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Tech Manager—Career Path—Take Control of your Management Career

Planning your career -- at some point in most people’s work path, there will come a time when decisions need to be made.  What school to attend, where to apply for a job, what job to take, and when to move from one company to the next.  One of the most decisive choices you need to make is the one about which career to pursue. But, for most of the CAD or BIM Managers, there is no career track to start going down right out of school. It comes at you broad side or sneaks in the back door.

For the CAD/BIM Manager, career choices come later in life than most careers.  This is because most CAD/BIM Managers do not set out to be managers of technology.  This may not apply to IT Managers. They start early and get things moving in IT roles by maybe starting with Helpdesk and moving from there. But with CAD or BIM Managers, they start their career in another field.  They may have gotten a four-year degree and started down the road of an engineering field.  Or they may have started in a career without finishing the degree and are working into a field by going up through the ranks.  Either way, the decision to focus on CAD or BIM “management” comes later than some of the more traditional options. It is closer sometimes to a mid-career change.

For most, the decision point may be asked of them before they really have a chance to think it through.  I recommend that you not let that happen.  Take control of your future and your career. Start thinking about it when others are not. Start thinking about it before your firm does expect it from you.

Here are a few things you should do to take control of where you choose to go in the future:

1.  Decide what you want to do before someone asks

This means that you will think about your future when people start asking you to help with CAD issues.  It may be that you have been doing it for some time.  Everyone should help others every chance you get, but fledgling CAD/BIM Managers seem to have a knack for it.  You like doing it.  And, the pleasure that you get from helping others actually may work against you.

This is because helping more than others slides you into some of the duties of CAD or BIM Manager, but without the title, respect, recognition, appreciation, reward, or salary adjustments.  Helping others also may sometimes come with increased expectations, accountability, and blame. This might derail your plan for advancement.

By sliding into a job duty, you lose the leverage that you may have had before you started down this road.  Getting that leverage back is difficult.  Since you are already doing some of the tasks of a manager of technology, people expect you to continue or expand. No one is going to like it if you stop helping (you won’t like it either). But if you keep helping without the title or compensation, it is tough to negotiate those things. You need to help others to prove your worth but keep some things back so that you have some leverage.

By taking stock early and placing limits on what you will do for others in the office, you can have a meaningful conversation with management about your efforts and where you want to take your progress in management.

2.  Plan out your career path and push it forward

Map out where you want to go and then move progressively toward that goal.  Write the plan down if you need to.  Sometimes this helps.  It shows you the steps on paper.  You may start with trying to move from User to Super User to Department Tech Lead, and so on.

I think there are some rungs in the Tech Manager career ladder that have become prevalent in the process of moving forward.  It looks like the list above that eventually leads to Manager and Leader. I first wrote about this in May of 2005 and it was published in AUGI World magazine. See if you can dig it up and read that article online.

3.  Think through the pros and cons

You could even make a list of the positives and negatives about each path.  Some of the things that others may think of a negative, may be a positive to you.  You need to look at it with your own perspective.

Here are a few of things I have heard others say that they thought of as negatives.

  • You will no longer be directly involved with design work.You will be supporting it but not actually providing input and decisions that drive the design.
  • You will eventually lose your knowledge of the trade you leave behind.
  • You might end up with a split resume if you lose your job.Not enough design experience or CAD/BIM Management experience to carry you naturally to the next level.
  • You could end up going backwards if a staff reduction takes you out of the manager role at one firm and does not lead to the same role at another.

Here are a few positives I have heard.

  • You will influence more projects than you have before.
  • You will be marketable beyond your own industry.
  • You will make a difference in the quality of all design data at your firm.
  • You will be able to bring others up a notch in their use of CAD/BIM tools.
  • You might make more money.
  • You could supervise other staff.

4. Changing jobs may be needed

Not every rung of the career ladder is available at the firm you are with now. You may have to go somewhere else to be seen as the manager you know you are or can become. Now is a great time to look for another gig and lock in a career advancement. You have the talents, skills and experience to make it happen. Get on it.

5. Don’t limit yourself to one technology

You need to be an expert in one tool but knowing just one may limit you. Your firm may not have a wide variety of design tools, but you need to know them all and more. You need to know what others use outside your firm. You need to compare notes of features and functions at User Group Meetings and trade shows (you do attend those – right?). You should download trial software to see what it can do. Anything that expands your scope of technology is a plus.

When it comes to your career, no one is more concerned about it than you (except maybe your spouse). No one will take an interest like you will. No one can plan or execute the career path you have in mind but you. Plan it out. Write it down. Make it happen.

Mark Kiker has more than 25 years of hands-on experience with technology. He is fully versed in every area of management from deployment planning, installation, and configuration to training and strategic planning. As an internationally known speaker and writer, he is a returning speaker at Autodesk University since 1996. Mark is currently serving as Director of IT for SIATech, a non-profit public charter high school focused on dropout recovery. He maintains two blog sites, www.caddmanager.com and www.bimmanager.com.

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