I was a risk taker with self-employment.
I was a risk taker with overseas properties.
I was a risk taker/trader with commodity futures and option trading. I was a risk taker to take a 50% pay cut to try pre-sales.
I was a risk taker to choose a slightly lower offer twice, to avoid java/SQL I was a risk taker to propose to my first girlfriend after only 3 months
I was a risk taker to buy/sell old computer parts by MRT, and trust everyone “by default”
So far, I am not a risk taker to try a manager position. If there’s a job matching https://secure.ice/?https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/stickyelements-of-an-ideal-longevity-job/, then I will try to stay long and become a manager. Part of the risk is described in https://secure.ice/?https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/hands-off-roles-wont-keep-me-fit/
In a nutshell, compared to techies, managers depend heavily on boss relationship. Techies rely more on self-effort.
Grandpa pointed out that
- A) as an aspiring manager (at least in China), your boss’s opinion is the overriding factor;
- B) as a techie or a academic/researcher, you have the right to seek promotion based on merit and technical achievement. If you don’t get it you can try elsewhere.
I feel A) has 2 levels.
- A1) at the mid-management level, I don’t have much insight, so I guess that unlike entrepreneurs, most managers are not more capable/intelligent then other managers, so I agree boss’s opinion is the #1 factor on your career progression.
- A2) at the entry level, I actually observed many tech managers including tech leads (or architects), application owners, dev managers, support managers. I think competence level is visibly different. Some (example?) show very high technical capability. This is most relevant at the lowest level, but across the levels, technical capability is not always the #1 or #2 factor. Why?
- High-level design, technical foresight, persuasion (on tech front) are not always “innate” to these guys.
- Communication with users, team members, and manager could be equally important aspects. The Mdaq CTO singled out “listening to team members”. Not every leader is good at that.
- The most technical guy may not be a suitable leader and may be best in another role in the same team.
- Luck seems to have more impact on managerial than technical track
I think Yihai would have more to add.
- since you clearly know you are not good a management, don’t ever compare with the high-flyers (and invite the self-hate).
- know the many people who are less fortunate.
In U.S., the overall income differences between a hands-on developer vs a leadership role is smaller.
UE: U.S. engineers;
UM: U.S. managers;
SE: Sgp engineers;
SM: Sgp managers;
- salary — UE much better than SE. The few high salaries in SE are too rare and unreachable
- career longevity — UE clearly better than SE; UE probably better than SM too.
- job security — UE much better than SE due to abundance of similar jobs; UE probably better than SM
- fungible — UE can move into technical UM and back, more easily, thanks to abundance of jobs
- tech lead, architect roles — UE can move up in that direction more easily than SE, thanks to abundance of jobs. SM and UM may not have enough technical capabilities.
Economy — I feel hands-on specialists are more central to the U.S. economy and U.S. companies than in other countries. In Singapore, manager is by far the most instrumental and dominant role.
For a Chinese techie in the U.S. the prospect of managerial path is limited. Most of these managers won’t rise beyond the entry-level. And then consider your own background relative to the average Chinese here.
My tentative conclusion is
I think a few people I know said they deliberately avoided hands-off roles. Avichal, Nitin of Morgan Stanley, .. If I ever become a manager, I feel 100% sure I would adopt the same career strategy.
In the US and in Singapore, I stayed away from hands-off manager or client-facing architect/pre-sales positions. One of the top 3 justifications is to stay fit. Hands-on roles keep me fit to the job market.
In 80 to 90% of the financial IT job interviews I attended, there’s a non-trivial technical screening. However, I am an biased scientist or there’s no science here — nothing bug personal observations.
Backgrounder — (See also https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/long-term-system-expertcontractor/) I did hope to stay in a job for a few years and grow into a system expert. In a few places, it turned out that in one team (say up to 10 people), there are multiple system experts each with many years of experience in the local system. Even if you have 3 years experience in this local system, you may not be appointed the team lead. The chance is 50/50 … could be 30% or 70%. So do you want to remain here for 3 more years and hope for a leadership role?
When I couldn’t rise up in the team, I always decide to move “out” of the comfort zone into the “cold” — every job interview has a technical screening. I soon came to the conclusion that to stay relevant and marketable, I must maintain portable (non-local) tech skills. Many techies at my age wouldn’t choose this route partly because only a minority of techies can stay fit after 45.
Well, I see myself in that (lucky) minority. I don’t mean to say I’m as fit as at 30, but I am fit enough to pass the tech screening.
Many friends feel I could consider how to move up. As an experienced (I didn’t say “strong”) hands-on developer, I saw a chance to move to lead developer, architect or project manager roles when moving to Asia. It didn’t happen, for several reasons.
Now I feel by default I will remain a senior developer at VP or AVP level, and surpassed by younger competitors. Already I feel many 30-something are stronger than I am at this age, technically.
With aging and family commitment, this default pathway is weighing more heavy.
Some people (like Ken Li) believe we will be fine. My parents also feel I worry too much. However, the world is not so kind and caring. Commenting on business (not individual) competition, Andy Grove said only the paranoid survive. The default pathway might get narrower and we might find it harder to find jobs. (In Singapore I already see the telltale signs.) I feel I need to think harder how to move up. I think there are some visible pathways. See also https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/app-architect-civil-engineer-or-a-salesman-sgus/
If I have good enough know-how about certain frameworks and base products (such as spring, or MOM, or DB with embedded business logic) I could lead a team in building a few types of solution: * database-centric web apps
* batch processing of data either, in java or scripts.
There are many other types I’m less familiar with but feel confident I can pick up and lead. * mobile front-end + server side
* nosql to replace the RDBMS
My experience – in terms of work attitude, professionalism, ownership, my contractor jobs was not really lower than FTE. However, longer hours were rare. When I work longer hours as contractors, manager often recognize more easily.
Personal sacrifice was lower.
Ownership of project is often with FTE.
Expectation of bonus is real as FTE.
All in all, the bitterness (and pain, blow to self-esteem…) of a poor appraisal and low bonus is deep, hard, pervasive. It last many months and is a bigger stress than marriage issues, kids poor studies, investment failures etc. I was “shaken to core” (Michelle Obama once said) by those events.
Generally I choose to work at slightly higher than the minimum level to get by.
- as contractor — sometimes this hurts me (Citi) but often my standard is well above the manager’s
- as FTE — I don’t like to work way harder than the minimum, because often (Stirt, GS) it’s still not good enough for various reasons, so I would feel “not worth it”.
- I also have a conviction that managers decide which FTE they like based on non-technical reasons, so why bother to work so hard? If manager doesn’t like me then hard work won’t help a lot.