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Musings on a career (or geek to phb)

By deimos in Culture
Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 03:59:08 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

A quick summary of the challenges, awakenings, and deaths that occur as one moves into a purely management role for the first time.

I started my professional life off as a tech support grunt, moved to sysadmin, then senior sysadmin, then asst. network manager responsible for 120 people in 30 countries, and finally purely systems and networks manager. Four different jobs, 4 companies. I dealt with stupid corporate policies, good and bad bosses, some great people along the way, and watched what happens when you let people think for themselves, and when policies dictate thought. I ended up quitting my last job without a new job in place. I was so fed up, and was the "outsider" in the management team because I refused to suck up to the big boss. Oh, I don't play golf, which apparently has a lot to do with being a boss and sucking up.

I found a job, through a previous boss, at one of those .com companies, as a Director of IS. Eww. However, I was person number 5 in the company, and the first "technical" person they had. It was my domain to do what I wanted, and to build the systems as I wanted. Cool. A year and 200 employees later, I'm back in the same position I was at the last company. I manage all day long, never doing anything technical. I know the systems because I built them, so I can at least do stuff and not feel completely useless. However, I'm constantly torn between helping out the sysadmins and dbas with their queues, and resigning myself to budgets, reviews, and "management" stuff. I created a position which I'd love to have, Systems Architect. I'd love to take it, however it would be a decent pay cut, and political suicide in the company. Even though I'd be much happier personally, it would be viewed as a step down, and I'd ultimately be viewed as a failure. Hmm.

However, I've learned a lot of things about how a company runs, and now see both sides to the tradeoffs one is forced to make. Let's be honest, well run systems aren't going to make it or break it for a company. Sales and Marketing are going to have a far more profound affect on revenues, than systems ever will. There are extremes, but there are no exceptions. Show me a company which has crappy sales and marketing, to the point where they add no value, but rests on its ability to run their systems really well. You quickly learn that it comes down to fast vs. right. Fast usually wins. Good enough is associated with fast. If it works 75% of the time, then launch it. The bugs and stuff can be worked out in realtime, and sales/marketing can spin them to less significant than they are. This bugs the living crap out of me. Nothing should be released unless it is 100%. Our product is aimed at the amorphous "IT professional", yet no one asks the IT group what it thinks. It doesn't matter, yet, as revenues are continuing to skyrocket. It's tough to convince other depts that something intangible like uptime and availability have an affect on revenue as well. It's also tough to prove that efficiency and well run systems add value to the company in ways that may not directly reflect on the bottom line. IT is traditionally viewed as a cost center, meaning that it drives no revenue. Everyday I see areas where IT could help make things more efficient and better for all involved, but that would take effort and cooperation. The cooperation is there, at least face to face, but not extending the effort to make it better. Everyone focuses on the sale, what about the cost to make that sale? This is where IT can help, reducing the cost of the sale by making things more efficient. Cost avoidance, basically. I've already been in the situations where it comes down to the executive team making a decision between spending a finite amount of money on systems or marketing. What will get you more bang for the buck? Both will do equally well I say, however marketing is a more direct, tangible link to the bottom line, so it wins everytime.

This is where the frustration begins. Every dept in the company sees themselves as the most important. The majority of executives come from sales and marketing backgrounds, and whether they'll admit to being biased, notice which depts get the money time after time. IT has to justify every last dollar, every time. I've seen this across companies, time and time again. Yet, a new sales campaign thought up over drinks one night, written on a napkin, is funded whole-heartedly without any justification. Unless, "we can sell more and increase revenues" counts as a justification.

Do I sound bitter? Probably. I've seen how things work in the political minefield of upper management. I long for the simplicity of a sysadmin. If things are running well, life is good. If I came from sales/marketing/business development, would I have a different take? Yeah, I would. I'd probably be a VP by now. :P


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
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Have you ever purposely taken a step down from management?
o Yes 20%
o No 12%
o Hell no, that's political suicide in a company. 8%
o I've thought about it many times...but have yet to follow through. 2%
o I wouldn't be management in the first place. 36%
o Haha. 20%

Votes: 74
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by deimos

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Musings on a career (or geek to phb) | 17 comments (14 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Sorry you feel bad, but what do you want from me? (2.16 / 6) (#1)
by kimbly on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 10:36:55 PM EST

The article left me with a feeling of "... umm... that's too bad, I guess". There is no hook which could generate discussion, and the generally indicisive tone is depressing.

Re: Sorry you feel bad, but what do you want from (3.00 / 1) (#3)
by deimos on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 10:54:50 PM EST

I don't really want anything. I didn't mean it to be depressing. I've written this post about ten times now, and finally decided to post it to see what happens. Apparently, it reflects my current state of mind much more than I'd originally thought. Suggestions as to how to make things more upbeat?

Perhaps I could have raised some discussion about how to better justify IT expenditures to executives? About how to better integrate with the company? Other stories of woe?

Whether I should step down as a Director and be a systems architect? Hmm.
irc.kuro5hin.org: Good Monkeys, Great Typewriters.
[ Parent ]
Neat post. (2.33 / 9) (#5)
by Signal 11 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 11:50:19 PM EST

I don't know what to say about the content, other than - everyone who works IT feels this way. We're nothing more than janitors in the e-commerce revolution, and until we organize and petition the system for a redress of our greviences (ie: unionize) it's unlikely IT will be given any respect.

As far as management, wait for the market to adjust and the money to dry up. Then companies will have to focus on higher quality products because the market will be tighter and they'll need to differentiate themselves from their competition to survive.

Keep in mind though that sales is always the last to go, and production first. The 'net don't change this.. when the economy heads south, we'll all be out on the street. Service based economy my ass - if we hit a recession it's Game Over. Just some advice for *everyone* - be ready to jump ship. We get no respect anyway, we'll be the first against the wall when it hits.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Re: Neat post., Unions (2.66 / 3) (#8)
by dieman on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:44:19 AM EST

Agreed, unions are the way to go. Most of us are getting raped for the work we do, and don't think twice about it, screwing the rest of us in turn. And, we could find out ways to keep more people happy!
[ Parent ]
Re: Neat post., Unions (2.25 / 4) (#10)
by sakico on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 02:30:33 AM EST

Yes, unions... A great idea.

You're getting raped here! You're commonly getting six figure salaries, it's an employee's market, and if you really know your stuff and make a couple good choices you're a multi-millionaire by your late twenties.

With unions, you wouldn't need to work 80 hours a week. (Check that, you wouldn't be allowed to - even if you wanted to/would get paid to) Never you mind that in this employee's market, you can easily quit and go from company to company collecting job offers, with your right to leave at five every night written into the contract. And what's up with these silly "cost of living" bonuses? If you're an employee with two years experience, you should be making the same money in Wyoming as those who live in Washington, DC and San Francisco. If you're a talented employee with two years experience, you should make the same as all those incompetent coworkers, nevermind that the entire department would collapse without your contribution at the same time that you could drop the rest of the team without noticing.

And just think of the horrid working conditions! You should all go on strike immediately! Sitting at a desk, with free drinks, snacks, massages, sports facilities... And just imagine what would happen if you got sick! Medical insurance is soooo.. included as a perk? If you died in an accident, your families would have nowhere to turn!

As to the article itself, supported by the poll result, what's up with you folks and management? Is it that you don't want to deal with people who are as arrogant as yourselves on a daily basis, or what? Oh, I see... You like playing with technology. Wel in that case, take the huge raise and reduced hours, and play with your toys at home. Your family misses you, and has been unable to communicate to you the idea that if your job really requires ubsurd hours of you, you should simply leave and find another. It isn't as though you can't go to a dozen interviews and come out with at least three quarters of a dozen job offers.

I guess it serves as a reminder of just how true the adage is, that there are both leaders and followers.

("You" used throughout, as I do not have an IT job and almost certainly never will.)

[ Parent ]

Re: Neat post. (2.33 / 3) (#13)
by tzanger on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:29:34 AM EST

We're nothing more than janitors in the e-commerce revolution, and until we organize and petition the system for a redress of our greviences (ie: unionize) it's unlikely IT will be given any respect.

Oh Puh-lease.

If you don't like your job, move the fuck elsewhere. If you don't like that job, move again. Nobody is given respect, you must EARN it. And I don't mean earning it by working 90 hour weeks, I mean earning it by using your own fucking backbone and standing up to be counted. You don't like the long hours, DON'T WORK THEM. Remember it is a worker's market in tech, every job you leave opens up 10 more.

Unions. for fuck sakes this isn't the fucking coal mines of the turn of the century. You're already making six figure salaries with benefits beyond what you can already imagine. What the hell do you think unions will give you other than somewhere to shit your money to?

Grow a fucking backbone of your own instead of trying to hide behind some fucking union. The last thing tech needs is unions.

[ Parent ]
Hate to rain on your parade... (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by Triseult on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 10:31:52 AM EST

As an ex-tech making his way up to management, I feel compelled to comment.

I don't think unions are the solution, if they are even feasible. It's quite unfortunate, but what we're living right now is the backlash of the e-commerce boom. Let me explain.

The market is slowly feeling the strain of all the dotcoms that popped up in recent years. The hype is drying up, and so are the insane amounts of money invested in non-existent business models. We're starting to see a few dotcoms bellyflop miserably.

What is their problem? Believe it or not, it's not quality of the product. The IT world has drawn an insane lot of brilliant minds into its folds, and I think the lower end of the IT spectrum is saturated right now. Have you seen someone try to get a job without 2 years of experience in the field? That's an early sign of saturation. Yet, even with great coders, some companies don't survive. What you need to run a successful company is:

  • Good management

  • Innovative market focus

  • Strong business model

  • Strong revenue model

  • Strong product offer
  • Unfortunately, given the sheer numbers of techies, the last point is almost taken for granted. Those techheads who do manage to focus on the other points as well usually end up hailed as saviors and innovators. Heck, Bill Gates was a coding geek, but his decision to focus on marketing, while unpopular with geeks, is what has placed Microsoft on the map as titans of software.

    What I'm saying is this: if you want to thrive in the IT economy, by god, don't focus on your technical skills alone, cause they won't help. Focus on your knowledge of the business, and take a step back from your role to look at the big picture. Try to understand what marketing, finance, sales, and senior management are doing. If you have a good idea, pass it along. If you have a great idea, build a business plan and get yourselves millions. But if you think the way to benefit the industry is to focus on technical solutions within the microcosm of your technical department, then you're stuck in the middle of the pack.

    [ Parent ]

    CSA...Why does that sound familiar??? (3.00 / 5) (#7)
    by LaNMaN2000 on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:03:57 AM EST

    Hmm...can't take upper management, wanna be CSA instead of making the strategic decisions needed to effectively build a company, avoiding positions of greater responsibility and rewards to find "personal happiness." You sound like the whiny 45 year old kid that had to defend his corporate policy before the DOJ; get a backbone for god's sake!!! I would love to have the "problem" of being in upper management of a 200 person company rather than simply focusing on the technical details of implementation, and I'm sure most people in the corporate world would agree.

    Perhaps this is your mid-life crisis, where you are doubting the career path that you have chosen. Rest assured, however, that if you chose a more technical position, you would miss the job you would be giving up. This is just a case of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence.

    The best way to deal with getting promoted out of a technical position would be to start working on an OSS project on the side. It would allow you to engage your intellectual curiosity on a deeper level without detrimentally affecting your career.

    Good luck,

    Lenny Grover -- link-spamming to make Google give me my name back!
    Re: CSA...Why does that sound familiar??? (3.00 / 2) (#16)
    by woofbot on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:18:10 AM EST

    There's a bit of a difference between what is being discussed here and Bill Gates actions in the DOJ trial. Bill Gates has voluntarility assumed a position of high visibility and responsibility both within his company and in the industry in general. Consequently, for him to then complain that he and his company should be completely left alone is complete bull. If you are going to try to control the world, then you'd better expect people to take notice and fight you.

    This is a bit different from being a techie who finds themselves being forced into management positions. This is a major problem with the business world. In the old school model, seniority in experience and pay necessarily equates to seniority in position. Most businesses cannot handle the idea of a high-paid 30 year-old employee who does nothing but code, even if the quality of the work is worth it. They don't seem to understand that the qualities that make a person very good technically often are a detriment in managerial positions. Some companies do create roles such as Tech Lead, etc to provide some flexibility, but in the end they still expect these people to get involved in client relations, sales, etc.

    I agree that in order to gain more control over the direction of your projects, you do have to assume duties that are less appealing, but I think it is unfair to say that someone is whining.

    [ Parent ]

    Ayuh (3.80 / 5) (#9)
    by shevek on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 02:21:27 AM EST

    i'm modding this up because i share similar experiences. i've been pulled kicking and screaming out of line techno-geek into management, and i've run into the same problems as the author, many, many times. for the techies in the readership, this too will come to pass for you. the only way to avoid management is to constantly change careers or be completely inept at working with people. otherwise, sooner or later, you will end up supervising other people's work. this is know as being a boss.

    as a boss, you will have to deal with other bosses, because no boss operates in a vacuum...there are always other bosses at your level or above. being yanked into management from technology jobs is particularly difficult because interpersonal skills are all too often not emphasized in technical jobs. the emphasis in the early part of any technologist's work is making the machines run and run well. but, to muck with the really big systems and hardware, you have to start dealing with folks who can get you increasingly larger sums of money. this is an entirely different class of people, with very different values and experience. they tend to be successful people who are very able to persuade others to give them something. hence, culture clash and culture shock until folks learn the new rules or decide they prefer the strictly technical side.

    i've got a lot of empathy for the writer, because they are clearly in the throes of trying to decide to stay on the management track or side-step to the technical track. the thing to remember is you can step back and forth; it may just take a while to get the next opportunity.
    -- Philosophy:Cosmology::Signified:Signifier
    I wish my boss would manage... (4.00 / 2) (#11)
    by itsbruce on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 08:55:41 AM EST

    We're a small IT section in a busy voluntary organisation with many overseas contacts. Expectations from management and staff constantly outstrip our resources. My job is actually two jobs that were crammed into one when funding for one post was withdrawn (I didn't find that out until after I got the job, of course).

    I can cope with that: it's a challenge, my range of skills has increased dramatically and my CV looks good. But our network manager is dangerously incompetent. The only thing that prevents him doing regular, serious damage to our systems is his laziness - which means that I do half his job and he only does irregular serious damage and regular minor damage.

    This needs to be addressed because of the huge impact it has on the overall output of our small section. But the section head is happier with his head down, coding (of which, to be fair, he has plenty to do). It's not just that he's busy, it's that the major difficulties of getting this slob dismissed (which is the only option, believe me) are a very unwelcome distraction from the satisfaction offered by the major database redesign he's working on. His management style consists of checking every so often that the rest of us (with the exception of the slob, a skilled bunch) can explain what we are up to. Which only works with competent and honest staff and isn't really enough even then.

    I sympathise with his position and I can see that you would too. I'm far happier to be managed by the knowledgeable and technically-competent boss I have than by some office politico who might have forced Win2k pre-release on us for the kudos. But I wish there was some middle ground between the two choices.


    It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
    You're not alone (3.50 / 4) (#12)
    by sbeitzel on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:03:59 AM EST

    I'm happiest when I'm writing code. Basically, I like to build stuff. But a year ago I quit my job to help found a company. So now I'm the CTO, the VP Eng., the lead programmer, and an apprentice database developer.

    The job that really bugs me is the VP one, since it requires me to sit in management meetings where very little of a technical nature gets accomplished. (What little does get accomplished happens because I bring my laptop with me.) Still, I've found that the job of management is not an easy one. It can be rewarding, and it's definitely got its challenges. It definitely requires a different attitude than technical work.

    Although my professional career has always been in computer programming, my degree is in drama. This comes in useful often. One of the maxims I learned in the theater is, "Take the money." Yes, I have demoted myself to get out of management, but all it meant was delaying the inevitable. Take the position, take the promotion, take the money. If the situation were otherwise bearable, you know you'd want it -- so concentrate on making the situation bearable.

    Be engineer-like and break your problem into discrete bits. The nature of a management position is basically different from that of a technical position. By being in meetings and playing at politics, a good manager can help build a strong company and can keep his subordinates from having to go to all the meetings. So, get good at the meetings and politics. (Tip: always go into a meeting with a clear agenda. Never allow open-ended discussion. Keep it clear; keep it focused. You'll get a lot more out of the meeting, and you'll earn a lot of respect.)

    The whole golf thing is a red herring. If your management team is really about sucking up and being the personal favorite, then your company is in a lot of trouble. That aside, you should like the people you work with. Face it, you spend more conscious time in the company of your coworkers than you do with your lover. You'd better like 'em. If you don't, then no matter what they're paying you, it's not enough. Leave.

    You probably won't be happy doing your job 100% of the time. That's why it's called "work" and why they pay you to do it. But because you spend so much of your life doing work, you need to enjoy some of it or you will go nuts. For me, it's a 70/30 split. If I start hating my job more than 30% of the time, I start thinking about how I can change it.

    Ya' Gotta' Choose (2.00 / 2) (#14)
    by greyrat on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:59:07 AM EST

    Management or Technical. It's a lifestyle choice. I know that I have never particularly cared for the management side, even when I've been good at it in good companies. I always drift back to the Tech side for the same reasons you say (or imply).

    There is a narrow border between the Tech mentality and the Management mentality that can be occupied by either type. That is where many of us want to reside. It allows for great project control and exciting technical challenges at the same time. Now: How many of us can stay there all at once?

    The one thing I know good managers do that I hate to do is spread thier arms out wide and hold back all the shit that oozes down from above. That allows the technical people to get their jobs done.
    ~ ~ ~
    Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
    "Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

    It is all about what you enjoy (2.50 / 2) (#17)
    by pfy on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 01:15:19 PM EST

    I have been in the IT industry for about 4 years now. I have learned the trade fairly quickly and because of that I was the V.P. of Network Operations after being promoted from Sr. Network Engineer at a company with 7 inter-state locations and also oversaw the medium sized ISP that they ran. I and another network engineer built both networks from the ground up, it was the first network admin/engineering job I ever had. After about 1 year of Management I realized that I can't be a manager, it is not where my heart is. I belong in the trenches on the verge of shaking because of the 3 pots of coffee I drank to stay awake and work. So at the ripe age of 21 :-) I am back where I belong, I took a consulting job and am again in the trenches and working with the servers, routers and switches that make me happy. I said all of that to say this, you need to do what you enjoy whether it means giving up money or whatever else, you need to be happy. If happiness means demoting yourself, taking a pay cut and whatever else, then do it. Working and doing something you don't really enjoy only gets worse with time.
    perl, live it, breathe it, sleep it, eat it.
    Musings on a career (or geek to phb) | 17 comments (14 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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