A reader writes

Just got this interesting email. My reply follows.

I’m sorry if this email is, in any way (from the subject down to the signature) offensive, bothering, time wasting or anything like that to you. The sole purpose of this email is to better understand some things about your kind of career/profession, which is also mine. Furthermore, I’m not asking for anything besides information — and from your site I infer that you like to share your thoughts, so…
First, let me introduce myself. I’m a consultant working for a multi-national company. My specialty is System Architecture, and while the title is vague, what I actually do is design systems through the use of UML diagrams, a lot of documenting, etc. Usually I spend even more time implementing stuff, from C/C++ to bash shells to C# to COBOL even. I’m very fond of technology, and I chose my career when I was very young — about 10 years old. Back then my desire was to work with videogames (like most children with such love for gadgets and computers, I guess) but since I live in Brazil, I was forced to abandon that path some years ago.
I stumbled upon your website when looking for the maximum theoretical limit for the length of an email address. I needed that piece of information to define an entity in my database, and I wanted a number that was right from theory. When reading the article on the site, however, something struck me as odd. Your profile, on the left portion of the page, read “IT director”. But I was reading a purely technical article! That’s incredible. Here, both at my company and, as far as I can tell, my country, techies doesn’t go too far up companies hierarchies. So I decided that you were not, in fact, what I call “techie”. You are probably more, a guy with both systems expertise and managing skills. Still, such a profile doesn’t make much sense to me.
In my company, after as little as 5 years, you can get a managing position. And when that happens, it’s no longer expected that the worker learns how to implement specific things. In fact, the only thing people seem to be able to do afterwards is learn what a particular technology is capable of. For example, managers here know about SOA, about .Net, about ESBs, about Clouds. They know what they are and how they can help business. However, they don’t know how those stuff works. You, however, seems to know deeply at least about PHP, a good deal about REGEXes, etc. These skills, if not used, are forgotten, so I’m guessing you have a tight connection with technology. I’m sure you don’t look at source codes or solve complex math problems for your analysts, but I think you get in touch with them and probably study deep technology during breaks.
I assumed a lot of stuff up there but, if I’m right about most of it, my question is, how do you do it? How do you balance being a good Technologist with being a manager? Is there some kind of synergy between them? Does your bosses took your tech skills into knowledge as you progressed through your career? Or maybe I’m completly wrong and you don’t manage people, being just the big fish when it comes to technology (highly improbable, but still…)…?
I’m know that, from what I’ve written there’s a good chance that you take me for a fool. These questions have been storming my mind for some months now, and I’ve always wanted to ask someone with more time in the market than myself…
Thanks a lot for reading,
Dear X,
I was lucky enough to work in an IT department that valued technical expertise very highly. Even though I ended up as a fairly typical manager (death by PowerPoint) I was still in a community that respected technical skills, especially when they were married to communication skills that did not exclude non-technical people.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end and I am now working solo as a consultant in the Financial Service industry (I will update my web page soon). This work is somewhat stochastic and in my spare time I can indulge my technical skills (not as much as I’d like to though).
I don’t see any reason why you can’t be both a manager and a technician. But to succeed in the competitive world of corporate management you need a certain set of skills (sharp elbows and political nous). It’s a rare person who has both these skills and deep technical skills. This might be because deep technical skills used to come with poor personal hygiene and an introspective personality – I don’t know why, I’m not a psychologist.
Increasingly, technical skills are respected in the real world outside IT. I believe this will lead to “normal” people getting interested in technology (it’s already happening). You will see more managers (and company directors) with a technical background in the future.
Corporations value management skills more highly than technical skills. If you are in a management position then any technical activity is likely to be regarded as a waste of your valuable time. I agree with you this is wrong. I think it’s because today’s managers have no technical background and are suspicious of those who do. Thus, this will also change as more managers with technical skills are promoted.
Keep going with your technical activities. You are clearly a good communicator, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do both.
Just some random thoughts,

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