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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a New Manager

Alexey Novak

Director of Engineering at Rose Rocket

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Problem

Managing and coding are two very different things. When you switch from being an IC to being a manager or a director, you usually have no idea what to do in the role or what to expect. The job description will often be vague and incomplete.

A good manager makes a massive difference. You can be a baker or a plumber, and it will be just the same. No matter what industry you’re in, the difference between a bad manager, a good manager, and no manager at all will have a great impact on the team. This is especially true when it comes to the eventual success of those being managed.

Before stepping into the role, you were likely already a very successful engineer. The learning curve when being promoted may come as a big shock. You were doing really well in your previous position, and now, suddenly, you’re in the dark, no longer sure that you're doing a good job. Struggling with imposter syndrome may end up taking a very serious mental toll on you. There were moments in my own career where I came close to throwing in the towel.

Actions taken

One of the things that helped me to navigate this tough transition was realizing how drastically different the roles of IC and manager are. It’s a very different area of accountability, and you’re essentially starting from scratch. Understand this. Embrace it. The only way out of it is to work, work, work.

As an engineer, you spend time learning and getting better, and you’re trying to find mentors who can show you how to improve and grow. You have a long road ahead of you. The same goes for a new manager or director. Being a great engineer will not always translate to being a great manager right off of the bat. Find new mentors with this type of experience to help you.

To do this, you have to get yourself out there and talk to people so that you can make those connections. There are also plenty of books on the subject of being a good manager. Both of these things will help you build up this important skill. Before, as a developer, you were likely doing extracurricular work on your own time. Now, as a manager, you will need to be just as devoted. At the end of the day, sit down and think about what you could have done better.

Being a great manager has the potential to have an extraordinary impact on the people who report to you and the organization as a whole. It’s hard, but the potential that you have in terms of influence is so much greater. You’re able to see the impact that you have further down the road as those around you grow.

Even in my lowest moments, I have always been able to persevere and overcome the feeling of imposter syndrome by remembering that I have lots to offer. It takes courage and energy. It’s good to be grateful and humble through it all.

Lessons learned

  • At the beginning, you need to be willing to start from scratch. You will inevitably make mistakes, just like in any other role.
  • The difference between a functional team and one that is always behind may be the swap of a single person. You, as a manager, can be this person. You don’t need to be the sharpest shooter in order to lead the winning team to victory.
  • You have to be able and willing to undergo a complete mindset shift. Embrace the fact that you will be interrupted. Embrace that you will no longer be coding as much.
  • The higher that you get in the career ladder, the lonelier you will be. It becomes a different ballgame. That’s something else that you will have to accept about advancing.
  • You do not need to be the smartest engineer in the room to be a good manager. It is a totally different skillset. Moreover, the smartest engineers don't always automatically translate into good managers.

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Alexey Novak

Director of Engineering at Rose Rocket


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