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Career Development - Tue Jan 25 2022

Individual Contributor vs. Engineer Manager: Which is Right for You?

How many of us have found ourselves staring down our career path, contemplating which direction we want to go? With the pandemic opening up opportunities within the tech industry, many of us have found ourselves making changes in our career path. For senior software developers in particular, the option to move up the career ladder means choosing between a more traditional route or taking the road less traveled.

In this article, we’ll be addressing the differences between an individual contributor vs. an engineer manager. Senior developers that are looking to change gears but are on the fence may find this article helpful. 

What's the Difference?

If you are a senior developer you may be wondering if you should take on the individual contributor role (IC) or the role of an engineer manager. Maybe you want more challenges and growth, or perhaps you need a change in your work environment. Let's take a look at each role to get a better view of the overall scope of each position.

Individual Contributor

We'll start with what an individual contributor is. As the name suggests, it's a person who takes on projects and assignments independently and does not manage others. They primarily work independently and have to manage their own schedule and deadlines.

Person working on a computer (1)

Work Flexibility

Individual contributors can act as a detached extension of the team that handles other aspects of the project. However, because they manage a small set of projects at once, they must handle their duties without much supervision. 

This role can be shaped into something that fits the needs of the brand you are working for. As an IC, you can better align your work with your career goals and skill set. You have the opportunity to grow as you gain experience. However, it will be up to you to challenge yourself and take on things that may be more difficult or require you to have a more profound knowledge of a subject. 

Skills Needed to Succeed as an IC

If you decide to pursue this career path, you must know for sure that you can manage your time and are highly organized. These skills are a good foundation and necessary for an individual contributor and an engineer manager. You will be held responsible for keeping track of your records and deadlines. Organization will be crucial when you have several assignments at a time and will help you maintain focus on the tasks at hand.

Be Proactive 

You must be willing to keep yourself motivated and inspired to bring your best foot forward as you don't have a whole team behind you. However, that doesn't mean you don't have support. Collaborate with others in the company to see how you can help or sit down with the senior you report to and set goals for what your role will accomplish. This way, you will have a sense of direction and purpose. 

If you are a person who wants a more personal challenge but not looking to manage people, this may be a great career option for you. 

Engineer Manager

Most developers may be more familiar with the engineering manager role, as it's the more traditional career route. Engineer managers supervise software development teams from the beginning to the end of a project and anywhere in between. They are the support and backbone of the team and they also often act as a liaison between the team and senior advisors. 

Additional Responsibility 

One thing to consider if you want to be a manager is if you are up for tackling more responsibilities. Many decisions will fall on your shoulders, and you will be the active voice among your teams. As an engineer, the manager will address problems and aid in making sure your team is making deadlines and performing at their best. 

Person responsible for the team (1)

Leading Others

Working with people is the notable difference between an IC and a  manager. As a senior engineering manager, you are considered a manager of people. The duties, in this case, include team and relationship building and collaboration as well as offering encouragement and support to their team. 

In a way, you may be seen as a mentor, helping other developers find their potential and grow throughout their careers. In most cases, you will be the leader and will be the one others go to. For this role, you should enjoy working with others and be open to ideas and solutions from your teammates. 

Problem Solving

Do you like to solve problems and work in a group or team setting? As an engineer manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to solve issues and aid your team in overcoming any obstacles. Collaborating with developers to solve complex problems is part of your daily tasks and offers opportunities to learn from others continually. 

Other Duties 

When managing, you have other duties besides aiding your team, such as recruiting and interviewing to fill positions, and holding meetings with directors and clients. Managers are also in charge of tracking their teams' performance and making course corrections to get everyone back on schedule. You will have to handle many things at once in this position, so organization and flexibility are key.

People working together (1)

Earning Potential 

What draws many developers to the management role is the potential to secure a better salary. That’s because managers typically take on many duties alongside managing their teams. When working as an IC, you are a team of one. As a result, an individual contributor may earn less than a manager.

However, don't let that deter you from considering this role. Assess your skills and the value you can bring to the company to negotiate a compensation that you are comfortable with. As the opportunity to work remotely is becoming more available, senior developers can leverage their experience to compete in the global job market.

Which Will You Choose?

Understanding what you are looking for and not looking for in your career can help when considering which path to take. There are many other avenues you can take outside of traditional norms. Becoming an individual contributor may be a better fit for you and vice versa. The important thing to note is that you can choose whichever is best for you and your career aspirations.

If you are a senior developer looking to change your current role, we at Nexton can help! We assist experienced developers in finding their dream positions and higher salaries working remotely for US companies. If you are ready to shift your current career path to match your true passion, we can get you there! Are you ready to make the change?



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Nexton empowers companies connecting them with the strongest engineering talent in LATAM.

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