Edit: getting a lot of flak for length of post in the comments, so here’s the tldr:
I enjoy my job as a data professional. There are things I like about being a manager, but I am getting those opportunities without having to be a manager. I don’t want to be doing verbal gymnastics all day. A few examples of some outrageous things I say/do at work.
Original post below:
Warning: Long post, also I’m rambling and spent zero time editing
Some experiences edited to protect identities
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I am not manager material.
I have been a manager earlier in my career, may be too early on, and I did not enjoy it.
When I moved to the Bay Area, I had 3 offers, the ones that cut it close included a full time role as a manager of an analytics team in a smaller company, the other being a contract position in a large company with a sound data infrastructure. The pay band was similar. The smaller company even offered to start the process to get a 'Green Card’ immediately. I turned to my cousin, in whose place I was living at that time.
Me: “What’s the difference between Permanent and Contract? I haven’t come across this distinction in India”
Cousin: “In the Bay Area, Permanent means you’ll get laid off in Round 2, as a contractor you’ll get laid off in Round 1”
Me: “Is that it really. I’m not afraid of being laid off. Even if the client cuts down budget, I’m good as long as my visa sponsoring employer does not revoke the visa. The opportunities are better with this contract role, I’ll take it”
Cousin: “Sounds good”
Turns out there are a LOT of differences between permanent and contract gigs here in the US. I’ll dwell on them another time.
Back to topic: Sometimes being a manager means making difficult decisions like firing people and impacting their livelihood, It could mean resolving conflicts or thinking about ways to influence decision making, not just some of the time, but all of the time. There may also be situations that necessitate not being transparent. It means faking confidence, while taking some very bold decisions. Being a manager means taking care to be tactful 100% of the time without fail. I just don’t think it is for me.
I do like some parts of being a manager. You get to train people, watch them grow, watch them stumble, then take a few steps, then run, then win a marathon. Oh I love that. I've been training in my current role, and I cannot tell you how delighted it makes me when the person I trained figures something out before I can. My heart feels full and brims with pride. I also enjoy rallying for a cause and bringing people together. But these parts of the role, you can play them without being a manager.
Btw, I'm only taking about being a people manager here. I love managing programs, and if I may say so myself, I’m typically on top of things, and also pretty good at advocating for other people or say, driving adoption of a newly minted ETL tool.
Does not being a manager diminish me? Some people may think so, I don't. A title many times is a status symbol, also a visible indicator of success. It is the Mercedes or Porsche at your door. (Sidenote: We don’t really need a Porsche but keep in mind, there is massive title inflation in some companies, go grab the level you deserve)
To be successful we need clarity, knowing what we can do, what we cannot do, what we are a natural at, we are not natural at but can excel via training and working hard, figuring out if we really want to invest that time and finally understanding our limitations - a 1000 hours of training is not going to cut it for me.
I experience joy when I spend time with my data.
Data and I talk to each other. I ask questions of my data. I put it to work.
Data and I have a love-hate relationship.
I tend to be very direct, over time I've learned the art of being direct yet gentle. I've let Data know that I care about it very very deeply, I’m passionate about finding meaning from it, but also I kinda feel cynical about it. Data understands. We are still friends.
Data is not easy.
-I have a Quip titled 'Keepers'; list of people I cherish and want in my life, irrespective of their foibles, I wouldn’t mind apologizing and apologizing again if needed, people I would remember to drop a note even if they couldn’t. People I don't have to struggle to understand, people I can take at face value.
-I'm conflicted about adding Data to that list. See, I'm always having to be on guard, always having to peel papery thin onion layers. Ask probing questions all the time: Hey buddy, tell me more. How were you collected, wait, why were you collected in the first place, and you look all neatly packaged, I love your colors by the way, neat visualization, but tell me how were you crunched before being presented to to the world?
-Being with Data means having to frequently giving difficult/uncomfortable feedback. I love your dress, I really do, but your message is not very clear to me. Btw, that scarf is kinda distracting, we could do with less color. Hey it’s not personal, it’s not you, Tufte says the same thing, remove all visual elements that don’t add to the message.
-Data means constantly learning new techniques to find meaning, get Data to talk and tell me stories that can create impact and make things better. There’s a ton of techniques I am yet to learn. Oh I know I can crush it, I just need those opportunities or time to create those opportunities.
-Data goes against my grain of starting with trust, always. The nature of Data is that it can be unreliable. I can do good at my job only when I start with mistrust. And that’s just not my style. Being transparent and trusting has not always largely worked for me, but it has worked enough times enough for me to believe in it, and stay committed to it.
(In writing this, I just made a decision and added ‘Data’ to the Quip. It’s not as easy as the others on the list, but I put it there; it’s not a chore, I enjoy the digging. ’The truth is out there!'
Wow, I digress so much. Coming back to topic: I enjoy my job as a data professional. I could be a reasonably good manager if I tried, but I don't want to at this time. There are things I like about being a manager, but I am getting those opportunities without having to be a manager and potentially having to do verbal gymnastics all day.
Being good at verbal gymnastics means not saying and doing some of the things I say and do at work.
Here’s a sample:
This one is from some time ago and is kinda the tops.
Male Co-worker I greatly respect: Hey, how are you holding up?
(Team is short staffed, I'm deluged, there are no visible plans or just any talk about hiring, I prompted the conversation and heard “yeah, yeah we are looking into it. I'm talking to X about staffing”. It sounds like we don't have budget, I'm thinking.
We are telling multiple multiple people we cannot prioritize their asks at this moment, I don't feel good about that, our team cannot be a blocker, not ever.
I've become good about saying 'No' and 'aligning expectations'.
But not so good :(
See, I say 'No' and then end up opening my laptop at home. Do I really need to Netflix now, when there is so much at work?
In addition, I was going to transition to another assignment.
I needed to be training new staff in these circumstances, instead I doing the opposite, spending more time hands-on than ever.
The best part about being older is having a deep knowledge of your self, being able to see the patterns and course correct.
I could see myself having difficulty moving on from this assignment in these circumstances.
It would be so easy if I left a team that was trained and operating smoothly, a team that knew the nuances of our systems, a team that wouldn't file a ticket because hey this is not a bug, this is working as expected, please read the manual. A team that could recognize a bug and classify it a P3 because there was an easy workaround. A team that would know when something was a P1 and call for the ambulance.
Leaving on that note, now that would be like a Tiffany Bow on a box, and it just didn't seem like that was going to happen)
Me: Hey, thanks, I'm keeping it together.
Me : Actually, I have something to add. May I...
Male Co-worker: Sure?
Me: I’m keeping it together but not sure this is going to be sustainable. If I continue at this pace, I might break. I need a hug. I wish you were female. I could then comfortably ask you for one. I grew up in a culture where hugging someone the opposite gender would be considered askance.
Male Co-worker: Aww, come on here
Ala start-up style, our team is sitting in very cramped quarters. My manager and I are sitting opposite each other on a small round table meant to be a snack table. We are staring at data but there are no desk monitors, we make do with our laptop screens. I have earbuds on. I'm listening to 'Jolene, Jolene….I'm begging you, please don't take my man' (Really, please don't, Jolene)
Manager: “Hey, would you mind lowering the volume on your earbuds.”
“Oh sure, I'm sorry”
“Er..it needs to be lower”
“Gosh, I'm really sorry, I just didn’t realize, I sincerely apologize”
“I can still hear your music”
I begin to sing 'Jolene' full-throated, loud enough not just for our team, but also the neighboring teams to hear.
Me, to the same manager as above, he is about 15-20 years my senior. He is making a lot of noise getting chips out of the bag. To his credit, the actual eating of the chip is being done quietly):
“Hey, did you know it is possible to make more noise while getting chips out. Want me to show you?"
- - -
Me, to a different manager, he’s fairly new and we’re having a 1:1: "Umm…may I be allowed to give you a small assignment please?"
Manager: : "Of course! What can I do for you?”
Me, still hesitant, simply not believing he looks so sincere:
“I feel there is a lot of opportunity for me to excel in this role. Could you please think about how I can 'surprise and delight’. I feel like there is so much more I can do to make a difference in this role.”
Me, walking up to a co-worker, nerf gun in hand, with a somewhat menacing, only half-joking look.
This co-worker was being a blocker, he needed to do something that would take him 2 minutes (yeah sure, I totally get about 'context switching', but if something is blocking me for multiple days, we need to figure out an alternative)
Luckily for me, he burst out laughing and fixed my ticket on the spot :D
Edit: getting a lot of flak for length of post in the comments, so here’s the tldr:
- Intel / Engmr_plebI like the post. I think it's honest and cute. I wish more people shared their outlook, decisions, reasoning about their career rather than TC.
I can relate to some degree. I never was a manager but started taking leadership roles in projects as I grew and I thought I was heading somewhere. But somewhere along the way I got derailed by circumstances, I believe. Now I feel I'm paying dearly for not willing to compromise on my passion. At some point I refused taking a role which would have put me in a manager's shoes. The work didn't seem as interesting as what I was doing. Now I'm looking to report to the one that got the role I refused or to report to an incompetent who's job I could have done better.
Right now I'm not convinced it's worth staying an engineer if you can be something else. At least not at Intel which is known to be a toxic wasteland. I still hope there are companies where real engineering skills and discipline that deliver are valued over empty words, promises and colorful slides that don't deliver.
- I think its really hard to go up the ladder without being in the management position. Just reading your post, being a professor at a university might have suited you better?
- Thanks for the thought. I’ve been in academia and found the pace of things too slow. A lot of bureaucracy.
This may sound odd but I’m not very keen about moving up the ladder. I need to enjoy what I do, the role needs to be fulfilling and have some impact. I don’t have a desire to make loads of money, as long as I’m fairly compensated it is fine.
- I salute you for having such mindset. On the opposite im quite ambitious so I want to climb the ladder and go for higher management positions later.
Anecdotally speaking, becoming L7+ (principal and higher) at least at amazon as an engineer is extremely challenging as there are lots and lots of brilliant AND creative folks.
Also keep in mind that even as an IC, you will need to sharpen the people skills because at the end of the day, its the feedback of others that get your work recognized. Good luck on your career and hopefully you dont lose sight of this!
- Amazon leetN00bI read about a paragraph or two up to getting advise between a contract and a permanent job :)
That round 1 and round 2 layoffs is such negative and incorrect advise. I the response to that was good about not worrying about getting laid off. Except there are more differences.
A few replies here about not reading. After the tldr, and that paragraph, that is my limit.
Flagged by the community.
- I also find writing can be cathartic. Re: the point about managerial titles being respected/expected - it varies. I wouldn't say I grew up thinking one must be a manager to be more successful on their career path. Family cared I went to college and got a job - that's it.