Do the Job before Claiming the Title

Siwei Shen

Director of Software Engineering at Lyft



In 2012, I was a tech lead at Twitter, but I was wrestling in my mind with whether or not I should step into management. Around that time, I got a new manager who was experienced. I went to my new manager and asked him how I should choose between continuing on the technical pathway or switching into the management track.

While he was willing to help me figure out what I would be best at, my manager posed the question back to me. He wanted me to feel if management was right for me. Did I really understand what the new role would involve? How would I make sure I would still make an impact?

Actions taken

In my case when my new manager first arrived, our team was very small, with only two engineers working on two completely different projects. My manager focused on one of the two, as he had directly relevant experience with it from his prior job. And he gave me total ownership over the other project and asked me to grow a team around it. To do so, we had to first expand the scope of the project.

Hiring people for Twitter was relatively simple at the time thanks to strong brand recognition and pre-IPO status. However, expanding the scope so that we would have a justification for a larger team was more difficult. We were doing infrastructure work to handle all the URLs on Twitter, but most of the work was done by then, and it was actually in maintenance mode. The challenge was then to look for natural extension of the project. My manager challenged me to own it!

I reached out to lots of different teams at Twitter that had something to do with URLs, trying to see whether there could be opportunities to consolidate our stacks and systems. After many unsuccessful attempts at finding scope expansion, we found that the Search team was looking for a new owner of the web crawling infra, and that the Growth teams would love to see some new features in Twitter's web crawler to empower one of their new product initiatives -- Twitter Cards.

This turned out to be a perfect extension of my original project. We took on the ownership, worked with the stakeholders on the product roadmap, sketched out the new architecture, and calculated the headcount needs.

After I had completed this work, my manager let me know that the work I had done was exactly the work that would be expected of a manager. By going through the process fairly independently, I had given the management team enough confidence that I would be a good fit as an engineering manager.

Lessons learned

When considering a role change, many people often ask for a title change first. Instead, try to do the work first. If you can show, both to yourself and those around you, that you can do the work that would be expected of you in the role you want, the title will follow. This is true for when you're trying to get promoted, but even more true for when you are wanting to change roles.

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Siwei Shen

Director of Software Engineering at Lyft

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