Growing Your Career Horizontally

Gaurav Mathur

Engineering Manager at Airbnb



"At a previous company that I worked for I was managing a growing team. Out of necessity we hired more engineers and set up more teams. We didn't have enough managers so naturally, I started managing these multiple teams. I had four or five teams with drastically different product areas and I loved it. I got used to that kind of work lifestyle and could see a clear path for me to grow: hire a manager for each of the teams, start managing them, and slowly make my way to the director of engineering. Yet, I wasn't entirely confident that that was the direction I wanted my career to grow."

Actions taken

"I had to take a step back and make sure that I was growing in the right way. Was I growing in the way that I wanted to be growing? Was I learning the right things? Getting exposed to the things I wanted to be exposed to? And the answer for me was no, I wasn't. In that particular position, I felt like I wasn't having an impact on the business strategy. Business strategy is similar to product but not exactly the same. Product is what you build. It executes on the strategy. And I had a lot of experience with product but not with strategy. I felt that I was lacking in this area. So even though I knew that I could continue to grow and build a larger team around me, I didn't want to grow further in that direction until I gained more exposure to business strategy. I knew that if I continued down this path that I would limit myself in the number of options that I would have later on. Instead, I decided to stretch myself a bit more horizontally rather than vertically (upwards if you will). As a person who may want to start my own company one day, I wanted to get exposed to business strategies, how to build a business from the ground up, and the types of problems that you face in these areas. So I switched to a different company, to a team that is exposed to a lot more of the business strategy and how the company thinks about implications to what we are doing. It is a lot more cross-functional than what I was doing before. Although my growth may have slowed down a little bit in terms of advancing upward, I feel more confident about the direction I am taking and the toolkit I am building."

Lessons learned

  • "Sometimes as a manager it feels pretty clear that the only way to grow is to get more and more people on your team until you eventually have a manager (or seven) who are reporting to you. This is how you start to grow an organization. It is a traditional way of growing that makes sense, and so people think that their career should follow the same trajectory. Know that you have other options."
  • "As you grow in your career and move up the ladder, the rungs on the ladder get thinner and thinner towards the top. As a result, the next time that you want to switch roles unless you are willing to move down the ladder, you are going to have fewer options around you. So you want to make sure that you have sighted all of the different skill sets that you want before you start making those significant switches."
  • "Don't feel like you have to purely grow upward. There is a lot to learn horizontally. Identify opportunities and lean into them."

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Gaurav Mathur

Engineering Manager at Airbnb

Leadership DevelopmentOrganizational StrategyCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill Development

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