Is Management the Right Path for You
VP Engineering at CMG
Throughout my career, I was coaching a great number of engineers who were uncertain which route they would go down -- the people route or technical route. To understand a person’s motivation and untapped potential, their skills and ability to learn require building a trustful and supportive coaching environment. As a result, I would delve with my reports into multiple topics, asking them a great variety of questions. However, over the years, I narrowed down our often lengthy conversations to a single question -- where do they get energy from. In my opinion, there is nothing more important when considering a management career than knowing what fills and empties your buckets.
"There is nothing more important when considering a management career than knowing what fills and empties your buckets."
Over the years, I developed a streamlined and effective approach that would help my reports make the right career choice. To start with, I would ask them to reflect back on the last week or last month and single out a moment that made them proud. Then, they should dissect it to better understand why it made them proud and if it was related to people or technology. Choosing one over the other will help you to direct them. When I was at the same crossroad, I remember how excited I was because I helped two people who didn’t like each other collaborate on a project. I can still call to mind how proud I was of having them talk about something that could bind them together.
Then I would move to the key question -- what would give/take them energy. Many people are great at doing things that are nevertheless too taxing for them. What could help better understand the problem is the distinction between introverts and extroverts and what drives these two groups of people. By introducing this distinction, I don’t imply that introverts can’t talk to people but whether that is something that energizes them. As an introvert, I talk to people all the time, also in front of a large audience, but that doesn’t provide me with the energy I need.
In the past, I would promote my reports to managers before asking them those questions and in most cases, they wouldn’t be the right fit. They would flame out, become frustrated, and then quit. It is hard to redeem oneself in a company as much as a company says. It is hard to recover from that kind of failure regardless of how supportive the company culture is.
I would recommend that people try both for a short while and closely monitor what gives/takes them energy and what they would be excited about. What are those small wins that bring the sense of self-accomplishment? Identify them to determine what to do next. Unlike a more directive type, managing people will be even more demanding in terms of energy if you are a servant leader.
I wish someone had asked me all those questions in the early days of my career. I feel that I was pushed into being a manager because I could talk both to the business and fellow engineers with ease. I was not prepared at all for the role; I was not provided with any training or coaching. Going that early in my career into management without any support made it hard for me to understand if that is something I wanted and how success looks like.
- Identify where you are deriving your energy from. Understand what gives/takes your energy away. This question is closely tied to self-awareness, and a profound understanding of “Who am I.” Reflect on what you want, what makes you happy, what you are good at. Understand what your wins were in the past and why. When you answer all these questions, your career path will unfold in front of you.
- Go both ways to see what will play out for you in the end. Compare what you are most excited about and what are your biggest accomplishments. It is a simple equation; take these two inputs minus what the business needs of you to get an outcome of the equation.
- You don’t need to be the best engineer to run the greatest team. I have a list of things I expect from engineering managers. I have a framework of five responsibilities people should be aware of: you have to get your team to commit, to deliver, to be consistent, to connect to each other, and to hire. I would be very clear with anyone stepping into this role what the expectations are.
- Many people are told that management is 50 percent coding and 50 percent management. I find that statement misleading -- it is always 100 percent management, and one should be prepared to stop coding. If that sounds scary, that should be a clear signal of where you should go.
- You may never hit that fork in the road. But some skills are good to develop regardless of the career path. Even if you decide to stay on a technical path, you will still need to talk to people, make sound decisions, build consensus and rapport.
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