When people ask me what I do for a living I normally tell them that I am a software engineer. This is not entirely a lie, because I do have an engineering degree and I work in a software engineering related job. However, for over a decade my job has essentially been that of a manager. While I am proud to say that I have been able to keep up with the latest trends and technologies in software development - a very small proportion of my working days were spent writing software and a large percentage of my working days were spent doing general management tasks.
I have always believed that the work of the engineers in a high-tech company is much more valuable than the work of their managers. However, in recent times I had direct or indirect people management responsibility for over 100 employees. The vast majority of these employees were able to do their job with minimal input from me, but when you have responsibility for such a large team it is inevitable that you end up having to spend a lot of time 'managing' and hence have very little time left for 'engineering'.
Towards the end of last year I had career planing discussions with both my mentor and my own manager. It became clear to me that if I wanted to be successful while staying in the same career path I would have to devote even more energy to the management side of my role and hence reduce even further the limited amount of time I was spending on direct engineering work. This is not what I really wanted to do with my life and hence I decided that I would attempt to change my career path away from management and towards engineering.
It took a few months for me to find a suitable new role and to also arrange a replacement for my management position. However, I am delighted to say that the move has finally been formally announced and I am starting my new career this month.
I will still be part of the Sametime development team, but my new job responsibility will be to lead an imitative to simplify the way the product is installed and configured. Many of our customers have been telling us that they love the wonderful new capabilities of the most recent versions of Sametime, however they are less thrilled with the complex steps required to get the product installed and configured in a way that is compatible with their network infrastructure. It is easy to recognize that this is a problem we need to tackle, but it will not be easy to solve it.
One of the great things about working for a company like IBM is that it is possible to rise to a very senior level without having to be a manager. However, the more senior a person is, the harder it is for them to make such a dramatic career change. Because I am reasonably senior in IBM, it will be hard for me to make the change successfully, and still meet the expectations of someone at my pay grade, but if I postpone the move any longer it will only become more difficult. I have no doubt that it will be very difficult for me to become a high performer in my new role, but I am looking forward to the challenge and I know deep down that I am making the right move.
Update: I posted more information about my new role on my IBM internal blog.