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Staff IC to EM-1: Should I make the transition?

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Staff Software Engineer [E6] at Taro Community5 months ago

I have 15 years of experience in the tech industry. I joined meta as an E6 engineer in July, following 7 years at Amazon and over 6 years at Microsoft. Afte joining, I quickly initiated and led small projects, progressing to a major project. I utilized my experience to guide and support other engineers, contributing to their professional growth. Our team has another E6 tech lead with deep domain knowledge and currently, he is the face of the team. We maintain a positive and respectful relationship, trusting each other.

However, I observed that our engineering manager (EM) was not effectively providing direction, hindering team productivity. Recognizing this gap, I collaborated with other tech lead to create a project tracking sheet, enabling us to monitor initiatives with timelines and ownership. This significantly improved our team's efficiency and motivation, leading to the successful completion of a major project.

Now, here's the exciting part – my skip reached out and surprised me with an offer for the EM role! While I'm honored, I'm grappling with doubts about whether I have the necessary skills for success. Despite enjoying mentoring others in technical discussions, I'm concerned about potentially losing touch with the hands-on tech work that I love.

On the bright side, my tech lead partner is supportive and believes I should take on the EM role, offering full support. However, I'm contemplating whether I should explore the possibility of a Tech Lead Manager role to strike a balance between leadership and hands-on technical involvement.

I'm at a crossroads and would love to hear your thoughts and advice based on your experiences.  One side me want to try EM path but one side says why take this hassle and stick with what you know better i.e tech. Also, I treat myself as avg communicator. I feel, I am good at empathy, task breakdown and mentoring skills.

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(6 comments)
  • 3
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    Engineering Manager @ Blend
    5 months ago

    Some things to consider.

    • Do you love growing people? – ICs are primarily concerned with problems solving technical problems, where EMs are primarily concerned with problem solving people problems. And when things are going well, EMs are primarily concerned with helping team members grow (e.g. next level, new role, improving skills).
    • Are you okay with not coding? – EMs usually don't write much code, I would say at most you have may have up to 20-30% of time where you could be solving technical problems. But since you have a manager schedule, and you need to be available to others at short notice, you most likely will not be given any high priority/high stakes/interesting problems to solve since delivery would be at risk.
    • How do you handle difficult conversations? – just judging from the example that you gave about the EM not effectively providing direction, it seems like you didn't provide this feedback to the EM and chose another way to "solve" the problem (I may be falsely assuming here). IMO, EMs are oftentimes part of lots of difficult conversations and depending on the season, you will need to be part of those conversations with little/no recognition & praise for having them. (e.g. performance issues, critical feedback, layoffs, interpersonal conflict).

    Happy to follow up / clarify anything. Best of luck on your decision!

  • 2
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    Senior Software Engineer, ex-meta
    5 months ago

    There’s a workplace group for TLMs that has a lot of useful notes you should consult.

  • 5
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    Staff Software Engineer [OP]
    Taro Community
    5 months ago

    Thanks @Joshua Yu

    I feel happy when I see others succeed, especially when I've played a part in their success. This is the main reason why I want to keep trying. Throughout my career, I've received advice that I would make a good manager because I understand the importance of relationships and others growth.

    Currently, I'm one of the top three contributors to code in my team. I spend a lot of time coordinating and delegating work. I'm okay with reducing this to 20-30%, but I want to maintain my technical skills by actively contributing, participating in architecture discussions, and making strategic decisions alongside engineering decisions.

    You're right on point. Having difficult conversations, especially with authority figures, is challenging. I believe this is my weakest area. I should have addressed my concerns directly with the EM instead of looking for alternative solutions. If I become a TLM, this is a skill I need to improve.

  • 2
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    5 months ago

    Your skip manager reaching out to you is a great sign, and with that blessing, I'd pursue the full EM role.

    This is specific to Meta, but I did not enjoy the Tech Lead Manager (TLM) role.

    • It's a difficult combination of both IC work and management work.
    • Because there are fewer TLMs, your assessment is not as standardized. Many TLMs operate in that role as a transition period, but you don't need to transition since you have the EM offer already!

    I like Lee's answer about the motivation to being a manager here.

    I also highly recommend these resources:

  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    5 months ago

    Congrats on landing this opportunity! You identified some important gaps in your team and filled them - Classic E6 behavior. 😊

    I was never a TLM, but the general consensus at Meta is that it's... hard. I think other companies do the TLM role better (e.g. Google), but from what I heard at Meta, people mostly said that being a TLM means you're both a mediocre tech lead and a mediocre engineer. We talk about focus a lot in Taro, so if you're going to go down this path, I would go all-in and become an M1.

    Another angle to think about is maximizing learning. If your goal is to grow your skills about fostering a team, mentoring people, and creating synergy (i.e. manager stuff), you should just go full-EM to maximize that growth. And if it turns out that it's not for you, you will learn this faster. If you're doing TLM, there will be that doubt because it's possible the "manager-ey" stuff isn't fun due to your TL commitments eating away at your time.

    Lastly, given that your skip gave you their blessing, I think this is a wonderful opportunity. Meta tends to have very competent leaders in M-track (at least compared to rest of industry), so I trust their judgment that you'll do well.

    Best of luck and if you need any support along this path, just reach out to me on Slack and I'm happy to chat!

  • 7
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    Senior SWE, Manager at Google
    5 months ago

    I took the EM invitation 5 months ago, have 7 reports, and don't have a designated TL in the team so that sort of makes me a TLM? I don't code anymore though.

    Joshua's answer is spot-on, especially about the difficult conversations. IMO, this is equivalent to CLs for EMs. Our job is literally to have (and get good at having) difficult conversations, so avoid these is like avoiding to write difficult code.

    But at the same time, no one will expect you to be good at it immediately. I still suck. Hard. But I've learned to take it in stride and keep on moving. It's just like when we start out writing code professionally, our code sucks and it needs revision, and we need to learn from each instance and get better incrementally. The main thing, from what I've gathered so far, is that you can't avoid doing this and still be a great EM.

    I don't think you need to worry about your technical contributions, especially if you are transitioning to EM in a familiar technical space. You will want to balance your time but I don't think you need to immediately drop all of technical contributions, especially those beyond code. Eventually, you may realize you don't have enough time as TLM is a transitionary role, so you end up finding someone else to really take on that role.

    I think my biggest advice here is that management is definitely a different job, and one you should probably commit to for a year or so to fully understand whether you like it or not. The good thing is, if you decide that this is not the path you want to pursue, you can easily go back to being a staff swe (since you are already one). If you've always been curious about what it's like to be a manager, I would recommend you take the dip, see how you feel in a year, and go from there!

Meta Platforms, Inc. is an American multinational technology conglomerate based in Menlo Park, California. The company owns 3 of top 4 social networks in the world: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. More than 3.5 billion people use at least one of the company's core products every month.
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