Why You Should Become and Engineering Leader (or Not)
As a software engineer, you're likely content with your role. Coding can be both enjoyable and rewarding. However, many engineers ascend to leadership roles only to discover that it's not for them and end up in a career dead end.
Often, the better you are at coding, the more you love it, the more likely it is that you won't enjoy being a leader.
Being a good and effective leader, especially in this day and age, is incredibly difficult. Thus I recommend that you carefully weigh your reasons why you want to become a leader.
Don't become a leader for the wrong reasons, or you set yourself up for unnecessary strive and unhappiness.
In the following, I list some 'doubtful' reasons that should make us pause before continuing with aspiring to become a leader, and 'wholesome' reasons that indicate we could be on a more fruitful path.
Everyone is different, and everyone values different things. So don't take my categorisation of reasons as absolute. Reasons listed as 'doubtful' here may work perfectly for you and if that's the case, don't let me stop you!
💪 I Want Power
One of the most alluring qualities of become a leader is that we assume we will get more power. Power is something we naturally strive for, even though we are not as close to lobsters as some people think we are.
But don't be fooled. A good leader will get to enjoy very little power. As a leader, your job will not be to tell people what to do and what not to do. Instead your job is to gently influence those you lead so that their work is organised in a way that is to their and the organisation's benefit.
You do your job best not when you are bossing around everyone all day or be the recognised mastermind behind a team's success. You do it best when your contributions are barely recognisable.
💰 I Want more Money
It is true that salary in leadership positions is often higher than that for individual contributor positions. However, this is changing in our industry. Individual contributors, also known as ICs, are now able to hold more senior, and better renumerated, positions.
In any case, is it worth to exchange a job that you like for one that you hate for an increase in salary? As long as you don't need the extra money for your or your loved ones' survival, I suggest to put this last in your considerations of whether to become a leader.
👩💻 I Want to Ensure We Don't Write Bad Code
If you love coding and care about coding, you would have encountered situations in which you disagree with the technical direction of the team: things are not 'done right'.
A leadership position may seem tempting because it would give you the ability to shape the technical directions and standards better. This is true to some degree. However, there are plenty of other things you have to worry about as a leader.
You will probably end up being more disconnected from the code than when you were working as an individual contributor in the team. Being a leader is not about micro-managing what your team does and policing their every line of code.
💬 Someone Told Me I Could be a Good Leader
If your manager or others let you know that they think you could be a good leader, it is usually a good indication that you could be.
The best leaders are chosen by the people they lead.
If you find yourself to be elected for leadership tasks such as planning a project, organising something for the team, or being in charge of technical decisions, this is also a good indication that leadership could be a good avenue for you to pursue.
🌱 I Want to Help People Grow
If you listen carefully to leaders, you will hear them complain a lot about their work. That is fair enough; leadership is hard.
However, if you ask leaders what they find most rewarding in their jobs, it is often that they were able to help others grow or help them overcome their problems.
If growing and helping others is a key value of yours, the most enjoyable parts of leadership will be even more enjoyable for you.
🍸 I Want to be Lazy
Laziness is generally not a sure path to success, but there is a certain flavour of laziness that is an trait of successful engineers.
Take testing for instance; engineers are too lazy to do the same tests over and over again, thus they create test automation.
This laziness is one of the traits that can make you both a good engineer and a good leader; since a good leader needs to delegate - which is a very sophisticated variation of automation.
But don't get your hopes up; just as an engineer's dream of reaching their nirvana of automation-enabled idleness is never realised, a leader's work never runs out and will keep you busy.
🌟 I Want to Make an Impact
If you care about making an impact in the world, you will be able to make a bigger impact if you become a leader.
Our world is shaped by people, and we can change the world by influencing people. Influencing people to achieve particular outcomes lies at the heart of leadership.
Being a leader is difficult but you can make a difference by being a leader. The technology industry lacks good leaders and poor quality leadership is an often cited reason engineers do not enjoy their jobs. You can do your part to change that.
Making Your Decision
Think carefully about why you want to become a leader. Leadership isn't easy; having robust motivations for taking on this challenge will be key to your success.
Your motivations and values will determine whether you'll make a good leader. Don't become a leader if you are just seeking power. You won't be a good leader for your people, and it will be difficult for you to be successful and happy.
However, everyone is different and you may have your unique reasons that work for you. Key is not whether the reasons listed here apply to you or don't. Key is that you spend some time thinking of what motivates you and if it will align with what will be required of you as a leader.