In the previous article we looked at 4 types of technical leaders from a functional or responsibility perspective. Many times I am asked whether technical leader should be an individual contributor. In fact, many organizations have “individual contributor” as an essential attribute for people on the tech-ladder. Let’s look at 4 representative technologists (Technical Fellow) from Microsoft and how their roles are structurally different. I have made some assumptions based on their profiles available at “Microsoft Big Brains”. It is possible that some of the assumptions could be incorrect. However, I have across technical leaders performing all these types of roles.
- Individual contributor – part of multiple internal teams: Patrick Dussud is instrumental in developing language runtime architectures for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), VBscript, Jscript, Microsoft Java and the .Net CLR. He also has designed all of the garbage collectors Microsoft has shipped as part of its dev tools. Dussud prefers working as part of multiple teams, rather than managing people. This is equivalent to being treated as a part-time team member by multiple teams.
- Individual contributor – part of multiple internal and external teams: Chuck Thacker is an individual contributor in Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Lab. Chuck is currently focused on helping build field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which are semiconductors that can be custom-configured after they’re manufactured. Thacker is teaming with other industry and academic researchers on the Research Accelerator for Multiple Processors (RAMP) consortium. One of Thacker’s pet project’s, the BEE3 (Berkeley Emulation Engine version 3) — a four-FPGA system that is used for computer architecture research and is a target for RAMP — is starting to be licensed to academics and businesses so they can prototype all kinds of hardware platforms more cheaply. He also works with Windows and Xbox teams.
- Manager of a large team: Brian Harry is a Technical Fellow and also a Product Unit Manager running a 120-strong unit focused on Team Foundation Server. Brian has played a major role in getting the .Net Framework effort started. I am assuming Gary Flake who is the Director of Live Labs also manages a large team as he says the lab has 40 active projects with some teams being as large as 20 people.
- Manager of a small team: John Shewchuk currently leads the Connected Systems Division technical strategy and architecture teams for .Net Services and other Azure services components (Note: My assumption is that a strategy and architecture team may have at max a few tens of people and not hundreds).
This shows that technical leaders work under different kind of structures.