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Career Decision: From Technologist to Management

A  big question faced by the three major organizations I worked for concerned the career path of technologists.  Would remaining a ‘technologist’ hurt a career?  How could technologists make the move from being a technologist to being a technology manager?  And, how could they transition from technology and/or technology management to business management?  Anyone who has worked with technologists will find these to be familiar issues.  I recently spoke to a friend who works for a  major car company and she’s addressing these same questions, which never seem to quite get resolved.

I think the questions all relate to each other because at their core they ask “How do I advance my career?”  It is not a ‘technologist’ issue in origin, though it seems that way.

Taking each of the questions in turn:

“Does remaining a technologist hurt my career?”  No, it does not.  I have always told people to do what they love.  If you like technology and have the capacity to remain current, stick with what appeals to you.   With the pace of change in technology, your mind will always be active and you’re in a position to learn constantly.   There’s nothing wrong with staying true to a vocation.  In fact, being an expert at something can be quite rewarding.  With a subject as deep as technology, it would take some effort on your part to not find something new to learn.

“How do you migrate from being a technologist to being a technology manager?”  Almost every technology manager I’ve ever worked with began their careers as programmers or hardware experts.  What distinguished them in their path to management was their skills in managing relationships and their ability to interpret data in a way that delivered information instead of mere facts.  By adding value to the relationship, they successfully bridged the gap between being technical and being a manager.  Having strong emotional intelligence (if you never taken the emotional IQ assessment, you should) is behind understanding what others need from you.

“How can I transition from technology to business management?”  This is a more difficult shift as it demands you begin to act as though you are already in business management.  The key to moving into a business leadership position is the ability to think differently and that means examining the business in a strategic way, outside the here and now.  Individuals who bridge this gap identify what it takes to move from today’s business environment to one which constructs a more favorable business model.  To do so you must become knowledgeable about your business’ competitive environment, its economics, its technology leverage, and how others are targeting your market.  Identifying and understanding those elements outside current circumstances (i.e., the exogenous factors) are what distinguish a specialist from a more generalist business manager.  Another way to think about this is that you want to ask ‘why’ rather than ‘what.’

The two lessons I’ve learned from working with technologists and business managers:  Don’t let your current role limit your thinking and don’t be dissatisfied with being an exceptional technologist.