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How do I choose whether to become a people manager or continue to be an individual contributor?

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Anonymous User at Taro Community9 months ago

In my current role, I might get an opportunity to transition to a people manager (engineering manager) as against continue the path of individual contributor (IC).

Since I have always been an IC, I am not sure if this is the right career move for me. How would I make a decision one way or another?

I have spoken to a few team members and the sentiment towards being a people manager is negative. One has to be able to deliver through the team and hold the team accountable, one has to be detached from coding to a large extent, one has to solve inter-personal issues, one has to worry about attrition, one has to be able to hire good candidates (sell your team), one has to fight for challenging projects for your team etc.

What are some frameworks to think about this?



  • 5
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    9 months ago

    Great question! To me, the framework to decide is very clear: Ask yourself if you genuinely enjoy working with people. How do you react to the following?

    • Having to build a consensus in a crazy meeting where everyone disagrees
    • Getting junior engineers to understand difficult concepts after multiple attempts at explaining it to them
    • Helping people achieve their career goals even though these are always quite ambiguous and abstract
    • Working with teams you have never worked with before, trying to figure out their incentives and making them align with yours
    • Convincing people to join your team knowing that you will be hit with rejection a lot of the time (but striving to always have a good conversation regardless as meeting new people is exciting)
    • Writing lots and lots of communications (i.e. Slack messages and emails) to keep people aligned so they don't pepper you with questions you have already answered

    If succeeding at these activities brings you joy and is very fulfilling to you, then that's a good sign you would make a great engineering manager. If they're just frustrating, then you should probably stay as an engineering IC.

    As a side note, being an IC probably has more scope in the current economy. Managers expand their scope by hiring and most companies aren't hiring right now. However, there is no shortage of complex, high-impact technical problems to solve. Something to keep in mind.

    Here's some other good resources about engineering management direction as well:

  • 7
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    Head of Engineering at Capgemini
    9 months ago

    It comes down to the types of problems you like solving.

    Personally, I lean very heavily towards taking the role and verifying it for yourself. Relying on second hand info is difficult since you're going to experience it in a different way than the people you are talking to.

    I should caveat that I'm probably very biased because I've been a manager way longer than I've been an IC and genuinely enjoy it. You could weigh the risk to doing so vs. not by applying the "fear setting" framework, which I'll summarize below (search Tim Ferriss for the source and more details).

    1. Describe in extreme detail what's concerning you
    2. List out all the ways you can mitigate each factor your found in #1
    3. Ask how would you get back to your current position if it doesn't work out (and how hard that is)

    Especially, if #3 is a two-way door, where you can go back to being an IC if it doesn't work out for you, consider taking on the challenge since worst case you'll learn valuable skills that actually make you a better IC (having the POV of a manager as an IC is highly underrated).

    If you don't want to take the plunge right away, here are a few resources you could check out to gain a better perspective on the type.

    • Do you like or at least tolerate 'glue work'?
    • Does any of the topics covered in this blog, which covers the POV of a VP Eng / CTO feel remotely interesting to you as the end game?

    Feel free to DM me on Slack if you want to explore this topic further.