From BFF To Boss

Ashley Miller

Director of Engineering at Datadog



"When I started working for Buzzfeed, I joined a team of five. One of the team leads was moving to another team, so I expressed interest in the role and asked what I needed to do to prove I would be a good fit. Once I had led a few projects, I was told I could lead the team. However, shortly after this, the team grew and split and I ended up managing someone who had previously been a peer of mine."

Actions taken

"A change in roles doesn't have to ruin friendships, but it's important for people to understand that at work, you're in charge. Once you become a team lead, you aren't just responsible for technology. You become responsible for your team's career trajectories. The dynamics change and what you say carries a lot more weight than before."

"I realized I needed to be direct and to establish how I worked with the team, as your team can sometimes assume that you have more information than you do, and that you're holding that information back from them. It's important to be transparent about how your relationship has changed - address it directly. I set up a one-on-one with the engineer who had been my peer to discuss this. I also asked them what they wanted to do in their role, what they were interested in, and what they wanted to do with their time on that team. This ensured that when I assigned work, I was able to help them in their goals."

"It's also important to understand what motivates your engineers. People who are promoted to the role of team lead are often really productive contributors, and it can be very difficult to let go of that. You can't make every decision, and even if someone is on your team and technically working for you, you will end up making their lives miserable if you dictate every decision. In addition, if you do this you'll ruin you personal relationship with your team members."

Lessons learned

"If you become a manager of people who had been your peers, acknowledge it directly. Set up time to privately talk about it and then work with your manager to figure out how to work out what your new responsibilities mean at a day-to-day level. The first time I went through this process, I made a lot of mistakes. However, by going through it again at Buzzfeed, and doing it correctly, I was able to learn how making the right decisions leads to positive relationships. I had to learn how to guide people without treating them like an extension of myself."

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Ashley Miller

Director of Engineering at Datadog

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