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Engineer to Manager?

February 10, 2011
Does moving up in the business world require sacrificing all your ethical standards? Zuska just wrote a post on a string of crazy bosses.
True that. The comment thread pondered whether this phenomenon might be more prevalent in technical fields or a strategy used by some companies to get rid of low level employees in a particular group. I think these are valid and I also wondered whether the skills required to move up and be a manager don’t automatically lend themselves to changing who a person is or self selecting for certain kinds of people.

You do not hear about the white collar, middle to upper middle class people who go shitznutz and instead of bringing a gun to work and shooting up a bunch of folks, just psychologically abuse the hell out of everyone under their control.
I’ve noticed the more I “move up” on projects the less hands on work I actually accomplish. More of my time is spent in a project management phase. And when you get to that point you’re dealing in knowledge and tracking and conveying information. Which often means I’ve no longer designed the object in question but am just relaying its status. When you’re talking to higher level people on a project, and your designers and technicians are not, this can seem to me like taking credit for their work. Or the more powerpoint I am required to do the more information I must “steal” from others to incorporate in a presentation that management will see. There’s no decent way to “credit” your fellow employees, or even yourself, in these presentations. I’ve seen my name go on documents and projects I had very little to do with besides compiling information. But I’ve also seen comprehensive reports and presentations that I’ve poured my heart into get sent several levels above me without any mention that I contributed. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it and while I know I am queasy every time I take implicit credit for another person’s work I realize my manager, and his manager, do not have the same qualms.
Chris Gammel over at EngineerBlogs just did a post on expectations for electrical engineering starting salaries. He talks about how the starting salary can seem high after being in school but often the growth flattens out over time. Unless of course, one moves into management. Is the tradeoff worth it? Is management self selecting or do people actually change in order to go into it?
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2011 7:42 pm

    For me, my interest in going into management is both about career growth and personal challenge. It's something new, something different, and something in which I'm sure I will learn a lot from doing.

  2. February 14, 2011 9:31 am

    I think it is inevitable for engineers to take on managerial roles somewhere in the career. Perhaps engineers-turned-managers can take full advantage of their engineering intuition. But of course, some may miss getting their hands dirty.

  3. February 17, 2011 11:52 pm

    I enjoyed the management roles I was able to take on in my career, and I tried to be a decent person and make sure the people I worked with got credit for the work they did. I also tried to model on a manager I had, and make sure that people I was responsible for had access to training and opportunities to move up. In one setting where I practiced this way, and gave a talk outlining my theory of how to be a good boss, there were audible gasps in the audience. Later someone came up to me and told me that what I had just said was so antithetical to how every boss in that org behaved that it was shocking to hear. So, I think there are personal styles and personal choices, but there are also organizational cultures that people get socialized into. I became a manager in a place with one sort of org culture, and took that with me to a place with a very different sort of org culture. I resisted the new org culture in running my little shop, but who knows how long I would have been allowed to continue that way if I had wanted to move up in that org.

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