A few months ago during our annual performance review cycle I thought, “I hope they don’t promote me”. There were a few signs that it may happen, but in the end, no promotion this year. I imagine that most people strive for a promotion at work. The quest for FIRE is making me less and less like most people.
After graduating with an Electrical Engineering degree in the mid 90’s, I ended up at small tech company. I probably should have spent more time looking for my first corporate position, but I was eager to get out on my own and start my engineering career. There was not much growth potential at this company, so after a couple of years, I moved on to a larger mid-size company. Twenty years later – I’m still at the same employer!
From my admittedly limited knowledge (I’ve only worked at two places!), engineering positions are commonly broken into two categories: Junior Engineers and Senior Engineers. The junior engineer positions go by various titles (e.g. Staff Engineer, Member of Technical Staff) and there are numerous levels (I, II, III, Senior) within this category. This is typically where you start out of college with a Bachelors or Masters degree. Senior engineer positions are typically referred to as Principal Engineer and there can be numerous levels as a principal. As a Principal Engineer, you are typically responsible for larger projects, system architecture, etc.
At my employer, a management track opens up once you reach the Principal Engineer level. Upon entering the management track, you are assigned a team of direct reports. So in addition to managing projects and other system level work, you are also responsible for the career growth of your team – and the associated personnel issues that go along with it.
Life In Middle Management
After a few years of avoiding the suggestions to switch to the management track, I convinced myself that it would be a good opportunity. I enjoy the technical aspects of engineering (still do, it was surely the right career choice for me), but did I really want to deal with the personnel issues? I have a hard enough time writing my own yearly review, much less writing – and giving – performance reviews for my team.
It’s been a few years now and I’ve actually enjoyed most aspects of having a team of direct reports. In my earliest manager-level years, I had 4 people reporting to me and now I have 10 plus the occasional summer intern. The majority of my team are really interested in the work they do and are open to mentoring. They have helped me grow as a leader and I hope I’ve been able to help them as well.
Of course, some issues can be unpleasant. Some folks don’t want to hear that they need to work on certain areas or that they aren’t contributing enough. Some (many?) managers are hesitant to give any type of negative feedback or constructive criticism. I actually seek it out during my own reviews. “Thanks for telling me that I’m great, but there has to be something that I can improve on; I can probably tell you five things right now.”
So Why Don’t You Want To Be Promoted?
Which finally gets me back to the topic of this post. I’m currently at a happy median right now.
A day doesn’t go by where I don’t spend some time in the lab with the engineers on my team. I still like the nerdy geeky technical aspects of being an engineer. As Mrs. Need2Save will attest to, I spend some of my free time at home learning new programming languages, data science projects, web development, Linux internals, etc.
I’m also involved enough in the business side of things. I’m at a high enough level where I have some persuasion as to how we run our projects. I need to forecast staffing for projects, capital equipment needs, project budget tracking, etc. So that part appeals to the finance and economics part of me.
Where I’m currently at, the higher up you move through the management ranks (e.g. into VP land) the farther away you get from the technical aspects of engineering. Not to mention more responsibility which comes with more stress. I’m just not interested in adding any more stress to my life even if it comes with a modest pay increase.
Speaking of money, don’t confuse promotion with a merit increase. I’m always looking to do well and increase my income. I work hard and I’m committed to excelling at my responsibilities. I’m just not anxious to move up to the next level on the corporate ladder. Prior promotions have certainly added incrementally to my level of responsibility, but the associated pay increases that came with them were surprisingly low. It sort of takes the joy out of a promotion if the company only gives you an extra 3-4% increase in your pay on top of the 2-3% that you would otherwise get. You get a crap more to do, but they only give you a small bump in pay. It just isn’t that motivating anymore.
What Would Motivate Me To Seek A Promotion?
As we mentioned in last week’s post, we are making great progress on our early retirement goals. If our plans don’t fall apart, we should be able to retire early (with the lifestyle we want) in 6 to 7 years – although Mrs. Need2Save is pushing for 5! Although that still sounds like a respectable amount of time, I feel like I’m nearing the end of my corporate career. I’m just not motivated to keep climbing the corporate ladder. I’m more interested in all the things I want to do once we leave the 9-to-5 world.
If I were looking to change employers though, then a more senior title and level of responsibility would probably be helpful. However, I don’t plan on switching employers at this point. Sometimes I regret not moving on to another company to gain new experiences and knowledge.
Although I wouldn’t say that I’ve “checked out”, I no longer feel like I need to move to the next level. For me, it’s fine to be content with where I’m at. Would a VP salary and bonus be nice? Of course, but I don’t want the side effects (read: extra work, extra responsibility, extra headaches) that go along with it.
Are you still working on climbing the corporate ladder?
What’s important to you in your career?