The boat not taken

Towards An Ideal Employee-Support Environment

Career Future as an IC or Manager

Best support for performance

I report to a super manager at Facebook, and the manager in discussion manages ~9 Individual Contributors (ICs). I hardly ever had more than two reportees at a time and they too were on my core project team, so more like a project lead than a people manager. My manager also has a high number of reportees compared to FB standards, on average it stands at 4-8 reportees as general guidance! Yet, based on feedback from peers, he performs exceedingly well when it comes to supporting his reportees and inculcating an environment of growth. My most recent 1:1 interaction involved us dwelling deeper into the question, how should I understand whether I can do well in a manager role or an IC role. This leads to the blog topic, which is my lines of thought on choosing a career or an ic career future!

Disclaimer: I am not an official spokesperson of Facebook, so any views may be heavily biased! I have to write this line to avoid any unwanted complains about misinformation. :smile:

To just explain, ICs are the folks responsible for individually owning and driving the projects while Managers are the ones who motivate and push the team forward to achieve their plans. Among these two roles, the following are my considerations:

If I stay as an IC, then what?

1. Will I be confident in my future growth?

  • I am performing good as of now, but no one knows what turn life takes! I may be able to dedicate less and less time to work. I think that the manager role has the potential to limit me to only work hours and enjoy my time more. But I am not sure, whether not doing so will inhibit my current rate of growth.

2. Won’t I have to slog too much work?

  • I feel that with time my analytical skills will get sloppy and I will tend to equate every silly problem with a huge plethora of baggage info from the past. This could make me slow and hence I may become an IC who slogs even at 40 years of age. I can, however, circumvent this by having better project choices, to begin with.

3. Will I get enough opportunities to explore the manager role?

  • I think beyond the basics of mentoring and managing work, such as a product or small initiatives as a side project even my manager cannot expect me to achieve much. With this level of time dedicated to learning management, I feel I don’t do justice to the field. I can only learn management when there are ample opportunities while there are a few.

4. Will I be looked down upon as baggage to train frequently?

  • I think older engineers are less preferred by companies. The sweet spot is when an engineer is a pro at work and malleable to train with culture. I already have a pretty strong opinion on how a certain thing needs to be done at the job. Although I try to suppress my stubbornness and remind myself to be more open, I think my time will come sooner or later when I cannot grow in a company. Then I think I will be managed out to make room for newer folks.

If I switch to a manager role, then?

1. Won’t I miss the IC excitement?

  • If my full-time role becomes a manager, I will likely suffer a lack of excitement. Honestly, I am yet to have a very exciting moment when I have managed something exceptionally well not just at work but even otherwise. This is a strong hint that I am cut to be an IC and not a manager.

2. What type of manager should I be?

  • I am also not yet decided on the type of management path - product, people or program. I have done program management at Microsoft, which was an utter flop beginning of my career. I do product management albeit with a smaller scope and every senior engineer gets to own some part of a product. People management is something I am setting my eyes on! But that field also splits into IC managers and manager management, gosh!!

3. Will I be comfortable with giving away driving controls to others?

  • A manager’s career growth gets married to their reportees. If reportees lose motivation, it reflects on the manager report card. There will be no running away. Of course, there are concepts like lead by example. But one can only do so much when the reportees don’t share the enthusiasm to deliver bumper results and take initiatives. I am yet to play in these situations as a manager or as an IC.

4. What will be my core competency?

  • Being a manager is also highly domain-specific. A people manager for a product can’t easily move across cross functions such as sales or marketing managers. One needs to nurture their management skills and managers grow to step into the motivational speaker’s shoes. They need to extinguish fires, take part in heated discussions and also stay calm while motivating and/or listening to the team. From the outside, it still looks like it needs no core competency. I guess it needs gaining respect with the team.

Ultimately all the questions and my considerations boiled down to one key question:

Do the manager role excite me? - VA

And a wise man had once said, at times no decision is also a good decision.

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