Management or technical. It’s the age-old question in IT. We all start as technicians out of college, getting our hands dirty and working as junior team members. As we move forward in our respective careers, leading projects and teams, we need to decide whether to move into a non-technical management role or to stay in our technical role.
In September of 2011 I decided to accept an opportunity to manage a team. I was offered a role in which I would manage a team of 15 associates with whom I had worked the previous two years as a senior team member. I knew when I accepted the new role that it would be a challenge but I felt if I didn’t try it, I would regret it later in my career. I enjoyed my team and experienced a completely different side of IT but I never felt like I fit in the role. There were parts of it I enjoyed but I came to the realization that I wasn’t happy and preferred a more hands-on role.
In April of 2013, I was offered another opportunity that would allow me to move back into a technical role and I jumped at the chance. I didn’t change companies because I disliked management or my employer. I just felt a technical role was a better fit for me and after 12 months working here, I know I made the right decision. It wasn’t an easy move to make but by following a few simple rules I feel I was able to successfully make the transition.
So what happens if you make the decision to move into a management role and find out that it doesn’t feel right? What if you miss getting your hands dirty? What if you come to the realization that you prefer coding to personnel and staffing issues? Can you go back?
The short answer is yes. You can always go back as long as you do it for the right reasons and as long as you are prepared to do the necessary work.
- Be honest with yourself. Don’t overstate what you can accomplish but don’t present yourself as a dinosaur either. Dive in head first and get started on some real project work as soon as possible.
- Lean on others. Discuss progress with your manager, seek feedback from peers, and never be afraid to ask questions. Nobody knows it all in IT and you’re here to learn.
- Use your experience managing a team to help you be a better associate and teammate. You know what it’s like to be responsible for the work of others so you’re in a unique position with your new manager. You can also act as a buffer, if needed, between management and other associates since you’ve been on both sides of the aisle.
Technology moves at a speed that can overwhelm even the best developers. After being away from heads down coding and design for almost two years I knew I was going to need to knock the rust off. It helped that I tinker at home on side projects but I don’t believe there is anything better for learning than digging into a project that a customer needs by a defined deadline. Receiving my first placement within a couple weeks of starting helped me to accelerate the re-learning curve. I found myself picking things up pretty quickly and really enjoying myself again in just a few weeks.
The single most important thing we all need to remember is that we need to enjoy what we do. We spend 8 hours or more every day in the office or at client sites. If you’re in a position that doesn’t make you happy, that 8 hours is going to feel like 30.
“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. – Confucius
Making the transition from manager back to developer was easier for me because I love doing what I do. Writing software and messing around with computers has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember. I feel like my current role is the perfect place for me to be and it makes it easy to come to work every day. If you are thinking about making the move yourself, follow the rules I listed above and, if you love what you do, you can go back as long as you’re prepared to do the work.