What Do You Do When You Don't Want to Be an IT Manager?

A desk with paper, pen and a cup of coffee.

I have always enjoyed managing people. It provides a great sense of accomplishment to guide and lead others to success in their careers. Early on in my management career, I made the assumption that everyone wanted to become an IT manager. The IT manager job has a lot of benefits.

Over time I have come to realize that many people, maybe even the majority of people, prefer non-management career paths. There are a variety of reasons why — they may prefer hands-on work, or others may not view them as “management” material — but the bottom line is it’s not their career path of choice.

Find out if you’re cut out to be an IT manager.

And yet, it’s important that everyone, especially tech professionals, have an IT career path. It’s also important to remember that there are only so many IT manager positions to go around, so supervisors have to think about non-management careers for team members.

This topic is particularly important in light of research from our IT worker survey, which revealed that the top work frustration of IT pros was not being able to advance in their career

Alternatives for a tech pro who doesn't want to become an IT manager

We know that frustrated workers who become disillusioned at their current company may leave their employer to find other IT career opportunities. Being proactive is the key to retention for these members of your IT team. Your retention strategy should start with these three fundamentals:

  1. Ask team members about their career goals. How do they feel about their job? Is their IT career progressing the way they want it to? What do they see as “next” for them? What are the steps to get there? How long should it take? What will you do as their manager to support them along the way?
  2. Create a non-management IT career path. Determine if there is a distinct and mutually acceptable career path that doesn't involve becoming a manager. Can an IT pro be a subject matter expert within the department on specific topics like network security or data analytics? Is there an opportunity to have he or she coach a new or junior-level employee with a title change to “senior” (senior software engineer, for example)? Consider creating a career path that may involve taking on more responsibility for projects or technology, such as developer, senior developer, lead developer or software architect, without creating an IT manager position.
  3. Commit the plan to writing. Formalizing a plan with next steps and accountability from all parties is a great way to document a roadmap for IT career progression. It also makes it simple for everyone to walk away feeling good. Employees understand what is expected of them to achieve the next step in their IT career, and IT managers are on record acknowledging the support required of them. It also takes the mystery out of “what’s next?” in the employees’ mind, making it more likely they’ll turn down that call from a competing firm.

Don't forget about salaries when considering a retention plan. You'll find starting salary ranges for more than 75 IT jobs in our Salary Guide:

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Note: This post has been updated. It originally appeared on 10/14/2014.