It sounds like the beginnings of a cliche jRPG, asking profound questions like, “what am I”, but I am quite serious. I have to stop and ask myself this question on a monthly basis. My responsibilities tend to involve the full spectrum of technical and business aspects of the company. Ultimately, this leads to a constant conflict of interest.
I find myself in conflict with the things that I enjoy doing and the things that I think I am supposed to enjoy doing. You see, there is this common misconception that all people are really striving to reach a position in management. I would argue however, that the classic company-man ladder doesn’t directly apply to Software Engineers. There certainly are perks to becoming a manager; the hours are steady, most of your work involves delegating responsibility to other people, and almost anyone with a reasonable sense of time management will thrive. Still, something feels hollow about the experience.
I’m constantly struggling to find a balance between the programming and the management side. I suppose that I am hesitant to find my next step in the chain of command because it could mean a drastic shift in my career path. I’ve moved through the various ranks of Software Engineer, Lead, and even higher management titles, but I eventually find my way back to the code. I know that I may have to give it up someday, and make room for the eager upstarts that want to work into the night. But I also know that if the economy goes south, a technical skill will almost certainly find me a new employer, long before another management opportunity rolls around. They don’t exactly pass out Director positions like fliers in the mall.
Then there is the question of salary. My engineering path has seen a steady increase in pay over the last 10+ years. With each promotion, a known set of responsibilities are appended and my job continues like any other day. As I take on more Director responsibilities, it is questionable if there is more or less money involved. Is it worth it to take on a management position for LESS pay? I doubt it. After researching the salary ranges for both positions, technical and management, they start to get a little muddy. It seems to all peak at about the same place, and the real money comes from the leap into the executive tier. Executive incomes are unbound, and generally relative to the performance of the company. This is where my concern comes in with “staying the course” on the engineering path.
I don’t think that the engineering path would ever get me into the executive tier, unless I started my own (successful) company. Management is valued higher by other managers, and it opens opportunities that are frankly closed to anyone in the technical tier. If I don’t make the clean break into… management… then I will most likely maintain my currently salary for the remainder of my career, since I am nearing my peak. I guess the question is, would I be happy with that? Right now, my answer is, I don’t know…