Lateral Move, Power Move: Getting Into a Challenging Technical Management Career

It was once said of Apple computer that “There is no adult supervision.” It was a hard geek culture that discounted interpersonal skills, management skills, even the ability to get the work done. That changed, one day in 1983. “Real pirates ship,” said Steve Jobs. This signal of change resulted in getting the Macintosh to consumers. He motivated his motley crew of geeks into getting the job done, and the rest is history.

Jobs was never the best engineer; he wasn’t even the best engineer at his two-man startup. But he knew that even the best engineers (which he’d hired) needed motivation, inspiration, support, organization, and wrangling. He became, ultimately, the richest project manager in the world. He directed major new technical undertakings that did, in fact, change the world. That he could code meant that he could speak the language of his team, evaluate their work, and provide appropriate feedback and guidance. That he boasted a reality distortion field of personal charisma and leadership technique that inspired his team members meant that they’d do things for him they would do for no-one else.

Maybe the next Steve Jobs is you?

If you’re ready for new direction and challenging opportunities, then additional, specialized training can help you transition from marketing, sales, or administration to technical product management, engineering management, and related positions.

These management positions are well-paid, reflecting the wide diversity of skills needed to do them well. You need to “speak geek,” yes, but you also need to know “soft” skills of people management, specifically in a technical environment. Knowing what motivates your team members and what matters to leadership because of your background in the industry is going to put you ahead of new graduates who may have taken courses in CS and Project Management, but who haven’t actually dealt with any of your products or staffers at this point.

Making a lateral move

Which brings us to another point: very often people looking for a change will leave the company they’re at, losing benefits and relationships in the process. Instead, it’s possible to make a lateral move within many corporations, keeping those important things intact while stepping into a more lucrative, more central role. In areas like Silicon Valley where there is intense competition for competent people, staff retention is a high priority. You may find there are programs in your company which will assist you in making a lateral move: whether mentoring, shadowing, or even tuition support. Or you can enroll in a part-time program to gain the needed technical skills to switch roles. Check your employee handbook for programs and talk to your HR representative about options your company offers its staff.

Technical Product Management

Technical product management or TPM starts around $100,000 per year, whereas a mid-level marketing analyst at the same company would only bring home $70,000. And we probably don’t have to tell someone in tech about the difference in respect someone “on the line” has versus someone in a supporting function like sales, marketing, or administration.

In short, if you’re already involved in a technical or scientific industry in a non-engineering role, and are unsatisfied with your job challenges and pay, a lateral move to technical product management, product management, and the like, are great options for a brighter, richer, and more interesting future.

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