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I’m 23, recently graduated college. I have a very satisfying day job working for my school as a programming fellow. The pay is unfortunately really low and it compromises my grad school plans in media/design research.

In the meantime, I developed an MVP for an early stage social media startup. It’s not a marvel of engineering, but it works. The startup eventually received $200K in seed funding, and I have been (quite enthusiastically) asked to become a Scrum master for it. I’ve been with them since the beginning (two years), I like them quite a lot.

The thing is: I hate managing. Not sure it’s because I'm just bad at it, or because I would simply rather report to someone else, or both. I have never managed a team professionally, not to mention a group of software engineers. Obviously I don’t feel that a weekend course in Scrum is gonna fix a larger issue of me feeling uncomfortable in the role - those things always show, and intuition tells me that I should make a hard pass on that offer. Right now I’m just worried I'd potentially end up being a bad manager and slow down the project delivery. It’s a concern that I brought up with the founder, and he seems to downplay it, saying that I’m just underestimating my skills.

Deep down I hope to just switch to a design (UI/UX) role within the company, and having someone new do the technical management part - even if that means lower pay.

If my reasoning makes sense, how should I firmly but carefully make a case for me taking a different role within this new company?

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  • Why do you say your day compromises your grad school plans? Doesn't your second job do the same thing? How big is the startup? Would you be willing to accept being an "Acting Manager"/"Interim Manager" until the startup recruits someone else for that position? The smaller a startup, the more hats you have to wear. Feb 8 '20 at 8:27
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    Aside from the unwillingness, a scrum master isn't really (or at least shouldn't be) a manager of the team. Nobody reports to a scrum master and a scrum master doesn't make any decisions or enforce any rules. It is a very misunderstood role, though.
    – Erik
    Feb 8 '20 at 8:29
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    I would argue that it is not part of the Scrum Master's role to manage people or to have reports. IMHO being a Scrum Master and a line manager at the same time is probably not a good idea when you want to do Scrum right. Scrum Master sdo not command or lead development teams, they "only" support the process, help to organize the rituals and facilitate communication. Feb 8 '20 at 8:31
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Some observations:

  • A scrum master is not a manager, except in top-down driven fake scrum. A scrum master is more of a coach to help the various participants stay on track.

  • If this company gets more funding, you will spend a lot of time planning, recruiting, hiring, and putting together a team. That's what early hires do at startups, regardless of job title.

  • With $200K funding, there's simply no way this company can afford a full time scrum master. I predict you'll actually work as a lead developer. If the founders insist on a full-time scrum master, you should question their judgement.

  • You're wise to be skeptical of your abilities as a manager. But, most successful managers learn on the job, and you can too. In the meantime you can look for books and articles written for new managers to pick up some basics. (for example, never, ever, even once, make jokes or offhand remarks about peoples' pay or other compensation.)

  • You already know the concept of minimum viable product. That's excellent. That is what you'll develop for the first year or two.

This sounds like a challenge worth pursuing. But only if you like the people and product plans well enough to want to spend ten years of your life working on it.

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Right now I’m just worried I'd potentially end up being a bad manager and slow down the project delivery. It’s a concern that I brought up with the founder, and he seems to downplay it, saying that I’m just underestimating my skills.

There is a chance that you are right and might be a bad manager. You also might get really good at it and find your passion in it. You won't find out, if you don't try.

From the founders point you are the best choice for the role, and he is willing to gamble that with a little bit of coaching you will do just fine. If it doesn't work out, he can still ask you to transition to a different role. So if the founder willing to bet on you, why wouldn't you?

Even if you don't plan on a career in a managerial role, the experience you gain from being a team lead or scrum master for a while will be really helpful for you going forward.

On the other hand: It is your choice in the end, and if you don't want to do it, you don't need to do it. It is good to be out of the comfort zone a little bit, bu not to be totally uncomfortable.

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