Moving from the player/coach type role of Technical Lead into an IT Manager role moves you from technical leadership to a position of department stewardship and technical mentor.
Moving from the player/coach type role of Technical Lead into an IT Manager role moves you from technical leadership to a position of department stewardship and technical mentor. What I mean by this statement is that as a Technical Lead, you direct those working for/with you through your technical strength and competency by: • Teaching technical skills to less experienced techies • Designing application architectures that are then filled/built out under your supervision • Defining and explaining variable, function, and file naming conventions and then instructing others to follow your design • Evaluating and selecting software tools based on your intimate knowledge of the software being built and the tools being marketed.
This all changes when you move to an IT Manager role. Certainly you will have input into the tools selected, you may even be the ultimate decision maker on which tool is purchased, but as time passes you will no longer be the most technical person in the group. By accepting your promotion to IT Manager you have also passed the torch of “head techie” to your successor.
This fall from technical grace doesn’t happen overnight, it may take months or years. Over time, however, new technology trends appear, new versions of software are released, and the software tools you know and love are pushed aside by newer more innovative products. As the IT Manager, you dutifully send your Technical Leads and key programmers to classes to learn these new technologies while you are negotiating for additional training dollars with the Finance group so you can properly train your staff. They gain the new technical skills and you learn how to run an IT Department, manage a staff, craft a budget, give performance reviews, and perform other managerial duties.
When I was an individual contributor I thought that becoming a manager meant giving up my hard earned technical skills to simply tell people what to do and push papers around my desk. While I must admit that there is a little telling and pushing, what I didn’t realize is that I would slowly be trading off one skill set for another. As my hands-on technical skills became less current, my leadership and management skills increased. Should you decide to take the career plunge from Technical Lead to IT Manager, you, like all the techies turned managers before you, will most likely experience the simultaneous loss and growth.
The things that you can do, as a Technical Lead, to properly position yourself for a future IT Manager position are: 1. Begin to think of yourself as a manager. This may sound trite, but it’s true. As the expression goes, fake it until you make it. This simple act of thinking like a manager will slowly change your perspective, change your personal conception of yourself from techie to leader, and give yourself permission to take on non-technical tasks without feeling like your skills are not be being properly utilized. 2. Ask questions related to managerial tasks, such as “How does our budget work?” and “How do we get permission to hire new people?” These questions have the simultaneous benefits of learning about your future craft and of subtlety informing your manager and others that you are interested in moving into a management type role. 3. Try to learn more about your IT organization in general, including how data moves through the company, how the major internal (and cloud based) systems connect, and other IT-wide processes. This may sound more technical than managerial, it’s actually both. The reason I’m suggesting this to you is not because of its technical aspects, it’s because it will give you a wider view of what IT does and how it works. This will be of great value to you when you step into the managerial ranks.
In closing, as you grow into the management ranks you must grow in three ways. You must learn to manage people. You must learn to perform managerial tasks. Lastly, you must learn the business of IT. All of these topics will be discussed in next week’s column.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.
Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.