Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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So now you're the boss... (Parts 1-4)

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

If you work in computers long enough you will eventually have to face a very difficult decision. Everyone?s answer is different and your career, as well as your mental well being, could depend on making the correct choice. The decision is that, after years of working in the computer trenches, you will be asked to join the ranks of management. There are both pros and cons to technical types moving into management positions This month I will explore them and discuss how to make the decision that is best for you.

No where else to go?
There are several reasons the dilemma of management vs. worker arises in almost every company. Regardless of the role you might currently be filling, there is a finite number of possible titles that can exist in any company at any one time. Usually, titles run from staffer to junior ?whatever? to senior ?whatever? to principal ?whatever? but eventually there is an end.
Sometimes, in order to promote someone who has run out of the titles, management will give them responsibility for a group of people and call them a supervisor. From there the next step is manager and so on. Unfortunately there are problems with promoting people to management who have no desire to be managers.

There?s no place like home
In many cases we are working in a job because we honestly like the actual tasks we perform each day. We may like dealing with customers, whether they are external purchasers of our services or internal co-workers who rely on our computer skills to perform their jobs well. We may enjoy the camaraderie of working in a group of equals. We may even enjoy being free from the necessary ?management work? of budgeting and reporting. These are some of the very items that are lost when technical people move into management.
Many companies take their best technical people and put them into positions where they no longer use their technical skills; where they lose touch with their former strengths and go from being a great technician to a mediocre manager. Almost all of us have seen this happen.
If you truly think you would like the challenges of management, then by all means seek it out. Some might say that technically savvy managers are exactly what most companies need. Go into management if you truly think that it is the next logical step in your career, but avoid taking a management title merely to receive the next promotion. you may find that that promotion could be your last.

Avoiding the pitfalls
There are many pitfalls in the scenario mentioned above and this month I will explore them and their possible solutions...and there are solutions. All jobs require creativity. If you find yourself in the management vs. worker dilemma your own creativity could help you carve out a new niche in your company that may never have previously existed.


There are many reasons why any of us could have a tough time being a manager after working for years in the trenches, even if we really want to be a manager. There might be internal department politics that sabotage your goals, there might be a lack of training available to help you understand your new role or you may realize, belatedly, that we enjoyed the technical side more than management. Here are a few ways to make your decision and possible transition a little easier.

A little push
The first rule with any job, management or not, is don?t be pushed into any change before you?re comfortable with it. If you aren?t ready personally, there is little you can do to prepare. If you are feeling too much pressure then it might be time to consider to a new position. Chances are there are other issues you are being pressured on, as well. Your company might try to tell you that this promotion will be a good thing, but it won?t be if you aren?t ready for it.

Shoulder to shoulder
One of the first issues to resolve about becoming a manager is how you will feel managing people who once worked side by side with you. Are they going to be able to adapt to your new role? Sometimes it can be a rocky road to management and good co-workers can help to ease the way. You might even want to discuss the change with your co-workers to get a better feeling for the situation.
If you sense there might be friction, you might want to see if your new responsibilities could involve another group of people. Otherwise, you will have to find some way around these issues. Little is worse than losing good relationships or even good friends over job issues.

Teacher, teacher
Another possible failure point in making the climb onto the management ladder is lack of training. It is common for companies to promote someone to management and then offer them no assistance in making the dramatic change. They are expected to sink or swim on their own instincts. There are ways of preparing yourself by yourself, however..
Find a manager in your company that you admire. What are their best traits? Did they come up through the ranks like you? How did they cope? Schedule a lunch with this manager and ask them these and other questions about your concerns. People love to be asked their opinion on issues and act as a mentor. Find your guide and learn everything you can from them.
You can also call upon the myriad of management books on the market today -- with one caveat. Don?t buy into any one philosophy entirely. Take the best information and ideas from each book you read and use them to develop your own, personal, managerial style. Book learning can only take you so far and your employees will know when you are merely following guidelines in a book instead of following your own heart.

Next week: Making your own technical career without going into management.


In the past weeks I have discussed how to best cope with an offer to join management after a technical career. This week I will outline one possibility for expanding your career without joining management. Remaining in the technical realm is not an easy proposition, but hopefully I can provide an outline that you can adapt to your own needs.

Doing what we are best at...
As discussed earlier this month, technical people are often offered promotions to management in the mistaken idea that they have gone as far as they can go in a strictly technical role. I personally think this is wrong-headed thinking, at best, and can be damaging to both the company and the employee.
It makes no sense to remove a talented and experienced technical staffer from a technical role when they are at their prime. They have spent years gathering knowledge and experience. They should spend many more years sharing this knowledge with younger staffers and helping their customers. In days past, you wouldn?t take your most experienced machinist off of the shop floor and put them in charge of time cards. You would assign them to train other machinists and pass on their experience. The same applies to today?s technical experts.

A Parallel Path
There are solutions to keep technical staffers in technology, they just require a bit of courage and a bit of creativity. One method involves the creation of a new, parallel career track where technical people are allowed to remain doing what they do best.
As technical staffers become more and more expert they should move from day-to-day troubleshooting and handholding to high-end research and advisor roles. Each person should choose two to three areas where they want to further refine their knowledge. They could then become the in-house ?guru? for those areas.
The majority of their time would be spent researching new solutions, testing software and hardware upgrades and monitoring the mothballing of old technology and the installation of its replacement. Most of their remaining time would be spent acting as advisors to younger staff members.
When a staff member faces a problem they can not solve alone, they have access to some of the best technical support people right in their own company. These advisors can then shepherd staffers through the problem and fulfill the customer?s needs.
Part of the review process for these new advisors is based on the amount and frequency of knowledge transfer. They need to demonstrate that their knowledge is being shared with all the technical staff through one-on-one sessions, training classes and even during standard troubleshooting work when a staffer calls on them for a consult.

Developing a parallel career path for employees allows companies to retain their most valuable employees without pushing them into the ranks of management. This has benefits for everyone involved. The employee is happier, the company maintains an important source of technical know-how and younger staffers have someone to turn to when problems arise.

In the last three weeks I have discussed how to keep both you and your employer happy should you be offered a job in management. While some technical workers would rather not move into management, others are energized at the thought. If this describes you, I want to pass on a few tips that can help you be an even more effective manager of a technical staff.

In large creative companies there is a phenomenon that takes place that I call cocooning. In an effort to remove creative people from the daily stress of the bureaucracy, management goes out of its way to accommodate them. It is thought that by doing this people will spend more time creating and less time filling out forms and sitting in meetings. When used on a small scale this cocooning can indeed allow for more productive workers. Taken to extremes it can isolate them even further from the realities of the work place.
I would call upon managers to practice some version of cocooning with their technical staffers. There is no reason that ?creative? departments should be the only ones to benefit from this technique . Technical managers can offer a buffer zone between chronically irate users, bureaucratic time-wasters and computer users who would rather have technical staff perform their job than learn to do it themselves. Protecting your staff from these types of activities allows them to concentrate on the task at hand for sustained periods of time. It also allows them to feel that their managers care about them, their needs and their lives.

Stand by your man (or woman)
This may sound blindingly obvious but one role of a good manager is to stand by their employees and sometimes even act as their protector. There are computer users in all companies that don?t necessarily have the amount of tact or class that we might wish. You can hear them shouting at their staffers and anyone else who doesn?t fulfill their needs exactly when they need it.
If a member of your technical staff is having a problem with another employee it is in your best interest to intervene. Letting bad situations fester and grow can lead to all sorts of negative results, up to and including dismissal for the employee and even for you, as their manager.
Don?t send a technical staffer to face an irate user alone. Your presence will help to ensure a certain decorum and respect, especially when the irate person is in a position of power over your staff member. You can help balance out the power equation and prevent the staffer from being abused further. Staffers will remember your support during crunch times when everyone is being asked to work just a little bit harder and a little bit longer.
Hopefully this month?s columns have given some insight into the world of technical management and helped to clarify the issues involved when technical staffers are offered an entrance into the wild world of management.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at