Dustie Mercer is the Chief of Staff at Eleven Fifty Academy. In this role she guides alignment between student expectations and experience so the Academy can serve as a tool for career transformation for anyone who has the skill and will to complete the program.
I have been managing teams since I was 20. Back then, I assumed that in order to be a leader for my team and colleagues, I had to be the boss. So, I became a manager. I led teams of 10-15 people for around seven years. And what I learned, pursuing that authority and higher pay, was that becoming a higher ranking manager wasn’t guaranteed to help me become a better leader.
Some people think that the symptoms of good leadership are lots of employees, high revenue, or additional work and responsibility for everyone to manage. But while these things can and do often signify success, they can all be achieved without good leadership at the helm.
A good leader lives for every person on their team. They carry at least some of the responsibility for the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of every employee, and take that seriously.
The truth about good leadership? It is fulfilling, but also consuming for the leader. It’s exhausting for the leader. According to Harvard Business Review, managers are 5-10% more likely to experience depression than either their employees or the owners of the business.
And that’s why I am issuing the call for aspiring leaders to envision how they can emerge as a leader while working as a coder, not moving up the chain of command .
Why? Because tech careers represent a unique opportunity to achieve salaries that have previously only been available if you choose to grow and advance at a business—which typically has meant going into management. The average salary of a middle manager across all industries is between $60,000-$80,000 a year. At Eleven Fifty Academy, the graduates of our tech bootcamps enter their industries making an average of $50,000 or more, and after a few years on the job, see major salary gains.
When an entry-level coder can make the same salary as a middle manager after just one or two years in the industry, that means an opportunity to work to live, instead of living to work.
As a coder, cyber analyst, or other contributor to an IT department or startup, you can still make a difference in initiatives that are bigger than you. But you will work as an individual contributor, not the person in charge. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader and important. It just means you get to operate without the people’s pressure—and make just as much money as a manager in other industries who is doing all that emotional work.
Today, as Chief of Staff, I help align all the leadership responsibilities at Eleven Fifty, with each of my team members contributing our individual functions to achieve a greater whole. As a leader, I now empower my fellow leaders to take responsibility for developing the talent of the students who trust us. When I am freed to just do my part and call the day good, versus overseeing everything being executed and achieved, that opens up emotional and mental space in other areas of my life, like for my children, my family, and my community.
As a good leader, it is easy and natural for me to live for others. One of the things I feel compelled to do in my life is help people understand how important they are. Just a smile or act of kindness can make someone’s life change. But if we don’t give those acts to ourselves, is anyone else going to give them to us? That’s why it’s so important we live for ourselves as well as others and take strategic steps to improve our own circumstances.
Even if you picture yourself as a manager no matter what, growing the skills to become a manager in tech will get you paid upwards of $100,000 a year on average, double the average manager’s salary of other industries, with more job security and opportunity. And it can all start with a decision as simple as trying a coding bootcamp at Eleven Fifty Academy!