12 Feb Adios IT Manager, Hello Hands-On Techie!
By: John Hutchins, Quantix Vice President, Client Services
Many IT professionals see their only possible future as moving into management. Once they get there, they quickly learn that management isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The meetings, the politics, the babysitting – it’s enough to make you want to hit yourself over the head with a keyboard! Not to mention the fact that you actually enjoy technology, but now have no time to even think about it. How does one escape IT management and return to the simpler life of being hands-on?
The biggest step to returning to a hands-on role is increasing your credibility. Think about it – if someone came to you and said, “I want to move back into software development,” your first response would likely be, “Great, but we don’t have any COBOL development positions available right now … and haven’t had any COBOL positions for the last 12 years!”
If you’ve been in management for any length of time, technology has probably passed you by. You need to dust off your analytical reasoning abilities and update your technology skills. Community colleges or online training programs may be your answer. They offer a myriad of hands-on technology courses at affordable prices. Better yet, they cater to the nontraditional student. You don’t need another college degree; you just need to sharpen your skills a bit.
Image Credit: Tonya O’Rourke
After you’ve sharpened your skills by learning a new technology, the next step is to build something using those new skills. There is no better way to increase your credibility than by demonstrating your knowledge through a real-world project. If you’re a software developer, turn your hobby into a functioning website or Web application. In today’s day and age, there are plenty of open source technologies to choose from. It won’t cost you much money and you’ll probably be able to complete the project in your spare time. If you’re on the infrastructure side, build a home network, incorporating some virtualization and storage technologies. You may end up spending more money on hardware than the software developer, but you should still be able to put something impressive together at minimal cost. If you’re unable to come up with a project on your own or you’re altruistic-minded, volunteer your new found technical expertise for the benefit of a charity or nonprofit. They typically have a real need for technology, but lack the funds or expertise to make it happen.
Completing coursework and a hands-on technology project will build credibility and demonstrate your passion for technology. If you have the time and the money, it also may be worthwhile to pursue certifications. Although not required for the transition, certifications greatly improve your chances of being taken seriously and being given a chance to prove yourself.
Finally, there is no better way to destroy all of that credibility you’ve now gained, than by telling a prospective employer, “Yeah, I’m interested in that Ruby developer position, but I need a salary commensurate with what I was making as a manager – how about 120K?” If you’re serious about making the transition, you’ll need to calibrate your value. You’ll need to tighten your belt in the short-term, but if you’re good, it won’t be that long before you make it back to the salary you had as a manager or possibly even surpass it.
Last words of advice – be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. We all have the habit of romanticizing the past. Your memories of being a hands-on techie may not be today’s reality! Before going down that path, make sure it’s truly what you want to do.