Deepak Shenoy on his blog Managing in the Tropical Zone says:
"Because the Great Indian Software Dream has only one career path - managerial. If you want more money, you become a manager. You're defined by the number of people you lead, which is such an irrelevant measure I splutter everytime I'm questioned why I hate it so much. Good coders often don't give a damn; they want to build something, not someone. But if money calls, one has to go up the manager route, does one not? "
I hope things are about to change. In two organizations that I worked there were always plans for "alternate career ladders", which were all about giving people the option of opting out of the managerial route and taking either a subject matter expertise or being a technical architect.
But let's face it. Either in a management consulting firm or a IT services firm, client engagement and project delivery is what gets in the moolah. Not every project needs a technical architect or a subject matter expert. Specially not if it is a project that the firm has done umpteen number of times.
Alternate careers need to be seen differently too. They are not meant to park people who lack managerial skills, they should be meant for the real experts (as one of the organizational leaders said "They are our green berets, our commandos") and should be communicated internally as such.
Of course, the thing that pulls people back is the question "What if I leave the firm, how then would I explain this role at a traditional company?"
As I was telling someone, I didn't want to go up the traditional ladder in HR too...which is why I started my own thing. It gives me the space to build subject matter expertise without the downsides of a traditional managerial job.