The conventional metaphor for career success is a ladder: you start as a humble individual contributor and gradually climb the rungs until you’re managing a team of junior folks gripping the rungs below you. There’s only one trajectory (up!) and no detours.
There are a lot of problems with this narrative, but one of them is that not everyone finds themselves happier or more satisfied in a role that makes them directly responsible for others’ success and productivity.
Some people who become managers or even find themselves in the C-suite realize that something’s not clicking. It might be the stress of managing others’ performance, the recognition that being a manager requires a wholly distinct skillset from being an engineer, or simply more time spent in meetings and less on the kinds of projects that most interest them.
More people in tech are making the manager-to-IC shift, largely because they think it will make them happier at work. People “now rank feeling energized and having a sense of purpose as more important than compensation when it comes to professional happiness,” according to the Harvard Business Review.