Having been blessed with both managerial and engineering abilities - I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as test engineering manager. I was still low enough in the organization to keep working on projects, yet I was able to direct and mentor our department and implement motivational strategies that increased productivity while keeping everyone happy. My supervisor was non-technical so I played a key role in helping him to interact with the other departments, while I had the freedom to manage test engineering, assign projects, write P.O.s and while my responsibilties involved project management - I thoroughly understood our team's capabilities and encouraged cross-training which enabled us to have a lot more flexibility as people learned more skills. And I still had my own projects to work on...It was fun!
Beth, I agree that some people are better-suited to the jobs that involve creativity and focus, and are best left out of management. I also agree with engineer Chris Pollard, who is quoted in the story as saying that being a manager is a dangerous occupation. There tends to be more job security at the non-management levels.
@Greg: I agree with you completely. I think some people are better suited for the creativity and focus of doing the discrete function that they love (design work, writing, coding), while others who have a knack for those same skills, but who also have aspirations and skills that others don't have nor would be happy with.
As Greg and others outline, being able to manage projects, handle personnel issues, keep teams motivated and engaged, and facilitate the day-to-day firefighting that goes along with any management post is no easy task. Many are simply not cut out for the job and should stick to their knitting and not look back.
I started my career designing high voltage primary surveillance radar. Most days I couldn't believe the company actually paid people to do such work. Engineering is my passion and I almost feel guilty taking the money doing something that's so much fun. Over the years, I almost go caught in the management trap but quickly realize it wasn't for me. I grew up on a farm and like getting my hands dirty. It's the excitement of seeing my design working or just rolling up my sleeves troubleshooting something in the lab. While it takes all types to make the world go around my time as a leader makes it easy for me to say that management sucked all the fun out of engineering for me. So with that being said management just isn't my cup of tea.
Most responses have been written by engineers that are happy doing product development. I did detect a slight note of disdain for managers in some of the comments however having made the transition to manager (and gotten high marks from my engineering team as their boss) I feel qualifed to weigh in on the subject. Some of the areas where my engineering experience has helped include setting up organizing and tracking project progress, developing product specifications, test plans, meeting design-to-cost objectives and helping break engineering design deadlocks. Some of the new skills I've had to acquire include making technical explanations to non-technical people and vice versa, writing reports, setting priorities and understanding the value of "non-engineered" attributes (color, shape, packaging, labels) to the success of a product. For me at least, learning these additional skills has made me feel more connected to the overall success of the organization, but I still get to be an "engineer at heart".
24 years in a major US corporation – Starting out doing what I loved—designing new products -- right out of college;but quickly saw that promotion opportunities meant more money, more recognition, and better cubicles, eventually leading to offices with doors!Oh, the euphoria!
What one failed to realize during the monotonous trek up the ladder was that you did less and less of what you were originally hired to do – engineer new product concepts – and more and more of what stressed you out – managing people, markets, budgets, vendors, materials, and so on.
24 years later, the company has massive layoffs due to gross mismanagement in a fledging economy, and everything you worked for was been reduced to ashes.Your job has been eliminated.
By the grace of God, I started over as an independent design consultant and now am back to doing what I absolutely love – designing new products -- but had forgotten the passion while stuck trudging on the treadmill corporate ladder.I no longer desire to have a mahogany door to my office, because I happily work from my home.
Being an engineering manager can be a difficult road and take you away from what you are really trained to do.At one time in my professional career, I was the engineering manager of productivity which, for that company, was the cost-reduction arm or our design group.Good job but one in which my major function was attending meetings—endless meetings.As the manager, I was on committees for quality, production, reliability, design, field service, etc etc.You get the picture.All of these committees were worthwhile in their own rite but consumed my day and took me away from our real objective—redesigning, or having redesigned, subassemblies that saved money or facillited assembly on the factory floor. My supervisor was not an engineer.He was an accountant by training and only looked at the numbers.We had a quarterly target we were measured against and heads did roll when we fell short of our goals.It was not always fun and the work load was truly burdensome.I now own my on company and work as an engineering consultant which allows me to pick and chose the projects I wish to work on.Much better arrangement.
While sitting in my cube one day at a local govt (military) contractor who shall remain nameless I was on the phone with a hardware (screw) supplier. In the mean time the director of R&D walked up and was waiting for me to finish the call. I mentioned to the person on the phone "six thirty two screw". When I finished the call the first thing the "director" asked me was "what does six thirty two mean?"
He was about 3 pay grades above me.
Obviously he was smarter than me because he was MY boss and not vise versa. I've never been able to figure out what I've been doing wrong all these years.
On top of that "engineers" aways do all the work and the "directors" generally get the credit when the thing works and transfer the blame when the thing doesn't.
On the other hand in China I guess you just kill yourself when things go wrong so may be things are not so bad after all.
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