Working Managers

I came across this article (Work at different management levels) in by Lara Hogan. It does a great job of breaking down what a manager does at different levels in an organization. If you ever thought your bosses do nothing — this is worth the read!

I’ve been a mixed individual contributor (IC++) and manager for several years. Even when I was supposedly a full time IC, I found myself doing tasks outside of my job responsibilities like mentoring, teaching, architecting, defining process, project managing, managing clients, managing engineers, writing specs, influencing strategy, interviewing candidates, and recruiting.

Although I enjoyed the problem solving side and the satisfaction of shipping features to millions of users, I enjoy the mentoring and managing side more. I love teaching, sharing my experience, removing roadblocks for others, and helping people grow in the ways they want to. When I wasn’t getting enough fulfillment out of my day job, I would seek leadership opportunities externally. I served on several non profit boards when the leadership opportunities were especially lacking internally.

The hardest professional challenge has been context switching between delivering something (which necessitates unbroken sessions of focus) and doing the mentoring and organizational stuff that management requires (interrupt driven). I used to revel in my ability to multi-task, but as I’ve started focusing on one item at a time I find that I do a much better job and enjoy my work more (many studies back up these findings here’s one).

Context switching became especially pronounced at Capital One when I ended up leading the QA automation team in addition to my sprint team. I was in tons of meetings and “interrupted” by my direct reports and higher ups all day for a multitude of reasons. If you were an IC, this would be frustrating beyond measure. I wrote very little code during this period.

The most baffling part for me was performance feedback from my managers. Although my role breakdowns usually reflected some portion of management-y work, I still found myself often judged by IC expectations. I got excellent marks, but the feedback always contained a line to the effect of “it would be great if we got more code out of you too.” In short, the goal posts should have changed, but they didn’t.

Management output is hard to quantify and features being shipped is a somewhat straightforward to measure* of business value provided. However, when you are measured against the code output of the ICs on your team, it makes it look like you’re not particularly productive. You’re doing two (or more roles) so trade offs need to be made, unless, of course, you’re planning to work double the hours.

Stay tuned for news this week! Big changes on the horizon that will allow me to focus on pure management.

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