Management vs Individual Contributor

30 July 2018

What's your next move?

Management vs Individual Contributor

Consider the pros and cons before making your next move.

This is the 2nd installment of a 3-part blog series which shares my thoughts on what hiring managers and employers are looking for when hiring any data scientists at all levels. My first installment was aimed at junior data scientists with circa 3 years of experience, this one is aimed at people who fall in the mid-level bracket and are perhaps considering a move into management or are simply just interested in knowing what employers are looking for at this level. My thoughts are my opinion, but they are insights gathered from hundreds of conversations with data scientists, hiring managers or internal recruitment teams who are working on behalf of hiring managers.

So just as a recap, this 3-part blog series covers the most sought-after skills for Data Scientists right now.

Part 1: ‘5 Most In-Demand Skills for Data Scientists’ - Aimed at Junior bracket, 3 years’ experience
Part 2: ‘Management vs Individual Contributor’ (this blog) - Aimed at a more senior skill-sets, 3-7 years’ experience
Part 3: Will talk about the juggernauts who deliver 100x output compared to most Data Scientists, and yes these are the guys we have a shortage of, but I suspect that’s common in every industry.

First let me start by saying, I have been doing recruitment for a while, by industry standards I’m halfway into being labeled a dinosaur. I’ve placed Controllers, Strategy Management consultants, traders at mid-level, and all the way up to reporting to C level execs in huge banks. But one thing I have never come across before, and I’m not sure if this is a tech or data science thing, is that everyone is obsessed with wanting to become a ‘Manager’.
I will talk with a candidate who has 2 years’ experience, and they tell me that they want to leave their current company because they want a management position. Don’t ask me my opinion or advice on job hopping to get a promotion rather than earning it. Maybe it’s just something to do with the younger generation and I’m reading too much into it!... Maybe I am a dinosaur.

The Why's and the Why Nots?
So, I wrote this blog as I wanted to offer impartial advice, the pros and cons of going into a management role at this point in your career.  If you do have 5 years’ experience or more and are considering it, think about the reasons why. Tech is one of the best industries to work in as an IC, you can earn just as much if not more than your managers; have a better work-life balance; less stress and not get involved in company politics. Notwithstanding the other great perks, such as working remotely and being able to take holidays more often!

However, if you do want to go into management go with the right reasons. Don’t do it because you want a fancy job title to tell your friends. I’ve seen people turn down offers from Netflix or Two Sigma, and take a 50% compensation cut because they wanted to go into a start-up with 10 people and be called Director. Historically, companies would use jobs titles to reflect experience, responsibility and ultimately hierarchy, but times have changed, and assessing the value of the role, versus the vanity of the title it holds is hugely important, otherwise you may find that an impressive title will not cut it when looking for your next role, especially if you haven’t earned the same level of experience as others with the same job title! Only go into management because you are passionate about what you do, and you want to teach, mentor and coach others to see them grow.

Location, location, location!
This is a sensitive one for most people, location is one of the most emotional decisions people can make, and I’m not talking about shortening your commute by 15 minutes. The location you decide to build your career at, particularly early on (sub 10-15 years), is going to have a massive impact on your life, whether you consciously acknowledge it or not.  Places like San Francisco have their negatives like property prices, but you will struggle to find very few places on earth with such a driven and intelligent community of residents. If you work in Finance you will likely want to be based in New York, the network and career opportunities in these places often overshadow anything else. So, be careful when a recruiter calls you with a ‘remote work’ opportunity, offering you the chance to consider a move out to the countryside and have a much more relaxing lifestyle - is this the right thing for you to do at this point in your career? Maybe it is something to consider in the future when you are a very senior individual contributor and can afford to have this luxury.

For example, recently I spoke with someone who has just 2 years of business experience and a bachelors, at the most crucial time of their career when they should have been learning and growing and using their network, team, and managers for coaching and self-development, they decided it was a great idea to move out of San Francisco to the middle of nowhere (sorry Utah) to work remotely and save on rent.  This seems like a great idea when you don’t consider what you’re giving up. But the reality is, that without regular support, exposure and daily management you will struggle to gain the same level of experiences and knowledge as your peers who remained in the city. Therefore, future opportunities will be less forthcoming, and promotions that are often offered to those who have built an executive presence will end up passing you by, as you aren’t visible to the right people at the right time in your career.

To conclude, I think these are some of the most important factors to consider when you have enough experience to become a manager, beyond the usual important conditions like what the company does, your team and what the role is. This is the stage that will make or break the next 5 years of your career, location is very important due to the different advantages and disadvantages of where you are and decide whether you want to be a manager or keep going down the IC path is also equally important.

For my next blog, and final part of this series, I will be focusing on those who have already made these choices, have 10 years + worth of experience under their belt, and are facing different challenges, challenges more at an executive level related to data professionals. Please look out for it! 

If you have any questions or are looking for Data Scientist or are a Data Scientist contact me directly Daniel@campbell-north.com

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