential to my current technology area, and of course I have never managed before.  In my company, my managers typically have 'player-coach' practice positions, where they develop manager skills, before becoming a full fledged manager.  Nonetheless, she is willing to go to bat for me if I want this.  She has also suggested she could try to find me a similar intermediary position, but hasn't give definite on what it is or how long I'd have to do it.

I am now middle aged and feeling like my career opportunities are drying up... as such, I have half a mind to try to get this role, force myself through the learning curve, and see if I can do it.  I also am starting to apply for positions externally. 

I am curious what others think about this, may have done if they have encountered similar problems, or would do in my shoes.

Happy to give more info... trying to keep this short and sweet.  Thank you!

Sibley

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I'm similar to you that I've been technical and found similar limitations. I do not want to move into management. I know what they do and deal with, and I would be miserable. Miserable me = crabby, unprofessional me.

I changed technical directions. So far I'm really happy, 2 months in.

I refer you to askamanager.org. I suggest you do a bunch of reading, if nothing else it will help you learn how to manage.

Sayyadina

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If you aren't excited about the possibility to be a manager, you're probably not going to be a good manager.

I've been in a technical career for almost a decade, and switched into management about four years ago. I had been given a lot of those "player-coach" opportunities you mention - interns, mentoring, interviewing - and I made a bunch of my own too. Everyone could see that's where my career was going. I have a lot of passion around supporting my team into growing where they want to grow. And even still...

...it's the hardest transition I made. It's a completely different job. People think good engineers/technical folks will just automatically make good managers because they know the job. It's not true. I struggled for 18 months to really understand the change in my role, and how to blend the cheerleading mindset of mentoring with a more coaching mindset that sometimes includes really hard conversations. I force myself into those conversations because they are honest and true and what people need to hear. But it's still really hard.

If you're still considering this, I would ask your manager to talk about what she does and doesn't like about her role, and how she spends her time. I think it would be eye-opening.

I'm sorry, I wish I could be more optimistic and "go for it!", but not only is it a completely different job, you suddenly have a lot of influence over a bunch of other people, and you need to take that with a certain amount of respect and humility. (I'm not saying you aren't, just that it's something other people I've talked to don't consider when they talk about management.)

TheGibberingPotato

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If you aren't excited about the possibility to be a manager, you're probably not going to be a good manager.

I've been in a technical career for almost a decade, and switched into management about four years ago. I had been given a lot of those "player-coach" opportunities you mention - interns, mentoring, interviewing - and I made a bunch of my own too. Everyone could see that's where my career was going. I have a lot of passion around supporting my team into growing where they want to grow. And even still...

...it's the hardest transition I made. It's a completely different job. People think good engineers/technical folks will just automatically make good managers because they know the job. It's not true. I struggled for 18 months to really understand the change in my role, and how to blend the cheerleading mindset of mentoring with a more coaching mindset that sometimes includes really hard conversations. I force myself into those conversations because they are honest and true and what people need to hear. But it's still really hard.

If you're still considering this, I would ask your manager to talk about what she does and doesn't like about her role, and how she spends her time. I think it would be eye-opening.

I'm sorry, I wish I could be more optimistic and "go for it!", but not only is it a completely different job, you suddenly have a lot of influence over a bunch of other people, and you need to take that with a certain amount of respect and humility. (I'm not saying you aren't, just that it's something other people I've talked to don't consider when they talk about management.)

I have had a few intern/etc management experiences, and didn’t really consider them to be much preparation for a legit management position... so I guess we are in agreement.
This position is a people leader with 3 direct reports, two of which are similar job level to me, as well as a few that are on the technologist ladder (my organization differentiates).  There also is a lot of resource battling between my would-be group and another group.  Last but not least, this would be managing a group from a far, as theyare located elsewhere in the country.  So it is a big responsibility, and probably I am not ready yet, or would be a bumpy ride to start.

As to whether I am passionate about leading people, I don’t know as I have never had the opportunity.  I have been asking my manager for leadership opportunities for a long time... she has given me a variety of things without direct-reports.

I have no misgivings about management being difficult and basically expect it to be miserable.  I am up for a challenge though... but i just don’t know if this would be a miserable challenge I regret or a fulfilling self-development experience.  My alternative is to veg out in my current role, and switch from being a high performed to someone who gets by on minimal effort... and meanwhile search for new jobs.

jac941

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I think you have to really consider how much you want to develop others vs doing the work. I managed people once, and in my (minimal) experience, it was nice to manage motivated people and miserable to manage poor performers. Ultimately I decided management wasn’t for me - though I think I would still enjoy the occasional intern.

In my current role I manage consultants and contractors which is much easier because I’m not responsible for their career development. So it’s not the management / coordination piece that was frustrating. But instead the responsibility to help people develop. For an intern, it’s short term, they’re usually really motivated, so I found it rewarding to work with interns. But for an average employee, it’s just a lot of work and not very satisfying.

At the end of the day, it’s not really either or. You can try out the management position, and if you determine it’s not for you after a couple years, the technical opportunities will still be there to fall back on. I don’t regret taking the role managing people - it was a good learning experience. But I’ll avoid people management positions going forward.

cangelosibrown

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I think a lot of this depends on your ambitions in life and how they interact with your ambitions at work. I have very carefully avoided any management opportunities in my career. Not that there isn't a part of me that wants to advance, but ultimately it's not worth the price on my life. At least with my job, I think being a manager would end up being about double the work for about 10% more money. In the short term anyway. Long term, it could end up being much more money, as I'm pretty much capped in my earnings if I don't go management. But I'm not gonna stay around working long enough for that to matter.

use2betrix

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I am 33 and have been in management roles off and on most of my 12 year career. I currently have 3 (about to be 4) “direct” reports, with one of them being in a lead position that has around 20 direct reports.

I would say there are certainly challenges to managing others, but not terribly different than many challenges in non-management roles.

One of the hardest parts is the “tough” conversations that are sometimes necessary. People are also so completely different, that you have to learn how to manage them with very different styles. My 3 current employees are some of the most extreme differences anyone could imagine.

Employee 1: Disgruntled man who has been with the company for 7-8 years and just thinks the absolute worst about the company and has no problem voicing it to anyone who will listen. I get complaints about this, but he’s pretty “necessary” as I’m new to the company, and he does a good job managing the 20+ field personnel he’s responsible for. I try and coach as needed and although there have been some bumps in the road, we typically maintain a good working relationship

Employee 2: He was my counterpart at another company I worked with daily several years ago. I left there, and he came to work for me at my next company for a couple years. I left there, and he followed me again to the next place. He is your model “dreamboat” employee. Very thorough, quiet, kind, hard working, “can do” attitude, good sense of humor, etc. Very little more I could ask for.

Employee 3: He worked for me on a previous project, and joined me at this one. We had one “big” riff, where I lost my temper on the last job. He takes a “different” and more direct, management style. He is very very smart, very professional, and very direct. While I certainly don’t need to micromanage, I do need to be very clear in my expectations of tasks assigned. The “riff” we had on the last job was obviously put aside, as I brought him onboard to the new company. He has been doing an outstanding job and our relationship continually grows stronger.

I should add that some people may feel there can be a “riff” in the age perspective. My 3 direct reports are mid 40’s, 50’s, and 60 (again, I’m 33). Out of the 20ish reports to my lead, I think I am still the youngest of all of them. Now that I’m in my 30’s and far more experienced, I’m more confident in my management skills so the age thing isn’t really a factor. In my mid to late 20’s I managed many people who were again, much older, and I didn’t have quite the confidence then.


If you think you might struggle in certain areas, there’s a lot of books that can really help. I still REALLY struggle with public speaking. I am getting a lot better, however.

Some books I would recommend:
Crucial Conversations
The 5 Principles of Human Performance
Talk like TED

Just think of managing people similar as you would a technical problem, however to solve it, instead of using technical skills, it takes sociology/psychology skills. Nearly every person can be “figured out.” The best part about being a manager is empowering others to do their best, so your entire team thrives as a result. I love giving credit where it’s due,

I had a meeting with a director yesterday, and he sent me a text beforehand that said, “I want to discuss (xxx) today. My plan is to get you all wound up and then turn you loose on the necessary people.” I couldn’t have laughed harder, partially from the directness, but also because that is one of the best ways that I can be managed.

I look at bosses/mentors I’ve had in previous years, and as a manager myself, I really value when they know how to manage me.

TheGibberingPotato

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Sounds like your direct report number 2 has a platonic crush on you, or at least sees you as a safe bet.

It’s interesting to here all of this talk about management strategies.  Honestly, i have seen none of it.  Managers have rarely done anything for me, and the only hard conversations I’ve ever had are the ones I’m having with my manager right now (complaints about lack of opportunity in the company, for which she basically agrees with me).  I often don’t really know what managers actually do at my company... guess I need to ask her that, explicitly.

snowball

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Managers have to deal with a LOT more meetings, organizational politics, and petty interpersonal complaints than you might expect.  And re the petty complaints...if you yourself are not a source of that kind of drama, you might naturally assume your coworkers aren't either.  Sometimes that assumption is true, sometimes horribly false.  I was quite surprised how much drama started being brought to my attention when I first managed a larger team (ten or so people);  I'd been working there for years, blissfully oblivious to most of it.

Like jac941 said, it's great when you're managing high performers, and miserable when you have to deal with low performers.  Especially miserable when you have to address particularly sketchy behaviour on the part of people you manage, like sexual harassment that is sufficiently deniable that you don't have HR on board with termination (ugh).  I wish I were making that up as a theoretical example.

I would enjoy people management more if I could spend a significant amount of time helping the mid-to-high performers develop in their careers.  Unfortunately, in my experience, most of my management-time gets sucked up by dealing with low performers.  Once you start showing you're able to handle difficult cases and willing to have (and document) difficult conversations, you can also end up with specific problematic people getting transferred to your dept for you to handle, because other managers didn't do their jobs properly (I wish I were making that up too...)  Anyway, mostly the higher performers just get a bunch of benign neglect from me, not because I prefer it that way, but because I have to prioritize my time and put out fires.

If you've never had hard conversations with your manager, it may be because you fall into the "high performer / productive / not causing problems I need to solve" category for her, and are experiencing that benign neglect.  And if she's good at her job, you won't hear from her about the difficult conversations she has to have with low-performing colleagues, because that shit is confidential.  So from your perspective, her world may look like a peaceful pond, but the reality could well be a cesspool crawling with hidden insects, lol.  I agree that you should ask her more about what her days involve and what kinds of challenges she faces.

Edited to add:  I second Sibley's recommendation of askamanager.org.  Amazing resource for learning how to manage well, and if you're wondering if this is a kind of work you want to get into, it'll give you a huge set of example situations.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2021, 05:09:39 AM by snowball »

norajean

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Do they have positions in sales with commissions there? Those can be a lot more lucrative than technical or tech management.

badger1988

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Just posting to say I'm right there with you. I've been an individual contributor for the past 10 years. I generally enjoy my work, and have been considered a "high performer." For a few years now I've been identified as someone who was on a management path, and I've been open to the challenge. Today, it became much more real, as I was informed by my manager that he's accepted a new position and they want me to post to backfill (seems to be more of a formality than anything). So I'm at a crossroads where I can't really keep kicking the decision can down the road, and naturally am starting to feel some resistance to change creeping in. I've appreciated reading the various perspectives in this thread.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2021, 09:51:33 PM by badger1988 »