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Ask HN: Promoted to Management, but Have Doubts
12 points by throwaway_0915 on Sept 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 6 comments
Recently promoted from lead engineer to a high level management role (below the executive team) in a small company (~100 people), but I'm not enjoying it too much. I feel I'm wasting my time with operational and solving small issues around unblocking the team, while my technical colleagues are doing interesting work. I have the feeling that I'm falling behind in technical skills and, if I decide to go back, the time I spend in management might end up biting me.

I took the role because "it made sense" from career progression point of view, but now I'm struck with doubts that I just became an average manager from a relatively good developer. In all honesty I was also after the salary increase, but that didn't really materialize as I hoped. In my current company I have a decent pay, but still way below what I could earn elsewhere. The thought of moving somewhere else in a technical role and for a higher pay pops up more and more in my head. On the other side, the company's doing great, growing, sales are going up; it's a good time to be here, which add to my overall feeling of confusion.

I guess the questions that I have for you HN are:

1. how much time spent in management land is too much and has a negative effect on your career as an IC?

2. what would you do in my shoes?

I've been mentally stuck in this situation for a while now. It's taking up all of my mental and emotional energy, any thoughts are welcome.

First and foremost: you need to decide if being a people manager is something you're really passionate about. If you're unsure, probably this is not the right time for you.

You can certainly acquire the skills to become a great manager, but it takes effort, and you'll feel miserable if that's not what you want to do with your career. Worse: the experience of folks who report to you will be a mess.

If you're not sure what entails to be a manager, a good introduction is "Radical Candor", by Kim Scott [1]. Another one is is "Resilient Management", by Lara Hogan [2]. Lara was a senior engineering leader at Kickstarter and Etsy, so her examples are a bit more focused on tech people managers.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Radical-Candor-Kick-Ass-Without-Human...

[2] https://larahogan.me/blog/coming-soon-resilient-management

I can relate to your quandary having been there myself a few times and having seen co-workers in the same situation.

How long have you been in the management role? TBH, it takes some time and resetting of your own expectations about what meaningful work is on a day to day basis when you go from IC to manager. There is a mental leap you have to make from doing interesting technical work yourself to finding satisfaction in getting your team to succeed.

It is also worth noting that most of us start off as mediocre managers and it takes deliberate effort to improve your skills here. Is it possible that you may actually enjoy management if you got better at it?

Falling behind on technical skills as a manager is a very valid concern and there are a couple of ways to mitigate the risk somewhat i.e. be hands-on with code reviews, do detailed tech and architecture docs. Another tactic is to give yourself some small hands-on work in the team -- this needs to be done carefully though. If you spend too much time in the weeds of the code base you will miss the forest for the trees (which is what your role as manager requires).

On the flip side, you mentioned you took up the management role for career progression. Was this because you were not growing or progressing as an IC in your current company?

In trying to frame this question, I would suggest having the end in mind. What do you want to be doing in 5 or 10 years? I don't know if you have an answer to that question, but you should give it some thought.

Once you have that answer, I would think about what decisions you will need to make in the short term to get there. Do you want to be an architect? Do you want to be a CTO? Do you want to be a team lead? Do you want to start a company?

If you have (or can get) clarity on where you want to be, I would suggest keeping the end in mind in order to make decisions today. Let's say you want to be an architect in 5 years. Maybe the management route is taking away from you gaining the expertise you will need to succeed in that role. However, if you want to be a CTO in five years, then you are probably technical enough and need to improve as a manager.

There isn't an answer that someone can give you for this specific situation. It really depends on you and where you want to go in your career.

It takes time to gain the management skills needed to be a really good manager. Just think how much time you took to reached your technical skills.

The book written by Camille Fournier to be quite a guide to understanding the path.


At the end of the day, and if money is not a motivating factor, I would recommend you to go where you are most happy now and in the future.

1. Any time spent in management will take away from technical skills unless you are happy to be a shitty manager.

2. For me, it's different. I actually enjoy unblocking developers and being more of a support for other people than playing the role of whiz kid. But if I were more like you I would move back into an IC role as soon as possible. You may have to switch companies and wipe the management experience from your resume, unfortunately, because it looks bad to run away from responsibility. Sorry.

It is true, if you decide to go back (looks like you're inclined to do it), you'll need some time to sharpen your skills...

BUT since you have experienced "the other side", probably you'll do well because you understand the manager. And that's worth a bit more than beign current on the latests, greates tech.

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