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What's your thought process for switching teams?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [L4] at Google7 months ago

I recently got an opportunity to switch teams and am evaluating whether this is the right move for me.

To help me decide:

  1. What's your thought process when deciding when to switch teams?
  2. What's your thought process to decide which team to switch to?
  3. What lessons have you learned from when you've previously switched teams?

P.S. I'm purposely leaving this extremely vague to not bias your answers. My goal is to discover blind spots in my thought processes, so I don't limit the discussion to revolve around my current scenario.

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(3 comments)
  • 5
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    7 months ago

    What's your thought process when deciding when to switch teams?

    A few reasons come to mind:

    • When your manager is unsupportive and/or your team doesn't have opportunities.
    • When you're not excited by the work
    • When you're early in your career: if you're on a team which isn't growing rapidly, I'd encourage you to switch within 2 years.

    What's your thought process to decide which team to switch to?

    Mostly focused on people you want to learn from. You can try to predict which product/org will really succeed within Google, but this is pretty hard to do within a big company IMO.

    What lessons have you learned from when you've previously switched teams?

    I like this Amazon principle: "Respect what came before." When you switch teams, especially within a company, it's easy to feel like you know what you're doing and you immediately start to complain about why the codebase is structured this way, or why there's some stupid process. Don't do this!!

  • 4
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    Senior SWE, Manager at Google
    6 months ago

    Congrats on getting the opportunity!

    What's your thought process when deciding when to switch teams?

    1. Have I been miserable everyday for like, the past 3 months? I'm leaving, even if the work is "important" and/or there's opportunity to grow. You can be miserable for many reasons (bad manager, teammates you don't get along with, or you just hate the work), but the exact reasons aren't important. Whenever you recognize that something is truly making you miserable and you don't see it changing soon, leave.
    2. Am I growing in ways I want? If not, I'm looking for a new challenge. Unless stability is what you are looking for (e.g. when you have other big changes going on in your life), having the same challenge day in day out probably isn't good.

    What's your thought process to decide which team to switch to?

    I would say, there's ~ 3 type of team switches:

    A. To a different team within the same org / in-org transfer

    1. Pro: allows you to leverage your existing reputation in the organization to acquire a new position and continue using your skills/knowledge. The better your own reputation, the higher chance of landing a role as orgs generally tries hard to keep their best contributors. This option is surprisingly effective especially if internal headcount is hard to come by, like it sort of is now. Your old work likely transfers better as well and your onboarding is going to be minimal since there's a lot of shared context. I've done this three times in my career (including twice in G) and this option is not talked about much but is better than most people think. Do this if you like the tech/product, but don't, say, have a problem with your manager or your specific team.
    2. Cons: hard to try completely new things. Hard to know whether opportunity actually exist. Needs people to sponsor you. Same pay. Maybe, same cultural problems.

    B. To a different org within the same company / internal transfer

    1. Pro: depends on the company, but at G, no formal interviews are needed so you don't need to grind leetcode. Most big tech teams also preferential hire from internal candidates vs external candidates. Can interview your potential new teammates to get a sense of their team culture and how much they like their manager, which is critical to your future success. In G, you used to be able to ask for a manager's GoogleGeist ratings in the past to get an "objective" rating on how good they are. TLDR: you are able to pretty reliably assess how good your opportunity is if you put in effort to investigate for an internal transfer.
    2. Cons: Same pay. Usually new context and technology, so you have to learn a decent amount when onboarding. Need to build new relationships. At the same time, they also know a lot about you. So if you've gotten a bad rating in the past, your new prospective manager can ask about that.

    C. Switching companies

    1. Pro: Allows you to negotiate comp. Maybe even a level jump. Ultimately, experience a different culture and definitely a different group of people.
    2. Cons: Actually have to interview. Getting a good team is more of crap shoot, since you don't have access to internal info that will help you make a reliable decision. External candidates also typically gets hired to the worst teams (because these teams have a hard time attracting good internal candidates). I think notably Meta's bootcamp helps avoid some of this problem but that has its own set of issues.

    I'm guessing you are about to switch internally at G. I recommend you search up "Demystifying Transfers" on Moma, it's got a lot of helpful tips.

    What lessons have you learned from when you've previously switched teams?

    1. In-org transfers are underrated.
    2. You can never ask enough questions about your prospective team. Even when you don't have multiple options, invest time and effort figuring out where you are going. Team switches are expensive so take advantage of any intel you can find.
    3. Quality of your manager is probably the most important factor for an IC. Everything else - tech stack, work load, probably makes a smaller difference than most people think.

    Good luck!

  • 4
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    Engineering Manager @ Uber
    6 months ago

    I recently went through a team switch and can share my framework. Some context before I go into details, I was happy in my previous team, had a clear career path, strong support from leadership, and one of the stronger teams in the company reporting to me. There was no obvious reason for me to switch teams, but I did it anyway.

    tl;dr - I optimized for three things:

    1. Specific: Developing skillset that I would need for the next 5 years of my career
    2. High-level: Aligning what I am naturally good at with my work to accelerate growth.
    3. Fun: Having more fun every single day at work. This was the most important and the previous two are derived from it.

    Longer Answer

    1. What's your motivation? be brutally honest with this. I talked to a few of my mentors on how they would approach it. The "what skillset do you want to develop before you leave the company in the next few years?" was a recurring theme. I am still a relatively low-tenured manager, and managers (like any other field) learn a lot from real-world experience. I specifically needed to learn how to lead an entirely new team in an entirely new business area, and develop trust and credibility with them and the new leadership. This required refining my operational and management principles, which was not possible in my previous role. My hypothesis was that I am going to learn a lot more in the two years I spend on the new team, even if I end up failing.
    2. What are you naturally good at? align that with your daily work After a few years of working, you'll start figuring out what gets you naturally excited at work. This is critical because a lot of your growth will come from contributions that are beyond your expected output. For instance, if you working on a consumer mobile team, you can only differentiate yourself from the other invariably smarter colleagues, if you provide fresh ideas and roadmap to achieve those. That in turn can only happen if you have a natural aptitude for that. "Do you randomly get inspiration about your work even when you are not working, and get very excited?" if yes, then that's where you should continue to be. If not, then I'd recommend finding that role and team. This can only come from a lot of trial and error early in your career. To be very clear, this doesn't mean you need to work extra long hours, and think about work even when you are working. This just means that if you really enjoy working on something, you are inevitably going to think about it outside the confines of your laptop or office. It is a great place to be. Honestly, it is more fun and soul-satisfying to be in such a place.
    3. Expect reality mismatch, Assess your risks. Most teams have some kind of dysfunction, and the initial sales pitch is usually only 70-80% true. You won't know the whole picture of what you are getting into until you join the team and spend a few months on it. Expect a ton of unpleasant surprises (business priority changes, reorgs, attritions, role and level expectation changes, industry changes, manager changes), and most of these won't be under your control. So please do not go switch teams thinking it will work out exactly as you had planned. It rarely ever does. For instance, if you switch teams thinking the new team will get you a faster path to a promotion, absolutely do not base your decision on it. The cliche "career is a marathon, not a sprint" is relevant here.
    4. Be comfortable with regret : This more of a post-switch experience, but important to share. For the first two months after you make a switch, you are going to regret your decision once every week (or worse, once every day). That is natural. Switching teams is always uncomfortable, even if you know the people or your manager. There an entire leadership and stakeholder system that you have no clue about. Whatever your reasons for switching teams were, at least in your previous role, people knew about your work and you had a reputation. The regret is harder especially if you were doing good in your current role, and suddenly all of that credibility is lost, and you have to prove yourself again. This is not easy, especially if immediate career acceleration is your motivation.
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