I have everything under control!

😎 When I was a new manager I thought my manager has to see me like I have everything under control. 

🙈 If I go to my manager asking for help that’s a failure because I am going to come across as if I am not capable of handling my  job.

🚫 I was wrong!

🏃‍♂️ I realized a lot later in my career that I can make the fastest progress if I can be open about my struggles and ask for help. 

🤝  Treat your manager like your thought partner. Collaborate with them on figuring out a solution. 

💅  This doesn’t mean you should take each and every problem to your manager. They hired you for a reason. 

✅  Just know that it’s ok to use your manager as a sounding board and solve few problems collaboratively. 

Bring problems to your manager BUT with a point of view

😣 When you are struggling with a problem at work, a quick thought process is to bring it up in 1-1 with your manager 

💬 While you want to share your struggles and challenges with your manager, you need to be able to share your thinking and your point of view

👥 If you can articulate your thinking well, your manager can ask you questions and partner with you to find a possible solution

😭 If you just bring problems you are hurting your credibility. You might come across as a complainer.

🤔 If you are not able to answer follow up questions, you might come across as overwhelmed and confused

🚀 So next time you want to take a problem to your manager, think how you want to articulate it and go into the meeting with a point of view

What makes the transition from Individual Contributor to Engineering Manager easier?

😣 Accepting the fact that you are transitioning from an excellent engineer to mediocre manager

0️⃣ Accepting that you are starting from zero and you need to learn most of the skills on the job

📚 Accepting that you can’t learn management by reading leadership books, you learn it by trying and failing at things

🦸‍♀️ Learning to let go off “let me just dive in and fix it myself because I can do that a lot faster”

🤷 Understanding that you are no longer the smartest technical person in the room

🧏 Learning how to listen more and talk less

🤐 Learning how to observe quiet people and including them in the discussion 

❓ Learning how to guide conversation with questions rather than directive comments 

🗣 Sharing your opinions at the end after everybody on your team had a chance to share their thoughts

👭 Taking an effort to know your team members as a person

👔 Understanding that developing soft skills is more important than continuing to develop technical depth

Focus on making your manager successful

When it comes to career progression and growth for managers, there is a lot of advice on growing your team and developing leaders. However, focusing on making your manager successful plays a big role in your growth too.

Know your manager’s priorities

🎯 If you don’t know what your manager does all day, ask them what their priorities are so that you can gain a broader context

🧠 If you know what’s top of mind for them you can even proactively suggest solutions to problems they care about

🗂 If you know you can tackle something that’s on their plate, offer help. You don’t have to wait for them to assign it to you

📝 Proactively share updates

🗓 Regularly share concise updates from your area and the challenges you are tackling

😎 It’ll help them talk about your team in larger forums more intelligently

ℹ️ If you know they are attending an important meeting, proactively ask if they need any specific updates from your area

🤨 Don’t blindside your manager

😳 If you are attending a broader meeting with your manager, don’t surprise them in front of their cross-functional partners, peers, or their boss. 

👍 If you plan to share new information give them a heads up

🤝 Incorporating their feedback beforehand will help you anyways 

🤹‍♂️ There is a lot on their plate

🏃Always assume they are way busier than you are

👥 They show up 5-10 min late for a 1-1 there is a reason for it 

⏩ They didn’t respond to your quick question on Slack, there is a reason for it  

🌈 Simplify things for them

👉 If you are not getting clear direction on topics you are discussing with them, check if you are sharing too much unstructured information. 

🧮 Synthesize it, and share a summary. Simplify the situation for them. Framing the problem in a right way is very important 

📈 Understand what type of data representation works for your manager – spreadsheets? 1 pager pre-read? Figjam? 

When you keep your manager’s success top of mind instead of yours, you’ll automatically start thinking broader than your role. This helps you prep for the next level. Your manager will become your partner and they’ll start advocating for you.

Managing Managers

You became a manager of managers because in last 6-12 months you consistently demonstrated that you can handle larger scope, you can develop leaders under your and execute through other leaders. You might think you can continue doing what you have been doing and you’ll be successful in this role, however, this is a beginning of a role that requires learning a lot of new skills.

🤔 You’ll find yourself working less with ICs and more with your cross functional partners. In these forums, you’ll feel like an imposter and might think “am I adding any value here?”

🤝 Continue participating in those forums and figure out how to learn non engineering areas. Have 1-1 conversations with your cross functional partners and ask for  pointers on how to learn a specific area. Learn through active listening and asking curious questions 

🤔 You’ll find yourself communicating with senior leaders more often in written form

✍️ Develop crisp and concise writing skills 

🤔 You’ll find yourself reading a lot of pre-read docs prior to meetings

🗓️ Get in the habit of blocking your calendar for meeting preparation 

🤔 You’ll be exposed a lot more to business metrics 

📈 Develop a skill to understand the metrics and connecting the dots with product changes and user behavior 

🤔 As your team and scope grows, you’ll be asked to propose a new team structure and hiring plan

👥 Learn how to organize teams focused on specific long range problem spaces. Learn how to anticipate skill gaps based on the long term roadmap. 

🤔 Eventually, you’ll start managing somebody who is better than you in certain things

🌿 Learn how to partner with them to leverage their skills to create larger impact and give them the visibility they deserve

Be Genuine and Authentic

In 1-1s, group meetings, or any type of people interactions –

  • The most important thing is to be genuine and authentic
  • Far more important than being right or coming across intelligent all the time
  • People want to connect with you as a person first and then as a domain expert

Career Growth

Want to accelerate your career growth?

  • Find good mentors early in your career 
  • Especially somebody who has a very different point of view than yours
  • Have multiple mentors for different focus areas
  • Mentor is a thought partner. Don’t focus on their title, focus on their skills and match it with the skills you are trying to develop
  • At least have one mentor who doesn’t sugarcoat when you need to hear the truth

Writing Well

In software engineering, especially for managerial roles, “writing well” is one of the most underrated skills.

With remote work, the ability to communicate your thoughts through crisp and concise writing is more important than ever. Writing down your own thoughts brings clarity to your own thinking. It teaches you what to omit and what to focus on. When you find yourself explaining something multiple times, write it down. It’ll make the message consistent. Quality writing demonstrates how you can think through a complex idea and present it. 

Managers with poor writing skills can directly jeopardize their team’s success. Think – performance reviews, promotion packets, funding proposals, executive communication.

This skill can be acquired by practicing and observing other leaders in the organization. The only way to get better at writing is by writing more. Start writing and ask for feedback. 

Here are some resources that I found useful:

Motivating your team

One of the easiest ways to motivate people is to align their needs and interests with the projects they are working on. 

As Andy Grove puts it in High Output Management — Motivation is closely tied to the idea of “needs”, which cause people to have “drives”, which in turn result in “motivation”. If we are to create and maintain a high degree of motivation, we must keep some needs unsatisfied at all times. 

Want to become a staff-level technical leader?

  • Don’t focus only on checking boxes on the performance profile.
  • Strive to become a well-rounded leader by excelling at leading meetings, concise writing skills, communicating with senior leadership, dealing with conflict, and becoming approachable to junior engineers.
  • Don’t compare yourself with the weakest person in the next rank. Strive to be the one whom you admire.