Monday, December 21, 2009

Must I become a manager?

I just got an email from Oracle SQL Programming (by Steven Feuerstein,, that got me thinking about my career path.  I have a consultant's approach to my career.  By that, I mean I am perfectly content to be good, very good, at what I do and meet or exceed my client's needs while passing on my knowledge (mentor) to those who will have to pick up and support what was done after I'm gone.

I have progressed from Data Communications to DBA to Data Development (PL/SQL, SQL, C/C++, shell scripts) to Data Analysis to Data Modeling and now Data Architecture.  My career has been mainly as a consultant; I have worked as an FTE for two consulting firms but was always contracted to clients.  My last FTE position with a consulting firm required me to be promoted to their Manager level or leave the company.

Now that I am old enough and experienced enough to be considered by some as an expert (I never like to call myself an expert because there is always someone who knows something I don't know.), must I become a manager?

I do not want to become a PM, get PMI certified, and become a hands-off manager.  Technical lead positions are great, but not management roles.

Should someone be forced to advance up the corporate ladder or leave the company?  What is wrong with retaining people at a senior technical level?  After all, we aren't all qualified to be, or desire to be, managers just because we are good at what we do technically.  And some people, like me, may have had management positions we succeeded at (to some degree, anyway) but are more comfortable and happy at a senior technical lead role.

Steve Feuerstein's email article was about Developers and Development Managers, but I think his comments and perceptions hold true to Data Architects, which I consider to be at the top of the Data ... career path, and other Data ... positions toward Data Managers.

Quoting from his email, but changing "developer" to "data specialist", he says:
"You have probably heard of the Peter Principle, which can be summed up as "while jobs generally get more difficult the higher up any ladder you climb, most people only come equipped with a more or less fixed level of talent that corresponds to their intelligence, knowledge and energy. At some point, then, they will be promoted into a job they can't quite handle." Or to put it more succinctly: people are often promoted past their level of competence.

... I find that in the world of software, most [data specialists] have few good things to say about their managers - and not just because they read Dilbert. That's kind of sad, because lots of [data] managers (DMs) are former [data specialists]. To invoke the Peter Principle: just because you're a good [data specialist], doesn't mean at all that you will be an effective DM. But if you've been a senior [data specialist] for a while - and an especially good one - how does a company reward you except by promoting you...up to manager?"


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