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How to Transition Into an Executive Role

Personal Growth
Delegate
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

9 November, 2021

Luis Villegas
Luis Villegas

Chief Technology Officer at Bungie

Luis Villegas, Chief Technology Officer at Bungie, speaks on his experience working through the career ladder into an executive position.

Problem

When I worked as an engineer, I thought my technical abilities would help grow my career. I thought these skills would create new opportunities and allow me to take on a leadership role. Eventually, it hit me that this skill set was not related to becoming a leader and that there were other skills that I needed to learn — such as influencing others and understanding the language of business. There was no clear-cut set of steps that would allow me to gain a managerial title. It was challenging to realize I could be really advanced in my technical skills and not have opportunities that aligned with my aspirations. Growing my career, it turned out, didn’t involve a boost to my technical skills, but a change in mindset.

Actions taken

From that point on, I began thinking about what it means to be a leader, to manage people's careers, and to build high-performance teams. I wanted to understand what motivates people and to try and learn and develop methods for getting the highest standard of work from myself and my colleagues.

Here’s the difference between programming and leadership: When I was a programmer, I wrote a lot of code and could see the changes within a few seconds. The latency was very low. Helping your colleagues grow happens on a different timeline. You experience variable latency as a leader. The immediate feedback loop you have as an engineer is virtually gone. You may spend a lot of time with a team member and not see the results of that work until years later.

When I realized I wanted to lead, I began to read more in order to understand the “language” of leading — the psychology inspiration, the power of continued learning, and the value of authenticity, empathy, and compassion. It provided me with an understanding of the craft that is leadership. And from that point on, I began looking for mentors in people doing what I wanted to be doing. I asked for their advice, and I found this to be one of the most valuable decisions I made. Learning someone's processes, rituals, and insights helped me comprehend the necessary skills to become a manager.

My second step was to fill my knowledge gap using education. There's a negative stereotype around engineers that they aren't people-oriented and like to work independently. Leaders embody the opposite. They engage, interact, and influence entire teams. Even though this stereotype is misguided, I felt as if it might restrict my opportunities. To negate this, I looked to gain an MBA to validate myself beyond my engineering experience. Earning my MBA was a game-changer. Equipped with these tools, I could speak about business matters, articulate leadership principles, and understand how to influence an organization using well-defined frameworks.

After completing my MBA, I needed to gain clarity. Receiving a second degree revealed so many opportunities that it was difficult to decide what I wanted to pursue. A couple of months after graduation, I gained that clarity: I wanted to be a Chief Technology Officer. From there, I knew I needed to focus on technology strategies, industry trends, and on building connections with others in executive roles. I’m grateful to have been part of Bungie since 2003, where the leadership team has supported my growth and career advancement. After years of dedication to the company, I carved a path to become the studio’s CTO in December 2020.

Lessons learned

  • Time management is the number one challenge when moving into an executive role. Executives never have an opportunity to disengage. You are always connected to the organization, meaning it is imperative to manage your work-life balance. The biggest advice that I have is to make conscious decisions about which tasks to complete and which ones to deprioritize.

  • Growing your career is not about being the best at what you do but being the best collaborator you can be. Using mentorship as a source of information and building effective networks are the most reliable methods of improving your skill levels and making strides in your career path.

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