With one immortal line Shakespeare captured the essence of the dilemma that Hamlet faced when considering avenging his father’s death. Should he become a murderer, or shouldn’t he?
I’m of course referring to the wonderfully worded phrase: “To be or not to be; that is the question…”
Admittedly, the decision of whether or not to become a manager is a little less dramatic. As a software engineer, deciding between the righteous path of technical expertise or the dark road into management is perhaps less of a dilemma, but still somewhat life-changing for the individual.
I should know – I had to make that choice a few years back when I was offered the exciting role of Managing Director in the UK for CRITICAL Software. Here’s a little insight into the journey I took.
When I began my career back in the 80s (no wise cracks about my age, please!), I was fixated on soaking up technical knowledge day in and day out. I’m rather grateful that the subject of engineering is a huge pool that includes a variety of disciplines, methods and challenges, because my thirst for knowledge was insatiable.
There was so much to learn and I remember being extremely enthusiastic about the challenges that lay ahead. Some days it felt like it was impossible to grasp everything there was to know, and I felt like I would always be the ‘trainee’ in the team. Gradually, with time and patience however, this scenario began to change.
My areas of responsibility started to grow, at the same time as my confidence in my abilities grew. I moved from bug fixing and testing (the staple diet of all good junior engineers – take note!), up the food chain to implementation, and even into the breezy atmosphere of some low-level design tasks.
As luck would have it, somehow, I too climbed the steps towards what I’d long admired and I found myself a senior engineer. It was soon after that that I had to ask myself a tough question, just like Hamlet. A question asked by many an engineer before me:
“Where do I go next in my career?”
I could have chosen to stay focused on the hands-on, nitty-gritty techy stuff that I loved. Perhaps have specialised in a niche skill or strived to become an expert in a chosen area. After some logical deliberation and analytical thinking (classic engineer behaviour), what I chose was to take the less predictable route towards management. I say less predictable (and as a result, scarier) because this path inherently brings with it unknowns for our hero, the good-hearted, likeable engineer.
Stepping onto the management trail is, in some ways, like those early days of being a junior engineer. There is much to learn and there are many new skills to hone. A big difference is that those skills are less tangible since you’re not working hands-on with what you previously knew (software). As an engineer, I could always tell when I had fixed a bug or when a piece of software began working correctly because I could verify it in a clear way. As a manager handling people, projects or even a company, success (or otherwise) is not always so easy to measure.
For those engineers that do choose management, on some days they’ll likely miss the simplicity of working as an engineer: solving technical problems all day long and enjoying the relatively restricted level of responsibility. I’ll hold my hand up here! But, with the tough stuff also comes the great. For one thing, they’ll be rewarded with increased accountability over teams which means they can grow as leaders; a valuable opportunity.
It’s important for each of us to choose what best suits where we want to go in life and what will make us happy. For me, taking the road into management was the right choice. One of the biggest paybacks is the motivation and contentment that comes from helping those around me to pursue their career aspirations.
In work and in life there is an element of management in pretty much everything we do, whether we call ourselves managers or not. At the start of our journeys, management begins with us as individuals. We have to organise our own time, the tasks assigned to us and maintain the quality of our work. As we progress and grow, what we are responsible for inevitably expands, whether we encourage it to or not. I think the ability “to be” a manager is inherent in all of us, we just need to embrace and enjoy the challenges that come with it.
If you’re interested in a career at CRITICAL Software, please visit our career pages to find out more.