Why I Gave Up Management

Many years ago, I spent a number of years in management. Yes, I fell for the line that one "progresses" from engineering to management. In my defence, I was very young at the time. I did OK at it, was promoted twice and ended up as a development manager. But I walked away from it when I was 31. There were a number of reasons, but at the time the most prominent one was that I didn't like the kind of people I was having to interact with, my fellow managers.

There is a very common tendency among some of those who enter management to think of themselves not as doing a different job, but as being a better kind of human being. You can recognise these people when you yourself are a manager: they are those who refer to their former co-workers as "peasants" or "peons" (and most commonly pretend they are joking when challenged about doing so), or who habitually refer to their fellow human beings as "resource". The first step in evil is thinking of human beings as things.

It is a natural tendency for those who have been promoted to think of themselves as better, they have after all been plucked from the herd, but this fails to recognise that management is not a progression from engineering, it is a completely different kind of job. Most especially, management is a people-oriented role. This was another of the reasons I left management - I'm not a people person. I don't understand squishy humanoids and never really have done. That I failed to realise this simply means that I failed to understand myself in exactly the same way.

I also found after some time that I didn't like the tedious mundanity of management. I became an engineer to solve interesting problems, which don't typically include checking timesheets, sorting out office layouts and doing (shudder) performance reviews. Gods, I do not miss those. Some will say I have given up on the potential for better remuneration in leaving management, and they're probably correct. If you can cope with the mundane and repetitive, enjoy being deferred to in conversation and want only money, then you might well think that management is for you. However there is another - more serious - problem waiting in the wings, and that's what we'll come to now.

It's a trite observation, but nevertheless true: management contains a far higher proportion of sociopaths than the general population. So sooner or later if you move in those circles, you will encounter sociopathic politics. I have lost count of the number of people I have seen scapegoated and backstabbed over a forty year career, and contrary to popular opinion, managers generally do this to other managers, not to underlings. After all, there's more benefit to eliminating a rival than to getting rid of someone you think of as a peon, and peons do useful work whereas managers are just more competition on the greasy pole. In fact, in my experience it tends to be the more capable middle managers who get backstabbed, and with good reason: capable people are a bigger threat to their fellow managers. After all, there are only so many offices in the C-Suite.