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How to thrive in a new role that's much bigger than what I'm used to?

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Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Googlea year ago

What should I think about and focus my efforts on when I get a project and a role that's of (1) bigger scope and (2) tighter deadlines than I'm used to?

Context

A reorg has suddenly thrust me into the TL role for a very high-profile project on a new team. This project is part of OKRs 4 levels up the chain and has the eyes of several director level people across different functions. From what I've heard, this project already suffered from "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome, and on top of that, this project has delivery date set in Q3, which is quite aggressive from our org's standards.

I've landed in this position because I was transitioning to this team prior to the reorg, AND the EM/TL/PM/2 L5s has been reorg'ed out, and they needed someone who had previously TL experience and was willing to do it.

I've previously TL'ed a team of 4 people, with important but "normal" priority projects. This is clearly a great opportunity for me, but I am afraid I'm not ready to handle it and I'm at a bit of loss as to what I should be focusing most of my effort on. With the tight deadlines I have, I feel like every day will be a battle so any advice on how to approach this will be appreciated.

I have one other L5 supporting me who I trust very much and a new EM who's rumored to be very good. We currently have 4 SWE including me and we'll be getting more at least 4 more engineers, with lots of adjacent teams helping out. I do also have good standing and connection in the org overall and I know how to get a "normal" project in our org over the line (I did an in-org transfer).

What I'm thinking about right now

  1. Knowledge Transition: since a lot of critical members of the team are leaving and I am taking over, I feel the biggest priority in the near term is to absorb as much knowledge from them as possible. So far, they have some prototypes, and I wanted to get my hands dirty, so maybe I should focus on is to understand the work that's been done really well, and the design choices that's been made already?
  2. Gather support: I feel like biggest personal risk is that I don't know how to show up in higher-stake meetings with directors. Is it any different? Where do you all see the risk is?
  3. Enable the team: I know the biggest responsibility I have, more than anything, is to make sure the team is able to work on the project and help us deliver this. Aside from the L5, I don't know a lot about the people. I feel I should putting my focus on ensuring they are as successful as possible, not focusing on my own technical knowledge as much, for us to succeed. Is that a good way to think about it?
  4. Self-management: I anticipate I'll be very stressed and pulled in many directions. I already feel this way. What are some tools I can leverage in "crunch time"?
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Discussion

(4 comments)
  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    All great questions! I know this is easier said than done, but my main advice is around mentality: See this as an opportunity, not a chance for failure. Be excited, not scared.

    There's a lot to unpack here, so I'll go through the questions one-by-one.

    ...so maybe I should focus on is to understand the work that's been done really well, and the design choices that's been made already?

    Good instinct - You should definitely do this! When working at a massive company like Google, there's going to be sooooo much context and nuance underneath the hood. It's crucial that you get it all out there. Take ample notes and create a singular source of truth project doc.

    Here's some good resources to help with this:

  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    I feel like biggest personal risk is that I don't know how to show up in higher-stake meetings with directors. Is it any different?

    Yes - They're going to be operating at a much higher altitude than you are. Learn to speak in high-level strokes and don't get bogged down in the details. They care about whether the project is going to ship on time and what teams need to brought in to support dependencies, not what library you are using to pass data between services.

    A lot of the concepts behind skip-level 1 on 1s apply here. I recommend going through these:

    Where do you all see the risk is?

    Knowing how similar Google and Meta are in terms of engineering culture and company maturity, I'm 90% sure the biggest risks are non-technical. Think communication gaps with other teams, compliance/legal issues, and ambiguity around the product requirements.

    Here's a great discussion around how you can derisk the project here: "How to sequence activities to reduce risk?"

  • 0
    Profile picture
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    I feel I should putting my focus on ensuring they are as successful as possible, not focusing on my own technical knowledge as much, for us to succeed. Is that a good way to think about it?

    Overall, yes. However, your own technical knowledge is still quite important: As the project lead, you need to have a strong high-level understanding of every part of the system. You don't need to know exactly every commit that's being landed, but if someone were to ask you, "So what does X's part of the project look like and how does it work?", you should be able to answer, even if it's not your primary stack.

    To help with this, I recommend my system design series: System Design Masterclass: Taro Playlists

    Aside from the L5, I don't know a lot about the people.

    That's fine, you can build up those other relationships later. The good news is that having another L5 on the project takes a lot of the pressure off you - You two should lean on one another for leadership, picking up the slack in each other's weaker areas. That's what being a team is all about!

    If you both are able to grow the L4s on your team to L5 from this project, that's also good signal of L6 behavior.

    For resources on mentorship and being an effective TL:

  • 0
    Profile picture
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    I anticipate I'll be very stressed and pulled in many directions. I already feel this way. What are some tools I can leverage in "crunch time"?

    1. Focus blocks (particularly for IC work like writing docs and coding)
    2. Shutting off your work computer and muting work apps outside of work hours
    3. Ruthless prioritization (discuss with your manager and the other L5, use JIRA or whatever to label things)
    4. Constant communication as the deadline pulls up (weekly updates)

    Here's some good resources to help with that:

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