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Manager or IC? Navigate the Trickiest Career Crossroads

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A client is facing a dilemma. He has been at an Alphabet portfolio company for several years. However, the company valuation has come down substantially. Although he is now managing a small team of product managers, he is unsure if he wants to target managerial positions in his next job search. His reasoning is that in the current economy, there are significantly more technical individual contributor roles available than managerial roles. He feels stuck in his current position and wants to exit as soon as possible.

This is a common dilemma faced by many technical professionals. On one hand, they want to continuously learn the latest technologies and stay at the cutting edge. On the other hand, they also enjoy taking on increasing managerial responsibility. However, there are fewer roles available at the managerial level. They are also concerned that the higher they climb, the less technical they become—which does not help their job security.

Here is my advice:

Ask yourself what your ideal end goal is in your career. Do you see yourself becoming a CTO/VP of Engineering? Or do you see yourself as a principal/distinguished engineer? These represent two very different paths, both of which can be lucrative, but they require very different career trajectories.

If you prefer coaching others over being hands-on, then pursue the managerial path. However, it will become more difficult to land managerial jobs as time goes on. But you will also lead more people and have more impact on their careers. Being a manager can be a very fulfilling career for the right person.

Conversely, if you are more passionate about technology and enjoy deep, hands-on work, an individual contributor path may be a better fit.

Do not choose a path just because jobs are easier to find currently. Pick a path because it aligns with what you want to do long-term, you have strong skills for it, and you can see yourself doing it for many years.

In the short-term, managerial roles may be more difficult to land. But will you be happy in an individual contributor role? If you are under significant financial pressure (e.g. laid off from a managerial role and needing a job urgently), then by all means take a stop-gap individual contributor role. However, keep your long-term goals and aspirations in mind. Do not settle or compromise on your goals. Know what you want and pursue it.

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