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Do senior people have to be managers?

Prompted by the "Job Title" discussion and the BCS job matrix website:
http://www1.bcs.org.uk/DocsRepository/04600/4601/matrix.htm

Something I don't recall seeing discussed is debunking the old-school idea that "seniority = management," or the concept that in order to advance and get pay raises, you have to "manage" something or someone.

Something that I think one company I worked at did right - they had two advancement tracks: management and technical. Management track people became project managers, technical track people were expected to become the gurus or "go to" people of their area of expertise.

Any thoughts on the idea that it should be possible to become fairly senior in a company without being a manager?

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 07, 2003

I'll explain it for you Philo.
The idea is that once a guy becomes really good at his job, he can stop doing it. He becomes a manager and lets inexperienced people do the actual work. When something goes wrong, he always has the inexperienced guys to blame. And best of all he doesn't have to work and can spend all day in meetings.

The Real PC
Thursday, August 07, 2003

"Any thoughts on the idea that it should be possible to become fairly senior in a company without being a manager?"

Philo,

I think that you already know the answer. ;) This has to be ingrained in the corporate culture. In order for that to happen, upper management has to understand the value of a guru within their organization.

Two tracks where still fairly common when I started IT in 1989. I saw a definite change in management tone when 1) the Dot.com boom started and 2) the mantra of MBAs changed from "Corporate Responsability" to "Greed is good".

It used to be that companies had entry-level jobs. Those have been outsourced and/or abolished. It's quite brutal now to get an entry level position. It also used to be that companies had a vested interest in their employees. That also went out the window. Loyalty? Hah! The more you pay me, the more loyal I become.

Managers still remember how techies squeezed everything they could, and in many cases ridiculous perks and consessions were extracted. Managers remember that, and I'm certain that many are gloating on how technologists are cheap and a dime a dozen now.

Cynical? You bet! The only solution I see is for us technologists to start our own companies, and create these fertile environments again. Business types are not going to do it, until they let go of their "Greed is good" mantra.

Hector
Thursday, August 07, 2003

It happens to both sides, you know.  My brother, who works for a large semiconductor company, has gone through a couple rounds of layoffs.  In the first one, they fired techies.  In the second one, they fired all the managers that were sitting around with no one to manage.

Alex
Thursday, August 07, 2003

hehehehe, sounds like some of the old garbage collector algorithms :)

anon
Thursday, August 07, 2003

The U.S. Army is the same way in that it forces people to move up to "management" positions, or it forces them to move out. If you can't manage people, you might get lucky and find a position where you don't have to do it all the time, or only have to handle a few people. But there's always that risk you'll be transferred to a position where that's your primary function, despite your abilities or preferences.

JbR
Thursday, August 07, 2003

It makes no sense to promote and compensate more highly people who cannot manage. Even a bad manager is definitionally more productive than a non-manager. An individual's performance really doesn't contribute much to a company's progress. Company's need multi-person efforts to grow beyond being micro-businesses making management essential.

pb
Thursday, August 07, 2003

pb states:

>> "Even a bad manager is definitionally more productive than a non-manager."

pb, you are either insane or a troll. 

anon
Thursday, August 07, 2003

At a lot of companies, yes.  It is only at very large, tech-oriented corporations (IBM, Intel, NEC, etc.) that I've seen two distinct tracks offered. Most small to mid-sized ones don't. I've worked at 3 very parge corporations and 4 small to medium sized companies. Only one (NEC) offered a technical track.

But there are really two types of management positions that I've seen.

-- The first is strictly management. (I rarely see this anymore.)
-- The second is a technical advisor-type manager that maintains his/her own project load. (I see this more and more.)

The advisor type typically don't have their project workload reduced when they attain the position - instead the supervision of technical staff is just added to their existing duties.

Of course, this squeezes the manager. I spent 5 years at my last job in this type of position, and from my experience management is much harder than being a staffer. Half my staff were former managers. When I came on board, one of them told me - "You know why you got this job? Because nobody here wanted it."

So, what's my point? I have several:
1. Most companies will only have a management track because they see it as a continuation of the technical track - only with added responsibilities.
2. They deem senior technical capabilities as best put to use by guiding the less experienced staffers.
3. Many companies have executives with backgrounds in sales, marketing, finance, etc, and they don't value technical skills as much as they should. Some value them, but don't know how to organize them.

Nick
Thursday, August 07, 2003

http://www.olimu.com/Journalism/Texts/Letters/DrDobbs.htm
Exerpt:
"...The true casualties are those of us who love making code and are good at it, yet want to arrive at middle age earning a respectable salary.  We are the losers in a culture dominated by the idea, once confined to empires of the bureaucratic-despotic type, that the only worthwhile form of human activity is directing the work of others:  to say to this one, "Come," and he cometh, to say to that one "Go," and he goeth.  The goal of all endeavor is the Mandarin's cap.  Those of us who don't want to be Mandarins, but who would like to be properly rewarded for useful work done with loving attention, are thought of as eccentrics.  Try turning down that promotion to Unit Manager:  They look at you as if you'd asked for a transfer to the mail room."

Ethan Herdrick
Thursday, August 07, 2003

Not a troll and don't consider myself insane.

I fully stand by my contention that a manager is more valuable to a company than a non-manager.

pb
Thursday, August 07, 2003

what's more valuable, the horse or the harness?

developers can accomplish things without managers, but by definition, managers can't without developers.

JbR
Thursday, August 07, 2003

I think the expectation that management is the best and highest goal of all life forms is so ingrained that it pervades all human institutions. I can't think of any exceptions beyond certain classical professions such as architecture, law and medicine. What's politics, after all, but the "management" of people of lesser formal rank?

I can think of only one exception to the management track in most industries: the senior person of such merit and productivity that he or she finds it useful to work independently as a free lance expert or consultant.

In that instance, such a person is creating their own "management" (ownership of consultancy) position out of nothing but their own talent. And in that instance, that person must then wear the hat of marketer, project leader, and implementor - all in one - in their self owned business.

As an aside that plays into my contention, I've seen so *many* technology projects completed *despite* management's "contributions" that I think that it can be posited that management as it currently exists is almost useless.

This fact basically tells us that if you're good and organized and motivated enough, you can readily compete with larger entities because their politics make most mid stage and beyond companies really "stupid" at tech.  They may employ gifted techies but the politics will almost invariably get in the way of extracting the most monetary good out of those gifted people.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, August 07, 2003

Someone who is good at what they do always needs to be given opportunities to take on greater levels of responsibility and to become acknowledged and respected seniors in their field.

But not all persons will find satisfaction with one manifestation of this.

So, maybe a great developer wants to move to management and lead others.
Or maybe he would like to join a standards committee.
Or needs time to give talks at conferences.
Or time to write a book.
Or allowed to initiate and create his own product.

What you don't want to have is a  great developer who is relegated to gopher and coding jobs with no influence and no possibility of transcending that. Such a competant developer with either burn out, give up, or move on.

Making sure that doesn't happen is what management is.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, August 07, 2003

Look at Microsoft, they have senior people that aren't managers (I think).

I don't see how anyone can be a good manager without being techical. And no, I don't mean you have to be a programmer to be technical. It's a state-of-mind thing.

I don't see how two separate tracks can be effective.

SteveL
Thursday, August 07, 2003

"I don't see how two separate tracks can be effective."

To clarify - at the company I was at that did this, everyone started at the same place; they only diverged at a fairly senior point.

The project managers outnumbered the technical gurus - there were something like a dozen PM's an only 5-6 techs. The technical gurus worked on projects where needed, moved around, worked on proposals, advised management, etc. They're kind of like "in house consultants" - paid to be the experts.

I thought it was a very appealing setup.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 07, 2003

What is "management?"  The "profession" seems to be a sort of catch-all.  Some managers set the direction for an organization.  Some manage people.  Some manage tasks.  Some build plans.  Some oversee the execution of plans.  Etc.  There's a zillion kinds of work that gets lumped under the management rubric (man, I've wanted to use that word for years).

When you guys are talking about management, what kind of manager are you referring to?  Is there any management discipline that's not screwed up?

anon
Thursday, August 07, 2003

"developers can accomplish things without managers, but by definition, managers can't without developers."

This might be relevant if it were actually the case, but alas, it is not.

pb
Thursday, August 07, 2003

>"Even a bad manager is definitionally more productive than a non-manager."

A bad manager is *ten times worse* than a bad non-manager, as the bad manager has much more power to do damage and hinder progress than the bad engineer.

T. Norman
Thursday, August 07, 2003

"rubric (man, I've wanted to use that word for years)"

Congratulations! :)

Jim Rankin
Thursday, August 07, 2003

"This has to be ingrained in the corporate culture."

I agree. If (upper) management looks at their technical people as a widget from the parts shop, then forget about it. This is the mindset for the outsourcing craze right now.

m
Thursday, August 07, 2003

<quote>
I think the expectation that management is the best and highest goal of all life forms is so ingrained that it pervades all human institutions. I can't think of any exceptions beyond certain classical professions such as architecture, law and medicine. What's politics, after all, but the "management" of people of lesser formal rank?
</quote>

I would agree. I think you would enjoy reading 'Voltaire's Bastards' - http://shorterlink.com/?H6YK8P .

Matthew
Friday, August 08, 2003

There was an English sitcom once called "Yes Prime Minister". I can't remember the exact details, but there was a scene in which the Prime Minister was being briefed by a technical person. The Prime Minister was impressed and asked him why he wasn't in charge and he replied, "Alas, I will rise no higher. You see, I am an expert."

RB
Friday, August 08, 2003

" A bad manager is *ten times worse* than a bad non-manager, as the bad manager has much more power to do damage and hinder progress than the bad engineer."

And the corollary is that a good manager is ten times better than a good non-manager, of course.

You have to admit that, at the very least, by directing the efforts of others the manager can get more *done*.

It is probably easier, at least in the short term, for a manager to succeed at doing nothing, however.  Missing results of non-managers are harder to miss.

-Rich

Rich
Friday, August 08, 2003

Any programmer could easily do a managers job.

Managers in general cannot do a programmers job.

Anyway, if managers are so productive, why don't we all have teams consisting solely of managers?

Team solely of programmers seem to work well enough....


Friday, August 08, 2003

"Any programmer could easily do a managers job."

"Team solely of programmers seem to work well enough.... "

Wrong and, uh, wrong.

Well, let me take that back - yeah, any programmer could do a manager's job. It's doing the job *well* that tends to be the issue.

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 08, 2003

Big sad mistake - Any programmer cannot be a manager !!!!!

Kim
Friday, August 08, 2003

The generally accepted observation that some programmers are 10x faster/more productive than others is alone a valid reason for technical promotion tracks. 

When I was consulting at IBM Rochester, people I worked with would say that there were only 10 only employees at IBM who understood the AS/400 system from the basic hardware architecture all the way up to the software and programming environments.  These were the technical people that IBM could never afford to lose.  In most technical organisations, there usually is one, or a small cluster of people who are the key links between every technical product and group in the company.  Organisations that fail to see the value of these people do so at their own peril.

Colin Evans
Friday, August 08, 2003

Given the relatively large number of programmers who are eventually "promoted" to management, it seems that at least the majority can do it.

As for doing it *well*, given that management seems to be a haven for the incompetent - who's going to notice?

And if a team can't get by without a manager, they must in an incredibly beaurocratic organization.


Friday, August 08, 2003

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