4 min read

Weapon of Choice

Weapon of Choice
Such a graceful creature. All credit to Fatboy Slim

I've been managing people in some form or another for about seven years now. That's about a third of my professional life.

I've learned a lot of different things over that period of time. Things that make me more effective at delivering value and getting the most out of the people that I'm responsible for.

I've also learned a lot about myself, about what I enjoy and what makes me happy.

And what doesn't.

You Can Go With This

Back when I first transitioned into management, I remember thinking that the most attractive thing about the role was the focus on soft skills.

I enjoyed the technical act of writing code, and the short feedback loops, but the process of getting a group of engineers to deliver something was far more interesting.

That was the mindset I had when I started the management journey, and as far as I can tell, I did okay.

In fact, I did well enough to transition through a few different flavours of manager:

  • Team Lead (directly responsible for engineers)
  • Area Lead (directly responsible for managers, indirectly for engineers)
  • Head of Engineering (bigger scope, still indirect)
  • Team Lead again at Atlassian

Over that period of time, I've come to the conclusion that I don't really like the people management side of things.

It's not that I'm not good at it. I care about the wellbeing of the people I'm responsible for, I help them grow, I hold them accountable, and I support and protect them as necessary.

But it doesn't bring me joy.

I know there are managers out there who absolutely adore the experience of watching someone grow and having a hand in that process. It brings them energy.

Not me.

It costs me energy to do that. Mental and emotional both.

And it gets more and more costly as the number of people I'm directly responsible for grows, in an equation that is definitely not linear.

Or You Can Go With That

The good news is that being a manager generally involves more than just being responsible for people. Sure, it's a big chunk of the job, but there are other things as well.

And those things do give me energy.

For example, I like creating the machine that makes things happen. Setting up practices and processes that turn raw ideas into meaningful outcomes. You can't do that without working with people, so it's not like I don't want to work with people at all, I just don't get energy out of being directly responsible for them.

When the people stuff is aligned with some overarching goal, around the delivery of some sort of benefit, it's a lot less exhausting for some reason.

But the thing that I enjoy the most about the management job is organising things.

I love identifying problems that need to be solved, facilitating conversations about how we're going to solve them, wrapping those solutions up in projects, tracking the execution of those projects and clarifying whether or not they have delivered the originally desired benefits.

That is my jam.

I'm not perfect at it, as I still struggle a little bit when things are vague and unclear and there is no pattern to follow to fill in the gaps, but I'm getting better.

And even those difficult times are more energizing than the people stuff.

Don't Be Shocked, By The Tone, Of My Voice

So, I've come to the conclusion that I only really enjoy a fraction of my current responsibilities, and the remaining fraction that I don't enjoy is likely to grow over the next few years.

I could look for another management job elsewhere, one where I am responsible for less people. That's a definite option, but it really feels like I'm only just starting to build up a significant amount of momentum at Atlassian, and I don't like the thought of starting over and losing that.

I could look to move to somewhere else within Atlassian where I am responsible for less people. Likely a manager-of-managers role, as front-line managers are pretty much guaranteed to have 14+ reports these days. There aren't any opportunities like that in my immediate area, and more distant ones would also mean a significant loss of momentum.

I could suck it up and work to find joy in all of the aspects of management, including the ones that currently exhaust me. It wouldn't be the first time that I've fundamentally changed myself to fit a situation, but that sort of thing is hard to do and I'm not sure if I have the energy right now.

The only other option I can see is trying something completely different.

Something that focuses on applying the combination of execution, product sense and technical knowledge in order to deliver value, without being directly responsible for people.

That sounds suspiciously like the job description for a Technical Program Manager (TPM), which is an old concept that has been around in the industry for quite a while.

It's new to me though, and has only recently been introduced in Atlassian.

Walk Without Rhythm, It Won't Attract The Worm

From what I've gathered by reading the internal growth profile and from talking to people who are currently in the role, being a TPM feels like it would be a pretty good fit for me.

If I were to make the switch though, I'd want to stay in the same domain that I'm in now (aka Shard Management).

That feels like the best way to set myself up for success, allowing me to weaponize my deep understanding of the domain while also learning the intricacies of a new craft. Plus it would put me in a great position to really focus on executing the strategy that we just wrote.

I've been ruminating on the situation for a while. Months at least.

Long enough to have actually looked into whether or not such an opportunity exists in my area (it does) and to have completed a few interviews so that the hiring manager can critically evaluate my suitability for the role.

It's too early to say anything for sure yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

Also, mildly terrified, because change is scary.