Take a look at the typical career path in a technology company. While one starts out as a pure techie, he/she gradually grows into a team leader. Apart from one’s core technology function he/she has to handle administrative and managerial responsibilities as well. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, the prospect of becoming a manager doesn’t excite everyone.
Those who just love being in technology, often do not want to make the crossover. Techies have seen no value-addition in other departments. That’s because when they are in R&D or product development they are writing code and working in very small groups. True, they have deadlines to meet but the degree of independence is very high. When they move into management they feel they are losing control. They feel that the outcome of their efforts is not in their hands. In management, one has to delegate authority and responsibility. That is some thing techies find very hard to do.
More often than not when a techie is promoted to a supervisor he ends up losing as an excellent performer and become a lousy manager. Organizations have recognized that technical and functional skills on a job cannot be equated with managerial skills to lead a team.
Not every techie who grows in his career is excited at the prospect of handling managerial responsibilities. Here’s what a handful of companies have gone to get around this vexing problem.
This issue has been playing on the minds of many technology companies for a while now. And they devised an ingenious way to deal with it: carve out an alternate career path where people are allowed to follow technological pursuits with single minded dedication.
Take Texas Instruments which has created a “technical ladder” meant for ‘deep dive techies’. Not everyone gets on to the technical ladder though there is a very rigorous election process through various councils and committees after which only the crème de la crème gets selected. Getting on to tech ladder is considered extremely prestigious at TI and there are due rewards, recognition and mentorship.
Intel also offers employees a similar pure R&D career option. In Intel’s case the first level of differentiation is getting to be a principal engineer which sets one apart from the general pool of engineers. And then gradually move up to the Intel Fellow level, and the highly prestigious Senior Fellow level.
At Adobe technical expertise is given due recognition. If one is brilliant at his work, he is inducted into the “Fellow of Adobe” society where one concentrates only on the R&D part. The title is very prestigious and is recognized by other organizations and technical institutes across the globe.
And it makes sense. Allowing someone pursue what he is passionate about, has obvious links back to how much he contributed. This is mostly about building a culture of innovation and leadership. Through a program people are given a set of goals to strive for and create a high impact. These people also go on to influence the direction of the company in a more strategic sense and become the technical eyes and ears of the corporation. Senior managers turn to them when they have questions about technology, forecasting future trends, identifying opportunities and threats.
There is one more reason linked to the shortage of good technical talent. Allowing brilliant people to pursue what they wish can be a good retention tool. People who are technically strong tend to gravitate to areas where they will have influence. This is a mechanism to recognize them and let their influence have an impact in the organization.