This is the next bullet point in my continuing series on how you can find yourself “stuck” in management, and how to get yourself “unstuck.” In this post, we’ll talk about how you may start convincing yourself that management is where you should be at some point in your career.
If, like me, you’ve been in the programming business for a decade or two, you may start feeling influenced by well-meaning (but often ill-informed or assuming) people around you who suggest that at this point in your career, you should be “climbing the corporate ladder.” Likely, you’ve earned their respect over time, and they’ve witnessed you take on ad-hoc mentoring and leading opportunities. So they may assume that you’ve been too caught up in your day-to-day development duties to realize that it’s time to make, what is traditionally seen as, the next “natural step” in your career.
Or perhaps you’ve felt a bit burned out by two or three recent projects, coding non-stop for days on end, ridden by management to “get this project done already!” You start wondering if maybe you should finally step into their shoes and leave the coding and long, bleary-eyed hours to the next generation of young whippersnappers. Out with the old, in with the new. Have to make room for the new coders, right?
Or perhaps you’ve felt the pressure of a growing family, with kids soon to enter college, wondering if the only way you can pay those huge bills is to accept that promotion your CTO has been trying to push you towards, with all the extra frills and benefits (the golden handcuff kind). Or you start wondering how you’re going to stash enough away for retirement on a developer’s salary. After all, you’re closing in on that age, right?
Well, I went through all of the above. And because of those, along with other circumstances in my life at the time, I eventually found myself in management.
I broke a promise to myself that my 20-year-younger self swore I’d never, ever do. It was so, so easy to make that promise 20 years before. I loved coding, and pictured myself happily doing it for the rest of my life. Hell, I even dismissed the thought of ever retiring at all. I mean, who would want to stop coding simply because he or she didn’t need to code anymore for a living? We’d live off our life savings, and I’d write programs that I wanted, or wanted to sell on my own, and not worry about any deadlines. Coding without deadlines – now there’s a dream worth working towards!
I even realized early in my career that there wasn’t really a technical career path laid out in the corporate world, so I knew I’d simply avoid ever being in that position by going into consulting. I knew from year one in the field that consulting was what I’d be doing very soon.
But maybe if I delayed my entry into the consulting market, I would have avoided the naïve paths that eventually led me into management. Is delaying that move a lesson everyone should follow? I’m not so sure. Maybe my tale of caution can help your awareness of the risks you may face, so that you can take a different path than I did.
Do not think that management is a natural step for a mature professional in any field. It’s an old tradition for an older world that simply does not ring true today. Yes, management is the right path for many, but in my belief management is a career in itself. It is not simply a “next step.”
We have so many more career options these days. If you want to remain on a technical path for your entire career, there are several enlightened companies that respect and reward that these days. And if you don’t want to work just to make someone else’s passions and dreams come true, start your own software company. But like I mentioned in my last article, plan it out where you can outsource the stuff you don’t like to do, so you can spend most of your time on the technical stuff.
Or take the consulting plunge. Developers can do very well financially as a consultant. Of course there’s risk along with flexibility, but so much has been written on the topic. Educate yourself before diving in, and you’ll be able to manage the risk and keep doing what you love to do. Programming. My all-time favorite book on consulting is Aaron Erickson’s “The Nomadic Developer”. This book is a goldmine in so many ways.
And you can build a thriving business on top of consulting. If you plan well, you can add training to your repertoire, as well as create opportunities for multiple streams of income. That is a must, if you want to continue increasing your income without having to bill 24/7.
One of the most exciting things for me about getting back into consulting is that not only does it keep my skills fresh, it hones a set of skills that open an amazing number of doors in today’s world. Everything runs on technology. Between app stores that make it easier than ever to monetize with minimal investment, and the ability to use your skill to help start the next great world-changing product, there will always be need for skilled hands-on developers and architects.
And do not worry about the fear mongers screaming that all development will eventually be offshored. Suffice to say, that is a topic unto itself. But bottom line, there is tremendous need for highly skilled developers near wherever you happen to live, especially for those who have strong communication skills as well (also a topic for another time).
There is no reason at all to buy into the belief that management is where you should end up, especially if it’s not for you.
Next time, we’ll talk about the so-called “temporary” management trap you can easily get yourself caught in.