Leaving your hands-on role behind

Photo by Vanessa LynnI often speak to former hands-on techies who have recently become Scrum masters, team leads, or similar, who say “I quite like this job, but I miss being hands-on”. If this is your situation, and you do want to return to your hands-on role, then by all means do so. But first be aware of the good you’re doing in your new role.

In your role as developer/QA/etc, you will initially have been quite green (everyone has to start from somewhere) and as time went on you will have acquired more skills and experience. If your employer recognises this and values you then they will seek to reward you. And there are basically two ways to do this.

The first is to give you prestige. This may be a new title (Associate developer, Senior developer, etc) and/or more money. This is nice, and of course always welcome. However, for the employer this is a bit limited. They’ll hope to keep you a bit longer because of their recognition, but there’s not much more long term gain for them. You will of course be doing your original job better because of your greater skills, but you’ll have been doing that anyway, with of without the job title or money.

The second way to reward you is to give you more responsibility. This is particularly good for your employer because now you’re not just doing your old job better—you’re spreading that good to other people. By overseeing other people you’re spreading your goodness more widely than you could otherwise. This could be by being a Scrum master, a team lead, or any other similar role.

If you become less hands-on then you are still able to spread your experience more widely than if you were still responsible for no-one other than yourself. You are probably doing more good this way. You certainly have the opportunity to do so. You may, unfortunately, also have to deal with all kinds of managerial and admin hassle. But this is the way you ensure that the people you are responsible for get the best chance to be excellent. When you had your previous job, someone else was doing this for you. If you think they weren’t doing it very well then you now have the opportunity to show how it’s done better.

In addition to all of this, you don’t really need to leave your previous passion behind entirely. Coming from a hands-on role gives you credibility. If you choose to maintain your interest and link with those technologies then you distinguish yourself among all the other Scrum masters/team leads/etc on the market.

Ultimately you need to do what you enjoy. This may be coding or testing, etc. Or it may be producing excellent code or ensuring solid testing, etc. If it’s the latter then you can be more effective working through many people.