April 26, 2005

Techies to managers: are they ready to shift gears


From workplace to news to matrimonials - the technology professionals are the talk of the town in more ways than one. They can solve the trickiest of problems with utmost ease. They have the skills and the world is ready to pay for it.

Going by these standards all the companies should have been ruled by the techies. All of us know that is not the case. Techies don't want to be managers. Programming and being in touch with technology is what gives them the most satisfaction.

But there's a flip side to it. What about Bill Gates, Nandan Nilekani and Azim Premji? These are the names people swear by when it comes to technology.

They have all the problem solving and trouble shooting skills needed to be an ace manager. But, do techies really want to be managers? Or being hands-on with technology the sole aim of their lives?

We have tried to deal with the problem objectively. Read on for both the perspectives...

Once a techie, always a techie

"I miss being a complete techie", this is what Ravi Rajav had to say when asked about his new profile as a senior manager in a tech company. Rajav has over eight years of experience, in which he had various roles within the tech arena.

Anu Chawla is yet another example of the geeky types, who would like to stick to her role as a senior software developer, despite being offered a larger role as a senior manager.

Like these two, most of the techies prefer to be close to technology and not switch to senior management levels. She was recently offered a job at a BPO to head the technology team which would involve people management. Despite an attractive salary she declined the job offer.

So do techies hate to be managers? Let's deal with the issue objectively like any techie will do!

Trained to be geeks

Techies come to this profession with a frame of mind. They are programmed to outdo even themselves when it comes to knowing or creating new technologies. So strong is the urge to stay close to technology that many from the new tech brigade get into freelance. The freedom to choose what they want to do is unbeatable.

Managerial controls

Management roles as the name suggests involve management from top to bottom. The goals and the roles flow from the top. Hierarchy at times is so tight that creativity is stifled in following the channels. Geeks want to be left on there own when it comes to decision or let a senior geek take the decisions for them and not a manager.

Job satisfaction

Many people can differ on this one. But don't we all know that technical jobs give more satisfaction. "The feeling of knowing something first, which will change the future for the world, gives you a great high", says Rakesh Luthra a senior software developer at a Gurgaon-based firm.

With all due respect, techies are more in demand as far as today's scenario is concerned. Because of the increasing demand, technically qualified people can move around more and work on different projects. You can move around and work on more interesting projects, suffer less on bad ones and make more money to boot. For a manager it's difficult to move to a new project or a firm for which they would really need to sell themselves.

"I wouldn't have been able to go back to my tech role if I had assumed the senior manager position in my company," Luthra adds. "One can assume a manager's role at any point of time. But after moving out of technology it's very difficult to go back to the techie role."

From the ace techies

"I think geeks should stick to more geeky roles. Even if you move to higher position one should make it a point to stay hands-on with technology. Technology is what will make all the difference at end of the day", says Rajul Garg, COO, Induslogic.

"In my 18-year long career I have moved in all the divisions of the organisation. I was trained in computer science and that is what I came back to. Creating a product according to your clients needs gives me a lots of satisfaction," says Radha Shelat, CTO, Veritas.

"I could have got the position of a project manager in my previous company. My parents got a shock when I left that well-established company to join this start up. My answer was simple - once a geek always a geek," says Alen Fernandes who left a Gurgaon-based software firm to join a start-up in Bangalore.

HR perspective

Though most of us will agree that a company needs both great managers and technical expertise, techies swear by the latter. "When we are looking at a candidate to head a technology company, we do expect some amount of technological skills," says Anuradha Chowdhary, a senior HR consultant.

To take strategic decisions for an organisation, where technology is both the end and the means, even a manager has to have some technological orientation. This is important to realise the scope and limitations of what technology can do for the company and the users at the end of the day.

Moreover, most of the companies in India need to communicate with foreign clients. A techie CEO will always be better placed to take the global perspective.

The bottom line is the world today needs unbeatable technical skills and is ready to pay for it too. And the tech brigade today is very well aware of this fact and is ready to make the most of it.

The flip side : They want and can be great managers

Do techies want to be managers? Tell us.

Tech, people, jobs: Geeks manage it all too well!

Problem solving comes easy to Shantanu Mitra. While the rest of his peers in office spend hours in a huddle trying to come up with solutions, this geek manager applies logical thinking to solve complex problems. And that is what sets apart Mitra and his ilk from the rest of the bunch.

"Since software pros are naturally blessed with a scientific bent of mind, it helps in looking at problems and arriving at solutions from a different angle," say Mitra, who works for a leading software company in Gurgaon.

Intelligent, sharp and having a tremendous alacrity to soak in knowledge - God's own army of geeks have successfully combined effective management skills and tech knowledge to emerge as good managers.

Coupled with an ability to rationalise and hunt for simple and logical solutions to complex problems, tech CEOs like Naryana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, Azim Premji, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, (to name only a few), have helped obliterate the stereotype that techies are better off coding and decoding in their technology hub.

Instead, moving away from their wired domain, tech professionals have proved that they make good managers. Thanks to their inherent ability to connect better with processes at the technological and logistical level, geeks make good trouble-shooters.

Add to that an ability to pre-empt difficult situations and take preventive action in time, and geek managers are heavily recommended to lend an iota of sanity in Scott Adams' Dilbertish office space!

Don't let trouble trouble you...

"Most geeks are able to save a huge effort that would go into troubleshooting issues because they could foresee them at the beginning of the project and plan resolutions well in advance," Yogesh Jagal, associate project leader, Perot Systems, says.

"What sets apart a tech manager from the rest is the fact that he works from a solution perspective. German scientists had spent thousands of dollars to discover a writing instrument that astronauts could use in space, since a pen does not work there. The US scientists simply went ahead and gave pencils to their astronauts! Similarly, tech professionals also function with the solution approach in mind, and this is what helps them score over regular B-school managers," Sujit Singh, country manager, Dax Networks, says.

Solutions approach is not the only quality that makes our geek gods perfect manager material. The ability to stick to deadlines (burning the midnight modem in this case!) comes naturally to tech professionals and it is this innate goodness that helps them score over others.

However, sticking to deadlines does not mean any compromise on quality. And innovative and out-of-the-box thinking ensures that geek managers are ahead of their non-geeky counterparts.

As competition gets tighter, it is the survival of the fittest. And for most geeks, aspiring to be in the manager's seat is a natural extension of their mindset and skill set.

"In order to survive in the rat race, techies, who usually aspire to head the technology division in a given organisation, are learning to club tech and administrative skills. It is this lethal combo that makes them good managers," Singh, who has been in the IT industry for the last 17 years, says.

Being in control

Delhi-based Jeevan S Bisht, location manager, Wipro Infotech feels that techies have a natural penchant for being in charge of situations and devising solutions.

"Techies like to be in control and that is what makes them good managers. Although a tech professional's first love is his line of action, adapting administrative skills is not an issue for them," he adds.

Although Mitra feels that making the transition from technical skills and focussing on outcomes and interpersonal skills become difficult when techies crossover to becoming managers, Jagal, of Perot Systems, feels that "geeks make excellent managers as they have a better understanding of their work, people (subordinate techies) involved and their needs and demands".

"Geeks are better at troubleshooting than regular managers, whether it's a technical project problem or a people problem within the team," Jagal says.

Like any other creative souls, our geek gods are also a sensitive lot, especially towards their work. And it is this sensitivity that makes them better managers, as they strike a perfect balance between working 24/7 in shifts, trouble shooting problems and maintaining deadlines.



At Nov 6, 2005, 1:14:00 PM , Blogger GB said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Nov 6, 2005, 1:20:00 PM , Blogger GB said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Nov 6, 2005, 1:23:00 PM , Blogger GB said...

This is not an "Indian" problem. I have known people in the US working with large companies who have been programmers for over twenty years and often returned from a managerial track , simply saying its not their cup of tea or just a very "incomplete" job.

Unlike India, good developers in US sometimes make more money than their "managers" ... So why not stay a techie..if thats what keep you going ....

The other perspective is this is an more an Indian phenomenon. Until a few years ago, IT was not a very attractive areas for freshly churned MBA/IIM graduates. The money was unattractive and roles were very limted to projects or a business vertical. Compare that to area manager who runs a fiefdom in Levers !!.

The issue you mention lie with engineers or technical background people. One way to motivate people to move to this new role that I have seen work in my 15 years of software run around is .. make them understand the commercials. Most project manager know at best that their engagement is part of x million dollars arrangement. They just know the estimated hours/man months they have budgeted. Rarely their performance and contribution is put in perspective saying you saved company x dollars or if you manage this project you will get y thousand dollars into the kitty of the company. Because of lack of transparency, they never see what there commercial contribution in shaping the future of the company. They are told and treated as cogs of the machinery till they are the senior most people and then "management by no alternatives" scenario pushes them to be a manager.Indian companies including ones that I am associated have to become more transparent and train thes techies on numbers to make them excited to transition. Until then .. we can keep blogging about this phenomenon


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