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Investigating a Variety of Career Paths

Kiran Chitluri

Engineering Manager and Leadership Coach at Google

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Problem

I investigated a few different paths in my career along the way before landing in my engineering management role. I actually have an undergraduate degree in biology and I ended up with a Master's in computer science because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my bio degree. After receiving my degree I began an internship in software testing which was an easier door to open from an engineering perspective. I was a software tester for quite a long time until I realized that I might want to do something else. But what?

Actions taken

During my time as a tester, a team began to build up around a specific application and so I was asked to be the project manager. The role was interesting but came with its own challenges. The challenges were all soft skills with no technical aspects tied to the role. So for me, there wasn't enough technical reward that I could be fulfilled by. Once I discovered that I wanted something more technical I thought that maybe I should work in product management.

So, I shifted back into testing and started looking at product management. To gain insight into the role I started talking with product managers and leveraged the mentorship program at the company I was working for at the time. I acquired a couple of names from them and then my strategy was to have informational meetings with these people. I set up a one hour meetings where a lot of the conversation was opportunity-based discussion. The PMs would ask questions to help me think about the position and I would gather information and recommendations about other people I could talk to based on that particular conversation. As a result, in the span of a couple of months I had around 12 of these informational meetings with different product managers in different areas trying to investigate fit and a possible opening. This gave me time to think about the role and be able to talk to peers who were going through the same type of thinking as I.

I found out a few things from having these meetings. First, while I did like talking to customers and spending time with them I also felt like I would have to start from the beginning again with my career. Secondly, as a product manager there would be a certain amount of stress that came with being customer-facing that I wasn't accustomed to. I personally prefer to wear casual attire to work and to not have to worry about shaving every day. With product management I felt that there would always be eyes on me so it didn't really sit well with my personal style. I didn't feel like I could be myself. Lastly, I discovered that product management positions come in different flavors. Although the title might be the same, the responsibilities and roles can be very different. So while one may expect you to be creative and intellectual, another may be a bit more labor intensive. Thus, an exact match with a product was crucial for success.

Eventually, I ended up leaving that company because I wasn't able to get the career growth I was seeking. Luckily, I received a cold call about a test manager job and I was asked whether I would be interested. I took that position which ultimately led me to my current role as an engineering manager.

Lessons learned

  • My philosophy around career growth is that being patient isn't necessarily the correct way to solve things. What worked for me was to make a change by taking a risk on a new role. Sometimes people feel that they need more years of experience or special qualifications to take on a lot of these management roles. But really, if given the opportunity, you can do them. Don't wait until you have 'enough credentials' or until you 'have done your time'.
  • Ask for what you want. If you're seeking career development and opportunity, then make that known. Make it clear that you want something. Then you will know what will be required of you as well as putting yourself on the radar of others. Ask and push for what you want.
  • There may be times where you have to move to a different team or different company to get the career growth that you want. This is because people are not always going to support the change that you are looking for. Also, because the company may not have the opportunity that you seek.

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Kiran Chitluri

Engineering Manager and Leadership Coach at Google


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