Management: The Techie's Dilemma
The advice he got back fell into two categories:
(1) Supporting E-Business Suite sucks (I paraphrase)1, steer well clear of it.
(2) Managing a team will be more boring than being a data warehousing expert.
Here's my take on these arguments.
"E-Business Suite sucks"
Peter pointed out that the job would entail managing the support of applications written in-house as well as (uppercase) Oracle Applications. The underlying message remains the same: supporting systems written by other people is not as much fun as working on our own systems. The key thing is that Peter wouldn't be supporting other people's systems. he would be managing the people who were supporting other people's systems. So the minions have all the aggro and Peter would just have to manage their unhappiness. So it doesn't really matter whether it's just EBS or in-house apps too. The challenges of the post remain the same.
We become techies because we enjoy wrestling with technical issues. It can be tremendously satisfying to track through a system and nail a bug. There is joy to be had in devising an elegant algorithm to implement a gnarly piece of business logic. The hardest part of adjusting to a managerial role will be saying to a team member, "That sounds like a really interesting problem. Let me know when you've solved it." I know I'm not ready to say that (although there are days...) A manager who keeps involving themselves in the low-level details is not only not doing their own job properly but is hindering their staff in the performance of their duties. Which is not to say that management is an inherently boring role. The difference is that the role requires the manager to debug people rather than software or hardware
The thing is, the other reason why many people become techies is they get on better with machines than they do with human beings. Debugging a database performance problem is easy. Run a trace,
tkprofthe output, look for the heaviest waits, slap on a index. It's altogether more difficult to tune the performance of a person. There are no diagnostic scripts to run, no trace to analyse, no configuration parameters to tweak. Instead you have to take your performance problem down the pub for a lunchtime pint (or two), subtly mine the small talk for the underlying reasons why they are not working to their full potential and figure out what changes you can make. It may be as simple as telling them to buck their ideas up.
The tricky bit is that there is no backup and recovery option. If a manager says something inappropriate or clumsy and their staff member storms out the room in tears or high dudgeon, there is no flashback query to retrieve the situation. Management requires a different set of skills. It requires softer skills, which unfortunately tend to be innate, although it is still possible to work on them, if we have some basic aptitude and the right attitude.
Oh, and management usually requires wearing a suit and a tie, which also grates with many techies.
So why should Peter take the post
As those who have met Peter know he has the requisite people skills, and famously he does own a suit. So what benefits might he get if he should make the jump?
Time. Being a technical expert requires mastery of a lot of low-level details. Because of the nature of our industry, these details keep changing. Furthermore, the number of areas which we have to master is always on the increase. There are only so many hours in the day. Whereas management skills are a lot more transferable. It helps if the manager is generally familiar with the problem space their team works in, but it really isn't essential. And they certainly do not need to keep up with the details. I remember a manager who, having sat through a fifteen minute presentation on Ant, asked, "Isn't this just like
make?" Which was really all he needed to know.
Money. We may not agree with the value proposition but it is overwhelmingly the case that managers make more money than the staff they manage.
Career opportunities. In the technical stream there is a limit to the opportunities for career development. There are a few rock stars recognised throughout the world by a single name (Tom, Jonathan, Ritters). They get the travel, the book deals, the glamour, the groupies. For the rest of us there is the daily grind of doing basically the same old thing. Eventually we reach a point at which the current role has lost its spearmint. At the same time we cannot move into different technical space because it would mean taking too big a pay cut (nobody is going to pay data warehouse expert-level wages for a J2EE novice) and we have families to support. The best chance of doing something different is going non-technical.
The standard advice to neophyte developers wanting to become DBAs is that it is easier to manoeuvre oneself into a DBA role with an existing employer than it is to get a new company to take one on without any real actual experience. The same is true for grizzled techies wanting to get into management. Peter has been offered such an opportunity by his current employer. If he is tempted he should take it.
And I'm sure he will still find things to blog about.