I have been helping with recruiting for a senior network position. We are looking for highly talented technical individual to be the technical or architectural leader for a network team. The network system we are building has a vast amount of technology and only a few people to care for and give it love so that it performs well for the business.
No management skills needed
My organisation is awash with management – project managers, line managers, team leaders, executives, etc etc. We don’t need any more of that. The only management skill you need is time management.
Personality optional ?
When I first started out I had an idea of the person I would like to see in the role. After the seemingly endless pile of resumes and interviews, I no longer care if you have bad personal hygiene, I do however care that you know and can discourse intelligently about HTML and IPv6, you can grip MPLS configuration, you understand spanning tree, load balancing. Just in case you were getting bored I need to you know about ACE, FWSM, Guard and how to use them. And their management tools Cisco Security Manager, Cisco Works, Application Network Manager, Multi Device Manager, RME etc . I also want you to have some security skills, especially in CS-MARS and IDSM. Oh, and Access Control Server and configuring authentication and authorization. And there is more. Lots more. And I don’t have time to teach you if you don’t know.
If you have exposure to those, I also want you to be able to discourse intelligently on security practice and procedure, understand how applications works, argue with developers about why a given application concept is not going to produce the best performance.
Now, (surprise!) I am not finding many people with those skills, but I am getting a lot of people applying who calls themselves Managers, because the role is a senior role.
Why does Senior always mean Management ?
Indulge me here, but why do business people always insist that management get paid more than the workers. In the historical context, there was a sort of sense to this as only the educated and brightest could make it off the factory floor, thus there was a shortage of available managers. But in highly complex data networks, I am not short of management skills, what I need is really motivated, educated and experienced engineer type people.
Indeed, the IT industry is awash with “project managers” whose main role is place purchase orders, make to-do lists and facilitate meetings ((with respect to the really good and senior project managers, but many PM’s are really there to do the secretarial work)) and who want to manage my time to ensure that I am ‘delivering the project requirements’. There are days when I want to shout that you can manage my time, but that does not make any MORE OF IT.
Two engineers are better than one
In recent times, I have been the only resource able to work on certain technologies, and the path to my desk was showing holes in the carpet. For the record, I am not happy about this. I firmly believe that if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted and it gets lonely being the only person. The ability to turn around and discuss a problem with another knowledgeable person is good for success, and good for the project and its good for me. Its not an admission of failure to ask someone for help, half the time just talking about it will help me to solve the problem.
Two engineers are better than one because I can bounce ideas and review my progress with someone who actually understands what I am doing. I get where I need to go faster, and with better results – and less project management is needed since there is less review, reschedule and reorganisation required.
And jokes about “sheperding cats” are valid, but a worthwhile price to pay for results.
Hard skills versus soft skills
As an engineer, I certainly appreciate a good manager, and there are not enough of those. But those ‘soft skills’ are not hard to acquire, learn or develop. Much of good management technique is about patience and empathy. If you want to see this in action, any largeish company has their ‘management programs’ which is training, teaching and preparing managers from within. There are not usually any prerequisites to get on these programs other than a recommendation from your boss.
But being an engineer is about hard skills, where it either works or does not. The goal is either met or not met (subject to goals posts shifting, of course). I cannot suddenly learn about SSL Decryption by having a meeting or making a decision. I won’t be resolving the routing issue by getting ‘everyone around the table’, I have to configure, test, read and research until the answer is determined and actioned.
Now I am not sure if I am unusual, but I do my forty to fifty hours a week at work, plus at least another 10 hours in study and commonly twenty. I am not developing new skills, I am keeping up. How many managers are developing themselves at that sort of level ?
Can we have more resource and less management
In short, I want less project management and more work. Don’t underestimate the engineering hours, because the only solution seems to be more project managers on the project to ‘manage the delivery’. Of course, this doesn’t actually get the delivery done.
But what I really want is for management to realise that the best engineers, the ones who really shake it down, are rare and are worth more to the business than you are. It’s not a personal insult.
Is Engineering tougher ?
A network engineer works longer hours, is likely to be studying constantly, and have skills that cannot be easily bought, and they take a long time to ‘integrate’ to the workflow. A manager is a person that has patience, understand people and a good communicator. You work it out.
And if you don’t like that, expect to hire the best engineers in the freelance market where they earn a lot more than you anyway. Somehow, companies don’t seem to mind that, and I have never worked out why, but they still complain about it.