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The Natural Progression From an IC Role to Manager

Building A Team
Handling Promotion
Personal Growth
Leadership
Juniors
New Manager

7 December, 2021

Yao Xiao
Yao Xiao

Director of Algorithm Engineering at Aibee

Yao Xiao, Director of Algorithm Engineering at Aibee, shares how he transitioned from an IC role to a manager, learning the soft interpersonal skills required to lead a team.

The Levels Between an IC Role and Manager

After receiving my Ph.D., I started working in an industrial setting as a software engineer. I felt like I took a traditional route, moving to tech lead, then tech lead manager, and finally people manager. Taking each step in between an IC role and managerial position helped smoothen my transition. Without these steps, I found it difficult to progress successfully and learn from mistakes along the way.

My Naturally Progressing Career Path

The First Years at a Company:

As a junior, newly joining a team, I gained technical knowledge and field expertise on the underlying fundamentals and specific domains I was working in. Naturally progressing, I assumed a tech lead role, working closely with a few junior engineers and slowly picking up a few soft skills. At the three-year mark, I was in a semi-senior position, managing a small group of juniors and fully comprehending my domain.

Moving forward, I acquired technical leadership with a few other engineers at a similar skill level. I found that this step was critical in my development, as it taught me to demonstrate my technical skills as a leader and collaborate with other leaders. These were the skills expected for the next role of tech lead manager, requiring a promotion within the company.

Tech Lead Manager:

The company I worked in had the position of tech lead manager before people management. Some companies may not have this role, but I found it to be a large learning opportunity. I still was able to work on my technical skills while expanding my influence with my colleagues. When I transitioned to tech lead manager, my team doubled from five engineers to ten.

Through this position, I gained exposure to PO management routines and tasks expected of me during my new position. I was introduced to a feedback ownership point of view that was vital to the mindset of a PO manager.

Managerial Duties:

When I transitioned to a managerial position, I remember assuming a team tasked to expand in a new direction. I realized that I was trying to find every detail about my team's new projects, finding it hard to deal with the unknowns. By not knowing the details, I had to quickly learn how to support my team indefinitely.

I needed to build a healthy ratio between senior and junior engineers, where there was a decent amount of knowledge and motivation for the team. Delegating and measuring a team's performance without knowing every detail of all the ongoing projects was vital in helping my team succeed. I used metrics and data-driven insights to evaluate the performance and increase autonomy within my tech lead managers.

Tips for a Successful Transition

  • For people from technical backgrounds or those who have worked in IC positions for a long time, the transition to manager can be difficult. You have to be comfortable without knowing every detail about every project your teams are working on.
  • Before transitioning to a managerial role, I recommend reading the book “The Making of a Manager” by Julie Zhuo. For myself, the main takeaway of this book was the authenticity required to be a manager. Her insights and candidness shine through and provide helpful details that are beneficial to becoming a manager.

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