Saturday, November 7, 2009

The limit of growth as a techie

In IBM, where I worked, for example, the hierarchy is termed as bands - band 5 and less belong to security, janitor etc, band 6 is a beginner programmer, 7 is generally an experienced programmer/architect/manager, band 8 is a senior manager/senior architect, band 9 ,10 are more senior (in terms of hierarchy, not experience); and then they have executive bands: A, B, C etc (named in alphabets, but need not be A,B, C - I dont remember exactly) - the point is - in one of the introductory talks, the HR person told: You can grow vertically in any of these fields: for eg: she knows some techie who grew to become band 10 at a technical position, for the first time in the history of organization. For that person, it seems IBM India created a new technical position. OK, good.

Really? You can grow to any level being a techie? That there are so many managers in band 10, and many more above them (executives), but there is only one techie (who is doing technical work) at band 10 (well, may be you have one CTO at executive level, but that is that). In reality, if you are a techie, chances are that you will soon be bossed over by a manager younger than you (by age or experience). In my experience, I saw many techies, architects or "subject matter experts", moving to management. Once you become a senior architect, you become some kind of stuck in terms of career growth (vertical sense), unless you move to management. Because in all big technology companies, the technology part is actually secondary(at least the belief is like that), what matters is business, and this logic creates means that the herd will be lost without a shepherd (i.e a manager).

This is disappointing news in my opinion. The techie is obviously more intelligent than manager (whose only skills are to keep away from spilling anger, standing irritation silently and putting up a brave/happy/confident face at all times), but the manager ultimately rules a techie. What a sad fact! It is not an IBM thing of course, check out the google wave presentation video; the senior techie and his manager. Thats how the world works! Techies will spend all nighters and do some smart work and send an email to the manager, and the manager will reply "Great Work!" meaning zilch, sometimes not even understanding what is the work that the techie did.

So a techie will be stuck somewhere in the hierarchy for sure, unless he becomes a manager or an entrepreneur himself, or move into academia, where to a good extend he can be his own boss.

(Well the point is not just about having a career growth all through you life and dying one day; its more about being ruled over by a silly/less skilled/less intelligent person just because you chose the intelligent job)


Bullshee said...

Well not really, at a executive level, you will find that Distinguished Engineers(IBM jargon) are much more valuable and critical than a "Manager" or Strategy Executive.

Technology companies run on technology and though companies like IBM is traditionally known as a manger driven company, when push comes to shove, a techie will always win.

Its just the band 6s and 7s who are not competent enough who get pushed around, and frankly, they deserve it.

Arun said...

Forgive my ignorance, but are there techies at executive level? If yes, what will be their ratio w.r.t management folks?

And, in, say, GBS, India? Like I said, there arent any techies above band 10, only management folks (correct me if I am wrong). My own team's architect had a tough time getting another position cuz he was band 8 and no team wanted to pay band 8 salary for an architect (and finally he left the company!).

In my understanding, unless you belong to a very top level rung of IBM techdom (in IBM Research, may be), you are bound to remain a slave under a manager. I feel that the thought in such a Big Company is that that's what the techies deserve, after all they are techies and not managers, and business is about making money and not technology, and finally we end up having a big bloated company like IBM.


Arun said...

Also, about band 6 and 7 deserving it, dont you feel that the fresher that should be developed as a strong techie? They learn fast, are mostly interested in learning new technology, have original ideas, are willing to put a lot of extra effort, etc, and hence can easily be moulded to a great engineer. But generally I feel IBM managers consider them as easily dispensable, because they are not "skilled" and people that come from strong tech background are moulded to become the usual services coolie. Though these 5 year experienced "skilled" guy might hardly know any programming (how many such people I've met in IBM :)).