Yujin and I worked together for four years at Conde Nast and then for another four years at The New York Times. We have been friends and colleagues for twelve years. I witnessed Yujin grow from an engineering lead to CTO of WorkMarket. Yujin is an excellent engineering leader, a meticulous manager, and a caring collaborator.
I am honored that Yujin mentioned me in his article (and I feel lucky that my name happened to appear first, even though his other mentors are more accomplished than I am.)
This second version of the diagram illustrating technical career tracks reflects the following updates since version one:
A product management track is now included. (Future updates may include other tracks like design, editorial and marketing.)
There is no longer a contributor-level position on the people-management track. This is because most organizations do not have an entry-level position whose main job is to manage people yet is below the manager level.
The number of levels is still 5, but we have merged the two contributor levels below manager into one. We have added the C-level (as in CEO, CTO, CFO, …) band above the VP levels.
The director-level position in the technology track is now called principal architect or simply principal.
In the people management track, we suggest that a manager directly supervise at least 3 contributors and that a director supervise at least 3 managers. Exceptions can be made to this guideline when it is well-justified, but these are suggested as the default requirement to hold these titles.
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.