Sunday, August 27, 2006

Management? Not me, not any more. . .

Now that I’ve had my little (Ok, verbose) management rant, I need to say that I have no interest in ever managing, anything or anyone, ever again.

A recruiter called me this week, and while we were talking he wanted me to explain to him how it was possible for me to be ‘just a contractor’ after having been a CFO and a CIO.

There were a couple of seconds of silence from my end as I pondered the question, yet again, and before I answered.

In those few seconds, a couple of things became very clear to me, in fact you could say I had a genuine “moment of clarity”, one is that I'm not "just a contractor", the other had to do more with what it is that gets me out of bed each day.

I’ve never sought out a management position, not once, in any of my various careers.

In each and every case, management was 'forced' on me. You might be thinking that forced is a strong word, but in retrospect, there really was no other choice if I wanted to stay employed.

By the way, to set the record straight, I’ve never considered myself a great, or even a good manager. Hell, I’d fail my own tests!

Regardless though, in every job I’ve ever had, eventually there was the conversation where I’d be told I was being moved, or asked to move, into management. Early on, I was flattered (impressed with myself even) and leapt at the opportunity. Initially I’d “set the house on fire” making changes. I would work hard to make things more efficient, better organized and to foster a better sense of ‘team’ within the department.

Once I got through that process however, I’d find myself bored. Anything that remained to do seemed only incremental; inversely proportionate the effort required to bring the change about… in short, it just wasn’t worth the effort, to me, or to the company.

For quite some time, when that happened, instead of simply finding a new job, I’d find a whole new career.

Then, in the early 80’s I discovered computers, and in particular, programming. There’s been no turning back for me since.

Most would say, or think, that I hit the pinnacle of my career when I became CIO. It’s the top gig in the IS/IT field, when you’re CIO, you’re definitely the top dog in the yard.

What I found though is that despite being the top dog in ‘my world’ I was still not the top dog. Also, once I would make the jump from actually doing, to managing, for me all the fun was gone.

Well not all the fun, but a big chunk of it anyway. I’ve tried, in every management role I’ve had, to take pride in leading my team, and I’ve had some great teams. Most were not comprised of stars, but of folks who had a passion for software development, or infrastructure building and simply needed a place to exercise that passion.

While I’d like to think I provided that, within either my abilities, or the available funding. I do know for certain that I’ve seen some folks, who couldn’t catch a break job-wise, shine once they were given an opportunity.

It wasn’t what I wanted though. I’d find myself envious of their being able to be ‘doing’, to be building the things I’d (or we’d) designed. To be pushing the envelope, finding new and innovative ways to utilize not only new technology, but even the tools we already had.

So, to me, the pinnacle of my career was when I had my little company, in Upstate NY, and Ken and I developed software, together. I never ‘managed’ Ken, he didn’t need managing. Like me, all he ever really needed was to know what was needed; he’d take care of the rest. I definitely wasn’t making much money, in fact most years I paid him more than I had left for myself. It never mattered though, because the truth is, I loved, and I mean loved, going to work!!

If I’d been born with any athletic ability, I would have been a player, not a coach. I know, given my track record I might have coached, but I would have always wanted to play the game.

There’s been some talk recently, of having me manage a project or two at work. While once again I’m flattered that I’m being considered, I’m pretty sure I’d decline the offer. Even if it meant I’d have to find a new gig. I don’t want to manage anything, any more. I want to be doing, building, troubleshooting, debugging, data mining, data manipulation, inventing… I don’t want to manage anything, people or processes, I want to design, and then build them.

I could be happy just building teams, but once they were built, I’d want to be able to turn them over to someone else to manage, and move on to building another.

I’m a builder, not a manager. It’s taken me a while to discover this about myself… I’m almost embarrassed at how long it’s taken… when I look back, I can see, and very clearly, that the points in my life where I was happiest, involved building things. Cars, trucks, buildings, software... it really hasn’t mattered, it’s been the building, the creating, that’s always ‘lit my fire’.

Along with that, has been the team, Ken and I were a team, at times it was difficult for folks to know which sections of an application Ken, or I, wrote. We’d often arrive at the same solution to a problem, at times with nearly identical processes. We had a synergy that I’ve rarely had since. The times I did have it again, we were always following someone elses agenda, so it wasn't quite the same.

So, as I look forward to the closing years of my career, I’m seeking to back up, not move up. I’m trying to get back to doing those things that bring me joy and happiness. I find myself wondering if it’s a good plan, as ‘common sense’ says I should be looking to maximize my earnings now, not seeking ‘fulfillment’…

But, in the end, what good is status, or money, if the price you paid for it was not doing what you love, or enjoying the process of obtaining it?

So.. what is it that gets you out of bed each day and headed for work? Is it just the money, the paycheck? Or is it the "what", of what it is you do?

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allan said...


I too forsook management years ago - and it has been wonderful.

I see myself as a leader - not a manager.

Consulting and starting businesses have filled the gap.

Enjoy life

Jay said...

Managing is one of those indefinable words anyway...sheesh.

Lorna said...

I think the greatest managers in the world are people who do consulting. You can't make any money at it if you can't manage your resources and figure out your vision and know how to fix things you've made wonky.

Lorna said...

yes, and sheesh is a good word!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I love the "creation" part of my job, too. I've been lucky that the people under me are professionals that don't need much managing. And the main reason I haven't sought moving up is the stress that comes with that level. I want to leave the worries at work so I can create at home. That's much more important to me than a higher tax bracket. And hopefully I'll live longer for it.

Jada's Gigi said...

I too avoid management. I'd much rather be doing. On th eother hand, I go to work every day just now because of the money, the freedom, the low stress and flexibility I have with current position and the security. i am finding that i need to look elsewhere for my challenges, mental stimulation and feel goods... I am considering taking some classes or a second pt job. I have a lot of ease where i am and I dont' think I want to give that up ...just yet....but maybe next year...:)

Bill said...

Allan - 'grats to you as well. I haven't gone the 'new business' route yet, at least seriously. I can relate to the 'leader' distinction as it's one I make myself.

The world needs lots more leaders, and a lot less managers!!

Jay - Pretty much my point!! :)

Lorna - Well I resemble that remark! :) Although I agree on a personal level, on the broader scale, I'm not so sure the skilss translate all that well to team/department management, for me anyway.

(Sheesh is indeed a good word!)

Karyn - Yep... creating things is what gets me up everyday too.. In fact, one of the best things about the move to contracting has been the ability to leave work, at work!!

Cheryl - There's definitely nothing wrong with working for the money... in fact, I sometimes think that, as a culture, we derive far too much of our identities from work... Your solution may be far healthier!

Beth said...

I'll have to answer for my husband. He's a doer, but the paycheck is what gets him out of bed in the morning. He says just thinking of not having a steady paycheck would be enough to give him a heart attack.

Bill said...

Beth - I know how he feels!! I struggle with that feeling all the time. When I'm employed, I always wonder for 'how long', and when I'm under contract, the 'end date' is always very much in my mind. The closer the date gets, the more I start asking about the company's plans, renewal, conversion or am I going to be looking...

Sounds like a blog post waiting to be written!!

Comfort Addict said...


Your next to last sentence really got me ("But, in the end, what good is status, or money, if the price you paid for it was not doing what you love, or enjoying the process of obtaining it?"). I've been asking myself this for some time now.

I got into IT for the programming. I loved it. I was very good at it. Unfortunately, all of the programming jobs at my company are going bye-bye. Either the writing is on the wall or they've torn down the wall already. Thus, if I want to survive there (and I have too many years and too many good benefits not to), I have to become a project manager.

So, I've taken the courses (time and cost and so on). I've followed the PMBOK methodologies. I've embraced the challenges of a career that I did not seek and does not come as naturally as programming. Can I do this? Probably. Am I happy? No.

Right now, I'm at a crossroads. I really don't want to leave my company right now. Besides, even if I did, all of the programming jobs in this area that haven't already gone off-shore are going (this despite that it is not cheaper and not always the answer). I can always hope to write that great novel. However, I have to have hope, meaning and a reason (other than my paycheck and benefits) to go to work.

I've tried to focus on the people and problems at hand and that has helped a bit. I can't help but feel like Sisyphus, though. Perhaps some Camus or existentialist philosophy would help. I would appreciate any suggestions from you, my friend.

Bill said...

CA - Man, I hear ya... the IS/IT biz is definitely a roller-coaster of a ride at the moment!!

"I got into IT for the programming. I loved it. I was very good at it."

Me too!! and as I see that process moving off shore, or at the very least off-site (there are some 'cheap' code shops in the US as well) - I'm worrying more and more about the longevity of my career choice!!

We should talk, (sometime soon maybe?) I've got some ideas for a collaboration project (still) - both in IS/IT and, in the writing arena...

There's a lot to be shared, and a large number of firms that need programming expertise... I'd like to find some ways to present us 'displaced' US programmers to them as an offsite resource...

*I*, want to continue to code!!