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4 Key Tips for First-Time Managers Growing into Their Role

New Manager

30 August, 2020

Ashish Agrawal, Senior Director of Engineering at Medallia, shares some great tips for all first-time managers who want to excel in their new role.

Problem

ICs who aspire to become managers are encountering different challenges along the way. However, most are concerned about losing their technical competency, not having the right people skills, underestimating the importance of project management, and their poor prioritization skills.
 

Actions taken

Staying technical
The best way to stay technical is to keep doing code reviews for your team and be heavily involved in QA. Picking up tickets every now and then is also a great way to keep your technical competency in shape, along with having your own side projects.
Staying technical also means that you should not compete with engineers on your team. There is no reason for you to try to remain the strongest coder on the team. Your job is to help the team through your experience by asking questions to uncover blind spots.
 

People skills
Be honest with yourself about whether you like to deal with people's problems and emotions. If the answer is no, that is ok, but do not proceed forward for you will not enjoy your job and consequently, not be an effective manager.
Empathy and candor are key people skills. Be comfortable in giving people directions, taking feedback and learning to hear “no” more often, even though you are the boss now.
 

Understanding of project management
Learn how to organize and plan. As an IC, it is easy to get lost in the zone and code away. But as a manager, you have to learn to see the big picture, the forest behind the trees. Create checklists, check-points and meetings, to make sure you are aware of the overall project, its blockers and status.
Keep a special eye on dependencies and their sequence. Aim to unblock others before unblocking yourself.
 

Prioritization skills
Understand the difference between important vs. urgent. There will be a million things that will need your attention, some important, some urgent while some will be both or neither. Create and internalize the value you assign to each cell in this matrix and don't be afraid to drop work on the floor in order to focus on the important & urgent things. You can learn more by searching for “Eisenhower Matrix ''.
Realize that what needs your attention will change based on time of year, phase of the project, team etc. E.g. holding a 1:1 during an incident is neither important nor urgent or finishing performance reviews during performance season is more important than doing code reviews. You get the idea.
 

Lessons learned

  • You must be honest with yourself if you really want to be a manager. I had to ask myself this question every 6 months until I was absolutely sure.
  • Be patient with yourself, this is one of the hardest transitions to make. It will take time.
  • While it is hard to tell people what to do, people are looking for your input and guidance. Don't be shy to speak up. Be prepared to not be the smartest person in the room and be comfortable with it.

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