Most of us who choose a career in IT do so because we love the hands-on work. We start out on the front lines as a developer, DBA, designer, administrator or support tech. With time, we grow into new roles as our natural drive and curiosity prompt us to learn — about the technical areas we have chosen, the products and platforms we work on, the new technologies we’d like to work on and the roles we have yet to play in technical organizations and projects.
At some point along this trajectory, we are likely to hear a question whose implications are more profound for our careers and lives than we probably realize: “Do you want to be a manager?”
Those probably won’t be the exact words you’re asked. (And there’s a good chance that you won’t be asked at all, but instead will have a management “promotion” thrust upon you without the opportunity to really think about whether it’s something you want.) The question can seem innocuous, suggesting that you’re being asked to take on a few new minor responsibilities in addition to your current job: “Can you lead a team of three developers on the next sprint?” “Will you take charge of the next deployment?” “Would you like to manage the late shift on the help desk?”
Your impulse is probably going to be to say “sure” and then return to what you were doing without giving it a second thought. The reality — you’re now on a management path — won’t sink in for a long time. And by then, getting off that path could be much more difficult than getting on it was.
If a question like that comes at you from out of the blue, you need to take some time to consider your answer. Even better would be to thrash out your thinking about entering management ahead of time. Here are a couple of key questions you should ask yourself.
Do you understand what it means to be a manager? Most of us want to be recognized for the work we do and expand our capacities. We want the respect, pay and promotions that we feel should come with our achievements. And we want the opportunities to try on new roles, to move up in the world.
But is management the best way for you, individually, to achieve those things? Do you hold misconceptions about management — that management roles bring you power, when they actually depend on influence, or that having been a technician means you understand what technicians need to be happy and productive? Such misconceptions can lead you to be bad at managing or miserable while trying.
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