Why did you become a manager?

I hear it all the time, from technical contributors: “I’d never want to be a manager.”  The reasons are usually straightforward.  Some fear losing their technical acumen, others dislike office politics, and many just enjoy feeling in control of their own contribution and don’t want to worry about other people.

Sometimes I’m asked why I made the decision to enter management.  I realized today that even though I started this blog to talk about that question, I haven’t spent much time really digging into it.

Fellow EMCer Chris Ferdinandi asked within the firewall recently about fun at work (a subject he has since brought to his external blog).  The subject migrated to satisfaction at work, and what makes work satisfying.  The short answer then, to the question above, is that I entered management because I felt it could be satisfying.

All through my career, I’d been asked if I wanted to move into management.  I kept saying no — after all, I was a software developer.  I liked writing code, debugging problems, integrating components, staying on top of technology trends, and so on.  I knew I loved those things, and I knew managers didn’t do those things.

But over the years, the kind of work I did kept migrating into a specific area — developing APIs used by others.  I met people who got frustrated if they didn’t work on something which easily mapped to an end-user feature, but my own satisfaction wasn’t tied to that.  All I cared about was writing quality code, making it easy for others to debug and maintain, and making integration with my APIs as simple as possible.

It took me a few years, but I finally realized what it was about my work I found so satisfying: I was making other people’s jobs easier. My “users” weren’t paying customers, they were my fellow employees — and I was doing good by my users.

It wasn’t until years later that I had the follow-up ah-hah moment, the one where it became clear to me that individual contributors and managers are all cooperating to try and keep an organization successful.  They play different roles, but from a corporate level they are all parts of the (hopefully smooth-running) machine.  Obviously, then, it should be possible for a manager could get satisfaction out of making everyone’s jobs easier.  Heck, it might even be that a manager could play that role on a larger scale than a purely technical leader.

So that left the rest of the equation — discussing with my manager what my skills were, learning what of those might map well into the management role, for example.  And then there are the other issues — office politics, lack of control over my own success, and so on.

But the first step, the critical step, was admitting to myself what gave me satisfaction at work.  Everything else followed (and will follow, in future posts).