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Shaundai Person
Shaundai Person

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How to Switch to the Engineering Team at your Current Company

I started a sales role at SalesLoft when I moved to Atlanta, 11 years into a successful career in sales. At the time, I had exactly 0 years of professional experience as a developer. (If you’re interested, check out this article about my decision to switch careers).

A little over a year into my SalesLoft journey, I accepted an offer as a Junior UI Engineer. The advice in this post is for anyone looking to make a similar switch. Whether you’re coming from a non-traditional role or you're already pretty technical, here are some tips to moving into engineering without leaving your current company.

Side note: In this post, I mention "hiring manager" quite a bit. I understand that in most cases, there is no open Junior position just yet. The "hiring manager" is the person who - when your ideal position opens up and you get the job - will be your new manager.

Find a Mentor

Find an Internal Advocate

Go for Coffee

Toot Your Own Horn

Do a Good Job

Find a Mentor

A mentor:

  • Does not necessarily have to work at your company (but in this case, it’s better if he/she does)
  • Is 1-3 levels above where you are in your career
  • Works with you formally or informally on your career objectives
  • Can work with you to discuss challenges in your code and help you get unstuck when you hit a problem
  • Follows your lead. You drive the relationship - deciding what to meet about, bringing forward questions that you have, facilitating times to meet, etc.

Remember that you can have more than one mentor. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say that you should try and find more than one mentor. Different mentors can help with different areas of your life. For example, you may have a mentor for parenting, a mentor for becoming a better JavaScript developer, and an internal mentor at your company who helps you navigate your career as an engineer.

Your relationship with your programming mentor doesn't have to be incredibly formal; you can choose to only meet when you have questions. The important part of mentorship is to have a go-to person for your questions. Your mentor doesn't need to have all the answers, but he/she can help you figure out where to go to find them. They can help you determine which learning areas to focus on and which aren't worth your time. In my case, sticking to a regular weekly meeting with my mentor also forced me to stay accountable for keeping up with my coding even when life got busy. I didn't want to show up to our meeting "empty-handed" so I made sure to work on my projects or take part of a course during the week so that I had good questions to talk through when we met.

Quick Tips:

  • Finding a mentor can be tough. It requires a huge investment of time from both sides. Don't get discouraged if someone you want to be your mentor can't take it on because of other priorities.
  • A good way to find a mentor is to invite people for coffee (see below) as a way to kind of "date" potential mentors and let a mentoring relationship naturally blossom when you find a good fit.

Find an Internal Advocate

This person is likely a different person from your mentor, but it could be the same person. An internal advocate will go to bat for you when you're not around. They will get in front of the right people (and make sure that YOU'RE put in front of the right people) with the message that you rock and you would make a strong fit on your company's engineering team. In addition, advocates will push you to advocate for yourself. Here are some qualities of a good advocate:

  • Works for your company at a senior leadership or higher
  • Provides you with helpful information about how to stand out at your organization
  • Is trusted and respected by the people who make the hiring decisions on your engineering team
  • If put in front of one of the people who make the hiring decision on your engineering team, is willing to speak on behalf of you
  • Speaks highly of you (and often) when you're not around
  • Pushes you to "toot your own horn," even when you feel shy/humble/nervous about it

Quick tips:

  • Give him/her talking points! Make a point to regularly reach out to show them projects you're working on and ask for their feedback. Ask: "If I were building this for (your_company_name_here or your_customer_name_here), what would I add?" "If I were working on this project with others, what kinds of things should I incorporate?" "Is this something you'd find useful? What would you change?"

Go for coffee

Invite someone from your engineering team out for coffee once a week. I mean, it doesn't have to be coffee. Could be tea. Could be for a walk and talk over the phone.

You've probably heard this before (and it's true!) - it's not always what you know, it's WHO you know. When it comes down to you vs another internal candidate, if more people on your engineering team already know you and start to see you as a natural fit for the team, they are going to advocate for YOU to be the next engineering hire. When it comes time for the technical interview, you'll probably be interviewing with someone you've already won over with your coffee and conversation months before.

Quick tips:

  • Spread the love to different people. Make it a goal to meet with 2 new people each month.
  • Plan a few questions beforehand so that you have something to talk about. People love talking about themselves, so here are a few good conversation-starters:
    • Tell me about your journey into tech/engineering.
    • Here's what I'm doing: _____. What else can I do to stand out to the hiring managers?
    • What was your interview like here?
    • Did you always see yourself as an engineer?
    • Do you work on side projects in your spare time? If so, what are you working on these days?
    • I think I'm going to learn (insert language, technology, platform, etc) next so that I can stand out among the other candidates for the next Junior role you think that's worth my time?

Toot your own horn

Self-advocacy makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable. It can feel like bragging or showing off. But if you're not letting people know about what you're working on, no one will know. When it comes time to apply for the Junior opening at your company, you are going to need more than just your resume to stand out against others who have more technical experience. A great way to do this is to open up, get vulnerable, and let others into your journey by showcasing your work!

Quick Tips (without feeling too "braggy"):

  • Set up quarterly meetings with the (future) hiring manager to talk through progress. I used a spreadsheet in one of my conversations to highlight the projects that I'd done and how they mapped to the skills on our company's Junior job listing. Ask the hiring manager for feedback on your learning plan.
  • In one of your coffee conversations, ask how engineers at your company show what they're working on to others. Is it through a private Slack channel (could you get an invite to join?)? Is it through submissions to a Google Form or company newsletter (can you get the link so you can add your projects)? Maybe its through 1:1 meetings with their manager (in this case, it's definitely important to get those regularly-scheduled meetings with one of the managers of the role you'd like to eventually apply for.

Do a Good Job!

Even if you work for a big company where you're pretty confident that your current manager doesn't have any contact with the hiring manager of the team you'd like to move to, rest assured - your future manager will find out about your work ethic, ability to contribute to a team, and overall fit from members of your current team.

Make sure you're doing a great job in your role today!

Connect with me on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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