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Finding the Right Moment of Opportunity to Advance Yourself

Personal Growth
Career Path
New Manager

17 June, 2021

Rohan Kulkarni
Rohan Kulkarni

Director of Engineering at Expedia

Rohan Kulkarni, Engineering Manager at Expedia, was not handed his title through sheer luck; instead, he recognized an opportunity to lead and blazed his own path forward.

Problem

Up until around four years ago, I was working as an individual contributor. I was focused only on my career growth and development and my deliverables. I did not think about what others wanted or how I could help them at that point. I was managing a vendor team, but I was not involved in their career development and goals, only in their output.

I was in the office one day and found myself thinking: okay, there are all of these different managers here. What would it be like to be one of them, to manage other peoples’ careers and to help them grow? I wondered what it would be like to think more about other people, rather than only myself. How could I measure myself through them and their progress and success?

As an IC, it was easy to measure my own success by looking at what I was delivering. As a manager, it’s difficult to measure success in this same way. You can’t really look at how many promotions you’ve given and call that success; clearly, that is not a valid metric in the same way.

Actions taken

For about six or seven months, I tried to break into management. I was having conversations with our senior directors and looking for opportunities. I reconnected with one of my peer teams from back in the day. They were all engineers in our Chicago office being led remotely by a manager in London. I thought about what it would be like to have a local manager for this team. The team was more on the junior end of things, so I took the opportunity upon myself to step in and to manage them myself.

I began with casual one-on-one conversations with each team member. I asked them what they liked and disliked about being managed remotely. Would a local manager benefit them? I got a lot of talking points out of those conversations and found some ways that I could possibly make an impact. After I had some data, I approached their manager and asked if he would be comfortable letting me take the team on as my own for a preliminary three month period.

The manager was pretty open to the idea. I managed the team for the agreed-upon three months and received a lot of positive feedback. This was the beginning of my journey as a manager; it was not handed to me, I had to find it for myself. You cannot wait for a manager to leave, or to stumble into a major milestone by accident. You need to take ownership of your career in order to succeed.

Lessons learned

  • I would have never had this chance if I had not identified the opportunity and seized it. Everybody has had a manager tell them to come to them with solutions, not problems. This instilled in me a sense of how I am able to solve problems for others.
  • Part of being a solution in this way involves maintaining visibility as a solution provider, as well as staying informed about what other teams around you are doing and what they may need but are unable to find. Talk to people and understand what issues they appear to be having. Be open-minded. It’s all about building that network of connections and opportunity.
  • I encourage people who would like to move in this direction to have these types of conversations with their managers as often as possible. Let them know about your interests and your wishes for the future. Being upfront with your leadership in this way will give them a chance to consider you when an opportunity presents itself.
  • Be proactive, but also patient. The opportunities will come. Things change, but the right moment happens for everybody at some point.

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