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Seeing Past the “Dark Side” of Management

Personal Growth
Leadership

21 May, 2021

Aravinda Gollapudi
Aravinda Gollapudi

VP of Engineering at Sage

Aravinda Gollapudi, Vice President of Engineering at Sage, never saw herself as a manager as she rose through the ranks; now, looking back, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Problem

When I first started my career, I found pride in being somebody who knows how to write good code. Solving a problem is actually what drives the high for me. I’m excited, I go home with energy when I get to think about things like that. The challenge of being in the game, reaching that pinnacle, and then running off to the next problem to solve gives me a great feeling.

Early in my career, most of what I saw managers doing was nothing that I was interested in. They did a lot of watching over you, always asking for a status update. They sat in meetings all day. They were the people who had to deal with underperformers and layoffs. Who would ever want to do that? When you are in the midst of the technical work, you celebrate with your colleagues when you solve something. You have responsibility, but it’s a different type of responsibility than what managers have.

I’ll admit it: I was not a good manager in the beginning. I didn’t know how to do the job; my first time in the role was actually jarring for me. I suffered from imposter syndrome for a very long time. I had so many talented people working under me; why would they want to respect me, how does one even gain respect? I focused on ensuring that they would find it valuable to have me in the role. Part of this involved a deliberate effort to retain my ability and to share what I knew with them.

Actions taken

I have had many great managers who have influenced and inspired me. During a three month internship many years ago, I worked under a manager who really left an impression with me in terms of what it means to be a great manager. I remember one task assigned to me that I was really struggling with, and she was so understanding and kind. She assured me that worrying was not necessary and that tomorrow would be a new day. She advised me to talk to others when I had a problem that I could not solve on my own.

As I moved on, I sort of lost touch with this sentiment. Thankfully, I was able to find my way out. I learned that we can become the type of manager that we want to be. As I grew in my career, I found that the real difficulty that I faced was learning new skills outside of the realm of the technical work that I loved. So much of what we do in engineering is isolated from the other departments that we work with.

How do you find common ground with marketing, for example? How do we change direction strategically? What gets involved in these decisions and communication? In addition dealing directly with just your customers, solving their problems and addressing their pain points, how do you tap into that relationship and gain a deeper understanding of how to improve the product that you are sharing with them, what you’ve invested in with them? How do you work with your finance team to foresee what’s actually coming down the path? These were the elements of the job that really matter.

It’s one thing to observe somebody doing a job. It’s another thing to do it yourself. Now that I’ve grown in my career, I’ve realized that there are parts of management that you really don’t understand until you’ve actually been a manager. One of the most important to me is bringing forth the best in everyone that you oversee. I think it takes a while to understand that. A manager’s job is not to micromanage or to constantly choke the people on their teams.

They’re running into roadblocks? Help them by removing those roadblocks. You encourage them by showing them appreciation along the way. You cheer for them from the sidelines as they win or climb their own personal mountains. I didn’t realize these things fully as an IC in the early days of my career.

Lessons learned

  • Something that helped me a lot was being transparent about my own vulnerabilities. If I am not an expert, I openly admit it to my team. I look to them for help. They appreciate this honesty.
  • Gaining and seeking mentors who were already very successful managers also helped a lot. I reach out to these people when I need to brainstorm. They give me insight into how I could have handled something better. I used to be a lot more instinctual, forming my opinions quickly. My mentors taught me a lot about how to reserve judgement. I became a more balanced person with a better perspective into how to amplify the goodness that you have to share rather than focusing constantly on what’s broken.
  • Ultimately, it is my team who instills this feeling of positivity in me as I grow. Cherishing what we have and learning how to cultivate that feeling is a very positive way to go through life. I still have a long journey ahead of me. I have more to do and more to give, and, with that, a lot to learn.

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