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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39? 592

Posted by kdawson
from the when-you-come-to-a-fork-in-the-road-take-it dept.
relliker writes "So here I am at age 39 with two contractual possibilities, for practically the same pay. With one, I continue being a techie for the foreseeable future — always having to keep myself up-to-date on everything tech and re-inventing myself with each Web.x release to stay on top. With the other, I'm being offered a chance to get into management, something I also enjoy doing and am seriously considering for the rest of my working life. The issue here is the age of my grey matter. Will I still be employable in tech at this age and beyond? Or should I relinquish the struggle to keep up with progress and take the comfy 'old man' management route so that I can stay employable even in my twilight years? What would Slashdot veterans advise at this age?"
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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39?

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  • Follow your passion (Score:5, Informative)

    by mzungu (316073) <rubenb&bsrb,net> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:54PM (#28617539) Homepage

    Over the long haul, following your passion is the way to go.

    I have been at a similar crossroads, and went the management route. I am currently re-eavluating that decision since I get much more joy out of being hands-on and much less joy out of the routine administrivia that comes with being a manager.

    If you get more joy out of managing than you do as a tech, then that's likely the way you should go.

  • Diversify (Score:5, Informative)

    by madcat2c (1292296) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:56PM (#28617575)
    Diversify to stay alive. Move into management, but keep current on tech. You will be much more valuable and more employable.
  • by curmudgeon99 (1040054) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @10:57PM (#28617577)

    ... back to the Technical Side. Management is a task that has no upside. If you suck at managing people, they're fire you. If you're great at managing people, they will increase your responsibilities, inching you closer to your Peter Point. (See "The Peter Principle" for context.) If you handle the heightened expectations, they will raise you to a higher management level, thereby eliminating your chance to contribute in your old way, or they will reassign you to fix some ailing project.

    If you have made it this far in the technical world, it means you are competent at it. If you were a bozo, they wouldn't be discussing an alleged promotion. By all means get into management if you hate the technical stuff. That is your choice. But I would say--if you're hankering for management--that you take the safe road: become a software architect. This involves so much politics and human engineering that you might as well be a manager.

  • Why?

    #1 More pay, most techies have a "salary cap" for their position and can only reach a certain level, managers go all the way to the top aka CEO. Also when the company starts having losses the first ones they downsize are techies.

    #2 You already have techie experience which will make you a good IT manager and become VP of IT or the CIO later.

    #3 As you age it becomes harder and harder to understand new technical trends. Younger techies will oust you for jobs and promotions. Might as well switch to management and quit the IT ratrace.

    #4 Managers have better benefits and the "golden parachute" clause in that if they fire you or lay you off, you get a nice severance package.

    #5 Any company that is willing to promote a techie to a management position is a valuable company to work for, that way managers can do their jobs better than a manager without techie experience.

    You'll have to take Darth Vader as a role model, but the "force choke" comes in handy to keep your underlings in line, and your new battle armor will protect you from assassination attempts by your underlings. :)

  • Maybe. Maybe not. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:59PM (#28618015) Homepage Journal

    I'd say if you were trying to stay employed at some hip web design house or a game development company that may be true, but where I work there are lots and lots of older people still doing highly technical things.

    I completely changed track and got a masters in CS last year at the age of 46 and managed to get a great job doing technical work at a very cool place, so don't tell me ageism is so pervasive that you can't do what you like.

  • Great expectations (Score:3, Informative)

    by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:04AM (#28618315)
    Apart from "what makes you tick" there's the expectations side.

    Not to put you down but realistically I'd say that at 39 you'll most likely wind up being a dispensable middle manager. As technical savvy person you most likely will be a pain in the arse for your peers and one management level higher. Either you're the talent that took the wrong road 20 years ago and will become CTO/CEO (not very likely, you're reading /.), or you will not fit in and burn out (most likely), or you're so completely bland that you are appreciated for not interfering (not likely, /.)

    Face it, 39 is late for starting anything new. Would you accept a middle manager which at 39 decides that being a middleware expert "really is his calling", as your peer?

    Even though most of us here think we would be better managers than the idiots that are currently managing us, we most likely won't. However basic and primordial we think management skills are, these remain skills which you have to acquire.

    If management is really what you want and you want to avoid the trap of "caring too much about the details of the product", you might consider moving to another field altogether. Think how easy it would be to push, say, fashion designers around. ("I can't sell this a s beige, Serge, call it Sahara Yellow.)

    FYI: At 45 I'm an absolute techy. Only now I start to really sense the way certain managers want my services and will stick knives in my back as soon as these are obtained. These are "management basics" and I'd be the laughing stock if I were to swap places.
  • by UnderCoverPenguin (1001627) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:18AM (#28618387)

    I want to work where you do. My company hires management based on management experience, not experience in the field I work in. Then they quit after two months because they don't know what's going on

    At least those managers had the grace to leave. At all too many of my clients, such managers don't care that they don't understand what their subordinates do.

  • by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:34AM (#28618505) Journal
    In most companies you can get by with being a mediocre manager.

    It's hard to be a good manager but a good middle manager is very valuable to a company (even if not valued by it ;) ).

    For example, say the manager is managing a project and a team of programmers.

    1) When the Big Bosses ask the manager - hey when will the project be finished?

    A crappy manager might just pull a date out of thin air and give that to the Big Bosses.
    A mediocre manager might ask the programmers, and then give the resulting date to the bosses without any processing or safety margins.
    Whereas a good manager would know which programmers tend to underestimate and which overestimate, come up with the Manager's actual expected date, and then add a big safety margin and then give that to the bosses.

    A good manager will need to keep up with stuff enough to know when someone might be bullshitting him (and perhaps countercheck it with someone/a source he can trust).

    2) Stuff happens and the manager has some misc extra stuff to do and assigns it to the team.

    With a crappy manager, if the date was near ridiculous in the first place, some of the team might just start spending time preparing to leave (the top programmers can be quite re-employable). The project might then fail.
    With a mediocre manager, it means the team have to put in extra hours. Savvy members of the team would now start padding their future estimates by a LOT (instead of just a bit), if they haven't been doing that already. Future projects would be estimated to take X years rather than X months, or the mediocre manager would have to start pulling figures out of thin air and hoping for the best :).

    With a good manager, no changes. If the team starts trusting the manager's management skills more, they can start giving him/her less padded estimates.

    People might say a top programmer is 10 to 100x more productive than an average programmer, but in the hands of a crappy/mediocre manager, the top programmer might be using his extra productivity doing more fun stuff like contributing to open source projects, writing some cool game, or just plain slacking off.

    So with a good manager the productivity of a team can actually be far higher. Same team, different levels of productivity. Because the good middle manager can actually _manage_ the team and the bosses.

    3) The bosses might then say, "hey can't you get stuff done earlier? We have to make an announcement to the press etc by Date XYZ, otherwise we'd look bad in comparison to the competitors."

    A crappy manager would just push the date earlier and give that to the bosses.
    A mediocre manager might do the same.
    A good manager would negotiate (could we just announce the product rather than _release_ the product?) or see what he can get in return, for example in future he'd say to the bosses "Hey the team is overloaded already, we can't give them more stuff unless you want the project to slip".

    If the big bosses are also good, after a while they will trust the good manager too - e.g. they can believe him when he says stuff can be done and by X, or it can't be done.

    Whereas in the other cases, they'll just have to make stuff up and hope their Golden Parachute is well packed (as you can see, Golden Parachute packing skills are very important to Big Bosses ;) ).

    Note: most coders are crap. There'll be a few not so bad ones (not worthy of "DailyWTF" ;) ). So most of them can barely be competent with existing stuff much less keep up with the latest tech.

    So being a good manager is a bit like playing an RTS well, when:
    1) you can't micromanage too much or you start having problems with your troops.
    2) your troops are not that consistent, or reliable.
    3) Most of your troops are crap, you have to figure out "which can do what", and which ones are just being lazy.

    A good manager is very valuable (whether middle or upper management). An organization can do great things when it has good top management, good middle management and not too bad "grunts" :).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:40AM (#28619087)

    It depends on the workplace and your colleagues, but I think the problem comes when clueless managers don't know when to defer the decisions to the best qualified people. As a techy, I usually view my direct managers are an upside down umbrella, catching all the bureaucratic shit that would otherwise fall on or around me. The bad managers let it hit me. I usually work in teams of professional people with mid to high technical competence who don't need hand holding to get the job done, so a manager doesn't need to know the nitty gritty of the work.

  • Well said (Score:3, Informative)

    by FreeUser (11483) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @04:24AM (#28619273)

    Very well said. As others have said, if I had mod points today I'd have used one of them here.

    I had similiar misconceptions about management (and about big companies vs. small companies, etc.). Now I find myself in management, managing teams and projects that span the globe from Tokyo to London to New York and various and sundry places in between, and I discover that a) not only do I like it, but b) I'm surprisingly good at it and c) your tech skills don't atrophy, they grow. Even if you're not hacking shell scripts, java code, or kernel compiles in detail, you're managing people who are, evaluating competing technical solutions to meet business needs, estimating deadlines, composing proposals, developing, managing, and adhering to budgets, researching new technical solutions and staying abreast of the field in a much wider context.

    Less specialization, but by no means less technical application or knowledge. If anything, as a manager, you need to stay even more abreast of new developments, and certainly a wider range of technologies, than when you're a specialized techie, whether its a developer, sysadmin, or architect ...and you'll need your technical knowledge to differentiate between buzzword bullshit / marketdroid nonsense vs. real technical innovation--something that's easy to do if you're knowledgable about(and keep up with) the field, but something that you will find challenging (and requires research) for areas of IT you may have previously ignored while working in your specialty. The need to learn and be familiar with new technologies doesn't stop, it accelerates and encompasses more, and becomes arguably more important in doing your job.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:52AM (#28621373) Homepage Journal
    "Reasonable advice, except for the part about incorporating. As an individual consultant it will make little or no difference in taxes or retirement plans whether you incorporate or not. And incorporating just adds another layer of paperwork."

    I have to strongly disagree with you. Incorporating does MANY things for you. First, your personal assets are shielded from liability from business problems you might encounter, this is a litigious society after all.

    But the biggest is financial.

    I have a subchapter "S" corporation. One of the best tax benefits is that I can legally cut my SS and medicare taxation by a huge amount. All I have to do, is pay myself a reasonable salary...as sole shareholder and owner of the company. For example. Let's say the company bills out and makes $100K one year. I pay myself a 'reasonable salary' of say $30K. Now, with this set up, I only have to pay FICA and medicare on that $30K. The remaining $70K falls through to my personal taxes at EOY, and I only have to pay regular state and federal income taxes on that. That adds up quickly.

    Not only that...I can write off all my mileage driving for anything work related. That is $0.55/mile. That adds up quickly, I can just re-imburse myself through out the year for that mileage tax free. You can write off purchases for business. I can write off my internet connection (business connection to the home), cell phone, books, software, hardware.

    By the end of the year, I write off a pretty decent amount of that remaining $70K so that it is not taxable.

    Not to mention it opens you up to new health care options (ok, you don't have to incorp for this). I just go with a high deductible private policy ($1200 deduct). that I keep only for emergencies. That qualifies me to set up a HSA (health savings account) that this year I believe you can load down with $3000 pre-tax. I use that to pay for my routine medical visits, meds, glasses, contacts, etc. It isn't a use it or lose it thing either like W2 people get with a FSA.

    I really wish they'd make it EASIER to do the HSA thing for everyone, but, that would put people in charge of their medical care, not the govt...so...

    But anyway, if you're gonna contract/consult...I'd HIGHLY recommend looking into forming an "S" corp. Just follow the rules, and it is all perfectly legal. Hell, is about the only way to keep you hard earned cash these days. I'm guessing tho...the govt will eventually try to can this as that with this scenario, you get your money first and they get their cut later. They really DO like getting money out of W2 paychecks (often more than they need, hence the 'refund') before YOU can touch your own money.

  • by nedwidek (98930) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @10:52AM (#28623367)

    I too own an S Corporation and the shareholders are not subject to self employment taxes. I pay my SS taxes on my wages, the company pays the other half. The corporate profit passes through to my taxes as ordinary income and taxes are paid on that. Active LLC owners are subject to the self employment tax. This is one of the advantages of S Corp over LLC.

    "S corporation shareholders are not subject to self-employment taxes (active LLC owners are). These taxes, which add up to more than 15% of your income, are used to pay your Social Security and Medicare taxes."
    http://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/business-structures/corporations/corporations-s-corp-facts.html [findlaw.com]

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