This is actually my second writing of this post. Sadly, I had my first version basically ready to go when I clicked on “Save draft”, something happened and an hour of writing disappeared. Hopefully, my annoyance from that won’t translate into a grumpy or incoherent second try.
This post will contain two parts. First I’ll be a bit critical of my recent work environment. While I do believe my criticisms are valid, I think my response may have been wrong. That’s part two. In a nutshell, technical direction is decided and influenced by the managers and individual contributors are left out. Not what I would have liked. On the other hand, would it have killed me to be a manager? On the contrary, there are large aspects of it that I would have enjoyed.
My criticisms:

  • In recent times, my group has embarked on some grand directions while missing some necessary technical nuance 1. The ideas are sound, but there were some aspects that could have been done better:
    • We tried to do everything at once. This meant that several of us were spinning our wheels while the more preliminary dust was settling. Dust we depended on.
    • We didn’t have the needed connections between the people in the trenches. The folks implementing the changes didn’t know the folks receiving the work. This continues to be too true today.
    • Given our role helping projects tapeout chips 2, there are aspects that don’t seem necessary. At the same time, the reported successes were often fantasy.
  • Policy is decided by the managers. That’s where the discussion happens. Having a single direct report earns one a seat in the room during these discussions.
  • The chosen directions weren’t communicated very effectively. 3
  • There are resources available only to managers. One example that comes to mind is “FLM Days”. 4 I’ve gotten multiple reports that much of what happens during these seminars is quite interesting. The relevant learnings are supposed to be passed down, but this often doesn’t happen. 5
  • In the last couple years, there are two people that were surely two, possible three grades junior to me. 6. They are managers so they got to help decide. I didn’t.

So why didn’t I just become a manager? Would I have given up everything I’ve loved about the job? Surely, I would have gotten the opportunity had I asked. 7
Reasons I’d have enjoyed it:

  • I like teaching. 8
  • I enjoy mentoring. I’ve been around for a while. I like sharing my experiences. Anyone who knows me, doesn’t come to me with a question if all they want is a two minute answer. I prefer to answer as completely as I can.
  • I like participating in the policy discussions. I’m good at questioning the status quo, at questioning assumptions.
  • I could have help improved communication 9

So why didn’t I?
The biggest reason is probably that management is viewed as “The Dark Side” by those of us who really love the technical part of the job. Management tends not to include the wiz programmers. If you can’t do,… coach.  Is this a valid reason to not do something? It shouldn’t be. If someone refuses to wear a particular pair of jeans because it’s not the right brand, they’d be viewed a pretentious. Is this different?
Still, this is a trap I allowed myself to fall into. I really enjoy coding. I enjoy problem solving. I didn’t want to lose that.
Early in my career 10 I observed a couple managers who actually were very good technically. The problem with them was that they were unable to balance their individual deliverables with the needs of the people reporting to them. Being a manager can mean getting less done overall.
I basically rejected the idea of management without giving it fair consideration.

Would it kill me to be a manager?

  1. I am, of course, limited in how much detail I can include. Hopefully I’m not so vague it’s just gibberish

  2. Some in my dept often forget this part. We’re not Cadence/Synopsys/Mentor. EDA is not our primary job. We exist only to help Intel design chips. It’s not the same

  3. Perhaps I wasn’t listening. Maybe communication was fine and my vision was simply something different

  4. First Line Manager

  5. If you’re part of the process, many things start to feel obvious. It may not occur to you that something needs passing along.

  6. These individuals are quite capable. I have enjoyed working with them. Still, experience has some value. I don’t actually know what grade they are/were, but given their ages, I think I have a good guess.

  7. I actually was a manager, years ago, of two people for about 6 months. I don’t know that it was a positive experience for them. I had a hard time balancing aggressive goals with the patience required to help them to meet these goals. Still, I think it’s a job I could do well.

  8. One of my aspirations is to become a high school math teacher. I worry about the prospect of managing 30 teenagers. What I don’t worry about is whether I can help them understand. I’ve spent a fair amount of time tutoring young people in preparing to take the SAT. I got a lot of positive feedback through that.

  9. Or perhaps nudge the vision more in the direction of my vision

  10. which is not over. I have a couple projects I want to work on in the coming months

5 thoughts on “Would it kill me to be a manager?

  • May 7, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    You are cautiously generic. I’d underscore lack of feedback from trenches to recent grandiose scheme of over-automation.

  • May 8, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Interestingly, at Mentor, the hierarchy is pretty flat and the engineers do make many/most of the decisions – some groups more than others. There are other issues, but if/when I have a decision on how to do something/what to do, I’ve felt I have the authority to do it.

    • May 9, 2015 at 4:20 am

      I also had the choice to make my own decisions. (perhaps I sometimes just did want I thought was needed regardless). The issue becomes greater when observing the direction given to the group. Many are not as opinionated/bullheaded. They simply try to do what was asked.

  • May 10, 2015 at 4:36 am

    This has come up a few times in my career, too. I love coding and I can’t see wanting to give up that direct feeling of productivity.
    Friends who have gone into management tell me they focus on building the team/division/company instead of just building software.
    I think that you’d be a really good manager if you wanted to be. You’re good at explaining things and you care about people. You’d be a great teacher, too.

  • June 4, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    I’ve pondered this at times too, and it’s nice to see your thought process. I also think that you would be a very good manager.
    Working directly on the process inside the Intel manufacturing environment many of my coworkers are deeply in the trenches (many of them working 60 – 90 hour weeks). My friends who have become managers see this as a way of taking half a step back from the intensity. I can see that it would be rewarding to have a larger influence on area strategy. On the other hand I really like the ability to dig deeply into technical issues and I’m not sure I would want to be the one dealing with the bureaucratic machinery (focal reviews, cost reduction meetings, program level SPC policies, …).


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