New Managers: Being a Manager

Congratulations, you’re a manager 🎉 First step off the IC path, first rung of the leadership ladder - exciting career changes!

So - now what? How is your role changing? What do you do when you’re a manager? What shifts in work and, more importantly, shifts in strategy and perspective will you need to make? A career ladder should offer some insights here, but many companies don’t have one. Drawing on the advice of tech managers who have learned this through experience, let’s take a look at some of those shifts:

  • Be ready to change what “productive” looks like in your mind. Your to-do list is more about others and making sure they are able to complete tasks than about your contributions to the deliverable.
  • Develop your people not your position, if you do your position will develop itself with management and just importantly with your team. Good luck!
  • Speak mostly in terms of objectives and goals, work for collaboration within the team and with peers and our customers.
  • I would have focused very intently on understanding what my company values from the role. It looks very different in different places.
  • While your team may be reporting to you, you are actually working to enable them.
  • That management without leadership will get you nowhere. And that leadership, just as management, is something you study and practice and improve over time, it’s not charisma or a hidden talent you either have or don’t.
  • For me: delegate, be patient, and remember the speed bumps you hit aren’t the end of the world. My mom told me when I first become a tech manager that a manager’s job is to give their team the tools and space to succeed and it turned out to be the best advice.
  • Your success will be measured through your teams success.
  • Oh, and never ever abandon the consequences of your own leadership. I reiterate - you’re the leader. It’s on you. If it’s broke, own it. It’s the cost of leadership. Cry in the bathroom if you have to, and then go back like you were always in control the whole time and fix it.
  • Learn how to redefine success for yourself. Productivity is no longer easy to quantify
  • Every bit of IC work you do is a missed opportunity for someone else

A manager’s job is to give their team the tools and space to succeed. In part, a manager’s success is based on the success of their people. How are you helping them succeed? I’ve seen managers who micromanage their people to success, which may reflect well on the manager but does absolutely nothing for the person they’re managing. On the flip side, I’ve seen managers who operate under a system of benign neglect, where they give people all the space they need but none of the tools to help. My goal is to have my people learn what success looks like for them, give them time to try and learn and try and learn, and make sure I’m there to give a boost when they need it. I took a great workshop with Lara Hogan last year on coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship that has helped give me the tools I need to help my people in the ways that they’ll need. (She also has a talk with some great resource on her site!) My job as a manager isn’t just directing my people around - it’s understanding what they’re doing, what they want to accomplish, and helping guide them toward creating that success.

Never ever abandon the consequences of your own leadership. Some of the worst managers I’ve experienced are the ones who abandon their people at the first sign of trouble - they save themselves and get out of the way of whatever’s coming down the pipe. But just like part of my job is helping my people succeed, part of my job is also helping fix things that fail. If a project is consistently going sideways, if someone is struggling to learn the skills they need, if there’s an interpersonal conflict that is’t getting resolved - it’s my job to step in, understand the challenges, and help figure out a solution. It may not be my fault or my responsibility on paper. But in practice, I am accountable. As the person who’s leading the Quality Engineering discipline, I’m the face of the team within the company. I’m ultimately accountable for the methods and success of the team and the work that we do.

Be ready to change what “productive” looks like in your mind. As a QA engineer, “productive” was often measured in how many tickets I QA’ed or how many releases I did. Those are easy metrics to grasp, even if I didn’t agree that they were a useful measure of productivity. But as a QA manager, I’m typically not the person responsible for doing QA reviews or releases - instead, I’m managing the folks who are. So what are my metrics? In my particular role, where I’m introducing QA and Quality Engineering as internal disciplines, I’m looking at QA engagement on our client services teams. Do we have a steady influx of work that needs QA services? What’s the utilization percent for my QA engineer? (It’s not - and should never be - 100%!) I need to be building relationships and trust with the other teams and team leads - how is that looking? I’m also setting the foundation for the Quality Engineering discipline, like resources for testing processes, learning, and accessibility. Instrument has Growth Profiles for the various disciplines, so I’m adding to that for QAE and also figuring out how we can iterate that into actual career ladders.

Understand what your company values from the role. You have to know what you’re aiming for! If you’ve got a career ladder, you probably have an advantage here, because the org already has some definition of success. (I say probably because not all ladders are created equal.) But let’s assume you don’t have a career ladder - how do you discover this information? Ideally, it’s come up in pre-promotion conversations with your manager. If you feel comfortable talking to your manager’s manager, you should also get their perspective on it. Know who the key players are in your career trajectory, and make sure you’re aligned with their assumptions. This doesn’t mean that you have to give in or give up your ideas of success! For my role, I have ideas and goals about the value that I bring to the company - I want our QA team to be the go-to experts on quality and testing. I want to build up a team that’s as comfortable coaching and advising around quality as they are diving into the actual testing. I want our client services teams to engage with QA services early in the process, not just when development kicks off. And I think these goals are worthwhile and achievable! But I have to balance my goals against other people’s perceptions and expectations, because I need to work with them in order to truly create that value. I need to understand what their understanding of QA is, and how they currently think it should be incorporated. I’m trying to change the way other people work, and that is definitely not something I can just push ahead on without thinking about what other people need.

If this is the first New Manager post that you’re reading, don’t forget to check out the previous articles in the series:

Written on April 4, 2020