If you've remained a technical contributor, eschewing the climb up the corporate ladder, are you happy with your decision? That's the question we posed this month to members of our LinkedIn systems and product design engineering group. We also wondered what the biggest thing those of you who've remained in the tech trenches would like to see changed about the way managers relate to you.
Consulting engineer Robert Sander Sr. has no regrets about his decision:
I spent four years as a manager and hated it all the time. I am much happier as a technical subject matter expert and acknowledged leader of technology in my field. I prefer working on my own, but must have direction from my manager to make sure my goals are aligned with what the company wants and needs. I love what I do and don't regret ever making the switch to technical.
According to consultant William Ketel II, "The sense of personal achievement that comes with a successful design is quite a reward, and that does make me happy. I can't imagine doing anything else that would be so rewarding that I would get paid for."
Lest we assume that management and engineering are discrete functions, Ketel reminds us of the contrary. When he was chief engineer at a startup, he saw himself as being on the engineering side because he was "the one ultimately responsible for everything." After that startup cratered, his experience with his manager at a subsequent job wasn't so sanguine:
When one [manager] makes it clear that they regard all engineers as interchangeable commodity resources, moral suffers, loyalty is damaged, and the engineers leave. I am at a loss as to how MBA accountants can design electronic vehicle systems.
Design engineer Chuck Blevins picks up that point:
I stopped being a manager and went back to the technical side. From my experience, a good manager allows the technical side to make technical decisions and keeps upper management informed, but out of [it]. Managers who want to make technical decisions do the project a disservice.
"Good managers give the people who work with them the tools to do their jobs and then leave them alone, but with frequent communications to keep everyone on track," said our own contributing technical editor Jon Titus.
Going back to being a technical contributor was the best thing he ever did, according to mechanical engineer Chris Pollard:
[I] decided that being a manager was a dangerous occupation. Your job depended on who you worked for -- not what you knew. So I just kept learning more 'stuff,' using old tricks and shortcuts and adding to them. Nothing beats designing a new machine that goes into production or solving a major engineering problem.