Think about the last fork in your professional journey. Did you take the path trod by peers? Or did you look past the obvious options for the route that's right for you?
At least in the world of software development, too many of us cave to convention. After coding for several years, many developers feel pressured to move into management. Whether it's to prevent replacement or career stagnation, senior developers grudgingly accept promotions to "technical leads." More often than not, they wind up unhappy, unaware at the time that they'd mainly be managing others and have little time for coding.
Fortunately, the industry has started to recognize that management isn't the sole goal of "technical" people. Still, it's important to keep communication lines open, particularly with those who want to pursue other potentially rewarding career paths.
At Yeti, we regularly talk about the future. We pinpoint who plans to manage, who wants to remain a senior developer, and who hopes to do something different entirely.
That last category, in my experience, is larger than you might expect. Although common software developer career paths include software architect, lead developer, or senior technical project manager, there's a whole world of possibilities open to those with non-traditional aspirations.
Unconventional Career Paths for Developers
The possibilities extend well beyond the following roles, of course, but many developers' personalities and skill sets are well-suited to these three "unconventional" career paths:
1. Business analyst
It's easy to see why software development expertise can be a big leg up for business analysts. These individuals work with stakeholders, customers, and technical teams to define feature sets, documentation, and software specifications. They tackle corporate goals across areas from billing to production to customer service.
How can an IT leader give a budding analyst a boost? Provide work that requires documentation writing, specification creation, and non-technical teamwork. As a future analyst, they'll spend their days communicating technical content to non-technical parties.
2. Product manager
Do one or more of your developers always seem to see the big picture? A product management role may be right for them. To succeed, they'll also need strong user empathy, collaboration, and prioritization skills.
Interested developers can think of product managers as project CEOs. They collaborate with engineers to define user needs, determine necessary features, and draft product roadmaps that describe products' evolution from start to shelf.
To prepare them, let potential product managers observe user interviews, provide feedback on product roadmaps, and discuss development progress with product stakeholders.
3. Sales engineer
Set future sales engineers up as support contacts for salespeople to give them a taste of the role. Although developers likely already have the necessary technical knowledge, they may not yet be comfortable communicating it to clients or other non-technical audiences. Regardless, aspiring sales engineers need to be adept communicators, natural salespeople, and capable researchers.
Without a strong sales engineer, even the most accomplished development team may struggle to win over clients. By bridging the gap between the engineering team and product stakeholders, they ensure the final product meets client and customer needs.
If a developer of yours is eying one of the three paths above — or any unconventional path, really — encourage them. They may not want to work as a manager or a senior developer, and that's absolutely OK.
For the American poet Robert Frost, taking the road less traveled made all the difference. For your young developers, it could, too.