For three years, I have been on the Twilio Cloud Security team as an individual contributor and Tech Lead. I am passionate about delivering scalable and resilient infrastructures and software, and for many years, I was enjoying doing just that.
At the beginning of 2022, I had the opportunity to step into the managerial role for the team. I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand my skillsets. The transition happened incredibly fast, and I had numerous learning along the way through insightful mentorship or falling on my face. I summarized these learnings into three major transitions.
You can’t solution-engineer everything.
One of the first lessons I learned early-on, was that you no longer have time to explore all the paths for a specific project. I used to enjoy exploring alternative solutions for a single project, which was doable while leading 2~3 projects in familiar domains. However, the moment I transitioned into managing all the projects in all areas and directions, I realized I simply didn’t have time to research and propose the best solution for all of them.
With all the competing priorities on the managerial land, time became scarce. But that was not the only reason: as you move away from the technical work, the product evolves and requirements change. That means you no longer have the most comprehensive knowledge to optimize a solution. Your job as a manager becomes measuring the outcomes direct against objectives. Somewhere I read a cool analogy: Your job as the head chef is not to make every dish but to taste every one of them to ensure it is up to standard.
Moreover, you shouldn’t be exploring all that and trying to solution engineer every single projects anyways. You have a team of bright engineers to do exactly that. That leads to my next point.
You are now responsible for actually growing others.
As a tech lead, I had
mentoring junior engineers as one of my career development goals. While you might think this sounds similar in terms of “enabling engineers to be better,” as an engineering manager, you are now officially responsible for the ICs reporting to you. The quality of project delivery and ICs’ career growth become the KPIs you are measured against.
As a tech lead, your job is to chart a path for a technical project and bring engineers on board to deliver that vision. As a manager, you are helping your reports to chart their career path and foster team spirit. This is where career conversation comes into play. Think in negotiation terms: win-win or no-deal. The things they work on must benefit the program/company while promoting their career growth. You should hold regular career conversations, learn their career aspirations, understand what motivates them, and delegate projects/tasks aligned with that goal. You can draw inspiration from your own experience and coach them through various scenarios, but everyone’s growth will effectively be different.
One thing I found useful is to ask questions and guide directs to come up with their answers and back them with solid information. You are not telling them what to do, but *empowering• them to determine what is best.
You have to make decisions when nobody wants to.
As a tech lead, I wanted to have more influence over various things like many. Congrats! Now you have that “impact” and “decision-making” ability many of us have dreamed of. But soon you will realize: What’s left for you are the hard decisions nobody wants to touch. They either result from major organizational deficiencies within your company or direct conflicts with other teams.
Think team challenges in the law of natural selection: the weak/easy-to-solve ones are already solved. Survival of the fittest. And good luck, you are now left with the hardest monster to fight.
The challenge is that you will likely never have enough data/evidence to make the best decision. Bring as many parties as possible to solicit feedback, and always document the final call in written format. Most of the team, someone will be unhappy about that decision, and it is critical to provide written evidence and data to back your decision. Or in the Infosec term as we like to call it: leave an audit trail.
An old Proverb says:
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
Junior engineers are catching the fish, tech leads are teaching fishing with their framework, while managers ensure ships are maintained and keep the fisherman accountable.
Some cool resources that helped me along the way: