Managers vs Individual Contributors

Edit : this is my 300th Post !

This thought started off innocently enough. A person asked me what differences are there between a Managers role and an Individual Contributor’s (IC) role ? In most technology companies there is a growth path which is technical or managerial – and so the dilemma is faced by most people at some time or the other. I am just putting the thoughts in my mind down.

Usually here in India people start off on a technical role and work upwards – in most technical companies. Very few companies actually take people who are managers as the first role for them ( so, even you can see in MBA , people with work ex are preferred). Earlier, there was just one way to grow up – become a team lead, become a manager, become a senior manager etc – which was not the optimal solution. It’s not always that a good IC can become a good Manager. The changes are a lot – and moving to a management role can be quite a shock.

The Good,

1. As a Manager you are the boss. That means that if you say ‘this needs to be done’ – it usually has to be done – unless you are exceptionally bad about asessing the situation.

2. As a manager – you have more say in the working of the project. Be it asking for budgets, or working on the featureset for the next project. Yes, ICs do get involved in feature sets, but if its decided at a manager’s level to drop it (no matter how cool it may be using the latest language etc),it will be dropped.

The Bad and The Ugly

1. The first and biggest difference is that as a Manager you are responsible for the group.

Now, what does this mean ? It means that when you are an IC, you do your work – and you will be held responsible for that. When you are a manager – you will be held responsible for the work that others do.
As an IC, meeting your individual deadline is all thats there. As a manager, you need to make sure that everyone reporting to you is meeting his or her deadline.

2. As an IC you do not have to worry about budgets. A manager on the otherhand has to work around the budget – and let me tell you, the budget is always less.

3. As an IC your holiday means its a holiday. If you are smart, you handover the work properly having a backup in place, and unless something really goes wrong – you don’t have to worry about anything till you are back. The manager on the otherhand has to keep sure that things are going ok even when he is on a holiday.

4. As an IC you are friends with everyone. However, once you don the hat of a Manager – you are on the other side of the fence. Even if you want to be on good terms, there are many times you will take hard decisions – which will alienate people in your group.

5. An IC role has satisfaction on a day to day basis. You can see the output everyday – you coded a class, your unit test cases work, you fixed a bug. For a manager, there is rarely something tangible on a day to day basis. The high you get it when you finish the project – with minimum issues – cause believe me – there is no project withouth any issues through its lifecycle.

6. As a manager you will need to have many meetings – many a waste of time. As an IC you will not have to worry much about the meetings.

The Challenge

Frankly, I think that a managers work is more challenging. Not only does he have to be competent technically, so that people do not pull wool over his eyes, he also has to work on maintaining the group synergy and also be able to get the work finished on time. As a manager one cannot make everyone happy at the same time. You will step on people’s toes.

I also believe that becoming a Manager is not the cup of tea for everyone. A great IC does not mean that he will become a good Manager also. The jobs are quite different.

Ultimately, it comes down to which path to follow – Technical or Management. Here I would say – go where you have more fun. Are you having fun coding or solving problems between team members ? As long as you like what you do – you will be able to move high up the ladder. Unfortunately , most people do not work on what they have more fun – cause they get influenced by their peers into going to management – usually for more money ( a total myth I think made by companies so that they can get away with paying less to managers), and then you have many disgruntled middle-level managers.

Why I chose to be a Manager

For my decision – I knew I was good technically, but I also knew I had good people skills. I caught myself once thinking that I can do this better than my current manager – and thought of putting my money where my mouth is !


~ by Vibhu on September 2, 2008.

4 Responses to “Managers vs Individual Contributors”

  1. Very well written… One should not take a role just because others are running after that position. If you are not happy doing your work, look for where you will be happy. CheersZoobie

  2. A very thoguhtful post from my ex-manager!No wonder, you are sound both managerially and technically..A great post from a great NSIT master mind i would say!

  3. @zoobie – exactly. But people don’t do work because they like the work, but because they like the money. And so become miserable. @pooja – master mind – hardly 😀

  4. Hi,I am an IC that wanted really bad to get into management. I just went through the interviews for a management position leading a team in a particular *HOT* technology. Well, I got an offer but not for the team / tech I was applying for. So I declined. Now I hear some saying that I made a mistake by declining a management offer. I think I realized that my link to the new and exciting technologies is stronger than my desire to be a manager.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: