Having Impact on ICs as a Manager
13 July, 2021
Realizing the impact that I have as a leader was a really big moment for me personally. I was the engineering manager at a start-up, starting as an IC and moving up to managing managers myself. There was a junior developer who reported to one of the managers who was reporting to me at the time. We would have one-on-ones periodically.
This person expressed that they had never had a one-on-one that had been as focused and as helpful before having one with me. It took a while for the gravity of that to fully sink in. It made me realize that something that I do as a part of my job might have a profound impact on the career of one of my reports, at least for the time that we spend together.
The first one-on-one is really straightforward: an opening statement, here’s who I am, and here’s what I’m here for. I would give them advice about what they wanted to do, and then we would move on to actually getting work done. I still use this routine to this day.
When I assess an IC, I try to get an idea of what really motivates them. People respond to motivators very differently. Some people like the idea of a prestigious title. Some people really like money. Fine, that’s a reasonable ask. We can figure out how to get there. Some folks just aren’t sure, especially if they’ve just graduated. They may have some notion of what they want to do, but aren’t really concrete on why.
Sometimes, it takes a bit of digging in. You try to stretch them and apply enough pressure to help them learn and grow. Stretching somebody too much is not helpful, however. You have to work together with them in order to find that balance, the right amount of stretching. You want to challenge them without stressing them out too much.
- There is always more work to be done. Finding the right work to do is part of your job. It’s your manager’s job to show you what not to do.
- In a way, as you move from being an IC to a manager, you will have some doubts. This is something that I have to do? Will I be able to do it well? Do I have the expertise that you need? For a new manager, consider where the person is comfortable and where they are not comfortable.
- As you go higher and higher as a manager, you’ll end up juggling more and more people on top of your departmental duties. It becomes less about the technical expertise and more about different soft skills. Can you figure out team composition? What level of expertise do you need? What product makes sense for your team to produce?
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