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When the call to management comes

Paul Glen | Feb. 29, 2016
Entering the management track can sneak up on you. That’s why you should ask yourself whether you want to be a manager before the opportunity presents itself.

Are you ready for a career change rather than a promotion? Although most people think of moving into management as a natural career progression for strong individual contributors, nothing could be further from the truth. Being the best developer in your organization doesn’t mean that you would make a good manager of developers. In fact, the reasons that you are such a good developer — a love of solitary work, of finding clear solutions to well-defined problems or of getting rapid and unambiguous feedback on how well you are doing — may lead you to hate being a manager. And you have to realize that if you do well in a management role, you will have to give up much of what you now love about your job. You won’t be able to maintain your technical chops and develop new managerial ones at the same time. You’ll have to choose one or the other.

Supposing that you have thought about those two questions and decided that management will be a good fit for you, you will want to ask a couple more questions before accepting that offer to lead the next deployment.

What support will be available for me as I learn to lead? You’re going to need help understanding your new role, and you’ll also need someone safe to talk to who shares your concerns and can give advice. New managers often feel challenged and afraid to ask for help out of fear of looking incompetent. They also frequently feel frightened and alone.

How can we arrange things so that, if I decide that being a manager isn’t right for me, I can go back to a technical role without it looking like I’ve been demoted? Engineers who enter a management track can feel stuck. They want to go back to what they love doing, but the only way they can see doing that without losing face is to leave the company. Chart out a path back if you like the organization you’re in and want to stay there even if management isn’t for you.

If you spend a little time thinking about whether you’d like to become a manager, you’re more likely to have a good experience when the opportunity appears rather than struggling when you need your clarity most.


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