Why Technical Track cannot compete with Management Track?

Most software companies that I know have a very limited technical track, but with management track there are a lot more ladders to climb. You can be 28 years old with 5 years of experience and at the top of the technical track in many companies. The only step upwards is to replace the CTO, because that is usually the next technical position after the lead programmer.

It is not very motivating that at the age of 28, your only option to get a “better” position, is to become a manager and do your work in PowerPoint and Excel. I am not saying that being in upper management is an easy job, but being the lead programmer is not an easy job either and people do get better and better in that job. Sometimes the best programmers become managers, because they cannot get further doing technical things.

In some companies being in a technical position is the same thing as being stuck with your career. Some people might think that you are not going anywhere with your career, because you are not getting any promotions. This is the typical MBA way of thinking, which has unfortunately taken over most of the western world. Being really good at what you do is not enough for the society, you have get promotions to be respected.

The funniest title is Director. In many companies Directors are just sales people. How can software companies that develop software, which actually needs technical skills to get done, have 90 per cent of their Directors doing something that has nothing to do with developing the software.

I can understand that sales people need fancy titles, because otherwise customers do not respect them, but at the same time they get bigger salaries and bonuses than programmers can ever get. It’s true that a good sales guy can keep the company running and should get his share of the money, but why does the programmer who also keeps the company running get only 10 per cent more than the programmer who does not do jack-shit.

I actually have the answer right here: Most software companies are run by MBAs and suits. It is as simple as that. The companies where you can actually have a long technical career are run or have been founded by technical people. It isn’t a surprise that the most coveted software companies where founded by technical people.

So programmers, next time you look for a company to work for, check the education for the upper management team. If there is more than two people with an MBA, you’d better find another company to work for.

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10 Comments

  1. Paolo says:

    I completely agree with you, management should not be the only way up for technical people, as it will also have the side effect of removing the skillset of the most talented and ambitious people from the *real* woekforce. Many companies, however, provide a very interesting technical track, so as usual it also a matter of choosing the right company.

    This said sometimes skilled technical people can contribute even from management positions, providing guidance and in general taking advantage of their technical skills.

    Greetings from Istanbul!!

  2. Olli Lehtola says:

    Hearhear. It seems to me that the way that programmer can rise beyond certain point in his career is either to jump to management or build your own company. Neither option is that great if you’d just like to code.

  3. TK says:

    My rear end. Most software engineers will crumble under the pressure of wild asks from customers if it weren’t for the Directors, Managers and the rest of the ‘suits’, who distill those needs and come up with a plan. Sure, there are bad managers who don’t relate to software engineers well, but that that doesn’t mean a software company can be run by software engineers alone.

  4. Alan says:

    @My rear end: Most Directors, Managers and the rest of the ‘suits’ will crumble when asked to implement a simple linked list. Then they go and promise the customer things technically impossible to achieve with the current code base just to get that extra 10% sales commission.

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