Individual Contributor vs Manager

Talking with a friend today about my days at Amazon, reminded me of a difficult dilemma I faced when thinking about my career path. Did I want to level up as an Individual Contributor or as a Manager.

Managers, manage team or team members. Individual Contributors (IC) don’t manage and are more focused on doing the work. At Amazon, and many companies, you will find both managers and ICs at the same level.
Previous to Amazon, I thought you needed to be a manager to rise up the ranks. But many companies now value skilled employees who would rather be “on the box”, as much as those who manage others.

And so I faced a difficult question when asked which route I saw myself pursuing. Did I want to be an IC or a Manager?

In some environments, I would rather roll up my sleeves, put the head down and get lost in the work. But there are other times where I find myself in a place where people need to be lead and I want to lead.

So it changes. Because what I want changes. How I want to contribute changes. Where I can offer the most value changes. It’s easy to want to have a definitive answer, to think once you choose, you’re set. But the truth is more nuanced. Because it’s actually dynamic, it isn’t static. It changes. We’re always changing. And so our answer to the question of “Do I want to be an IC or a Manager?” also changes.

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