March 13, 2012, 7:18 AM —
I’m currently a Java technical lead at a large financial services company. My problem is that I love being a hands-on software developer but believe I have to go into management to increase my pay. Is this true and what do you suggest?
To begin with, I wanted to answer you in my column, rather than via a personal email, because your question hit home for me. I ultimately decided to move into a management role because I found that I liked being a manager. The difficult part for me was the fear of losing my technical skill. What I didn’t realize until I became a manager, is that like being a techie, being a manager requires a specific skill set that grows and matures over time. That said, as a way of trying to maintain my technical edge, I taught technical classes at a local university for almost fifteen years.
It has long been debated within the technical community whether the choice to stay technical can provide the same levels of compensation and organizational ranking as those who move into management roles.
To answer your question directly, it has been my experience that there are very few individual contributors in very few companies, technical or non-technical, who achieve salary and organizational parity with their management-oriented counterparts.
That said, if you are an exceptional techie and appreciated within your company, it is very possible to have equal or greater compensation than a first-line supervisor or manager. This parity, however, becomes much less likely when comparing an individual contributor to a middle-level or upper-level manager.
If you chose to stay an individual contributor, the key to maximizing your compensation is to be the very best techie you can be.
- Be a thought leader in your specific technical area.
- Be the primary contact for the company’s most important software application.
- Become the company’s lead expert in the technical direction in which the company is moving, for example, the development of company-wide private cloud.
- Become known as an industry leader in an industry-specific technology and become a spokesperson for your company at important industry conferences.
Next, I would like to make a distinction between working in internal IT and working in the technical Product Engineering (PE), a software group that develops software for sale or as part of an online product offering.