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Ask HN: Did anyone regret the move from engineer to manager?
6 points by cigarpowder on Aug 16, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 5 comments
I've read a lot about the "lowly status" of an engineer, and it's easy to imagine the grass is greener on the other side: management.

I'm looking for perspectives from engineers who have switched into management. Is life better now? Are there unanticipated cons of being in management? Should all engineers try to move towards management?


Speaking as an engineer who made the transition to management in a big way (from primary web engineer and DBA to CEO with no time to code at all), I have mixed feelings.

I love programming. It's a zen activity for me, turn me loose on a problem and I'll literally lose track of time because I'm so absorbed in the problems. It's one of the purest, most joyous singular activities I've ever had the pleasure of practicing.

After 5 years of doing it 8-10 hours per day, I was getting stale. I was putting in the hours and I think I was productive, but I wasn't encountering new problems very often anymore.

I moved into management shortly thereafter, and being a CEO has been fascinating in its own right. So far (3 years in) I have feel like I'm nowhere near the top of the learning curve. It's a constant challenge, in a way that programming wasn't for me 3 years in. I don't think I've ever been more fully intellectually engaged.

That said, I miss programming. A lot. I find excuses to pick up bug fixes. I wrote an internal tool that manages the distribution of status updates, and at least half the reason was just to be able to code something. I don't regret the career change, but I hope some day I can make programming my main gig again.

As an alternative, I think I could have switched from web programming & DBA work to a new problem domain like graphics or even mobile apps and probably gotten a new lease on learning-curve.

Taking that step back, when I look at where other engineers have gone in their careers within the Twitch organization, the success of a switch into management seems highly idiosyncratic. Some engineers really take to it and enjoy the new challenges; some of them hate it and want to switch back. We've had a number of people try it, decide it wasn't for them, and move back onto the IC (individual contributor) track. We pay top ICs about the same as top managers, so I suppose that might make it easier.

My bottom line advice would be: you don't really know if you'll like management unless you try it. If you're in a workplace where you have the option of switching into a management position, give it a shot. Just know that it's not for everyone.

Once you become a manager your perceived technical value will be zero, regardless of your past contributions or current skill set. If you're cool with that, and have no plans to return to being "just an engineer" then go into management.

Don't do it if you ever plan to join someone else's startup.

Don't do it if you aren't a people person, or savvy with organizational politics.

Don't do it if you do not enjoy confronting people (regardless of what the confrontation is over, the entire point of being a manager is to manage confrontations in many organizations, between labor and management, between organizations, etc).

You're better off if you're in Corporate America and there's a clear management career path. If you're in startup land you're better off staying an engineer, unless you plan to retire by age 40.

I made the switch a year and a half ago and I don't regret it at all. I'd been programming professionally for > 12 years and had gotten to the point where I didn't really feel like I was encountering enough challenging problems to keep my juices flowing.

Now I deal with a lot of new (to me) problems every day and get to spend my time trying to help my developers be the best they can be and kick ass.

The hardest bit for me was making the mental shift from trying to do things myself, to coaching and encourage others to solve problems and learning to be okay with people not doing it the way I would have.

No regrets so far, but I also do some consulting on the side, and occasionally jump into understaffed projects to assist as needed.

I made the switch to management and did that for several years. I don't regret it at all. I learned lots and had a bunch of experiences that I would never have had otherwise, but I eventually made the switch back to being a "lowly" engineer. In the end, I personally had a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in that role than in management.

Don't do it! You'll be bored.


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