Recently, people, who are considering becoming Engineering Managers, have asked about my own experience.
How did I get into it? How did I know it was what I wanted to do?
The answer may be interesting to others, so I wrote it down.
Let's take a moment to note that becoming a manager is not a promotion. It's a career change. There's a myriad of reasons not to be a manager. Being a great individual contributor (IC) does not mean you will be a great manager. And, leadership does not equal management.
Additionally, my personal experience may not be similar to that of others. As a white, young, straight man, I have enjoyed loads of privilege throughout my career. Even as an immigrant. People often paid attention to what I had to say and, until recently, I didn't even notice. My career is the result of hard work, (earned) luck, and privilege.
Let's get into it.
What I did before becoming a manager
My full-time career started at Crytek UK, a video games studio, where I spent a couple of years. In the beginning, I was a Junior Developer. Later I was a mid-level one. I spent most of that time at the intersection between character AI and animation. I made the baddies and civilians look natural. The job required me to collaborate with many disciplines. It was quite the list: designers, animators, producers, and gameplay/AI/animation programmers. Later, I took on the role of Scrum Master. That role helped me focus on outcomes over my contributions. This also gave me some stakeholder management skills!
Right after, I spent six months at Sony as an R&D Software Engineer. There, I had to manage up to improve our engineering practices and introduce CI. That is also when I started having some difficult conversations related to feedback. Those would prove invaluable later on.
Then, I joined Bloomberg, where things kicked off big time. During the first two years, my role was Senior Software Engineer. After that, I took on the Team Lead role, Bloomberg's title for Engineering Manager in other places. In total, I was there for five years.
Here are some of the things I did before becoming a team lead.
- 🕸️ Owning projects with many dependencies: ours was an applications team. That meant we depended on many infrastructure teams. Projects usually had a significant coordination overhead.
- 🏈 Being a Scrum master: similarly to what I was doing at Crytek.
- 👩💻 Mentoring and coaching: we regularly had interns or new hires joining the team. A few times, I would be their mentor/buddy. This involved running my first 1-1s, setting goals, and giving feedback.
- 🏫 Helping with the graduate training class: Bloomberg ran several graduate cohorts a year. Each ran for 12 weeks. During the workshops, engineers helped the grads with their projects by talking through problems or doing code reviews.
- ✅ Being an interviewer: during my time there, I did hundreds of interviews and hired many engineers. I became more comfortable building rapport with new people and handling difficult situations. It made me think hard about the interview process and its faults. I wanted to be responsible for the process and improve it.
- 📚 Taking leadership training: everyone had to take this course before becoming a manager.
- 🦸♂️ Having a mentor: right after I became a people manager, I started working with a mentor. It was invaluable to have someone I could talk to about specific situations and peer review decisions. It helped me to explore and establish my management style and principles.
Many of these opportunities would not have come my way without a supporting manager. At some point, my manager moved to another team. I was offered the role, and I took it.
Was I sure I wanted to get into management?
I loved the individual contributor (IC) role. Solving technical problems and building a product people enjoyed. Losing that was scary! In the end, two factors made me give it a try:
- The incredible reward of amplifying the powers of the team. Helping people develop and breaking down some organizational silos felt terrific.
- I had seen people make the opposite transition, going from manager back to IC. It could be a two-way door decision after all.
There's no perfect answer, and you should come up with your own reasons for making the change. Arguably, one could go a long way being an amplifier of their team and helping people develop as an IC!
🙌 Thanks for reading. I hope it was useful!