Before we get into the nitty-gritty of technical or management I want to say two things that are more important than anything else I write here. Number 1, there isn’t a wrong answer. Number 2, nothing is forever.
Your career path is your career path. There isn’t a formula that says you should do X, Y, and Z in the span of seven years. Some people know what they want and follow a direct path. Others follow opportunities and curiosity to find themselves taking a winding path to their surprising destination. Only you know your desires, skills, life situation and what is best for you. Forge your own path.
Nothing is forever. Seriously, it is OK to try things. I think we’ve gotten unreasonably narrow about how we define success. Sometimes, you are curious and excited. You follow the opportunity to find out that it isn’t what you thought. You just learned something invaluable. It’s OK to take that lesson, learn from it and move to something else.
My journey is just as unique as me. I am a woman in tech, and my path included both technical and management. I received my degree in computer science in 2000 and started my technical career. I quickly excelled at my first job and within the year was the lead engineer. I found this disappointing and started talking to a friend of mine who worked for HPE. I spoke to him about needing something more challenging. He sold me on HPE and specifically his business unit ProCurve Networking. I interviewed with HPE’s networking team in the summer of 2001 and was offered a job.
If I was looking for a challenge, I found it. I went from developing database systems with custom web front-ends to writing low-level embedded software. My ramp was slower than I wanted, but I soon found my groove and was off and running.
About five years into my career, a manager asked me if I had ever contemplated management. By that point, I had moved into a technical lead position and often found myself directing and helping other developers. Management didn’t seem like a huge leap and my well-rounded skillset seemed well adapted for managing others. In January 2007, I become a first level manager.
I spent 3.5 years managing a team of roughly ten software engineers. I was able to apply my technical expertise to various areas of the code base, not just the specific area in which I had worked. I was able to influence roadmap and help develop engineers. I had a team of engineers from college hires to seasoned veterans. I learned so much from each one of them.
In the summer of 2010, I began to really miss coding and designing. I came across an opportunity to join a startup. I was one of four developers and had the chance to completely immerse myself in the technology once again. This was a great chance to step away from the large company and see how working at a very small company felt. The speed of the startup was exciting, but I really missed my cohorts at HPE Networking.