How Mentorship Enabled me To Become a Manager

Katerina Hanson

Sr. Engineering Manager at Kojo


Stuck in a Senior Engineer Position

In 2012, I was a fairly senior process engineer working in biopharmaceuticals, when I discovered that I loved programming. I decided to pursue a new career in software, but my hope was that I could transition straight into managing teams. I got some good advice from friends in the industry, who explained that the best managers really had a track-record of experience coding, and I should start there. I learned quickly, and was knocking it out of the park as a software engineer, but had been rejected several times as openings came up in-house for manager positions. I tried reading books, attending conferences, and listening to panels devoted to women in leadership, but their advice didn’t resonate with me, and I became frustrated about how to make the leap.

As a woman engineer, I felt especially stuck as I had to constantly prove myself and be the most technical individual in the room. My managers were seeing productivity and technical ability, but they weren’t seeing leadership skills.

The Key Steps in Becoming a Leader

Showing my Interest:

I thought I displayed many of the skills necessary to become a leader - I could manage projects from inception to completion, I could hit deadlines, I came up with new ideas for improvements and even products. I managed risk, and communicated to stakeholders. Moving forward, I started by letting my manager know that I was interested in pursuing a leadership role and that I had the applicable skills that would be required. When the first one turned me down, I found a new job with a company that understood that goal was important to me.

Mentoring Junior Engineers:

As a personal effort to change the ratio in engineering, I decided to volunteer with the local Hackbright bootcamp. As part of networking at mentor / mentee mixers, I met a student who was interested in my company, and I suggested to my manager that we could hire her, and that would give me a chance to mentor. I was able to manage her workload, provide instruction and training, and effectively manage at a small one-person scale.

When my manager left, I was able to talk with the CTO and step into the role of managing the whole team of four. I discussed it with my coworkers so they felt comfortable with me taking more responsibility. I was able to step in and finally acquire the position I had been hoping for.

New Leadership Advice

  • Once you have transitioned into a managerial role, don’t handhold your juniors for too long. They must learn to find answers themselves and develop the vital problem-solving skills that will increase their abilities. I’ve seen this practice happen to many new managers, and it will not benefit the autonomy and independence of your team.
  • While transiting into a managerial position, I recommend not taking roles that require you to code part-time. In my belief, if you are performing your managerial role to the fullest extent of your capabilities, you will not have the time on your hands to code on critical projects, and the company should respect the value you are bringing as a manager.

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Katerina Hanson

Sr. Engineering Manager at Kojo

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationEngineering ManagementMentorship ProgramsTechnical ExpertiseCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesEngineering Manager

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