I’m leaving BuildDirect for Microsoft. I’m switching from a senior management position to an individual contributor role in the process. This has been a surprising decision to quite a few people. It has been very deliberate and here is why I’m doing it.
Earlier this year, my friend Florian contacted me to let me know that a Cloud Solution Architect position was opening in his team. This is an advisory role for Microsoft Azure’s “strategic” customers: to make sure they are successful with the technology and stay happy with it.
Moving to an individual contributor position seemed counter intuitive to me at first, but looking at my personal goals, I decided it to be the right thing to do.
Why did I go into management in the first place?
This is not quite the right question. To be transparent, the reason I went into management is that I was sufficiently good at what I was doing that I got promoted. By every means this was incidental. Oh, I was sure I wanted to be a manager back then; but more because that’s the next step of the only ladder that had been shown to me.
The real question is: why did I stay in management?
I didn’t stay in management because of the ladder though. Neither for the power it confers, or the shine of the title. If anything, that’s what I don’t like in the role, I feel weirded by being singled out that way, or creating seemingly hierarchical relationships.
And so, I much prefer the image of the servant leader. I staid in management because I could be of service to the team. It gave me a way to increase my positive impact on people surrounding me, to help other people grow, strive, plan their career, or just do their job in an environment a little quieter, a little more efficiently.
I have been staying in management for the science of it as well. It’s a very technical position in which I had tons to learn, both on the human/psyche side and on the process side, and that’s what I’ve done (and plan to continue doing). I’ve been staying because I could see a “better way” to organize work, to maximize the team’s impact, to make it work smoothly and organically. And by leading and influencing people in my team, it gave me a leverage to multiply my impact by a factor.
So, in a nutshell, I have spent the past 5-6 years managing teams because I like it, and because I’m pretty good at it.
With that in mind -
If I really like management, why am I taking on that individual contributor position?
This is a carefully made decision, and one motivated by both the role and the scale of the company:
- Expending my reach - By working deeply with multiple customers of Microsoft, I will effectively get to increase my reach beyond my team and company, helping customer teams to get a more logical architecture, better delivery practices, and hopefully, enhanced engineering practices. This CSA role will allow me to have discussions at all level of the organization, this should give me some room.
- Human capital - I used to hate that term, finding it dehumanizing. I revised my opinion, it turns out capitalism at its origins had humanitarian roots - making the pie grow so everyone’s slice is larger. The idea that it’s not a zero-sum game, that investing in people yields the best results for everyone is encouraging. With the role will come a lot of training opportunities to make the human capital grow, both for myself, and for my customers.
- Practice the engineering muscle - I have never left my engineering side, I consider that to be a primordial quality of an engineering manager. You can certainly coach without this kind of knowledge, but you can’t mentor, and it’s harder to give feedback or have a critical view of what’s going on. This role will give me plenty to get sharp on technology aspects, and I like that.
- Looks fun and varied – Working on a variety of projects, with a variety of companies and teams and a variety of technologies seems a good way to get some varied perspectives on how things are done in other places. It will also make for all sorts of different days, and I’m looking forward to that!
Easy one! Microsoft is one of the companies that has attracted me. Turns out they’re in Vancouver! Overall -
- I like where it’s going - Satya is very inspiring. The transformation he has made on the company and on its image over the course of just over 3 years, following Balmer. Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, and it seems it actually means something internally. Following a corporate direction is much easier when you are aligned on values like that.
- I love the technology – I have seen both Azure and AWS. I prefer the former because it’s more integrated, and to me is both easier and offers more potential. Going to customers with a piece of tech I’m proud of will be good.
- It’s a huge company – and they have an engineering office in Vancouver. This means that I can use the company as a framework where to prove myself, plan my career, and go into other roles.
- Joining my buddy - I’m joining a team where I will work closely with one of my friends, with whom I’m sharing vision and values. Surely this counts for something.
Will I ever go back to management?
Most probably, yes. Do I know the future? No.
I have still not sorted out everything around that aspect though. There seems to be a dichotomy at the stage of my career where I need to make a commitment around one side of the technology-tree: one side is the management path, one side is the engineering path. If I want to get higher up in one of those branches, I will need to start overlooking some of the features of the other branch.
As much as I love the technical aspects of management, be it related to process or to the human side of it, I also love engineering, and it is part of my identity. I like having both aspects in my life. If I had to bet, I think 70% I will go back to management, 20% I will stay on the engineering track, and 10% I will raise goats in the country.
So it’s a complex decision, and to be honest I see getting back to an IC role as a chance to help me clarify that.
I still don’t get it, why am I doing that?
The tl;dr is: I like being a manager, but this position was just too good on many of the things I like in being a manager, so I’m going for it, and maybe one day I’ll be a manager again.