Learning to code doesn’t mean you have to become a programmer. Coding is one of those professions with a lot of transferable skills: logic, clear thinking, problem solving, and attention to detail, to name just a few. So learning a programming language can open up a whole range of opportunities, even if you decide to veer away from becoming a developer.
We spoke with Peter Bell, founder and CTO at CTO connection, on our podcast to see what avenues are open to those that learn how to program. Here’s what he said.
If you enjoy programming, but don’t enjoy the management side of the role, then you’ll want to look into becoming an individual contributor (IC). An IC is someone who focuses on the actual programming, without any of the management responsibilities. In the past, this wasn’t a viable career path. But things have changed.
“It always used to be like: Hey, if you want to make more money and, you know, make your parents proud, then you've got to go become a manager and stop doing the thing you're actually good at. Which is writing code,” _Peter explains. _“So it's good that we've got the dual-track career path, now.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 04:43
Now, if you want to focus solely on being a programmer, that’s a viable option.
The fact that we now have a dual-track career path means that if you’re particularly extroverted or enjoy training others up, you can choose to head in that direction. Sure, you won’t be coding as much. But your coding knowledge will help make sure that you can train up your team, and understand what they need to work on.
On a similar vein, it’s worth considering overseeing an entire product. This is where you can take that extra step away and really think about the user experience. What makes the best sense for them? How should this piece of software work? How do all these pieces fit together? A product manager needs the skills of any manager, but also needs to be able to think about the actual experience.
“Somebody who has a solid technical background who moves into product, it's another way of scaling your impact, because now you can think about the user experience and the flows without having to be like: Dammit, I got the semi-colon in the wrong place,” Peter explains. “So you get what the geeks are talking about, but you can actually focus on the impact for the users... You can still talk thoughtfully about, you know, how are we going to run this in a Kubernetes cluster and how are we going to think about, you know, real time stream queries against the data source?” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 05:06
Being able to take a step back away from the day-to-day coding can be great for those that enjoy reviewing code and looking for errors. When developing products, you won’t spend as much time writing new code, but you’ll get to think through the problems at a more abstract level.
Another role, which can suit those that prefer the freelance life, is to move into training or consultancy. Companies are always looking to teach their staff about new techniques and languages. So if you have a knack for passing on your skills, you’ll be in high demand. In fact, Peter described on the podcast how he started off by writing blogs about ColdFusion.
“I started presenting a technical conference around the US and around the world, and then I realized, once I got to a certain point, that people would pay me to do this,” Peter says. “I've been on the other side where I'm paying someone to come in and talk about Redis or whatever. And I'm always saying to myself: This is really expensive, but we're still paying for it.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 06:36
Being able to pick up a new language or technology quickly is a skill that not many have. So if you can do it, you can easily go into consultancy or training and earn a substantial salary. For example, Peter explains that large companies will often pay between $10,000 and $15,000 for a single day training 30 engineers. If you can pull it off, and leave those engineers with the right skills, you only need a few jobs to make a good living.
If you’re someone who enjoys working with people and thinking about the overall architecture of a project, rather than the fiddly details, then you might have more impact if you become a sales engineer. This role is all about understanding a product inside and out, giving demos and presenting the facts. The best sales engineers are the knowledgeable ones.
“It’s this intersection between understanding computers and being able to speak to a human. And it’s a relatively rare trait,” Peter says. “It seems engineering is awesome because what you do is you get to go and hang out with other geeks, and understand their problems.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 13:20
So rather than focusing on coding, then coming back in six months with a finished product, you get to have those high-level talks. What are your big pain points? What are the issues with your engineering flows? How might this tool or product reduce cycle time? Which can often be a lot more rewarding and enjoyable.
This advice only scratches the surface of how organizations can make their business more efficient and productive. You can find out much more about the team-of-teams model and how it applies to business by listening to our podcast.
The Weekly Interruption is a newsletter designed for engineering leaders, by engineering leaders. We get it. You're busy. So are we. That's why our newsletter is light, informative and oftentimes irreverent. No BS or fluff. Each week we deliver actionable advice to help make you - whether you're a CTO, VP of Engineering, team lead or IC - a better leader.