I recently enjoyed a conversation with our 2012 eBay interns. We discussed careers, leadership, business, and engineering. Someone asked me about career path: should I follow the manager or individual contributor path? It’s a great question.
The answer is it depends on what you’re passionate about, and ultimately that’ll be key in determining whether you’re good at it. Here’s my litmus test for the manager career track:
- Are you passionate about leading people? If not, don’t become a manager. If yes, you need to develop people management skills: from growing people and helping them succeed, to delivering tough messages and handling challenging personal circumstances. You’ll need to spend much of your time working with people
- Is having impact through others rewarding to you? If yes, that means you feel reward when your team hits its goals, the people around you solve problems, and your employees work together as team. If not, you’re someone who highly values personally contributing ideas, solving problems, or creating output (such as writing code)
There’s no right or wrong answer, and it isn’t black or white. You can be a good manager who still contributes personally, but realize its more about others than you. You can be a great individual contributor who’s passionate about helping others succeed; indeed, that’s a prerequisite of a senior individual contributor. But at the core, management is about leading others and being accountable for a team, and succeeding or failing based on their contribution.