One of the first professional questions many often ponder during military transition is the decision to become a technical leader or a people leader.  Compensation is often similar. The question is a matter of personality and desire.  You must know yourself, your capabilities and your inclination.  However, there are several other considerations.

Technical Leader 

As a technical leader, you are a Subject Matter Expert (SME).  For many, this is ultimately where their highest satisfaction is derived. You know a technology, a system, or a product better than anyone. You have years of experience, study and effort. You probably find it extremely rewarding to remain current and perform the hands-on work associated with being in the top of your technological field. As an expert, you know that technologies and paradigms change.  Long-term technical leaders are experts in solutions.

Great technical leaders often earn as much or more than managers. The technical leader who stays current on the latest trends and jumps on the next wave of technological change is often rewarded handsomely.

To remain a viable technical leader, there are five steps given in “The Transitioning Military IT Professional”, that you must continually perform:

  • Research (or better yet, create) the next hot IT movement or trend.
  • Study the trend and visualize how it is going to change the field of IT and provide value to your organization’s capability.
  • Move professionally in the direction of the trend, through study and training.
  • Gain early certification in developing technological trends.
  • Ensure you are at the helm during the organization’s implementation of the new trend. As a valued technical leader, you have studied and know the new technology’s capabilities better than anyone else in the organization.

Finally, the best technical leaders are great communicators and radiate a personality of cooperation and congeniality. Do not be afraid to share the knowledge you have gained. Inform, advise and educate others on technology. This will not only provide recognition as the resident technical leader in that specialized function, but increases your value as a mentor to the organization.

People Leader

People leaders emphasize coaching, developing, driving performance, inspiring and influencing.   As a people leader, your major activity will be solving organizational challenges, not finding technical solutions. There are many things to consider when choosing to become a people leader.

As a people leader in information technology, you will invariably be pulled away from the keyboard and rely on technical leaders and their expertise.  However, coming from a technical background, you will naturally appreciate the challenges and abilities of your technical team.  As a people leader, you need to know your team, back them up and earn their trust while removing obstacles for team members. Never forget how to communicate with your technical leaders, and simultaneously learn to speak the language of corporate executives.

Management takes a certain mindset and demeanor; balancing the needs of the corporation and executives, with those of your peers and your technical team. When dealing with other departments, you should become a ‘mediator’ and ‘facilitator’ to gain consensus and approval.  Being able to upward mentor, while keeping everyone synchronized and focused are key elements of people leadership.

Making the Decision

As your career develops in IT, you will typically assume more managerial responsibility as your capabilities mature.  At some point in your career in the commercial world, you will need to make a choice. Frequently, the technical / people leader decision is involuntary, but you can influence your own path. As you face this career question, determine if you desire to explore and pursue the leading edge of technology as a technical leader or be a people leader and climb the corporate ladder.  Keep these concepts in mind as you continue your growth and professional development. Remember, know yourself and move to what you find enjoyable and rewarding, as this is where you will be most successful.

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Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition and has co-authored “The Transitioning Military Series”. He is the co-founder of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. More about Jay and his passion can be found at