“Rising to your level of misery” is how Arthur Brooks frames the trap of being good enough at your job that you continue to climb a corporate ladder until arriving at a rung which leaves you in a role that makes you miserable. And oh my does this concept speak to my own experiences as a BigCo product lead. I don’t blame my previous employer but rather my own inability to reconcile happiness vs striving and ego, but after reading Ken Norton’s essay advocating for dual Product Management career paths, I’m think it’s also an org chart issue, not just a personal one!
Ken’s argument is that most tech companies treat product management careers in a very different way than they do engineering and design. Namely, there’s typically not a ‘terminal point’ where you can stay a contributing individual contributor (it’s more ‘up or out’) and, more importantly, an advancement track which focuses more on the PRODUCT and less on the MANAGEMENT. Not an IC role per se, but one where you manage the product resources for a project scope, not for a division.
There’s a reason that I support this amended career ladder, and it’s not just about personal preference, but instead it preserves what I believe is a necessary component for innovation in large companies: the effective, but independent, product leader.