Saturday, October 3, 2009

GHC09: Is your future in the individual contributor or manager track?

The first session I attended on Friday afternoon is titled "is your future in the individual contributor or manager track?" We had 3 distinguished women on the panel as well as a moderator, although I felt the comments were somewhat biased since all 3 of the panelists are managers, and the moderator has already chosen to change from an individual contributor track to a management position. I felt the panel could have been better balanced if we had at least 1 technical fellow to tout the merit of staying technical, or maybe change the title to something like "what you need to know if you are transitioning from IC to manager."

Anyhoo, the advice they offered are valuable regardless! I don't want to become a manager anytime soon but that is a very possible route for me a few more years down the line. I like technology and I like being technical, but I also like having a lot of interaction with people and helping them succeed. Following are some notes I took in the Q&A session.

Q: How did you decide to become a manager?
A: I have a tendency to gravitate toward that kind of work, and would automatically take on leadership roles. It was kind of decided for me.

Q: How do you measure your accomplishments as a manager?
A: You can possibly measure by how many people you mentored and how much more successful they were, or by how many employees you are able to retain in your organization. It's important to build a cohesive team that supports each other, although that's harder to quantify.

Q: What's the most difficult situation you encountered?
A: Having to let someone go is always difficult. Also dealing with HR and legal issues.

Q: What's the difference between a project manager and line manager? Isn't it better for just have technical managers?
A: Project/technical managers usually manage the resources toward a specific project. In comparison a line manager is responsible to develop the employee. You can be very good technically but do not have good people management skills, conversely you can be a very good people manager without having a technical background.

Q: As a manager, how do you give feedback to someone who's older?
A: Be yourself, be sincere and be direct. Trust your instincts but also be open for them to tell you what's on their mind. It's important to just be human.

Q: Any advice on transitioning from team lead to management?
A: This is probably more challenging than moving straight up. Learn to let go of the design/development aspect of the project and let your people do it.

Q: Were there any big surprises when you first transitioned into management?
A: There are a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication within the team, people are usually not trying to be mean to each other! Also, things that come easy to me actually come hard to other people, like having good listening skills, initiatives, delegation, articulation, know the importance to follow up, or just making sure your team knows they are important.

Q: How do you know whether you'll be a good manager?
A: First, identify any areas you think you have shortcomings, and get training/coaching/read books about it. Also, it's ok to try it, you'll never know until you give it a try.

Q: What do you think about formal education (like MBA)?
A: education helps you understand the business, financial, planning part, may not be necessary as you can learn a lot of these on the job. You don't learn how to be a good manager in school, the interpersonal stuff comes from interacting with people.

Q: What kind of impact did the transition have on your home life?
A: First, your inbox blows up. You may not spend more time on the job, but you need to change your strategy of dealing with the stuff that comes at you. It's important to know your boundaries and set it for other people - turn off your blackberry at night, don't attend meetings that have no impact for you, etc. It's also important to make time to take a step back and look at things from the top level, always be doing the most important thing you could be doing.

That's the end of the session, the panelists also mentioned a useful site,, that has more resources. I will definitely keep these notes around until I seriously consider the transition!

1 comment:

  1. Carola Fellenz ThompsonOctober 7, 2009 at 3:53 PM

    Thanks for the nice feedback and summary. I agree that the panel would have been rounded out nicely with a technical fellow. We had very senior technical track panelist who had a last minute conflict.