What’s Next?

In case you’re not aware, Pearl Automation, the well-funded Silicon Valley startup that I helped create and lead, ran out of money a couple weeks back. As you can imagine, I’m now in the unenviable position of dealing with that aftermath: applying for health insurance, applying for unemployment assistance (dug heavily into my savings trying to reduce run-rate for the company early on — gotta make my mortgage payments),and fielding more phone calls and in-person, all-day, technical interviews than I care to share.

One thing that I’m always asked is: “what kind of role are you after?” My answer, without exception, has been: Managing a Team of driven engineers.

Not a lot of folks have really dug into “why”, so I haven’t really had to answer that question (maybe I’m lucky, or well-regarded, or both — who knows..).

But, a former colleague at Pearl recently asked me why, because he’s facing a similar dillema. So I’m going to answer here.

Why Management?

My quest to find a fit for a technical Engineering Management role is ruling out a lot of opportunities. Why would I stick to that quest, knowing that I could have landed a job just about anywhere by now if I was willing to step back into an individual contributor role? With one exception, every startup I’ve looked into so far has only had “Senior Firmware Engineer” roles. But what does that really mean when the FW team is 2 or 3 people — people who know their system better than I have any hope to know it prior to the impending ship-date? To me, it basically means perhaps better pay. Maybe…

But a career isn’t just a paycheck. And in my past 12 years of working, I’ve grown beyond what I can accomplish as an individual. I’m not ruling the IC role out if there’s a perfect fit, but so far, I haven’t found it.

Why Management? It’s not because it’s easier to sit-around and do 1-on-1’s all week, budget, plan projects, etc, than it is to deeply dive into some new technology or new way of coding. I do still find that technical stuff exhilarating, and I love to learn, so I try to do both.

A big part of my management style is making sure the folks working for me have the opportunity to follow what interests them. People doing the same thing year after year might be doing that for a while to improve their efficiency at it. But they almost universally get bored and want to dabble in something new. My management goal is to have the connections and resources to be able to support my team applying themselves in the areas that interest them, as that changes year over year. The ability to support such individual growth on my team, while also meeting company/team goals, deadlines, fire-fighting, etc, proves to be a nice challenge: both technically and inter-personally. And it requires some patience.

I’ve been really enjoying helping others learn new things. Even things that I don’t already know — because eventually, they’ll be teaching me that new thing.

Plus, I really enjoy seeing others succeed when they’re given the chance to follow their dreams, and the resources to be successful. Being able to share that sort of higher level problem solving (e.g., not learning how to solve one particular problem, but learning how to solve any problem) is the sort of challenge that makes me want to stay in management. And to pass on that knowledge and access to those who report to me.

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