Choosing the Unexpected Path of the Technical Project Manager

Whenever I ask my son what he want’s to be when he grows up, he usually says a policeman or a fireman.  Or a Pizza Delivery guy…because they bring happiness to homes.  Can’t fault him there.  I can’t imagine “Technical Project Manager” is an often picked dream job.  So why would one choose this path?

I have been chronicling my journey transitioning from a developer to a manager and will be sharing my experiences via this blog.  I intend to bring a unique perspective on this craft to help you refine yours or perhaps even set you down this path if you’re early on in your career.  Most of the material here is based on lessons from my own missteps that made me think deeper about my approach.

Who am I?
If you paused for just a second, could you use only a few sentences to capture all the twists and turns that led you to where you are now, ultimately defining who you are?  What significant forks have there been in the road?

It was a few years ago that I was given a choice between being a Sr. Developer or a Technical Program Manager.  All in the tech realm, but two very different disciplines.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics.  I was also listed as having “Studies in Japanese”, but that’s a story for another day.  The short of it is all of my education has geared me to do one thing:  write code.  And I love to write code.  Code doesn’t argue with me.  If code doesn’t do what I want, it’s because I didn’t write it correctly.  And when code works the way you intended you get this great sense of accomplishment.

…and yet I chose to be a Technical Program Manager, not a Sr. Developer.  I still code and I still love to code.  But I’ve learned to love people too.  More importantly, to respect them.  Ultimately, I have some ingrained instincts (band name, anyone?) from my programming days that need correcting if I want to succeed at this role.

So, Why Management over Development?
It’s a personal choice and not one to take lightly.  If you love to code as I do, know that if you go down this path you’ll be doing significantly less of that.

So naturally my gut originally told me to go with development.  It is, after all, what I spent the majority of my life building up to.  After going home to think it through, I came up with the following bullet points (cus I’m all about the bullet points):

  • I geek out to processes as much as I do to Big O notation.
  • I must have a stronger voice than I realized considering this choice is even an option.
  • I could learn a lot of new things and expand my mind as a manager.  I like learning new things!
  • I can still code at home, but I can’t manage at home.  At least, I shouldn’t treat my family like I’m their manager.  Yikes!
  • I can add a professional dimension on top of my technical background to further specialize my career.
  • I am a young thirty-something with a growing family; management is an investment in a better “version” of me.

I made the choice and haven’t looked back.  There is certainly a different kind of pressure, but I’ve learned to manage that too.  I also think I’ve been more content with this role professionally than I was as a developer.

Developer for Life
Making the hop from developer to manager at the same job will create some complex relationships with some of your coworkers.  But a greater concern is likely the fear of cutting ties with your inner developer spirit (mine’s a wolf…I think).  It took blood, sweat and tears to establish yourself as a developer and suddenly you’re just going to abandon it all?

Sure, you’ll get a few jokes made at your expense, but don’t fool yourself.  Once a developer, always a developer.  I still have a passion to learn new programming languages and mold things with my digital know-how.  If you have less time to play games (you know, because Life), that doesn’t make you not a gamer.  If anything, it will have you appreciate the time more.

There’s No Wrong Choice
There’s way too much chaos in the universe.  Write down what you want, short term and long term, and give each side equal time in the comparison.  Certainly don’t discredit a lateral move that’s not the obvious choice!  Then make your choice and march on and be proud of your decision regardless of what happens next.

Moving on, I’m going to talk about the how and the why of certain aspects of taking the helm, The Digital Helm.  And how life balances out with this role.  And I’ll probably include pizza here and there.



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