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Trusting your gut feelings when promoting engineers as managers.

Krishna Vemuri

Sr. Engineering Manager at Townsquared

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Problem

I had a tech lead who was inherently a very good person, but who had some attitude issues. He came to me asking to be promoted to the role of Engineering Manager. We set up a six-person "committee", made up of senior engineers and Directors to evaluate his capacity. I knew he had potential if he was willing to work on his attitude issues, so I decided to let the committee tell me if he'd be capable or not.

Actions taken

The committee was very positive about him, but I still did not promote him at first, as I was not comfortable with the decision. I eventually decided to, as the committee had validated him. It started well, but after three months it started to go south. During "skip level 1:1s", engineers would report that he would blame people when things weren't going as planned and would complain that others were "making him look bad". It was too much, so I talked to HR and I was presented with two options: 1.Terminate him after a PIP 2. Coaching. I went with the coaching solution. But while it seemed to work well, one day we underwent a huge outage for a few hours on a product he'd managed. We were all under pressure, so when he came to the "war room" and started blaming people, I had to ask him to leave the room. During the event post-mortem, I found out that he had sent emails on the night of the incident blaming others for the outage. That was too much - we talked and after multiple emails and conversations telling me I was the problem, he switched to another team.

Lessons learned

This episode showed me that I should trust my gut feeling. I knew he had attitude issues, yet I let him advance from being an engineer to becoming a manager and continued to let him be a manager, despite warnings from team members.


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Krishna Vemuri

Sr. Engineering Manager at Townsquared


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