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Management versus Technical

As you go through your programming career, you may eventually reach the point when you need to decide to continue along the technical path or move to a managerial path.

This is a big decision, as the two types of work are different.

I’ve stayed on the technical side my whole career, so I can’t give you a hands-on description of what happens as a technical manager. I can only let you know the things I’ve seen.

First, as a manager your focus is no longer on your ability to provide value to the company with your technical knowledge. Your focus will be on managing others who implement the programming.

A manager’s job involves hiring and firing people. They decide how much of a raise to give to the employees they manage. They decide how much to spend on tools and training.

However, at the lowest level of management, you’ll probably have little discretion in your decisions. Senior management will tell you to fire 10% of the team. Senior management will give you a specific amount of money available for raises. Senior management will decide how much money you get to use on tools and training.

Your decisions will be on how divide out the orders senior management has given you.

You’ll be in a position where you need to do things for the good of the company which may not fit into the way you want to behave.

For example, you may be told that, “Once this team finishes their project, we’re going to lay them off.” And, since your loyalty is supposed to be towards the company, you can’t let your employees know that.

You’ll have to tell them everything is fine when you know it isn’t. You can’t say anything when they apply for a mortgage, assuming they have a stable future. You’ll have to remind yourself that, “The needs of the many employees (who will be around after the layoffs) outweighs the needs of the few (who are going to be laid off).”

You almost need to think like a surgeon who is removing a burst appendix. On the one hand, you’re saving someone’s life. On the other hand, to do that, you need to stab them and remove one of their organs. Can you ignore the emotional part of the job and focus on the logical part?

Since I haven’t been in a management role, I won’t go into much more. But keep these things in mind when considering your career path.

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