Sometimes it’s hard to know where to turn when you want to move into management, especially as an engineer. But we’re here to make it easier with advice from someone who’s done exactly what you’re hoping to.
We talked to Taylor Poindexter, Engineer Manager II at Spotify, about her journey from engineering to management and got her top tips on how you can prep for and be a great manager from day one in your new role. 💥
GET READY FOR THE ROLE
To help you find and be ready for the transition into engineering management, Taylor recommends taking some concrete steps:
Ask yourself if you’re ready to be manager
Taylor says, “People are complex and [being a manager] comes with a lot of emotional labor at times.” Before getting into management, you should think about if you’re able to handle this, in general and at this point in your life. It’s never possible to be ready for everything, but honestly assessing yourself first can make the difference in your success and your happiness as a manager.
Update your job search materials
All of your job search materials (including your resume, LinkedIn, interview answers, etc.) should show that you have management experience, or strong potential.
If you have directly applicable experience, great! Be clear about that experience - and the results you've driven. If this will be your first management role, lean heavily on transferrable skills and informal leadership experiences. For example, maybe you managed interns or your previous role, or often coach more junior team members on your current team. Examples like this help hiring managers see that you can see the work, even if you've never done it before.
And, if you need more management experience, Taylor has two brilliant tips:
- Review what you’ve done in your current role monthly and keep a list of your accomplishments so you can include when you’re telling your career story.
- Ask managers what tasks you can take on for them. They’ll probably be grateful to you for taking work off their plates and you’ll get hands-on experience doing managerial-level work.
Look for roles that will be a good fit for first-time managers
The best way to make people aware that you're looking for a manager role is to tell them! Make sure your network knows that you're looking to move into management, and ask for their help finding roles that will be a good fit for first-time managers. That’s actually how Taylor found her role!
Sometimes this information isn’t obvious from a job posting. You might need to do some digging or ask folks straight about roles that could be a fit for someone new to management.
If you’re happy at your current company, Taylor says to ask if they’re open to internal transitions. Hopefully they’ll be excited to keep you in the company and invest in your career development. But Taylor says that, if your supervisor isn’t open to you moving up, you might have to look for roles elsewhere.
Find a place where you can thrive.
Taylor emphasizes the importance of working somewhere that you have that support because, as a new manager, having that support system can make a big difference.
Some questions she has for potential supervisors in interviews to suss out a new company include:
- Asking about a time they made a mistake and what they learned from it
- Asking how they support the people that report to them
She’s also a fan of talking with people that work for your future manager, if possible. These folks can provide insight into the company culture!
Be open to different job titles
Whether you’re looking inside or outside your current organization, Taylor reminds you that titles can vary from company to company when it comes to people, project, and technical management. You might need to dig more into job descriptions to know what you’ll be doing, but here’s an overview of how she sees the different roles in this area:
- Technical lead - Usually focused on technical implementation and execution but not for personnel management
- Technical project manager - Responsible for project execution and coordination but not for technical decisions
- Engineering manager - Responsible for ensuring that engineers’ work is in line with strategy and for personnel management
Get known for the work you want to do
Show off the work you're doing, and the work you want to do more of! This helps you position yourself as someone who knows what they're doing—inside and outside of your current company.
And don’t worry about the definition of expert – If you know more about a topic than some other people, you’ve got it!
Taylor started by sharing on Twitter about salary transparency and soon she was being asked to speak at conferences about this. She didn’t feel like she was expert enough but she went ahead and did smaller conferences and soon found herself getting career opportunities and connections, including with Tech Ladies (Yay!) and the one for her current job (Yay yay!).
BE GREAT IN THE ROLE
Once you’ve landed an engineering management role, of course, you’ll want to shine in it. Taylor has you covered with practical advice...
Accept that you’re a rookie again.
As Taylor says, “Before you become a manager, you’re executing so you become really good at that. But, when you become a manager, you’re a novice again in a way, which is very uncomfortable.”
If you’re a new manager, Taylor encourages you to:
- Get feedback from people that are more experienced than you. They’ve been where you are so you can make your new job easier by learning from what they share with you.
- Remember that you're job is to empower your team members. When Taylor first started as a manager, her VP of Engineering pointed out that, while Taylor wasn’t coding anymore, she was making it possible for other her engineers to do great work in that area.
Put safety first for your team
Creating a supportive environment for your team members is an important part of any engineering manager role.
The thing that made Taylor realize she wanted to be a manager was how much it meant to her when people said she gave them a place where they felt comfortable and trusted. She says, “I believe that psychological safety and support can make the difference between someone floundering and someone succeeding.”
To create this atmosphere, Taylor advises you to:
- State your intention to create a safe space. When you start a new management role, let the team know you want everyone to treat each other with respect, and then speak directly with people who aren’t.
- Let your team they can contradict or question you. You may be the team's leader, but you're still a team! Remind them that you will also make mistakes sometimes and that it’s ok for everyone on your team to do just that.
- Be very open, especially to feedback from your team. This will both help you know what your team members are thinking so you can better support them and increase their trust when they know they can always turn to you. On her team, Taylor gets this feedback in biweekly team retros and by actively asking her engineers how she can best support them and keep them happy.
Get to know your team
Taylor has a set of four questions she asks new team members when they start:
- How they like to receive feedback
- How they like to be managed
- How often they want 1-on-1s
- What’s a goal they want help with
“This gives me at least some type of path forward with them. And then I follow up on those things,” she says.
Make time for 1-on-1s
Now that you know the schedule your team wants for your meetings with them, it’s important to stick to it. 1-on-1s are for you to stay connected with each team member, especially if you’re working remotely and don’t have other chances for this kind of individual discussions.
Taylor wants you to remember that 1-on-1s aren’t time for project status updates. Instead, they should be time to find out how your direct reports are really doing. (Taylor even asks them that directly!) She also likes to share a doc where each team member can write topics and notes for 1-on-1s and that she can use for follow-up, which is another way she makes sure she’s doing right by her engineers.
Take care of yourself
You can't take care of your team if you're not taking care of yourself. Being a manager can be demanding so it’s crucial that you keep up your confidence and avoid burnout.
Some ways she does this include:
- Be ruthless with your calendar. Taylor says she quickly learned as a manager to “block off huge swaths of focus time 1-2 months in advance” to focus on strategy or reprioritize what she’s working on. Otherwise people will fill your time for you!
- Have a good support system. At work, in the tech community, as well as friends and family. These should be people to uplift you and whose opinions you value, especially in tough situations
- Give yourself grace. We’re all human so we’ll make mistakes. That’ll happen as a new manager too so don’t beat yourself up when it does.
- Recharge and re-energize. When you feel yourself flagging, take a step back and take care of yourself. This shouldn’t be seen as downtime. Instead, it’s what we all need sometimes to come back and be even better than before.
- Speak up if you’re struggling. Taylor says, if you aren’t feeling supported in your new role, you should set up a meeting with your supervisor. Share the examples of when you haven’t felt comfortable and let them know you want to succeed and the ideas for how you can be better set up for success.
Want to check out the whole conversation with Taylor? We don't blame you!
You can watch the recording here:
We hope her actionable tips helps you excel in your career!
And, if you’re looking to strategically grow your own network as a woman in tech, join Tech Ladies for free! We’ll keep you in the loop about great events just like this one, as well as open roles at companies that share your values.
See you at our next event! ✨