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Does the book cover how to get the position in the first place? I've read countless books (Like "The Managers Path" and "Managing Humans"), blog articles, etc, and tried many strategies, but it never seems to happen. Usually for the catch-22 reason of not having managing experience.

I've even had past managers they had no worries about me having the skills or knowledge to do it... but it still doesn't happen.






The tactic that worked for me was to bring it up to my boss. I set up a 1:1 with him, and said "In 2-3 years, I want your job. How can I get there?" (and "want your job" obviously means "to do what you do" not literally take their job)

If you have a good manager, they'll set you up for success, working with you to create a roadmap to get from IC to Manager. The steps in between would probably entail taking on larger projects, mentoring others, leading a project with multiple developers on it, and then after demonstrating all of that, you get the promotion.

In my experience, you get the promotion when you're already doing the job. In other words, you do the work and the promotion is recognition of the work you're already doing.

The other thing I'd say is that you don't get what you don't ask for. If you want to be a manager, ask for it. If you want more responsibility, ask for it. If you want better compensation or a new title, ask for it.

Unless you have a FANTASTIC manager, you will never just magically be recognized for your work. They will assume you're happy doing what you're doing and focus on greasing the squeaky wheel. To further your career, you should be a little squeaky. Ask for what you want. If you can't get it now, ask for help getting to that point.

I, as a manager, really appreciate it when someone gives me direction on what they want. Otherwise, I have to guess or try to pull it out of them, and I feel like I'm pulling teeth. It's hugely beneficial for a manager to have proactive direct reports. Be that person.

Good luck.


Just wanted to second this. As a manager, even for people I know fairly well, I'm routinely surprised by little bits I learn as to what they want, what they dislike, or what gets them upset. Do not assume your manager can read your mind or that things are self evident and universal. With people, most things arent. Not much different than any relationship.

Just wanted to second your comment. I’m continually surprised at the number of individual contributors who (1) expect their manager to be perfect even though (s)he’s a human; (2) expect immediate gratification of their needs; (3) are only too happy to push all decision-making to the manager; (4) don’t realize that the mgr can be having a bad day; (5) compare their mgr to a friend’s mgr without comparing the job conditions; etc (not that a manager shouldn’t strive towards perfection).

OTOH, I’m also surprised by the number of managers who (1) implement something because “my friend at <massively successful co> uses <tool/process etc>; (2) don’t understand that their colleagues have lives outside work; (3) don’t realize that they’re being partial to some folks; (4) take advantage of the “meek” contributors; (5) don’t protect their team from upper mgmt when needed; (6) don’t do the grunt work when needed (and it’s always needed) etc.

In other words, just like any relationship, as you say.


This only works in growing industries. In many industries the answer has been lets see if there is a department in 3 years.

My employer has an "apprentice manager" position specifically for engineer ICs who want to transition into management. It's a 3-6 month program where you get training and coaching, and you have a dotted-line reporting relationship where you have some unofficial direct reports to practice on, and at the end of it, you can decide to either move into the management role or go back to your IC role if you decide you don't like it.

I don't know how common this kind of program is, but I went through it and found it really effective. I was able to build the skill set I needed while having an "out" if it turned out I didn't like management; the company gained an effective manager after training me; and my direct reports didn't have to suffer too much during my incompetent phase because they still had a "real" manager supporting them while I was transitioning.

If you can get an IC position at a company with a program like this (or at least a strong track-record of promoting managers from within), you might have more opportunities to move into management. But no matter what, it won't just "happen" -- you'll need your direct manager's support to get the opportunities as they arise, so you'll need to have an ongoing "here's where I want to go, let's make a plan to get me there" conversation with your manager.


Start to take ownership of the things you work on. It's easier at a smaller company (like there are no engineering managers small) because that allows you to fill the role when the team grows. Besides that, expressing interest to your manager that it's something you want to do is the next thing. Trying to get hired as an engineering manager without the experience is going to be impossible unless the company is desperate for some sort of leadership so it's really only going to happen by growing into the role.

If your team is not growing then you'll never get the opportunity to become an engineering manager unless your manager quits and you fill the role. That's something to keep in mind if you've been working on a team that hasn't lost or added anyone in a while.


It really sucks to spend a year or two on a team that is theoretically growing only to find out that either 1) It's not actually growing and the position will never exist or 2) Somebody else on the team is the boss's favorite and has been there longer than you, so when if it does get created, they will get the role. If it's you as the new hire vs. somebody who has been there 3+ years, you are really fighting upstream.

Incidentally this strategy is why I worked at startups before this job. One did land me a lead position with 1 report, but it was when the company was falling apart and thus not the most meaningful experience. Another took the role I'd been doing by myself, and replaced it with a team and a newly minted manager... who wasn't me. I got shuffled under someone else who didn't want to manage and promptly quit, so that didn't work out either.

My company theoretically prefers senior ICs internally sourced for EM roles - it's the only place I've been able to interview for EM positions, and I very nearly got one - the hiring manager said he was set to pick me, but then they decided they really wanted somebody with deep experience at the last second.

Actually, interviewing for an internal transfer at a big company has been the closest I've come. I've also found that the big company is a lot more inclusive; startups tend to be cliquish and if you're not part of the boss's in group you will really struggle. Here, I can get involved with many things and many teams directly, so even if my boss doesn't have a job for me, I can work the network and find my place.

At least... that's the strategy I'm trying now. "We're a growing team and that position will totally be there for you a year or two down the road" applied to 4 jobs over almost 10 years without yielding any fruit. (and 2 of those companies imploded, so I didn't even get RSUs like I get now)


The first thing is to step up and become the lead developer on your team. If you’re not being proactive folks won’t imagine it on their own. Clothes are another angle. If you look and act like a leader, soon you shall be one.

Well I am a woman, so there is that image problem automatically.

You're right about the other bit, though. Even as the most knowledgeable and senior person on the team, I do have something of a habit of letting people who are loud derail me from my ideas (or simply talk over me), which can damage perceptions. It's a thing I try to fight every day, though.


I'm curious as to what region you work in. I ask because in Silicon Valley I've seen a ton of female EMs.

In fact, my first three jobs all involved reporting to women for a good chuck of it (and they all reported to women too). Those women were all fantastic managers too. Great mentors and great empathy.

Now that I think about it, they were all promoted to management via internal promotions given to them by female managers.

So maybe one tip for you is look for an IC role that reports to a woman who is interested in mentoring you into management?


I live and work in SF.

I don't know what magical place you work at; at the smaller (<250 people) places I've worked at, I'm the most senior woman as a Senior Software Engineer.

There are Female EMs at my current employer (enough that I can't just count them), but they are a tiny minority and I don't know of any at the level beyond that. It is a strategy I've considered, though... especially because women just seem to understand me much better.

Also a mentor or role model would be AMAZING.


I’ve seen a few women directors/VPs of engineering, they do exist. And folks are quite used to woman managers.

I tend to get talked over as well, but it’s a slightly different subject. To clarify I mean that you solve problems without being asked. As they say about actions and words.


I do have a tendency to be unconfident, to ask permission, be deferential, wait for somebody to tell me to do the thing, etc, when I could just do the thing. I tend to assume what I was going to do was wrong, especially if I get any pushback. In part because what I suggest has historically automatically been dismissed, my work and effort downplayed, etc... that doesn't seem to be a problem at my current org but I'm somewhat conditioned to assume that's the feedback I'll get anyway.

Incidentally I've never seen any of those things. At most of the smaller companies I've been at I've been the most senior woman simply as a senior engineer. Reporting to a woman sounds fantastical. I know it happens; I know a couple of female EMs at my current (bigger) company. I've essentially never had a woman in my reporting chain outside who is in the engineering org. (Across 7 jobs and about 15 years of career).

I tend to dress the part anyway and have had interview candidates assume I was the manager and my EM was the IC, but it hasn't been helpful outside of that. At worst, it can cause people to assume I'm non-technical, so it's a dangerous game to play.


I think some people really do need role models, so if you don't see any female engineering managers, it may be harder to envision yourself in that position.

That said, you do need to unlearn a bunch of stuff. You have to (at least pretend to) be confident, do things without permission, be self-motivating, etc. It's going to be very difficult to manage people and have them take you seriously if you can't get yourself to do those things.

I've been in a Technical Leadership position for about 10 years, with the last four having an explicit Manager title. If I were looking for someone to groom as an EM, that person would at a minimum have to show a strong level of initiative. You don't need to be "bossy" but you do need to be able to assert yourself while still considering alternate points of view.

I can point out some of the things you need to be, but I can't tell you how to get there.


I have a couple of questions.

1. What type of product/service has your team been building?

2. What did you do when 10 non-permission-seeking engineers went off in different directions doing their own things?


1. We build a variety of low-power wireless devices.

2. If you're managing people you should know what they're doing, and immediately correct this behavior. I'm a big fan of the phrase "stop doing that" because, yeah, it happens. By now my team knows that they have agency, but if they deviate from the plan to let me know.


One worker acting alone, part time, is unable to tackle very large problems. At the point where the solution needs coordination, it happens.

I need to write a whole blog post about the subject of role models, but basically, yes. Even simple stuff like "how do I dress?" is hard to answer when you don't have role models. Or how do you resist people who talk over you without being seen as difficult?

You're right about unlearning behaviors, though easier said than done. I'm relatively self motivated when I'm not interfered with, but when I get negative feedback can easily get stuck in an analysis paralysis loop trying to figure out "what does my manager want me to do?" It's not a good sign when I'm spending time on the question of if I should even ask him or if that will be perceived as me not intrinsically knowing which will reflect badly on me.

And all that stressing about what my manager wants or how a given action will be perceived looks like laziness at best.

I'll admit, part of what I want out of being an EM is external validation that somebody trusts me to lead something. I've had a lot of bad experiences that really undermine my confidence and make me question myself.

An example: at my last job, I had a coworker who made it his personal mission to slow my velocity as much during code review as possible. One of the more egregious examples - he told me to consider using a regex rather than == to evaluate equality of strings. No particular reason. What resulted was an hours long argument... his main justification was that if I had just spent an hour to benchmark it we could have found out faster than the argument took.

You can imagine how when even extremely basic decisions of yours like that are routinely questioned it sucks out your confidence. The lead of that team explicitly had no interest in mediating this ongoing problem, and eventually promoted that guy to be the team lead so he didn't have to manage it. I meanwhile had to plan all my code around the times he'd be out of the office; I could get a month of work done in a week he was out, because somebody else would review my code. I got a reputation for missing estimates, but my timelines were entirely driven by code review cycles and thus at his whim and availability.

And yes, I repeatedly asked to work with literally anyone else, and it was only when I threatened to quit that anybody at the org actually made that happen.

There's a long history of stuff like that happening to me, and it means that I tend to just wait for somebody to tell me exactly how to do whatever it is, because the way I will do it will be seen as wrong. Who can forget the manager a couple jobs before who admitted to creating fake crises and yelling at us over nothing to keep us motivated?

This org is the first one that has actually respected me enough to do more, and where my manager's main complaint is that I act like I don't have any power, when I do. Everywhere else, it felt like they were really trying to make sure I didn't get any, and it's tough to unlearn.


Funnily enough, the company I'm at has struggled to hire women jr/sr ICs. Most of the women in the engineering organization are managers or higher level ICs.

Interesting. At my company, the curve of level vs gender is steep. Women are something like 5x more common proportionally at the lower levels than the higher ones.

This is apparently because of recruiting, too; we do great at recruiting from campuses, Grace Hopper, etc, and not at recruiting senior levels. Stats show women are getting promoted just as fast, we just don't get the candidates.

Do you know how you guys recruit more senior women? We'd love to know!


What if you're not a very good engineer, like me? But would make a good people manager?

One of the best managers I've ever known described herself that way.

She may not have been a great engineer (I'll never know), but she gave us the tools we needed to do our job, shielded us from the upper management pressure and BS and got out of our way. In return, the team shipped a ton of functionality in an impossibly short timeframe that she later confessed she never thought we'd be able to achieve.

Excel at what you're good at and the rest tends to take care of itself.


But to be a people lead, you ironically need to be good at engineering first ;).

One of my bigger challenges is that the older I get, the more I care about people and want to work on those issues... which means I gradually lose interest in code and pure technical stuff. The longer I stay stuck on the IC track, the more obvious this is going to become.


Same thing, still: show it. Take on coordination/facilitation/people-facing roles in projects. Become a JIRA/bug triaging/product-person-facing master.

that can be fine, you just need to find an organization that emphasizes the people management side of things and has other avenues for technical leadership. Typically a place like that is self aware about it and quite upfront (as a tech lead will really hate that kind of role, and they need to understand where the technical leadership comes from). I have a friend who is very much primarily a people manager and loves it.

The book assumes someone is interested in it or just started. I didn't cover landing the job, but that's a really interesting point.

Personally, I got promoted from within at the beginning of my management journey. Have you been applying to external companies? I wonder if others on here have more experiences in that area that they'd like to share.


"Applying to external companies" as currently an IC looking for an EM role?

I have tried this on a limited level in the past, and either get no response or get told that I don't have experience (I have a few months with one direct report)




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