Taro Logo
2

Becoming a SDM For My Team

Profile picture
Mid-Level Software Engineer at Amazon2 months ago

Hi,

I recently joined Amazon as a boomerang after a few years here. I am on a newly-forming team that has a few SDEs without a SDM. I've been wanting to get into a SDM role and haven't seen a ton of opportunities internally for switching. I am aware of the differences between SDE and SDM since I've gone through the expectations for each role.

Here are some things I've done on helping grow teams:

  • I have experience mentoring 3 junior engineers and helping them grow by taking on more initiative and becoming technically stronger.
  • I have experience helping out a junior-heavy software engineering team that was also at it's early stages (I was the most experienced team member)
  • I have experience cutting through ambiguity, tracking down the right people, setting up meetings and getting consensus

I just joined a few weeks ago, so I'm aware this is sudden. I'm not sure if an opportunity like this is going to happen anytime soon. I'd like to get others' perspectives if I brought this up to the interim Sr. SDM. Would it look bad if I asked to be my new team's SDM and what sort of consequences could result from this?

105
5

Discussion

(5 comments)
  • 3
    Profile picture
    Founder of Expanded Skills • Former Head of Engineering
    2 months ago

    From the things you listed, you're certainly on the right track in terms of showing SDM competencies.

    If you haven't spent at least a few months in the role, give it more time because it's a much stronger case if others naturally advocate for you to be an SDM due to the managerial impact you've had vs. making an explicit ask early on.

    Most places have a "conversation promotion policy" where they'd like to see you operate effectively at the next level (or within a new role laterally) before giving you the title change.

    If you have the opportunity to do the work of an SDM, making an impact and gaining valuable experience while doing so, you're already achieving what you want other than the title itself. Similar to not directly chasing compensation, the title is better achieved as a byproduct, especially internally (switching jobs warrants a whole separate conversation).

    If you're looking for more acceleration, here are a couple of additional managerial-level things you can do.

    • Look for process optimization: simplify workflows, cut out unnecessary steps, leverage frameworks & tooling to increase productivity, find a flywheel & double down / find a vicious loop and look to break it.
    • Find ways to align incentives cross-functionally: this is where most issues happen, but not given enough attention (most people will focus only on their own domain)
    • Bring solutions that don't involve engineering: this is one of the most underrated strategies to build your influence. Be the trusted source that will aim for the best solution to the problem whether it involves engineering or not. This will also help resolve many of those cross-functional issues in the prior point.

    A lot of this traces back to systems thinking and is an increasingly useful skill as you progress on the leadership track.

    DM me if you want to unpack this topic more.

  • 1
    Profile picture
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    2 months ago

    Asking to be the team's SDM just a couple weeks in would be a bad move - It's at least a yellow flag, and I would personally consider it a red flag. It will give the impression that your main goals are all the reasons why bad engineering managers get into the role (title-chasing, clout, power).

    As Casey mentioned, the best (and most likely to succeed) engineering manager transitions are organic and go like this:

    1. You develop a strong reputation as a technical master - You ship fast, write clean code, are an SME in 1 or more domains, and can fix hard bugs. This is the foundation for respect among peers.
    2. You start influencing others on the team - First, it's the usual avenues: Code review, system design inputs, leading meetings in general, answering questions. After that, it gets heavier: You start pair programming with more junior engineers, onboarding new teammates, and hosting brown bags and Office Hours. Your name comes up a lot when people need support.
    3. You start hybridizing as an engineering manager - You take more junior peers under your wing and have recurring 1 on 1s with them. You define growth plans in conjunction with their manager to succeed. You work through others more than you do the work yourself.
    4. The job almost comes to you - Due to excellent feedback across all angles (your technical foundation, leadership, and mentorship), your manager decides it's the right time to transition you to management. It's very clean as you were already doing 50%+ of the job anyways.

    Since you're new on the team, you will need to take time to do Steps #1 and #2. It will take at least 3 months and will probably be closer to 6 (and above). Once you get to Step #3, you should try mentoring engineers on the earlier side of Amazon SDE 2/L5 as well. Being able to grow SDE 1/L4 isn't enough to sustain L5 SDM scope.

    All that being said, this doesn't mean you can't mention your aspirations here at all - You absolutely should. With your manager, I would phrase it in a way where you talk about your passion for mentorship and adding value to others. From there, springboard to the fact that you want to become an SDM someday. The ideal outcome is that you start crushing it so fast (something Taro is great for helping with), that the thought of making you the SDM in this void organically pops into your manager's head on their own.

    Going from IC -> M track is a gargantuan can of worms, so I highly recommend this playlist to learn more about the transition and set yourself up for success with it: [Taro Top 10] Software Engineer To Engineering Manager (IC -> M Track)

  • 1
    Profile picture
    Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] [OP]
    Amazon
    2 months ago

    Thank you both for your replies.

  • 3
    Profile picture
    Senior SWE, Manager at Google
    2 months ago

    For what's it's worth, I did mention with my new manager when I joined the team for which I became an EM for, that I would be interested in exploring engineering management if the opportunity ever came up. I did not mention that I want to be the EM for this team. I frankly probably wouldn't have really considered it then.

    So I agree w/ Casey and Alex that it's probably not a good idea to go into this with the mindset that you are going to be the EM for this team. I think you could still discuss your career goals in becoming an EM, for them to keep in their mind. Definitely continue to show competency and just try to help the team as much as you can. Even if they end up hiring a new EM, the trust and reputation you build through this will help you regardless. Who knows, maybe the opportunity to lead a sister team will come up, and they will think of you!

  • 0
    Profile picture
    Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] [OP]
    Amazon
    2 months ago

    @Kuan Peng thanks for your reply, I'll shift my mindset how I approach this.