Ravi Mohan's Blog

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shining Darkly

My friend Amit Rathore wrote an excellent article on transitioning from a developer to a manager.

Richard Hamming's famous speech has excellent advice on the (similar) manager vs scientist decision that many researchers struggle with.

" ...Question: Would you compare research and management?

Hamming: If you want to be a great researcher, you won't make it being president of the company. If you want to be president of the company, that's another thing. I'm not against being president of the company. I just don't want to be. I think Ian Ross does a good job as President of Bell Labs. I'm not against it; but you have to be clear on what you want. Furthermore, when you're young, you may have picked wanting to be a great scientist, but as you live longer, you may change your mind.

For instance, I went to my boss, Bode, one day and said, ``Why did you ever become department head? Why didn't you just be a good scientist?'' He said, ``Hamming, I had a vision of what mathematics should be in Bell Laboratories. And I saw if that vision was going to be realized, I had to make it happen; I had to be department head.''

When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management. And the bigger the vision is, the farther in management you have to go. If you have a vision of what the whole laboratory should be, or the whole Bell System, you have to get there to make it happen. You can't make it happen from the bottom very easily. It depends upon what goals and what desires you have. And as they change in life, you have to be prepared to change.

I chose to avoid management because I preferred to do what I could do single-handedly. But that's the choice that I made, and it is biased. Each person is entitled to their choice. Keep an open mind. But when you do choose a path, for heaven's sake be aware of what you have done and the choice you have made.

    Don't try to do both sides.

Of course Hamming assumes that people become managers because "your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly". In the great Outsourced Software Wasteland, most people choose to become managers because it is a better shield for mediocrity than being a developer and (mostly) you can make significantly more money. Nothing wrong with that. You pays your money life and you takes your choice.

Even worse is the developer who really likes being a developer and is or can be very good at it, but chooses to become a mediocre, unhappy manager because "that is the only way to make more money". These people deserve pity, but no sympathy.