So awhile back, I referenced I had some feelings regarding choosing management or technical. With the holidays and move to Denver behind me, I can sit down and try to explain my angst on this subject.
In development, there often comes a point especially after becoming a lead or senior developer, when you are presented with two options: remain technical towards architect or head into management. At the time, I very much saw this as distinct options with no overlap and no option for turning back. Despite my interest and natural tendency towards management roles, I was absolutely terrified of losing my technical credibility and becoming “one of them – you know, middle management that everyone jokes about”.
So I fought it. I fought managers, who tried to give me opportunities for growth based on seeing my potential. I fought myself by trying to pretend what was challenging and rewarding to me. I’m so very grateful to a few key mentors that kept pushing me out of my comfort zone. They saw me fighting for the wrong reasons and didn’t let me give up.
In retrospect, I spent a ton of time stressing and worrying about absolutely nothing!
At the start, my strengths (my foundation) was my development skills. At the top, were skills that were a means to support my
Then as I kept experiencing project management roles, my skills increased. I felt more confident in both my project management skills and my tech skills. At some point, these switched to what was my base. I would love to tell you the exact moment, but I don’t know when or how it happened. That didn’t mean I gave up coding all at once. It was gradual.
What did become very clear to me over time was that I was becoming a strong project manager and my dev skills were decreasing (becoming the support to my project management):
Personally, I’ve found that I don’t want to be too specialized that I can’t help a team in multiple ways or see the bigger integrated issues. There is absolutely value in the specialist but they have a very defined purpose. I want more.
Generalists have a huge value to teams too. Personally, I have also found that I don’t want to be too much of a generalist. I like to dig and in go for depth of problems too. The ones people are afraid to tackle, excite me.
What I want is to be a balanced generalizing specialist. This takes effort and experience but the rewards are endless. By the time I realized what I truly wanted to specialize in (people – leadership), it was easy to let go of the technical. That doesn’t mean what you choose to specialize in is at the expense of anything else. Balance yourself.
As a leader, I’ve talked to so many developers that struggle with this topic. Just like with me, their internal pressure and/or conflict is overwhelming. The best response I’ve come up with is:
If you can’t make the choice, it’s not time to make the choice. That’s not only ok but completely normal. So in the meantime, experiment; explore different roles/challenges because no matter which way you eventually go, you’ll need a solid well-rounded foundation.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t magically ease the struggle. Maybe we all have to experience this lesson? Maybe this struggle will exist until all managers become leaders thus removing the fear of the management path? Maybe we need to stop creating career paths that imply it’s one choice or the other?
Did you stress over this “choice”?