6 Warning Signs You’re Not Cut Out to be a Tech Manager

At some point, most tech pros have to decide whether to stay on a technical career path or transition into a management role. While choosing between the two different career options may initially seem very challenging, there are often telltale signs that indicate you might not have the interest, skills or temperament to succeed as a manager.

To help you make this critical decision (and avoid suffering a major career setback), here are a few ways to recognize that a tech-management job isn’t the right fit for you.

You Hate Meetings…

If you hate spending your days in back-to-back meetings, and your nights responding to emails and returning phone calls, you’re not alone.

“The problem is, if you really don’t enjoy speaking to people or listening to them more than is absolutely necessary, you probably won’t like being a manager,” noted Camille Fournier, managing director of Two Sigma and speaker on tech leadership topics.

According to the Project Management Institute, project managers spend 90 percent of their time communicating, while other types of leaders devote 70 to 80 percent of their workdays to communications. If communicating isn’t your thing, being a manager probably isn’t for you.

You’re Really Not a People Person…

You don’t necessarily need to be good at reading people to score your first management job, but having a high “EQ” sure helps.

“You’ll need to be seriously committed to raising your emotional intelligence (EQ) if you’re not a strong ‘people person,’” Fournier advised.

EQ is defined as the learned ability to recognize and understand what others are experiencing emotionally. It’s also the ability to manage your own emotions in ways that relieve stress, create empathy, facilitate communications and defuse conflict.

If you’re not passionate about developing your EQ, or are hopelessly introverted or struggle to get along with others, you might be better suited for a technical track or senior engineering role.

You Struggle When Navigating Gray Areas…

If you dislike ambiguity or are uncomfortable navigating gray areas, think twice before venturing outside your comfort zone.

There is no right or wrong answer to a lot of the problems you’ll encounter as a tech manager, and uncertainty can often fuel anxiety. Matrix organizational structures, multi-channel customers and competing interests—these all create thorny issues that are difficult to “solve.”

Whereas your former job might have been based on logic and best practices, you’ll have to listen, observe, consult and consider several scenarios before selecting the best possible solution if you become a tech manager.

You Have a Need to be Liked…

If you don’t like dealing with conflict, enforcing rules, or making tough decisions that may be unpopular, then you won’t be effective as a manager. “Management is not a popularity contest,” warned John McKee, a management and business coach and CEO of John McKee and Associates.

You Think Management is Easy…

Some tech pros move into management because it pays more and they think they can outperform their current manager. While it may look easy from the bench, being an effective manager is a lot harder than it seems, McKee noted.

For instance, decisions on projects, priorities, budgets or personnel assignments may be influenced by upper management. Plus, you’ll have to deal with office politics, staffing issues, pressure to perform and limited authority – all of which may impact your ability to get things done.

Worse, a recent study shows that companies do a poor job of preparing managers, with 87 percent saying that they wished they had some form of training before being thrust into their roles.

You’re Consumed with the Technical Details…

While having a technical background can help you understand the problems that project teams face, and make better decisions, managers who immerse themselves in technical detail often have trouble mastering their other responsibilities and fail to see the big picture.

As a manager, you’ll be required to set aside time for strategic activities, administrative tasks, hiring and relationship building. If you like digging into code and algorithms, don’t rush to accept a management job right away.

“Don’t let yourself get pressured into accepting a management role or become enamored with the title or money,” McKee said. “Bounce it off of some people and consider the impact on your professional, financial and personal lives.”

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23 Responses to “6 Warning Signs You’re Not Cut Out to be a Tech Manager”

  1. Good manager should understand to some depth of basic technically concept and actual situation faced by engineer , so will not shut-off the good-valuable idea come from good and experience engineer.

  2. Meh,

    This article couldn’t be further from the real world. Plenty of Fortune 1000 tech firms employ mediocre to terrible managers who lack people skills with their own subordinates but excel as ingratiating themselves with Senior/Executive management.That cult classic “Office Space” didn’t create those office memes and corporate inside-jokes out of thin air. They were born out of a collective experience shared by tens of thousands who’ve been there.

    • It’s unfortunate that some of those coming from a technical background usually don’t see value in effective leadership and deal with problems of delivery at a day to day level. Making the transition to leadership involves a change in strategic vision. Employees require support and leadership, not to be strictly managed. There is a unique opportunity for those coming through the ranks and earning a management role where the skills can be applied to mentoring, teaching and preparing employees to succeed. Urge them to train, carve out quality time with them, set clear expectations, understand their strengths and build a cohesive team who support each other and you. Not every one is designed for this type of extroverted exposure and management must choose wisely and not short-cut themselves and the company by plugging in someone without the commitment to leadership excellence, not just technical acumen.

  3. Darrin Barnes

    The reason managers have a hard time is because upper executives have gone to too much of babysitting the manager’s direct reports. The chain of command is non-existing. The ‘time out’ generation is now moving up and instead of me being able to lead my team, I’m not even allowed to ask them what they have going on today…”because that makes them feel like they are being micro-managed”.

    • Al Lacewell

      Darren, I just about fell out of my chair reading your comment! You are spot on, and that holds true to all management scenarios. However the new generational terminology is not “micro managed” rather they feel “Bullied”. Not joking here, lol. It truly is a serious generational problem that will likely get much worse. Today’s Managers almost require a degree in child psychology along with natural political talent to navigate upper executive management and Human resource issues that ensue.

  4. d. worthington

    As a person with more than 40 years in technology, and also as someone who has made the transition from tech to management not once, but several times, I can say that a career in tech management is one of the most precarious positions to hold within an organization. The reason I made the transition several times? Because whenever there has been a transitory event within the new organization where the current management does not survive (buy-out, merger, et al), the tech management team (largely) gets thrown out along with the rest of the management team. Finding a suitable replacement position, or even a step up, is always difficult – mostly due to alignment of philosophy and/or other outside factors. I’ve found myself returning to technical roots on several occasions, and then being promoted from within (or offered promotions, at least). My basic recommendation? Stay technical, stay current. A good tech can earn almost as much as a manager/director, the position is much more secure, and yes – you may have to work some long hours, but you also don’t have to worry about or face all the possible consequences of issues that might arise.

    • James Meredith II

      Another great comment. Only wish insightful comments like this we’re the majority and not the minority. My mother used to say if you don’t have anything nice to say keep it to yourself… which is bollocks, sorry Mom. But dear lord keep it to yourself if you can’t finish a sentence.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more. I was managing just fine. My director liked what I did, until we got a new VP who had to find a job for his buddy. This was 11 years ago and that person still
        Has that job while working 4 days a week.

    • RanRandalldy

      “My basic recommendation? Stay technical, stay current. A good tech can earn almost as much as a manager/director, the position is much more secure” … My advice is if you you want to be a ‘people person’, leave tech altogether for a career in healthcare like PA or nursing. There’s always work in those areas, either for the line workers or their management teams. Engineering is now more ‘bust/boom’ than even ‘boom/bust’. If one gets laid off from a managerial track, chances are, without having to relocate nationally, a similar job may not be available in one’s hometown/state. Do you want to subject your family to that, when there’s always a new Urgent Care clinic in the area to find work?

  5. Too many good insights / comments here to reply to a specific one. I’m personally torn over the future of “seasoned engineers”. It’s the dirty problem in our industry, especially software engineers. Ageism. So you are pretty much forced to either move into technical management or go the technical architect track. The problem with some (not all) architect roles is that your job is meetings and creating slides or PDFs in an ivory tower.

    One common perception software engineers hold is that mediocre software engineers get promoted out of software and into technical manager roles. They can’t keep up the pace of learning and staying current as technical races ahead. As one commenter posted, they tend to ingratiating upper management/execs…and many are lousy managers also. If you like being hands on as you age in your software engineering career, good luck…getting harder to find.

    I think the blog makes good points with regard to the characteristics of someone who might be good at people management. The traits of a great manager are distinct from a typical great engineer. IMO, most of the good engineers would not be great managers for the very characteristics this blog points out and the reasons they are good engineers. Personally, I’d rather have a great non-technical manager with all the people skills and traits of a good manager vs some seasoned engineer who transitions to management but isn’t good at managing.

    • “Personally, I’d rather have a great non-technical manager with all the people skills and traits of a good manager vs some seasoned engineer who transitions to management but isn’t good at managing” – David, these ppl exist. The problem is that like a lot of smart ppl (& yes, along with technical skills), they leave technology for other careers like finance, real estate, healthcare, or some self-employment work because in effect, they know that time is money and that it’s not worth spending 55-70 hours per week, appeasing higher management instead of using their resources to excel in other fields, where the same level of attention to detail and ability to follow through, is more appreciated.

  6. You show me a manager and I will tell you what he knows. All they want is to know your status report. That is the people skill they have and that is the question they want to know to update on the status report so that they can be the people person at the bar that evening. Many project managers will tell you I am here to see that you succeed. Look I dont know much about the subject matter, I am just a manger!! I have to see that you have the tools needed. But I have no clue how are what is needed. Did you send me your status report? Managers are pitiable human beings. Most of them have been with the company for a long time and neither the company nor they know what they are doing. It is just that they give the status report with red green and yellow.