There is no easy answer to this question. The people management path has its advantages and may also appear tempting, particularly because of its visibility within the organization and in the industry in general. Our society too often equates success with management. However, over the last few years, especially after the dotcom bust, several perspectives have been altered.
The unstated ambition of any aspiring technical leader is to leave an indelible mark on the industry canvas. However, in today’s world of fierce competition and commercialization only a select few can become a Vinodh Dham, a Linus Torvalds, or a James Gosling. That said, you, as an aspiring technologist can also scale enviable heights. Here are a few hows: chair a committee, architect a product/solution and innovate to enhance customer experience, amongst others.
As an individual contributor, it could take years, even decades, to master the technology in one’s area of work. As your team recognizes your expertise, it is important that you share your knowledge with your teammates. Sharing does not mean conducting a formal training session or leading a pilot project for learning purposes. As a technologist you should constantly encourage team members to ask questions and also assist them in finding answers to those questions. This encourages people to come back to you with tougher questions, which in turn will help you expand your own knowledge base.
To be frank, networking does not come naturally to most technologists though it is an important ingredient for a technologist to achieve success. Any network, formal or informal, helps one gain respect, for in a network you are participating in technical discussions, asking and answering questions, bouncing off ideas, and most importantly, you get to mentor new entrants to the industry. This selfless service is part of that indelible mark you want to leave on the industry. Choose networks that deal with your technical domain and start contributing! It can provide you the much wanted visibility, respect, and credibility.
It is also essential for any business to encourage and nurture innovation. It is important to find commercial avenues for ideas. This is where you, the technologist, come in. Listen to your customers and find solutions to their problems using technologies. It is okay to look for partners in the industry to leverage strength and it is always fruitful to use industry standards. Pitch ideas to your business leaders and help your organization ‘productize’ ideas. To be a successful technologist, you have to be an evangelist, customer savvy, and a techie - all rolled into one.
As an individual contributor, it is now feasible in India to pursue a career path as a technologist. Technical leadership skills lie in balancing technical expertise, sharing this expertise, creating the buy-in, and satisfying customer needs. Remember, there is no shortcut to success, no matter what career path you may choose. It takes a lot of passion, energy, time, and effort to taste success. But of course, the results are highly rewarding.