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Helping Engineers Transition from an IC to a Manager Role

Personal growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

2 July, 2020

Namrata Ganatra, CTO at Lambda School, delves into all aspects of helping engineers transition from an IC to a manager role.

Problem

My team was growing very quickly when I was at Facebook, and I needed engineering managers to manage different pods. I already had a few managers on my team but they had enough on their plate and I needed more to scale myself and the team.

I had 2 options:

  • Hire an engineering manager from outside.
  • Transition strong individual contributors to a manager role based on: (a) if they have expressed interest in their career plan to become a manager at some point or; (b) if they have the potential to be great managers based on their 360 feedbacks.

I am a big believer in enabling opportunities for people from within if the interest and incentives are aligned for transitioning them from an IC to a manager.

However, just because someone is interested in becoming a manager, it isn't the only qualification for making this transition. If the incentives are not aligned and they don’t have adequate management skills then it won’t set them or their teams up for success.

Actions taken

I created a well-structured process and defined a trial period for converting an IC from my team to become a manager. This trial period could be 3-6 months long depending on the circumstances.

The expectations would be clearly set with an individual during and after the trial period; we would sit down and have a conversation on how the new role was going and whether it was something that would set them up for success long-term. This discussion would go hand in hand with their career development plan that I would work on with people on my team.

With regards to the process template, below are some templated questions to think about when converting an IC to a manager (note: these questions are engineering team focused, but you could use similar questions for any other function as well) .

  • What team would this person be managing and what will this team be doing? How many engineers are on this team?
  • How likely it is that this team will grow in the next year if they are successful in their current trajectory?
  • What has this individual been doing during the last year to prepare themselves for managing? (for example, team lead responsibilities, cross-functional work, training sessions, managing interns, etc.)
  • How strong is their understanding of what management involves and how and who have they talked to about their interest in management?
  • What are her/his strengths in management and what are the risk areas?
  • What was their recent performance review and 360 feedback?

I would write down answers to all these questions as detailed as possible and then develop and propose the plan to this individual, other leaders, and our stakeholders who would be interacting with this person as a manager. Once I had buy-in from all parties, the trial period would begin, and it would result in a successful transition of this individual to a manager role.

Lessons learned

  • Now, 6 years later, some of the the individuals I helped transition to a manager role are successful engineering leaders in high growth tech companies. There is nothing that makes me more proud than seeing people become successful and playing a small part in their success.
  • By creating a standardized process for evaluating and transitioning someone from an IC to a manager role, I ended up with a framework to de-risk highly skeptical transitions for both myself and a person going through the transition.
  • It also helped create a smooth transition process and increase the chances of making this transition successful by creating a safe space to address the areas of improvement for a new manager.
  • Lastly, it helped set the right expectations with an IC underlining that it’s not a one-way street and that it’s okay to try a different path.

I have now used this process for the past many years and it has enabled me to grow strong engineering leaders who are doing some amazing things at various tech companies.


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