The Senior Position Fallacy


In the IT industry employees experience a weird phenomenon once they begin to move up the ranks. You often start work in IT because you get to build stuff, monitor things, and watch your creations grow. The weirdest thing about this is that in our industry to step up in your career you often have to actually stop producing things. To move into management put down the tools, and loosen your grip on what you love.

imageI’ve been working in IT my entire career. I started building websites and helping fix networks while I was still in high school. My first well paying job was actually working for myself growing a little digital production business. I learnt many things along the way, but I was lucky to realise quite early on that I would much rather be paying someone else to do the managing and accounting; leaving me to stay close to what I loved. I wasn't yet ready to move up the ranks.

Fast forward to today and I am now a year and a bit into my current role as a Technical Director. I take care of a development department.

When I was first offered the role it was an exciting opportunity that I craved. It was the chance to prove to myself what I was really able to accomplish if I had the reigns. I had worked in positions in smaller workplaces that carried similar responsibilities, but they were never officially recognized as such; being the guy in charge. It was an opportunity for me to take everything I had seen go wrong in a development department, and try and correct it little by little.

I was very aware while taking the position that in order to be successful in my new role I would have to give up a huge part of what made working in software my career for so long so that I could concentrate on my new place in the world entirely.

I had to step away from day-to-day development.

Step away from the tools. Close my IDE, and watch from afar (albeit only a few metres). I can’t lie and say this wasn’t hard. I have thought about it most days. At work if I'm talking development or tooling I’m talking architecture and application design. I still write a lot of code, I just often write most of it at home late at night – I’m “keeping the dream alive” so to speak. I’d never stop doing it completely, as apart from keeping current being important to my role, I think I'd actually go mad if I didn’t. I must state that I do really enjoy my new role though; it both challenging and rewarding. I still solve problems, just different types.

The level of recognition I have received has definitely risen though.

After promotion to my current position my life changed considerably. I won awards both for my department’s work and also personally from magazines and industry bodies for being “a guy on the rise”. I am asked to give my opinion on matters and more recently speak at a number of industry events. I’ve also been lucky enough to garner a higher salary. In some way, it’s almost as if I've been rewarded for stepping away.

Our industry isn’t the only one in which this situation occurs. You see it in many industries where people produce something.

And the whole experience has left me with a lasting question;

“Why does the world often only start to measure success, the minute you begin to step away?”

I understand there is a million reasons as to why this occurs, and I've definitely over simplified the issue; in some ways the question seems silly, but it still runs through my mind a lot.

Senior technical roles actually consist largely of responsibilities that are non-technical.