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    Default More Value - Foreman or Programmer?

    Looking for some insight from some of shops owners and more well-seasoned members of the forum.

    I work at a moderately sized job/prototype shop as a programmer. We have a very broad customer base and I program everything from 3 to 5 axis mills, plus help out as much as possible to process work in the lathe and EDM departments. The work is constantly changing and the variety of jobs that come across my desk keeps my mind active and entertained. After two years in this place I can say with the utmost sincerity that there's rarely a day that I wake up and don't enjoy coming to work. I make excellent money also. It's been absolutely the the greatest thing to happen to me in recent memory.

    Yesterday the shop foreman and owner came to me and outlined a plan for the future - due to some shifting of management within the company the shop foreman will be taking a new role that's opening up. This isn't a role being specifically created for him, it's a role coming open due to retirement and change in ownership. With him taking up this position they expressed that they think I'm the right person to take on the shop foreman role. I can't necessarily disagree with them, I think my personality will be well suited for a good bulk of the duties that come with the position.

    My question is about real world application if it comes to me ever leaving my current shop. Maybe it's an apples/oranges type comparison, but I can't help but feel like a great programmer is worth his weight in gold while a great foreman...well, isn't? That's to say maybe, if push comes to shove, it's easier to find solid employment as a programmer, or even easier to go farther as a programmer as far as getting involved in more complex work.

    Ultimately, though I don't plan on making the jump to a new company, I'm concerned with decreasing my value to prospective future employers by making this move. I'm also concerned that I'll be mildly bored in the new role.

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    I just want to comment not as a shop owner, but as having done both jobs. Programming is better in every way IMO. My years as shop foreman were mostly miserable. Shit rolls down hill as they say, owner wasn't happy with someone's work, or efficiency, I got the BS and was told to deal with it. Fine, that is the foreman's job, to run the shop per the owners decisions and such, but when you aren't given any tools to do the job....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1974 View Post
    I just want to comment not as a shop owner, but as having done both jobs. Programming is better in every way IMO. My years as shop foreman were mostly miserable. Shit rolls down hill as they say, owner wasn't happy with someone's work, or efficiency, I got the BS and was told to deal with it. Fine, that is the foreman's job, to run the shop per the owners decisions and such, but when you aren't given any tools to do the job....
    Edited my original post for the sake of inclusion.

    What you're saying was one of my first thoughts. Honestly I feel like it's one reason they want me in the position though...I handle being shat on very well. I don't get shat on right now though and I'm kind of enjoying that.

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    You seem to act like if you become the foreman it washes away your programming experience on paper and on top of that you will forget everything you learned? Every foreman's position is different depending on the company, some end up being nothing but glorified hall monitors, others become involved in almost every phase of the business.

    I would mostly concern myself with the compensation. Sometimes a promotion to foreman comes with going to salary from hourly, and if you are used to working a good amount of overtime that could end up being a pay cut. Usually the trade off in that situation is the foreman's benefit package is a lot better, especially the retirement. Back when I worked for the man a foreman was typically paid a salary based on a 45 hour work week at $2 or so more than the top paid man under him. Mind you that was a long time ago in another place and time where most all of the 8 different shops I worked in had 50+ hour work weeks if you so desired.

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    Hard question to answer for sure. A lot of it is personal choice and aptitude.

    Every company needs management, only some need programmers. For long term career stability, foreman is more transferrable. If you are never going to get out of your industry, a great programmer is invaluable. I work in management, and I have found that every programmer thinks they are great, but few are.

    I have also found that transitioning into a management role is bad idea for most people. Though you may have the general skills to be good at it, you have established relationships with all the people in the company already. To take a foreman role, you have to change the nature of all of those relationships. You would be responsible for holding the shop floor accountable to the company metrics, and the metrics for you change dramatically. Most cannot handle that change.

    No real advise here, just a couple talking points.

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    I see two potential pitfalls: you can't let go of programming, micro manage it, and end up doing both jobs,or the new programmer they hire isn't up to snuff and again, you end up doing both jobs. If you can avoid that, go for it.
    Dennis

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    A couple of thoughts. If you really like your present position and feel well compensated and enjoy the challenge of something different all the time, stay where you are. My only question about turning down the job would be, is that going to give you a black eye with management?

    On the other hand, my experience is a foremen will get involved with customers, vendors, decision making and have a more varied job involving more people, possibly opening other doors that you don't even know exist. I can see advantages to either choice. Depends on which suits you better and what you would be more comfortable with. One thing I would say for certain, don't make the decision strictly on monetary compensation. Doing what you enjoy is much more important.

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    Initial thoughts:

    Yes, the programming probably does have a value that is more easily transferable. However, showing on a resume' that you went from programmer to foreman in the same shop looks very good also.

    I'd probably jump if they could make it financially worth my while. Get all you can, but don't quite max them out. If they pay you well in the beginning, they'll probably just tamp down your raises until they think you're where you need to be pay wise.

    Give them a timeline to find a replacement programmer. 3 - 6 months. Discuss what is to happen if no suitable replacement programmer is obtained within the time period.

    If they could make it worth my while, I'd probably jump. Keep in mind that I'm here for the money.

    It's not like you're going to forget everything you learned about programming the first day you become a foreman. Sure you'll get rusty with no practice, but you'll have the toolset in your back pocket.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mneuro View Post
    Hard question to answer for sure. A lot of it is personal choice and aptitude.

    Every company needs management, only some need programmers. For long term career stability, foreman is more transferrable. If you are never going to get out of your industry, a great programmer is invaluable. I work in management, and I have found that every programmer thinks they are great, but few are.

    I have also found that transitioning into a management role is bad idea for most people. Though you may have the general skills to be good at it, you have established relationships with all the people in the company already. To take a foreman role, you have to change the nature of all of those relationships. You would be responsible for holding the shop floor accountable to the company metrics, and the metrics for you change dramatically. Most cannot handle that change.

    No real advise here, just a couple talking points.
    LoL! I think the same thing... and I am a programmer.

    Seriously, the better programmers IMO are people that went from manual machines to cnc, then programming... seem to understand the processes required much better than a guy that went o school for programming. Last place I worked we had around 8 full time programmers. Each and every one of us did things different. Can't say if any one way/person was better than another. Worked at another place with one other programmer and he thought he was the cats ass "I been doing this for 40 years!! " type of guy. Broke the first tool, first cut, first part he programmed. Shit happens, I get it, but.... I was like WTF has he never programmed an extended reach (3/8" BN) tool? Fine if you haven't, but at least ask before you run it in there like a 3/4" stub flute.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dodgin View Post
    Looking for some insight from some of shops owners and more well-seasoned members of the forum.

    I work at a moderately sized job/prototype shop as a programmer. We have a very broad customer base and I program everything from 3 to 5 axis mills, plus help out as much as possible to process work in the lathe and EDM departments. The work is constantly changing and the variety of jobs that come across my desk keeps my mind active and entertained. After two years in this place I can say with the utmost sincerity that there's rarely a day that I wake up and don't enjoy coming to work. I make excellent money also. It's been absolutely the the greatest thing to happen to me in recent memory.

    Yesterday the shop foreman and owner came to me and outlined a plan for the future - due to some shifting of management within the company the shop foreman will be taking a new role that's opening up. This isn't a role being specifically created for him, it's a role coming open due to retirement and change in ownership. With him taking up this position they expressed that they think I'm the right person to take on the shop foreman role. I can't necessarily disagree with them, I think my personality will be well suited for a good bulk of the duties that come with the position.

    My question is about real world application if it comes to me ever leaving my current shop. Maybe it's an apples/oranges type comparison, but I can't help but feel like a great programmer is worth his weight in gold while a great foreman...well, isn't? That's to say maybe, if push comes to shove, it's easier to find solid employment as a programmer, or even easier to go farther as a programmer as far as getting involved in more complex work.

    Ultimately, though I don't plan on making the jump to a new company, I'm concerned with decreasing my value to prospective future employers by making this move. I'm also concerned that I'll be mildly bored in the new role.
    Tough transition sometimes mostly from my observations. Most often a employer really wants you to do both and if they hire another programmer likely you will manage him closely. One man now two jobs. It should bring more money. Most programmers I have met have trouble being closely involved on the floor sleeves rolled up and working alongside occasionally.

    That they pay you more is important. Also your gut feeling about it. You seem like you are very happy programming. Then too they may actually be looking at persons who present themselves as able to do both jobs. Most really can not deliver as such good people at that position are rare. If effective that can be subversive to you.

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    I would say, think about what you want for your future. Foreman is management, if you want to move up and all that, then you have to do it. Programmer is sort of a dead end, but what's wrong with a dead end if you like it ?

    Depends a bit on your age, ambition, family, desires, all that stuff, more than whether a programmer or foreman is more valuable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dualkit View Post
    You seem to act like if you become the foreman it washes away your programming experience on paper and on top of that you will forget everything you learned? Every foreman's position is different depending on the company, some end up being nothing but glorified hall monitors, others become involved in almost every phase of the business.

    I would mostly concern myself with the compensation. Sometimes a promotion to foreman comes with going to salary from hourly, and if you are used to working a good amount of overtime that could end up being a pay cut. Usually the trade off in that situation is the foreman's benefit package is a lot better, especially the retirement. Back when I worked for the man a foreman was typically paid a salary based on a 45 hour work week at $2 or so more than the top paid man under him. Mind you that was a long time ago in another place and time where most all of the 8 different shops I worked in had 50+ hour work weeks if you so desired.
    I hear you. I guess what I worry about is if I take this position and stick to it for 8 to 10 years then for whatever reason I've got to find another gig, am I going to be thinking that that decade of experience in programming would have served me better than a decade of experience as a foreman? I won't be younger, and how difficult is it going to be to get back on that horse and ride it if that transition needs to be made? The landscape of programming could change a lot in the next decade. Maybe I'm getting too ahead there.

    As far as compensation goes, they're offering me 5% of my current wage up front with another potential 5% in 6 months depending on performance. I'm no idiot...the likelihood of getting another full 5% in 6 months is slim to none. Position remains hourly and I'll work the same 50 or so hours but will probably work more Saturdays overall. I'd say I'll average another 2 hours of OT per week throughout the entire year.

    Quote Originally Posted by mneuro View Post
    I work in management, and I have found that every programmer thinks they are great, but few are.

    I have also found that transitioning into a management role is bad idea for most people. Though you may have the general skills to be good at it, you have established relationships with all the people in the company already. To take a foreman role, you have to change the nature of all of those relationships. You would be responsible for holding the shop floor accountable to the company metrics, and the metrics for you change dramatically. Most cannot handle that change.
    I'm not sure if I'm great in general. Relative to my shop I thought I was great to the point of being indispensable as a programmer. Obviously that isn't the case and it's a little confounding to me.

    The relationship dynamics worry me a bit and it's something I've expressed to them. I'm a really easy going guy and I can let shit roll off my back with the best of them, but when it comes to having any sort of edge? Nope. It's not my style and it's definitely something I'll need to learn. The thought of having to change who I am at the core doesn't exactly give me the warm and fuzzies.

    Quote Originally Posted by Modelman View Post
    I see two potential pitfalls: you can't let go of programming, micro manage it, and end up doing both jobs,or the new programmer they hire isn't up to snuff and again, you end up doing both jobs. If you can avoid that, go for it.
    Dennis
    Luckily they want to promote for that position from within, and the decision is up to me. So if that gets fucked up I've got no one to blame by myself at least. I can't even imagine trying to micromanage the other programmers.

    Quote Originally Posted by RJT View Post
    A couple of thoughts. If you really like your present position and feel well compensated and enjoy the challenge of something different all the time, stay where you are. My only question about turning down the job would be, is that going to give you a black eye with management?

    On the other hand, my experience is a foremen will get involved with customers, vendors, decision making and have a more varied job involving more people, possibly opening other doors that you don't even know exist. I can see advantages to either choice. Depends on which suits you better and what you would be more comfortable with. One thing I would say for certain, don't make the decision strictly on monetary compensation. Doing what you enjoy is much more important.
    The black eye thing was a concern to me for sure. I don't suspect my declining the position would result in any sketchy behavior but yeah, maybe I'm then looked upon unfavorably for a while.

    One thing that interests me is being more involved with some of our customers and vendors. I'm definitely approachable and presentable, and overall good with people, which is why they want me for the position. I hadn't thought of the other doors thing though, that's a good way of looking at it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1974 View Post
    LoL! I think the same thing... and I am a programmer.

    Seriously, the better programmers IMO are people that went from manual machines to cnc, then programming... seem to understand the processes required much better than a guy that went o school for programming. Last place I worked we had around 8 full time programmers. Each and every one of us did things different. Can't say if any one way/person was better than another. Worked at another place with one other programmer and he thought he was the cats ass "I been doing this for 40 years!! " type of guy. Broke the first tool, first cut, first part he programmed. Shit happens, I get it, but.... I was like WTF has he never programmed an extended reach (3/8" BN) tool? Fine if you haven't, but at least ask before you run it in there like a 3/4" stub flute.
    It has now been over 25 years since I saw or used a program I did not write, so my nomenclature will be lacking. The most programmers working in any place I was at was two and a half. In those two places I was the half. The programmer I remember the most wasn't the cat's ass he thought he was, he was just an ass. There was this guy at the last place who was extremely knowledgeable about coding, and knew all the items left out of the manuals, and the quirks as he had connections with people working at the control manufacturers. We have various generations of machines, but they were all either Fanuc or Yasnac.

    He used macros, sub routines, tool width variables, and formulas to the point of excess. His programs were also loaded with if's and goto's, whatever they are called. He would also use uncommon incrementals that people weren't used to using. His programs were like trying to read Chinese. These were all for the lathe department. I was the only one other than him that could fully understand them and it took me quite a bit of time. This was his little game to try to make himself look indispensable as he was constantly called out to the floor for assistance during set-ups. The owner was a great salesman with no clue about machining and no aptitude to learn, he responded greatly to ass kissing and smoke blown up his ass, two things I do not do.

    His claim to the owner was he was writing programs that could make multiple parts, and more programs could also be stored in the machine, saving valuable time sending and receiving programs. As the second shift working supervisor I got in daily battles with this a-hole and it seemed to take forever to get him fired, probably 6 months. He had replaced a guy who had been a long term employee that abruptly moved out of the country.

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    To the OP, that is good that you are staying on the clock with 50+ hour weeks. I would suppose if the new programmer isn't a top performer you will be involved in that area enough not to lose touch.

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    Is there any room to test the waters? Say for a few weeks or whatever you program half a day, and do supervisor duties for half, or one week/day intervals? That would greatly depend on how your shop is run, I know it would not work for some, for others it might be doable.

    @EG I don't think programming is any more dead end than foreman. IME, getting from supervisor to "true" management is something most won't make.

    1) politics involved at the higher levels may be more BS than a guy on the floor want to deal with
    2) larger places are going to want a degree to promote you (or hire) for that cushy pencil pushing job
    3) for some reason I have found that most places want to just barely creep over your current wage with a promotion, so if working for $28/hr as a programmer (just a WAG), they might offer you $29 and double your workload*

    *edit: I did get a 5% raise out of the blue not long ago, so I know there are still some places that can and will pay to keep good help

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    Quote Originally Posted by dodgin View Post
    The black eye thing was a concern to me for sure. I don't suspect my declining the position would result in any sketchy behavior but yeah, maybe I'm then looked upon unfavorably for a while.
    That's easy to get around. If you decide to not take the foreman job, just tell them you would love to but you are absolutely incapable of ordering and disciplining others, which would be required, and when you failed it would be bad for both you and the company so while you'd love the challenge, your own personality bla bla blah ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1974 View Post
    LoL! I think the same thing... and I am a programmer.

    Seriously, the better programmers IMO are people that went from manual machines to cnc, then programming... seem to understand the processes required much better than a guy that went o school for programming. Last place I worked we had around 8 full time programmers. Each and every one of us did things different. Can't say if any one way/person was better than another. Worked at another place with one other programmer and he thought he was the cats ass "I been doing this for 40 years!! " type of guy. Broke the first tool, first cut, first part he programmed. Shit happens, I get it, but.... I was like WTF has he never programmed an extended reach (3/8" BN) tool? Fine if you haven't, but at least ask before you run it in there like a 3/4" stub flute.
    I agree, the best programmers were machinist first.

    I should clarify my statement in relation to this thread. Right now I work with 20ish programmers (all machinist program their own parts). They are all top notch in their respective departments. But if I ask a 5th axis guy to program a swiss part he is completely lost.

    Programming is a small part of manufacturing. CNC programming even smaller. Milling, turning, etc is even smaller. Being a great mill programmer does not make you a great programmer, just makes you a great milling programmer. Its kind of like saying I am a great mechanic but I only work on American vehicles.

    On the other hand, managing people, deadlines, and metrics is universal. So for career stability, getting into management opens a lot of doors.

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    One thing to remember, you can't put toothpaste back into the toothpaste tube. If you take that position, and after 6 months you realize you hate it, they likely won't give you back your old position, especially if it has been filled by then. Also, if top brass comes down on your boss for whatever reason, it gets pretty easy for him to throw you under the bus and get rid of you. You may work well together at first, but if he feels it would be his butt on the chopping block, due to a buyout of the company, poor profits, who knows what else, you are in the position of being a fall guy. Seen it happen a few times.

    Hope that is not the case for you, but it is a dynamic to consider.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1974 View Post
    Is there any room to test the waters? Say for a few weeks or whatever you program half a day, and do supervisor duties for half, or one week/day intervals? That would greatly depend on how your shop is run, I know it would not work for some, for others it might be doable.
    Doubtful. I was told I could maybe program some electrodes for the EDM department in my spare time, but for the most part the stuff I work on is pretty extensive, hovering in the 200, 300, 400 operations area. Then fixture building and all that. Programming here is definitely a full time gig.

    Quote Originally Posted by EmanuelGoldstein View Post
    That's easy to get around. If you decide to not take the foreman job, just tell them you would love to but you are absolutely incapable of ordering and disciplining others, which would be required, and when you failed it would be bad for both you and the company so while you'd love the challenge, your own personality bla bla blah ...
    If that's the route I go that's definitely going to be part of my spiel.

    Quote Originally Posted by T-Man 1066 View Post
    One thing to remember, you can't put toothpaste back into the toothpaste tube. If you take that position, and after 6 months you realize you hate it, they likely won't give you back your old position, especially if it has been filled by then. Also, if top brass comes down on your boss for whatever reason, it gets pretty easy for him to throw you under the bus and get rid of you. You may work well together at first, but if he feels it would be his butt on the chopping block, due to a buyout of the company, poor profits, who knows what else, you are in the position of being a fall guy. Seen it happen a few times.

    Hope that is not the case for you, but it is a dynamic to consider.
    Luckily the owner is the only person above the shop foreman currently. There used to be a "plant manager" or "operations manager", or whatever you want to call it, between the two. That position was eliminated due to, again, change of ownership and restructuring.

    For anyone wondering, the business seems rock solid, and changed hands once a bit ago. There's been some movement since that happened and this is a continuation of that.

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    You should sit down with the owners and have them give you a very detailed job description. There is a fine line between foreman and a shop manager.

    For me IME, once a person has to start dealing with customers, reviewing quotes, making decisions that require knowledge of labor laws and so on you cross that management threshold. A foreman should just have to schedule the machine time, track material, job routing/Planning, make sure tooling is ordered, maybe dictate some housekeeping task but that's about it.

    A foreman with programming experience would be worth a little more but you need to find that fine line between being in an office programming and on the shop floor keeping things flowing. As a programmer and something gets backed up because its taking longer than expected it's understandable. As a foreman, As Mike1974 mentioned, You're gonna get some shit if things stop. It's hard to tell management that because you were writing a program you forgot to order material or tools for another job that now has a spindle sitting idle.

    Now, In that scenario if your title is more management you would have more value to the company with programming experience. You could look at the situation and actually understand if the foreman was in the right by addressing a programming backlog issue thus accidentally breaking the flow chain, or was he just wanting a break from the floor and use his ability to program to get away.

    A foreman is pretty much a shit job but a necessary shit job. Just for the fact when things go wrong it's more than likely going to fall back on you.


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