Congratulations! You have reached the point in your career where you are finally asked the hard question and asked to take the two paths offered in the fork of your professional road.
Do you want to be an Individual Contributor or a Leader?
If you choose an Individual Contributor, you become someone who becomes a Subject Matter Expert and becomes the leading technical guru in whatever field you decide to specialize in. Your days consist of research, maybe writing papers to present at universities, and collaborating across multiple teams to implement some new technical solution.
If you decide the Leadership route, then you have the responsibilities of managing a team, making important business decisions, communicating effectively to those internal or external to your organization, and essentially being the movers and shakers of a company. And you get paid more.
So which is the best choice and how can you decide what’s best for you?
I put together a flowchart for you to use. Check it out below:
So how did I come up with this? Well let’s start at the beginning.
The first is foregoing technical responsibilities. If you’re someone who is happiest writing new code or designing networks, then leadership is not for you. You’d be happier as an Individual Contributor where you can still do the work you want to do. Trust me. You do less technical work as a leader. If you don’t really care about doing technical work, then the next thing you need to consider is how big of a leader you want to be, and how bad you really want it. You’ll begin the transition from server rooms to boardrooms. If you don’t have the ambition and dream to become the best leader you can be, then the pressures of middle management may break you.
If you don’t want to be head honcho of your company, then next is understanding if organizing people is your thing. This is a given. Leaders need to be able to handle other people and shuffle them around to achieve some project deadline. You got to make all the under-performers, over-performers, and everyone in between play nice with each other. If the thought of that stresses you out, then it’s probably not for you.
Lastly, are you willing to spend extra hours for more money? Management pays well, and you can make mid-high six figures in the top level executive positions. Individual Contributors can make a lot too but it’s all subjective. In this case, it’s deciding if you’re willing to put in more work to make $300,000 a year as opposed to $150,000. If you are…then get ready to put in the time. I know Individual Contributors who make low six figures that clock in their 40 hours a week and then they’re out. If you’re a leader, then you’re going to be expected to put in more hours and handle anything that comes your way. That means unpaid overtime, weekends, and possibly taking some calls on vacation. Only you can decide if that is worth it.
At the end of the day, it’s you in control of your life! This flowchart is not meant to be anything definitive but to just help guide your way based on the things I’ve seen. Let me know in the comments below if I’m missing anything or if this helps you help decide which road you decide to take in your career journey. I’m always interested to hear your stories in technology.