25

I was just offered a promotion, which would make me one level below C-levels, now I am currently a programmer, and I really enjoy doing that job. If I take this promotion, I will not be hands on programming any more. Are there any concerns I should have about turning down the promotion? What damage, if any, will that do to my career?

Clarification

I should clarify, I'm already the Lead Engineer, this jump would be to VP of engineering. So the assumption I'm some Jr to mid level coder looking to develop into a Sr engineer, while a good example, doesn't really work here.

  • 3
    Jeff, can you describe the organization? To go from coder to manager to CIO seems like a very shallow org chart. – Nolo Problemo Oct 18 '16 at 23:03
  • Does the organization have both a management and a technical promotion track, or just a management track? I turned down a management job to stay on the technical track, but still got increased pay and responsibilities. That is possible in some organizations, but not in others. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 19 '16 at 14:13
  • @PatriciaShanahan Not sure I follow, in my experience, there's one general track for technical positions of jr something or other, to mid level something or other to sr something or other, to lead something or other, then VP of something technical and then CTO – user49733 Oct 19 '16 at 14:15
  • 1
    @JeffQuick That sounds like a one track organization. You should consider looking for an employer that needs extreme technical skill, and is willing to pay for it. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 19 '16 at 14:39
44

Are there any concerns I should have about turning down the promotion?

When turning down a promotion always phrase it in a way that shows you still have interest in developing yourself and growing into additional responsibilities, even if that interest is completely BS.

For example, something like:

  • "Thanks for the interest! I really want to focus and grow my technical skills and would prefer to stay in a role that lets me do that as I'd like to transition into a senior engineer at some point"

vs

  • "No thanks"

The biggest disadvantage to not taking a promotion is management feeling like you are getting stale in your career development. This is in general not a good idea.

Phrasing things in a way that you make your benefit and interest known is much better than simply rejecting a promotion. You can also ask why you were selected and try to get a better understanding of why management thinks that of you and try to phrase how those skills will better develop you in your desired career path, depending on the level of your relationship with whoever is approaching you about this.

  • 13
    Usually a promotion doesn't come out of the left field unless you have some significant relationship with someone high up. Ask them what they saw in you that qualified for the position and see where they are going. Normally you should be trained up for the position, not just promoted out of the blue, since the roles are so different. – Nelson Oct 19 '16 at 2:16
  • @Nelson nails it. If you're promoting someone to be a manager? Because they displayed both developing managerial skill set as well as the right attitude? Or is it because "everyone can write code" and you need a manager? – Cthulhubutt Oct 19 '16 at 15:06
17

Are there any concerns I should have about turning down the promotion? For instance, what damage, if any, will that do to my career?

It's okay to turn down a promotion, particularly when it takes you away from the type of work you really want to do. Been there, done that.

There will be a few issues, that you'll need to be aware of and to handle.

Expect the company to be concerned, and to ask why you are declining. They feel you are capable of this higher-level job, and feel you will help the company by accepting it. Turning it down may mean that they have to go elsewhere to fill the role. You want to try to reassure the company that you still like the company, like the career path you are on, and like your current job.

You may end up working for the person the company ends up hiring. It might be awkward when this person inevitably learns that you were the first choice. Try to stay positive, and not wonder (or worse, express publicly) how you would handle situations if you had accepted the promotion.

Consider what kind of career path you will have within this company when you turn down the promotion. In some cases, you will be at the top of your path already, with no room to grow without leaving.

Overall, it's okay. You may want to have a long career discussion with your boss when you decline. In my case, that's exactly what I did. It worked out fine for me.

  • 4
    This should be the accepted answer. – Matt M Oct 19 '16 at 15:31
2

Generally speaking, it's a bit unusual to turn down a promotion, and it does mean new opportunities if you were to take it. Turning down this promotion may send the wrong message to your employer, show you're less motivated, things of that nature. And I understand where you're coming from, I'm a programmer myself, I value my work greatly and don't want to stop coding.

Taking this promotion doesn't necessarily mean you can't code at all, there's a huge and great world of opensource and spare time project out there for you to get involved in.

Overall, I recommend taking the promotion due to the fact that turning it down can be a sign of not being interested in growing and learning, while that may not be the case, that would be the message it is sending.

  • 14
    cause working 50+ hours a week as a manager then doing another 10+ hours for free on opensource sounds fun. – Matthew Whited Oct 19 '16 at 14:30
  • 2
    @MatthewWhited Not a lot of difference from spending 50+ hours coding at work and another 10+ hours on opensource software. There are plenty of people who do both already. – Joe W Oct 19 '16 at 15:08
  • 4
    @MatthewWhited Or put another way: 50+ hours of work and 10+ hours of your hobby/passion. Not too different from what you already do except your work and your hobby no longer entirely overlap. – Matthew Green Oct 19 '16 at 15:15
2

Tread carefully.

There usually is a limit to what one can accomplish as an individual programmer - and that limits your value to an organization.

You have to find a way to increase the value your employer is getting out of you. Just getting older isn't a career path.

At some point, you can get more done by leading other people (wether you call that team lead, coach, architect, or something else) than doing it yourself - because it amplifies your skills.

That doesn't have to be a traditional management role - and refusing a promotion into one is probably ok as long as you can propose an alternate path that's satisfactory for all parties.

Also, keep in mind that people that are very good at their job tend to like the job - and might have a hard time realizing that not everyone thinks it's the best job in the world. Try to convince a manager to give up their role and start coding because it's more intellectually satisfying, and they'd be a fool to miss that !

1

How much it may or may not hurt your career really depends on the environment and what career paths are available. There are many organizations which view programmers as a lower tier and if you stay a programmer you are greatly limiting your ability to advance at least within that organization. In these shops, advancement requires progressively relinquishing technical responsibilities for management. Other shops have parallel paths that will allow advancing while remaining purely technical or moving to a more management path. I myself am in a more hybrid environment where people can advance down either path but while staying technical you are still expected to pick up more project management responsibilities while technically guiding projects to the best practices and technology. To know how much it will hurt your long term advancement, you need to weight the actual structure or your organizations and even within that if one path regularly outpaces another. Add to that your own skill sets, not just what you like, but what you are actually good at or can become good at. In many environments, mine for instances, titles like senior software engineer is steadily reducing how much actual programming that person does, instead they design the application and supervise if a contractor is implementing it to their specification.

In my case, do I like that direction, not especially, but I have to balance between my goals and the organizational needs and then determine what I want to do and if the organization is the right place for me. I at least have the safety net that my organization has made it clear that the added duties of a promotion are optional and can be declined. I still know that they are the actual needs of the organization so it puts pressure to accept of move aside. To truly know though, I think you need a good idea of the organization's needs and goals and how they see you fitting in.

1

While there can be down sides to your career, I think it mainly depends on the organisation and role, plus where you see yourself going.

If you see yourself moving into a management role in the future, or at least see in yourself good people management skills that you would enjoy using then I would suggest turning the promotion down would negatively affect your career. At best you would just getting less experience in management for future roles; at worst you will be seen as a threat to whoever does take the management position.

If the management skills you would get are quite niche skills then you could be moving into a career dead end. It is easier to get a job with some generic programming language skills rather than some highly specific management skills. Equally the opposite is true if your programming skills are highly specific and the management experience is more generic. In this way moving to management could be either positive or negative.

If you have no interest in management and / or see yourself as having poor people management skills (that certainly applies to me) then taking the promotion will damage your career. Moving back to a technical role will be difficult, either at the same company or elsewhere.

As an aside I think it is unfortunate that technical skills are often held in poor regard in many companies leaving management as the only way forward for many people. Even if their people skills make then completely unsuitable for management roles.

  • 2
    "If you have no interest in management and / or see yourself as having poor people management skills (that certainly applies to me) then taking the promotion will damage your career." If I could +100 this I would. If you know in advance it's not what you want to do, or don't believe you can - particularly if the reason is not obvious to your superiors (e.g. anxiety issues dealing with people) then that's a big red flag. OK, it will probably cost you pay in the long run, but you need to find your personal balance of pay against happiness. – Julia Hayward Oct 19 '16 at 14:55