Saturday, December 2, 2006

Moving out of people management

Last week it was four years ago that I started at SeeBeyond. At SeeBeyond, I managed products (the JMS server and J2EE application server in Java CAPS), technology and people. The latter was part of the culture at SeeBeyond: the only way to have influence on any product was to have a team of people reporting to you.

Having responsibility for a team has been interesting. Over the past four years, I've seen people grow. I've seen people "turn around" on whom I was ready to give up. This was very satisfying. With them and through them, I've grown as well. However, in the past year I felt it was time for me to move to the next level. Also, with the increasing number of people in my team (two originally, eight at one point, and six lately), there was less and less time to stay involved with technology at a deep enough level.

When Sun acquired SeeBeyond last year, I was classified as people manager because of the fact that I had people reporting to me. As it turned out, Sun's culture is quite different from SeeBeyond's: there is a dual career ladder with appreciation and growth opportunities for both people managers and individual contributors. But unlike SeeBeyond, people managers primarily manage people and are less involved with technology. 11 people per manager is seen as the norm. It are the technical individual contributors that manage and shape products.

Moving up to the next step on Sun's career ladder, I requested a "diagonal promotion": up one level and from the people management track to the technology track. This week I got my promotion: I'm now a Senior Staff Engineer. Does this mean I'm now a heads-down techie? No, of course not. Sure there will be no more managing reports, but I'll now devote more time influencing people in other teams even outside of the organization. And yes, hopefully there'll be more time to dive a little deeper into a piece of technology.

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