Most technical professionals entered their field of choice because, well, they like technical work. Whether it's setting up a network, troubleshooting a circuit board, or designing control systems, being hands-on is what got them in the door. Because of this many in the field face a real conundrum when they get into the mid point of their career and find two paths before them: staying technical or moving into management.
Lawyers may strive to make partner and the kid that starts in the mail room may dream of being the CEO but an engineer doesn't necessarily want to become the VP of Development. The roles and responsibilities call on a different skill set and you become removed from the work you've been concentrating on since college. So why would you even consider making the change? Well, with rare exceptions, staying technical means putting a ceiling on how far you can advance. Some companies may offer roles like Technical Fellow or Chief Engineer, but most just stop at Senior Engineer (or maybe Lead).
And it's not just management. Maybe you're being offered a role as a Sales Engineer or Trainer. Again, these may take you down a different, but possibly more dynamic, career path.
So when you hit that point of your career, it's time for you to take stock of what you care about the most. Don't treat it lightly. It doesn't take long for you to be labeled as "only" what your current job is. If you spent the first ten years of your career as a Software Engineer and your last four as a manager, you'll be looked at as a manager. Convincing someone to move you back into coding will be tough. You may also find yourself in the "Golden Handcuffs" where you can no longer afford the cut in pay that comes with doing what you really love.
So make sure you ask yourself:
- Do I enjoy interacting with other team members or being the point of contact for the team?
- Does project planning interest me as much as executing the details of it?
- Is the technical work my true passion or would I be happy looking at it from a big picture point of view?
If you truly enjoy the person-to-person interaction and planning work as much as your technical responsibilities (or more), it might just be the right move. If not, it's time to ask yourself what your job satisfaction is worth to you. More money may make you happier on the weekends and vacation, but don't underestimate the value of being happy seven days a week.