When Pure People Management Isn’t The Right Fit
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."
"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."
"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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VP, Architecture at Betterment
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