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From Individual Contributor to Manager

Past

Since 2008 I have been playing my career mostly as a an individual contributor, something I do not regret in any way, and that role belongs to a period focused on improving technical skills based on experimentation, deep study and failures.

As an IC I have had awesome mentors and team leads, who did all their efforts to build a safe environment for failures, which I think it is the key for enhancing and boosting your self confidence when you are designing and developing solutions to given problems. We could speak out and deeply about other factors that allow such environment (CI/CD, automations, etc), but it is out of scope for this post.

I was asked to change my role from IC to Manager two years ago for a different project, and all I could say in the following months was that I had played in better places. A few keys I struggled with at the beginning:

  • Huge Impostor syndrome: I knew I could do the job better because I was before a reliable and resourceful professional, but something in my mind was telling me the opposite.

  • Very poor definition of responsibilities and accountability: If doubts exist about who is in charge of specific errands, then something is wrong.

  • Burned and overwhelmed team which was eager to go on vacation instead of pulling issues from TODO column because of the biggest toxic stakeholder I have ever known.

On top of that, I had to be in charge of management tasks I had never done...very interesting scenario, isn't it?

Present

Two years later: I have never played in a better place

My world is different right now, I love my colleagues, they are very committed to the project, and as a result we have a high mature and productive environment.

How did we solve the hot parts ?

  • Impostor thing: frequent personal retrospective, feedback loops with the team and being open to experimentation.

  • Responsibilities and accountability: open loud and clear, respectfully, with different stakeholders of the project, and do feedback loops (again).

  • Toxic stakeholder: fire them, put away from the project. Do you want to work with that guy anymore? No, then do the first move, I do not know where to, but do it. And ask for help, do not be ashamed, in my case the Product Owner and CEO were the key to remove toxicity from the environment, without their help I could not have done it.

Management

Since I started this new role, I may claim right now that being IC means that there is another person who:

  • removes stones for you when you can not lift them.
  • shows a tiny light at the end of a tunnel for a problem no one has a right clue of how to solve it.
  • manages feedback loops for the team.
  • does interviews for candidates.
  • builds an invisible wall to allow the ICs be productive without noise from Product Management.
  • is accountable for a whole development workflow.
  • is able to play as an IC for specific issues and push stuck situations. ...

That is a small list of things a Lead role must be in charge of and they can not be avoided, so there is always a need to have someone in charge of those errands.

The question here is: do you want to try? Give it a chance, do not worry if you think that you are not ready right now, because you will never be.

Future

I am just a lucky guy who learned the pits and falls of a migration process from a non-desirable environment to a high productive and motivating one.

A good team is built with good professionals, not necessary ninjas, gurus or unicorns on specific topics, so whenever I interview someone I need to check if he or she fits our team values first, instead of tech skills or certifications.

Remember that technical skills are far easier to learn that people management, which can not ever be mastered.

Header image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/solutionist/48227526067

Discussion (1)

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tuannguyenminh profile image
Minh Tuan Nguyen

thanx for sharing.