How did I end up in an office?

‘Zilla recently asked me a pretty simple question with a rather complicated answer.

I’m reliably informed you were a very talented coder and then opted to go the management route, which as we all know requires the use of a different skill set usually to the detriment of techie ability.

He wants to know why I decided to go into management.

First off, thanks for “very talented!”  I won’t ask who your sources are :).  The short answer is: “I was asked.

I did well as a developer, getting in on the ground floor for two great products (EMC Navisphere and StorageScope).  Through a decade in the trenches, I had several managers ask me during performance reviews if I thought a move into management was the right choice.  I was never sure about the answer, but I knew a few things:

  • Solving problems was interesting
  • Some of my strengths (organized, cool-headed communicator) would translate to management
  • I dreaded difficult interpersonal issues
  • I loved being part of a good team
  • A short stint on a blue-sky architecture team had driven me mad with lack of immediate challenge and direction

Basically, there was nothing about a move to management that called my name, but I wasn’t inherently afraid of it either.  People, schedule, and budget problems had the potential to be just as interesting as figuring out a stack trace, right?  But with nothing pushing me in that direction, I continued to contribute technically.

Now, our team had undergone some major shifts, a bunch of new people merging in from an acquisition, a major product canceled, massive reorganizations, and whatnot.  Things were messy for over a year, really.  Just as I thought I understood how we were going to move forward, my senior manager pulled me into her office and let me know she was leaving the organization … and taking a handful of others with her.  Things were going to get even more messy.  And, they needed someone to fill the shoes of my manager (who would be moving up to fill her shoes).  She thought I’d make a good fit, and that I would complement the skills of my manager well.  I trusted her opinion quite a bit; she was honest about my strengths and blind spots, and she thought it was the right move for me.

I had a lot of questions to ask myself, a lot of factors to weigh.  I thought about all those bullet points above.  Some weren’t really factors: once you reach a certain level of seniority and influence, you get exposed to ugly interpersonal issues whether you want to or not.  And, the team’s chaotic state made it easy to use this as a time to make a move.  I wasn’t stepping out of some tight-knit development team; the team as I knew it wasn’t going to exist in a couple months.

From a strict career standpoint, I had been at my current level for 5 years or so, and this would be a lateral move.  Career-wise, I knew that if I took a sideways step into management and didn’t like it, a sideways return would be possible.  Whereas, if I made a push for the next step on the tech track (and got there), it would be harder to step backwards and sideways into an entry-level management position if I decided I wanted to try it.   I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue down the tech track (like I said, blue sky architecture type stuff hadn’t worked for me in the past).

In the end, it was an easy decision. Things were about to get difficult on the team.  Assuming I was staying with the team, I could either do as I was asked and help make things smooth, or I could say “no” and make the difficult transition even more challenging for everyone.  So I said “yes.”

It’s been 2 and a half years, and much has changed.  Some days I hate this job, but some days I hated my other job too!  Some days it’s incredibly rewarding and I feel like I’m making a difference in a way I never could have before.  Some days I wish I knew just a little bit less about how the sausage got made.

Did I make the right choice?  For my teammates and the company, probably.  For my own personal life experience list, definitely.  For my family, maybe, maybe not.  It was a lot easier to leave work at work in the old days….

Where will it go from here?  I honestly don’t know.  I wish I had a better, deeper answer than that.  But you get what you get :).

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Kris on 12.17.08 at 5:51 pm

This is a great post!