Struggling with career path currently. Any ideas?

So I guess some of you already faced a similar situation so I’d like to ask you for advice. I currently work as a senior engineer in IT, I am 37 years old. I work 100% as technician and avoided working in management until now.
It currently appears to me that I reached the top of what I can achieve as engineer, I get the best ratings for IT skills in my company and I pretty much can choose myself which project I work on.

So here comes the struggle. It’s only 13 years until I hit the age of 50. Do I stay a technician or should I slowly move towards management. I have to admit I love working as engineer and management always appeared a dishonest field to me where you only talk and write Word documents. I sometimes think I couldn’t push myself to go into management. I believe, as a manager, you have to have some kind of a vision for the company to be able to lead people into something meaningful and I think I lack that vision. On the other side I have no idea whether I will be able to learn all the new things in my area when I reach 45.

So I’ll probably work as long as possible, even until 65 but I can’t figure out how to progress in my career. Did you face similar situations? Any suggestions?

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I don’t work in IT, so make of this what you will.

What is the significance of that “age 50” number to you? I’ve read your other thread but I don’t think we become useless overnight. It can happen at age 50, it can happen at 45, it can happen at 62, it can happen never.

I’d say there are several kinds of management positions. Nowadays, in some companies, everybody is a manager. To me, managing means managing people: there is much more to that than writing reports and dealing with paperwork, it’s about finding the hidden things and buttons that restrain or exhalt them. It’s understanding the needs of both upper management and the people under you and getting both of them to view them as a meaningful item worthy of being pursued for their own interests and the interests of the company.

Maybe your company defines that differently so the meaning of management may differ in your workplace. I hope other people with more relevant experience get to inform your decisions better.

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I second that. No need to worry.

Do what you love doing. Why would you want to change if you enjoy what you do? It‘s always an option to look for positions in your current field outside of your company. A bit of fresh air. If you‘re really good (as it looks from your description) you can always go back.

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Iirc you wrote somewhere else that you’re making 130k, have you considered switching companies or going for consulting? You would still have the engineering focus but could easily make 250k.

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Let me tell you what I did. I had similar ideas at age 45. Change career now and have 20 years or a full other career in a completely other track that I might enjoy? Up to then I had worked 15 years in the same company. No switching forward and back to other companies to optimize my salary. I even stagnated on same salary for 10 years but I had interesting jobs. Management was something I had done 8 years earlier and I knew that there is no age limit for good managers but allrounders like me might kind of be outdated after a while.
I had this fear of not finding a job at age 50+ (there is the magic age barrier again @Wolverine). I decided to fight against this fear and not become a manager just for the sake of it. I love people and I would be a good manager but I love solving problems on my own even more. Next thing I did might sound weird: I quit my job at age 52 without anything else lined up. And relocated to Luxembourg, where my girlfriend had received a job offer. After a few months I got a job too and it was for less than my previous job. Now I am 54+ and even in a more precarious situation. Or so you might think.

Meanwhile I have tried out the consultancy world as a side gig (and no, the jobs were not very well-paying, especially with the Luxembourg taxes), but it has been very interesting. Now it is no more a question of: what do I do until I’m 65, but: what do I want to do now, next year and so on, until I die. I have FI-ed and am no longer afraid.

What I want to say is: at age 37 and with your mindset it should take you 13 year at the most to become FI. Do whatever you feel like and the world might look different in 3 or 7 years from now anyways.

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I work in IT, engineering background and now manager (or manager-to-be recently again). I’ll give you my point of view work-wise only, as other had already gave nice advice/perspectives on FIRE.

I was in a similar position as you, around your age as well. My conclusion was that if you want to stay relevant down the line, you have basically two options :

  1. Specialized in one domain, or highly skilled in an area (i.e. Cloud, docker, Hyper-convergence, Storage, Network, whatever…)

You’ll might need to :

  • show that your the real deal (mainly through certifications and Linkedin, nowdays),
  • be ready to become more versatile, to move from client to client (to don’t look like you know only one environment
  • stay on top of your field, and adjust if necessary : lot’s of area are changing more and more rapidly
  • hope that the field you chose don’t become irrelevant too quick because of a technological revolution. Less probable, but you never know. If that’s the case you’ll need to be ready to adapt.
  1. Pursue a management position

Easier said than done. Things to consider :

  • Management is probably not be what you expect. You might like it, or not. You’ll never know before trying. More about it later.

  • Having the first experience is not easy. It’s not a position easily given, the first one. You need to find someone who will basically trust a junior or inexperienced manager (despite your experience, you will be considered a newbie in this role) with key position in his organisation. Finding this kind of position in a new company can be really, really tough. The best bet is to first promote internally in your current company, which is usually a combination of timing, luck, and interpersonal skills. Having an experience to lead a team on a specific project can help.

  • You’ll need to learn totally different new skills. The only thing your current technical skills can help with, is to gain respect from your peers or subordinates. A management entry position (Team leader, head of) required mainly interpersonal skills and good knowledge of corporate politic. When you climb up (Head of Departement, CIO, Directors…) then you’ll need strategy skills, but not before. You are still just an operative below a certain level. Just a “manager” operative :wink:

  • Size matter (the size of the company, obviously). It’s easier to climb up to a management position in smaller or medium company. The competition can be less intense, your skills can be more recognized and the opportunities more visible. In large or mega large company you might have more opportunities, but the competition is usually stronger and the political skill level required is usually way bigger.

  • People will need to see you as a manager first. It will not happen overnight, and you’ll have to work on it, especially within yourself. How you present, how you engage with other, how you face problems and social interactions, all that will need to change or adapt. It’s an interesting path for your inner self.

So what is it really to be a manager? I’m talking entry position (Team lead, Project Manager/Program leader with direct report) :

  • A lot of admin. It’s now really Word, but can even more painful. Timesheet, holiday validation, accounting/invoice validation, tons of emailing…
  • A lot (like A LOT depending of the company culture) of meetings. When you usually listen with one hear while doing your admin…
  • Some decision making. A good manager is a manager who know when to take decisions, even harsh, and followup. Bad managers are just here to show during meetings…
  • Constant politics. The more you navigate in this field, the more you realize that anything that his said and one is drove by hidden agendas of this one or this one. All the skills you need to develop is to identify quickly whose agenda is at play at a particular moment, and how to navigate between all that.
  • Leadership and interpersonal skills. For me it’s the most important and fascinating part of the job. Know to identify each personalities, how to deal with them, how to make them engaged, motivated, and give meaning to what they are doing. We all had in our career some managers you can jump into fire for (no pun intended), and others who can’t make you do extra work for shit. That’s what it’s all about.

What I’m trying to say is : don’t see “being a manager” like just another position. It’s a whole new world, tough to enter, that can be extremely frustrating or extremely rewarding depending of the context. So if you choose this path, be ready to go all in. It’s the only way (in my opinion) to have the dedication needed to be ready when the opportunity arise.

I hope it give you some food for thought. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk about it more in detail!

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Some roles you could consider advancing, instead of going straight to people management, but rather staying an individual contributor in IT:

  • Technical lead - you still stick to the tech details, and need to understand the nitty-gritty, and work with your team to implement and deliver products
  • Product manager - a bit further abstracted away from the implementation details, still need to understand the tech, but more of a strategic (at the product ownership level) and business/customer facing role

To me these seem like some sort of a “natural” step after a solid experience as engineer/developer.
Of course if you are no longer interested in staying as one.

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I don’t know your current comp, but you could also aim to joining a company with a longer career track for ICs. AFAIK that’s the case for most of big tech (apple, google, fb, etc.)

Check some websites for compensation numbers in Zurich (for Google, L5 is a decent target for IC that most people would reach, above that becomes somewhat harder and often means doing different things). (Unfortunately levels.fyi doesn’t seem to have Zurich data, but base salary is typically similar to the bay area)

Being responsible for things, whether it’s people, products, projects, is the usual “next step” in a career path, and does not necessarily mean straying away from being hands-on.
To me, being a manager does not mean telling people what to do, but rather helping people do what they are supposed to do and making them grow in the process. This view might differ from your company’s implementation though.
In that sense, you could see technical leading, product management, or even C-levels (CTO, CIO) as positions that you can eventually take. Some positions require a full-time commitment, and some can be only part of your daily work. That depends on the company size and culture, of course.

My take would be: if you like working with people, and feel you have things to pass on, try leading a team. It’s also the best way to stay on top of what’s happening without doing everything yourself. About the vision, you don’t always have to create one, you can be someone that only helps infusing it.

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Easily? Except for Google, Facebook and Apple. Few companies are at this level

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My point was more that as an independent consultant one can “easily” reach such levels.

I agree with MrCheesse.
If you work like a “freelance” it’s easy to make 250k. A lot of small-mid IT companies has this model.

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Hi Sreese4u,

In Spain we call it the 40s crisis :stuck_out_tongue:, just joking. I have a similar situation when Ive been release from a job that I love it(they reallocate outsite CH the position) and my kid just borned.

The job involved 80% traveling time, and I do not want it as I want to be with my kid.

Anyway, I’ve struggle to understand what I want to do and pursue and the answer that I found most valuable, come from a colleague(also impacted). Look what makes you happy and enjoy at work(this is changing over the time).

So the answer to your question you are the only one that can answer. if you do not like mgmt. do not do it. keep doing what you like and looking opportunities as MrCheese mention 2 comments above for example

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I just want to say: thank you all, I’m not replying because it’s a lot to digest. And @Broth may have a point, I might currently go through some kind of mid life crisis.

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I felt the same at about your age. If I could offer any advice: make an excel forecast of when you will reach financial freedom based on your spending, saving and investment return (as per my comment in your other thread).

If you don’t like the outcome you only have 4 options: come up with a new way generate income, get a job with a higher salary, increase your savings rate or increase your investment return

Very basic but when I talk to friends 95% of them have never done this because they are too « busy ». They think the only options are 1 or 2. I decided to focus on 4. Investing a little time to get my savings working for me had a much higher payback than getting a higher paid job with more responsibilities

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Didnt know levels.fyi, thanks for the link.

By the way they do have Zurich data (have to search for Switzerland): Software Engineer Salaries in Switzerland | Levels.fyi

and example for L4 at Google CH: Google L4 Software Engineer Salaries for Switzerland | Levels.fyi

I’m in a similar situation.

I wonder how people start as freelance.

Use your network, that you hopefully built up. I for one have not that many, but I have a couple of people who‘d take me into their company and pass me on some freelance work as they have quite a huge network. But first I want to build more work experience in different areas, before going down that way.

eth0 you mean? That’s the only network I have. :slight_smile:

Seriously, that’s probably the hardest part.

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