I choose therefore I am

Date:   Friday , December 15, 2006

In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves… And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility,”-Eleanor Roosevelt.

Though everybody knows it, not many understand the impact of the choices we make in our personal or professional lives. Having the opportunity is not good enough. Choosing to act on the opportunity is what makes the difference.

The same applies for an experienced techie. Often in his career, he will be standing at a forked road where there is no right or wrong choice. It all depends on his strengths and interests to choose to act on every available opportunity. Like choosing to be a manager or remain as an individual contributor.

Individual contributor versus Manager
Some are good as individual contributors whereas others make better managers. What matters is not the capability, but passion towards contributing to the organization. Both require different strengths and each have their own frustrations.

The manager’s job is much harder than an individual contributor because his success is not entirely in his/her control. One needs to leverage the team (s)he is working with and has to manage all kinds of people with their career goals, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses. For example, not all successful teams have successful players. But with the entry of a new manager, who aligns and motivates the team by giving them a focus, each team-member suddenly starts to perform well. That’s the job of the manager: Bringing out the best from each engineer and creating the best team.

Now, in that very team, there is a good player. But when the team won, everybody congratulated the manager who transformed the bad players and overlooked the individual contributor. This notion is making the techies turn into managers to be deemed as “successful”. This is untrue. Once one becomes a manager, his load will increase and he has to take on more challenging assignments, maybe a larger project or even multiple projects. So there are several opportunities for growth. As one goes higher, there are fewer jobs, so one has to get better. Otherwise someone else will snatch the opportunity.

Individual contributors also have a growth ladder. Many companies offer orientation programs identifying areas where techies can grow as individuals if they make significant contributions. If one is a successful coder with single user software codes to his credit, it becomes important to start looking at multi user software or something with high scalability. So there is room for growth as long as one is willing to improve. For an individual contributor, one’s success may be in his hands but it needs to be leveraged before someone else walks away with the glory.

In every organization one’s first step is as an individual contributor, then as captain or the manager. So the decision should always be based on where one stands in his career. It’s true that if one stands long enough in the queue, one gets the opportunity. But in the long run, it is talent and hard work that matters.

The bottom line: One can innovate to do well and advance in almost everything that he/she chooses with passion.

The VP–Development, India Technology Center, CA. This is what he spoke at the SiliconIndia Job Fair.