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June 2006
Do I Want to be a Manager?
By Matthew D. Sarrel
So you’ve been working in your technical position, maybe as a developer or a network engineer, for a year. Perhaps you’ve advanced beyond entry-level and taken on more technical responsibility, yet you’re not entirely satisfied with your position. It’s time to start exploring options for career advancement. Many times making the transition from technology worker to technology manager is what your career needs to get its second wind.

At some point in your career you’re going to have to choose between developing your technical or your managerial skills. The two paths diverge from a common point of a desire for advancement. Many times there is only so far that you can go as a technologist, only so high that you can rise within an organization on technical skills alone. In order to break through to a position of leadership you’ll need to cultivate managerial skills. But how do you know if you even want to be a manager?

Why Not to Be a Manager
Not everyone is destined to be in management.

One indicator that you might not want to be a manager is if you would rather work alone than in a group. Many techies want to go to work and essentially be left alone as they do their jobs. They’d rather be surrounded by technology than by people. If you are content sitting in your cube and solving the puzzles presented during the course of writing code, then management isn’t for you. Likewise, if you want to fly under the radar then management isn’t for you.

Would you rather nail your hands to the keyboard than go to a meeting? If so, then management probably isn’t for you because managers spend most of their time in meetings. Many times a manager will lead a meeting rather than be a mere participant. Would you feel comfortable leading a meeting? It’s not easy to build consensus in a group with disparate opinions. Another aspect of being a manager involves guiding employees through their projects. If you would rather lead neither meeting nor project, then management is probably not for you.

Are you ready to shift away from your technical skills and towards your people and project management skills? If you still get a rush from writing clean code or locking down a firewall, then stick with the techie stuff and leave the management to others. This is perhaps the hardest decision to make, but if you love the technology more than the business then your talents are better utilized by remaining a techie.

Why To Be A Manager
Similarly, there are a number of reasons why you might want to go into management. You probably already have a few in mind or you wouldn’t be reading this article.

Do you crave leadership? In truth, there is a difference between a manager and a leader, but each manager must have some basic leadership skills and the desire to influence coworkers. A good manager is not only responsible for himself, but also for his team. Leadership is something that you’ll have to be comfortable with if you want to be a manager. The ability to make decisions and the capacity to carry them out are essential management skills.

Do you want to help others develop their technical and professional skills. Many techies want to go to the office and work in solitary confinement. However, if you want to mentor others and guide them through their tasks, then you may very well make a good manager. Being a manager and accepting responsibility for those under you by definition places you in a high profile position. I find that developing my employees’ skills and seeing them advance in their careers is the most valuable part of being a manager.

Do you enjoy working with other people? This is a big one. A manager doesn’t necessarily have to be a people person, but it helps. Managers spend most of the day working with others so it’s generally a good idea to have strong interpersonal skills. Managers have to solve people problems and it helps to feel a sense of accomplishment after doing so.

A good manager has to understand group dynamics and how best to facilitate employees working together. If you see a challenge in interacting with coworkers and their personalities, then management will provide you with those challenges on a daily basis. It takes patience and understanding to be able to guide employees and to build consensus during team meetings. A good manager knows how to bring out the best in his team and that usually requires maintaining a delicate balance between team members’ personalities.

Do you want to be involved in planning and reporting on the status of projects? Would you rather lead a team through developing an action plan, or would you rather work quietly to execute the plan? Becoming a manager may mean that the status of a project becomes more important than the technical nuances of that project. It’s going to be a different focus from what you’re used to so you’ll need to prepare yourself for it. One change that the shift to management will bring is that you will now represent your coworkers when interacting with your boss. Your boss may not want to hear every technical detail and may be more focused on whether the project will be completed successfully and on time. You’ll need to start thinking like a manager before you can act like one.

How to Make it Happen
One book that may help you explore the option of becoming a manager is “What Every New Manager Needs to Know: Making a Successful Transition to Management” by Gerard H. Gaynor.

Making the shift to management may be the best way to advance your career, but unless you prepare yourself for the move it may be frustrating and simply not right for you. You need to ask yourself some tough questions before transitioning from a technology worker to a technology manager. Adapting and enhancing your people skills will provide the essence of your managerial skills. The ability to see the big picture when managing a project is key so prepare yourself to move beyond every technical detail and learn how to see projects as a whole. Above all, prepare yourself to shift away from the technology that’s gotten you where you are in your career because it’s time to emphasize people and projects.

There are no right or wrong answers, just personal preference. A decision that you make today can always be reversed tomorrow. Give some serious thought to the questions posed in this article and then choose your career path wisely. The most important assets to manage correctly are yourself and your career.

Matt Sarrel is executive director of Sarrel Group and a technology journalist based in New York City.


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