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When the pendulum swings back

Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash
Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

There is a good chance that you are familiar, from your Physics classes, with the mechanics of a pendulum. If not, here is what Wikipedia says:

A pendulum is a weight suspended from a pivot so it can swing freely

Why the hell are you talking about Physics and pendulums here, you may be asking. Well, it was back 2020 when I first read an excellent article from Honeycomb’s CTO Charity Majors. In her article, she invites us to think about the management path not as a ladder, but as a pendulum.

A ladder, by definition, implies that you step up to reach higher steps. The higher you get, the more value you generate to your company. Following that, one can infer that becoming a manager is a promotion. And, by consequence, becoming an IC again, a demotion.

A pendulum, though, implies a lateral move and decouples height (i.e. value) from which “side” you are. So swinging from IC to Management and vice-versa is orthogonal (i.e independent) to the value you bring.

I love this mental model. It frees you from having to make THE choice of your professional life. You can now develop human skills and then become an IC again, with a whole new set of tools you didn’t have before. Like accumulating energy before switching again, reaching higher than before.

It’s like those video games (yes, I love metaphors) where you can revisit previous stages. The difference is that you are in a higher level than when you first passed through it. By doing so, you find items that you missed the first time or pass the stage with different weapons. Here is a list of skills you acquired and can put at use when transitioning from Management to IC:

⬆️ Managing up: I could try to write some words about it, but it will never reach the quality of this article.

⏱️ Time management: When you can live by with a manager schedule, you need to have your way with time. Now imagine applying those to a maker’s schedule! I still use my good old GTD techniques.

📎 Glue work: I have already written about it here. Go check that.

And here, a list of stuff you can get from this experience:

🏗️ The joy of building: I love building stuff. Putting your hands at work again gets you that good Dopamine we need to keep us motivated. Great article about that

💥 Leadership != Role: Leadership is not about roles, but about opportunities. In a healthy environment, there is plenty of space to be a leader. Developing an eye to spot those is a great skill.

🧠 Other leadership styles: It’s a great lab to expose yourself to other kinds of leaders. You can take so many good ideas and evolve your own style.

It’s been 8 months since my career pendulum switched. 8 months I have been having a blast as an IC in an awesome project @ Datadog. Learning a bunch and sharing my own deal to build a great team and product. Who knows when the pendulum will switch back. Until then, I will enjoy the ride.