I'm a developer with about 10 years of experience, most of them with my current employer. I am good at my work, and this success has been recognized with promotions and increased responsibilities. Currently these are mostly technical project leadership roles, but are increasingly managerial. Although I don't have any reports, project leadership usually implies cross-functional coordination, scheduling, etc. My management has made their approval clear but also signaled that career growth will come with management responsibility.

This makes me uneasy. I love my work and am happy with my employer, but I am a developer at heart and see myself as a craftsman of sorts -- my pleasure comes from creating something of beauty and value. I am not competitive in the way that successful leaders often are, and I'm not motivated by the company's financial success or competitive standing. The uncomfortable truth is that I'm also quite good at these leadership roles, and probably better than as an individual technical contributer. But in the same way that an introvert can survive but never thrive in socially-demanding situations, these roles wear on me: I find them stressful, consuming, and inherently empty of the internally-motivating value I find in creating something.

So I'm faced with the decision of whether to pursue the pragmatic, lucrative, and likely more successful route of technical management (probably divesting of technical work over time because that's how these career paths seem to go); or the idealistic path of rejecting these responsibilities in favor of remaining closer to the craft. I have a family to support and other responsibilities, but clearly I need to be true to myself. However, it's not clear which path is wiser, nor exactly how I could even change the trajectory of my career if that were the right choice. I'd sincerely appreciate advice, especially from those with similar experiences.

closed as off-topic by Justin Cave, gnat, Jan Doggen, enderland Oct 15 '14 at 11:21

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here." – Justin Cave, gnat, Jan Doggen, enderland
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Many companies offer parallel managerial and technical tracks. Principal-level roles are equivalent to director or senior director, and distinguished-level roles are I believe VP-equivalents.

I was a director for several years, but couldn't peel myself away from "the craft". I finally switched to a principal IC role. It was a lateral move, and compensation (salary, bonuses, etc.) came along with the switch.

The title you chose for your question makes it clear where your heart and interests are. If your passion lies with development, then you'll be more valuable to your company pursuing that than pursuing management half-heartedly.


I've had similar decisions as yours over the years, here are my observations /suggestions.

Most companies will equate advancement with management. This can take the form of:

  • Technical leadership - much like you've been doing, managing the technical aspects of work
  • Project leadership - something PM related
  • Team management - either people management or development management (ensuring you have the right skills and resources and that the tasks are being done in a correct order technically)

It is possible to find a role with one (or more) of the above AND keep the handson aspect (my own route), but it can be difficult to get the balance (it's easy for the management to consume all your time).

You can stay purely handson technical, realistically you need to find a niche where skills are in demand (e.g. Low latency trading, big data) to allow you to move up as a coder. It can be done, but the hardest step can be the first into such a role if you don't have the track record.

As a hiring manager, I'd say all are options, my advice may not be what you'd expect though. My biggest worry hiring you for any of the above would be that you say you have 10 years mostly in one company. Having worked with people in this position it can be a big problem, people can be VERY fixed in how they work with no other experience.

I'm not saying you'd have this issue, and I know you say you are happy, but I'd suggest seeing a bit more of how the other half live would be beneficial, and given you are questioning, could be good for your development.

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