Firstly Thanks for taking up such a good topic here..
Your question -: "Are there any ranchers here who consciously stayed in touch with technology & progarmming out of choice. even after several years of expereince instead of taking the beaten PM path??"
Just wanted Answer to that is -: Yes.. You can count me on..
After having 7-8 years in IT I still opt to code.. May be languages are different.. it was client server before .. now it is web based.. but I like to code & I am satisfied with that. I pray that my brain will be fresh enough to grasp new tech which comes up & I can achieve my satisfactions up to some level.
Even I had same questions which you had.. All my classmates today are sitting in a cabin doing manegerial job. I dont know whether they enjoy PM job or not as many of them crib a lot that they only have to deal with MS Word & Excel now.For sure I dont want to be a PM but even I want to know that can anybody take just a technical path for a life time?If yes then how? I def dont want to become a PM & then crib for not being in touch with tech..else I am fine with coding .. what I am doing