So You Want to Be a Manager

As fall begins, my thoughts often turn to the future. One of the common questions for IT professionals thinking about the future is whether to pursue a career in management.

Its a good time to think about this if youve been purely technical for a long time. The coming wave of baby boomer retirements will leave plenty of management jobs available.

But how do you know whether management is really for you? Here are a few thoughts for the curious.

Reasons to not go into management:

Desire for money. While management jobs can pay well, not all do. In fact, when I managed a large group, there were a number of purely technical people who reported to me who made more than I did. And I thought that was appropriate. Pay is not a matter of position, but of supply and demand. Rare and valuable technical skills may be worth more than relatively common management skills.

Desire for power. One of the best-kept secrets of management is that the higher up you go in an organization, the more not less dependent on others you become. Successful managers know that power is mostly an illusion. The more people you manage, the more your success is the sum total of theirs. Alone, you are just a person with some ideas. The desire to dominate generally foments coups, not loyalty or productivity.

Desire for status. There are lots of ways to earn the respect and admiration of your peers. Becoming their manager is not one of them. In fact, when you start to manage a group of people who used to be your peers, they often, although not always, develop resentment and lose respect for you. Management can be a lonely job, even though youre constantly surrounded by people.

Desire for easy work. The illusion of an easy life is another poor reason to go into management. You may think that the boss doesnt work hard; he just goes to meetings. While the work of management is completely different from technical work, its not easy to do it well.

Reasons to consider management:

Desire to think about people and technology. Most of us who grew up technical think about machines. If you want to start to explore the complexities of humanity, management is a good way to do it. But be prepared to change the ways you think. People problems often are not subject to the same forms of analysis that work so well on engineering problems.

Desire to help others grow. Good managers are also good teachers. They may not lecture, but they do think about how to help their people grow and develop. To be a good manager, you need to derive personal satisfaction from seeing others advance.

Desire to get things done. Management isnt just about being warm and fuzzy. You still need to get things done. If you have a strong desire to accomplish things in a work context and are willing to help other people do it with you, then management may be a good choice.

Obviously, I believe that management can be a great job and a noble calling, but it isnt for everyone. Think carefully before you make a major commitment to a career change. If youre curious about management, talk to your boss about trying out a small assignment before you make a major commitment. You may find that its a great fit, or you may streak back to the keyboard.

Paul Glen is the founder of the Web community and author of the award-winning book Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology (Jossey-Bass, 2003). Contact him at

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