Described here is one way to enable technologists to grow their careers in your organization while still allowing them to focus on the type of work they are best at and enjoy most.
The typical management career growth path does not suit some technical people. These information workers need to grow in their careers (gain greater compensation, responsibilities and influence) without having to become managers of other people. A good way to achieve that goal is to create a technical career growth track in your organization.
The following diagram and table illustrate management positions alongside technical positions of similar levels.
This system isn’t meant to be rigid. It is designed to find a good balance with most organizations. That balance, i.e. how many “levels of authority” there are will differ across organizations. The focus of this article is to provide a technical track as an alternative to management tracks, whether there are 3 levels or 13. There are pros and cons of having fewer “bands” or ranks. (As a side note, some organizations like the military1 require lots of ranks.) Ranks need not signify a strict hierarchy where one can only go from one rank to the one immediately above. The ranks could simply be used as “salary bands” and the levels of “hierarchy of authority” could be fewer.
In this model, for example, an architect role is at the same compensation and influence level as a manager role, assuming that the particular manager and architect being compared add similar value to the company. To accommodate more ranks, a senior architect would be at the same level as a senior manager.
If the organization prefers consistent titles for levels regardless of track, the system could name them like this: vice president & fellow, senior director & architect, etc. In the case of a fellow who is at an SVP level, they could be named SVP & distinguished fellow.
Here is a definition of the fellow role from WikiPedia:2
Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries3 appoint a small number of senior scientists and engineers as Fellows. Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve on a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.
Such a technical career growth plan brings many benefits to your organization.
- It helps retain good technologists who want to grow in their careers, but want to do keep doing the type of work they are best at and enjoy doing: technical work.
- It avoids brilliant technical people from being “pushed” (by themselves or their supervisors trying to “reward” them) into people-management responsibilities.
- It reduces situations of having too many people-managers but not enough people-management positions over time as people get promoted.
Care should be taken to recognize that some technical people do enjoy making the transition to people-management roles and the presence such a technical track should not discourage them. Having an alternate career growth track option is about presenting employees with more than one choice.
Similar system are also used to enable non-managerial career paths at editorial and design departments at newspapers, magazines and other newsrooms.
Related Articles on Other Sites
- Engineering/Technical Career Track vs. Management and/or Sales by Joel Spolsky
- Fog Creek Professional Ladder by Joel Spolsky
- Construx’s professional development ladder
- Articles on IBM Fellow and IBM Distinguished Engineer in Wikipedia
- Information about Microsoft Fellows and Microsoft Distinguished Engineers.
Some updates to this article are published at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2012/12/17/tech-career-tracks-v2/