When Pure People Management Isn’t The Right Fit

Sam Moore

VP, Architecture at Betterment



"Several years ago, I was working at Betterment as an Engineer on a growing team. The team was fairly small, but I had done enough to demonstrate I was capable of taking on more responsibility. The company wanted to hire more people for the team so I was asked whether I wanted to step up to the role and manage people."

Actions taken

"My instinct was to take the opportunity without hesitation because I wanted to grow my experience and responsibilities. I was a little apprehensive about stepping back from writing code regularly but was led to believe I would adjust well and would figure out a balance where I wouldn't have to give up coding entirely. I decided to accept the responsibility and ended up managing people for about two years. For my first nine months, I was in a little bit of denial about how much I enjoyed the role. I talked regularly with my manager about how I was adjusting to the experience. However, while he and most of my reports were very encouraging, I was unhappy because I was spending most of my time helping my reports with their problems and being a good servant-leader, and I wasn't taking my own feelings into account. I was slowly becoming increasingly unhappy in my role, despite my team doing really well. I decided to engage with my manager, as well as managers throughout the organization, to understand what their experiences with managing people were like. At first, I was just trying to determine whether this was just how it felt to be a manager and whether my expectations were unrealistic. However, as I had more of these conversations, I determined that I really shouldn't have been feeling like this. With that realization in hand, I talked to my manager about the feasibility of moving out of my managerial role and whether there was a career path for someone like me at our organization. We had a lot of conversations about whether there were people in the organization who were doing things that were similar to what I envisioned, and if not how we would define my role. Next, I spent around six months working with my manager to roughly define a new type of IC role and figure out who my current responsibilities would fall to when I vacated my management role. The role we defined struck a balance between the appealing qualities of people management and IC. For the individual contribution part, it was about focusing on high-leverage problems that were cross-cutting. For the management part, it was building relationships with engineers across the organization and growing those relationships through coaching and mentorship. Once I had determined the strategy for the new role, I started rolling my managerial responsibilities off of me onto my replacement. I focused on training that person in what I did so they were at the level they needed to be at to take over my reports."

Lessons learned

"Often organizations will focus on providing purely technical or purely people management-based career paths, when mixed career paths may be a better fit for people wishing to learn and grow. There was only one other person doing something similar to what I had envisioned. However, by talking to managers and a lot of engineers in our organization, I found that there was a desire for there to be a role where you could grow but you didn't have to be purely focused on coding or purely focused on people management."

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Sam Moore

VP, Architecture at Betterment

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementMentorship ProgramsTechnical ExpertiseTechnical Skills

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