Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks

Described here is one way to enable technologists to grow their careers in your organization while still allowing them to focus on the type of work they are best at and enjoy most.

The typical management career growth path does not suit some technical people. These information workers need to grow in their careers (gain greater compensation, responsibilities and influence) without having to become managers of other people. A good way to achieve that goal is to create a technical career growth track in your organization.

The following diagram and table illustrate management positions alongside technical positions of similar levels.

Click on the diagram above to view it as a zooming presentation.

People Management Track Technical (Engineering) Track Technical (Project Management) Track Band Salary
From
(Typical)
To (Max)
Manages team of people and/or manages work assigned to others May lead people, but usually does not manage people from HR perspective May lead people, but usually does not manage people from HR perspective Please refer to the notes at the bottom of this table.
CTO, Executive Vice Present Chief Scientist & EVP EVP [Program] 5.2 300 600
Senior Vice President Distinguished Fellow & SVP SVP [Program] 5.1 250 500
Vice President Fellow & VP VP [Program] 5.0 200 400
Executive Director
(Group Director)
Architect & Executive Director
(Group Director)
Executive Program Director
(Group Director)
4.2 180 220
Senior Director
(Managing Director)
Architect & Senior Director
(Managing Director)
Senior Program Director
(Managing Director)
4.1 160 200
Director Architect & Director Program Director 4.0 140 180
Deputy Director
(Associate Director)
Architect & Deputy Director
(Associate Director)
Deputy Program Director
(Associate Director)
3.2 140 180
Senior Manager Senior Architect Senior Program Manager 3.1 120 160
Manager Architect Program Manager 3.0 100 140
Lead Technical Business Analyst Lead Engineer Lead Project Manager 2.2 100 140
Senior Technical Business Analyst Senior Engineer Senior Project Manager 2.1 80 120
Technical Business Analyst Engineer Project Manager 2.0 60 100
Apprentice
Technical Analyst
Apprentice
Engineer
Project Coordinator 1.0 30 60
Notes: 

  • In this table, a number like 100 may correspond to a salary of US $100,000/year. However, please note that salaries vary greatly based on industry, the particular company, market conditions and location. Comparing your salary to the To (read: Often The Maximum) end of the range is unrealistic. The From (read: Typical) is not the Minimum. In many markets and companies, the minimum of the range is lower than that.
  • The example salary ranges shown here are based on data from online research (Salary.com, RobertHalf.com, GlassDoor.com, etc.), experience and discussions with people in the industry.
  • The salary range within any particular rank is wide since salary is based not just on rank, but also on factors like performance and specific job roles and requirements.
  • There is significant overlap in salary ranges in nearby ranks to reflect the realities of salary differences among employees based on factors like areas of expertise of the employee, the person’s prior salary history and market/company conditions at the time of hiring.
  • Salaries for VP and above jobs vary widely across industries, organizations and even within the same company, especially since performance based bonuses vary greatly.

This system isn’t meant to be rigid. It is designed to find a good balance with most organizations. That balance, i.e. how may “levels of authority” there are will differ across organizations. The focus of this article is to provide a technical track as an alternative to management tracks, whether there are 3 levels or 13. There are pros and cons of having fewer “bands” or ranks. (As a side note, some organizations like the military1 require lots of ranks.) Ranks need not signify a strict hierarchy where one can only go from one rank to the one immediately above. The ranks could simply be used as “salary bands” and the levels of “hierarchy of authority” could be fewer.

In this model, for example, an architect role is at the same compensation and influence level as a manager role, assuming that the particular manager and architect being compared add similar value to the company. To accommodate more ranks, a senior architect would be at the same level as a senior manager.

If the organization prefers consistent titles for levels regardless of track, the system could name them like this: vice president & fellow, senior director & architect, etc. In the case of a fellow who is at an SVP level, they could be named SVP & distinguished fellow.

Here is a definition of the fellow role from WikiPedia:2

Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries3 appoint a small number of senior scientists and engineers as Fellows. Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve on a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

Such a technical career growth plan brings many benefits to your organization.

  • It helps retain good technologists who want to grow in their careers, but want to do keep doing the type of work they are best at and enjoy doing: technical work.
  • It avoids brilliant technical people from being “pushed” (by themselves or their supervisors trying to “reward” them) into people-management responsibilities.
  • It reduces situations of having too many people-managers but not enough people-management positions over time as people get promoted.

Care should be taken to recognize that some technical people do enjoy making the transition to people-management roles and the presence such a technical track should not discourage them. Having an alternate career growth track option is about presenting employees with more than one choice.

Similar system are also used to enable non-managerial career paths at editorial and design departments at newspapers, magazines and other newsrooms.

Related Articles on Other Sites

Some updates to this article are published at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2012/12/17/tech-career-tracks-v2/

(Thanks to Brian MurphyBobby Chowdhury, and Janet Kasdan for their contributions to this system.)

(Updated: 2012-Dec-17)

  1. US Military Ranks []
  2. Definition of Fellow at WikiPedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellow and Wikitionary http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fellow []
  3. IBM or Sun Microsystems in information technology, and Boston Scientific in Medical Devices for example []
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