Project manager? Technical lead? Code monkey?
July 28, 2009 1:04 PM Subscribe
I'm happy at the tech company I work for but am increasingly concerned about my career progression. Nearly a year ago, I took on new role as a project manager, moving from a role with a mix of development and client technical liaison/consulting. My company is currently strongly encouraging me to take on even more of a project management role. I think I'd rather move towards working as a technical lead, I'm concerned that getting myself too far removed from technical work now could make it too difficult to move back later. I could really use some advice from Metafilter-ites with experience in tech firms and technical project management!
posted by anonymous to work & money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm having a bit of career crisis/confusion and was hoping people out there could help me out. Some background: I'm a 27 year old Engineering graduate working for a small/medium (just under 70 staff, 40 of whom are technical), successful software house. Most of the people here have Computer Science degrees (rather than Engineering). I've been here for 4 years, coming straight out of university. I'm asking anonymously because, well, this is to do with work. I've set up an email account if you'd like to get in touch - email@example.com.
Nearly a year ago I took on a new role as a Project Manager, moving from a role with a mix of development and technical liaison/consulting. My role basically involves overall ownership of a number of our products, along with a team of 5, where I carry the responsibility of Line Management for the team, Technical Lead for the products and Project Management for the medium/long term feature roadmap for the products my team maintains.
Realistically this means spending about 50% of my time planning work (a mixture of technical 'how are we going to actually do this' and 'how long is this going to take' type work, as well as some 'in what order are we going to do this to make our clients happy' etc type work), probably 20% of my time line managing, doing appraisals/1-to-1s/being stuck in meetings etc, 10% ish of my time feeding all this back to senior management, 10% of my time keeping an eye over our Account Management/Technical Account Management teams and ensuring our current and any existing clients are happy and finally 10% of my time coding/getting on with implementing technical stuff.
Looking forward to the next year I've been told that we're looking to increase my Project Management responsibilities in terms of running the team and organising work and that some of my technical responsibilities will naturally fall down to the guys in the team, and that this is basically needed for the next 6 - 12 months for the team to grow etc etc. However, I'm very aware that technical work is something I'm very interested in. I don't think I want to go full steam down the management route - in fact, from a long term career point of view, I think I'd rather head in a technical lead/team management with a lot of technical responsibility route rather than line/project management. I'm concerned that getting myself too far removed from the technical work now could make it difficult to move back across later.
My boss here has told me that he thinks my skills lie more with project delivery in terms of the 'full product lifecycle', i.e. getting business needs out of the client, turning them into technical requirements, managing the different needs of the project and getting it delivered on time and working. He also thinks I'm making a good Project Manager but that, after only a year in the job, have a lot more to learn and that leaving it now might not be the best plan for my career - and that by leaving this role now and coming back to it later in life I'd basically be starting from scratch again. As such they're recommending I carry on with what I'm doing/what they want me to be doing and stay less technical, and move across later if I decide I want to.
There are some other options available to me. I could go into a full development position, although that would probably have to be taking a step backwards and I'm not 100% convinced that I want to spend all my time coding without having wider responsibilities. I certainly enjoy having business/client focussed aspects to my work, but am just getting frustrated at the lack of any implementation in there.
There is also some discussion about having a 'Bespoke Projects' team which would probably entail managing a much smaller team (maybe me + 1 other) on shorter projects but probably re-hashing similar architectures again and again. This sounds like it could be interesting except for the 're-hashing similar tech again and again' side of things.
I feel like I'm at a bit of a crossroads, and that I need more information to make an informed decision. I'm wondering how much of a blocker doing more technical work is likely to be in the future if I move away now, and how that might effect my job prospects in the future. I'm certainly not convinced I want to be a full time manager for the rest of my career!
I've very happy with the company in general but to further complicate matters there is also a possibility that I may move abroad (from the US to Canada) with my girlfriend in the next 12 months or so, and I want to make sure I'm in the best position possible there for getting a technical job (probably in a small -> medium company) if/when I do.
Any advice on how I can best manage my career for the short (~1 year) and long term very much appreciated!