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Exploring the Intersection of Software Development, AI Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Success | Moving from Individual Contributor to Engineering Manager or VP

Moving from Individual Contributor to Engineering Manager or VP

How to prepare for L6 to L7 interviews? What are area the Engineering Managers landscape, and how people prepare? One coding interview + four leadership and behavioural interviews. What top-tier companies look for that others don't? Want to be an Engineering Manager (Sr Manager, Director, VP)? Or already in management but want to uplevel to a better company? Type of person for L7 is the manager who managed other managers

What is important for the engineering manager career transition?

  • Project Experience: Tell me about a project you led from ideation to launch.
  • Motivations and Values: How do the company’s values and ideals align with yours?
  • Leadership Profile: Tell me about the biggest team you’ve built or overseen
  • Ice Breakers: Tell me about yourself.
  • Personal Growth: How do you stay updated and educated on industry trends?
  • Conflict Resolution: How do you get people to agree with your point of view?
  • Execution and Planning: How do you deal with situations where your team is falling behind a deadline?
  • Cross-Functional Skills: Tell me about a time when your team’s goal was not aligned with another team with whom they were working.

Dealing with situations where your team is falling behind a deadline can be challenging and stressful, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership and problem-solving skills. Here are some steps that you can take to handle such situations effectively:

  • Communicate with your manager and stakeholders. As soon as you realize that your team is falling behind a deadline, you should inform your manager and stakeholders about the situation and the reasons behind it. You should also provide them with an updated estimate of when you expect to complete the project and what the impact of the delay will be. By communicating proactively and transparently, you can avoid surprises, manage expectations, and build trust.
  • Identify the core issues and root causes. You should analyze why your team is falling behind and what are the main factors that are affecting your progress. Some common causes of missed deadlines are unclear or changing requirements, unrealistic expectations, scope creep, technical difficulties, resource constraints, or team inefficiencies. You should try to identify and address the core issues and root causes, rather than the symptoms or effects, of the problem.
  • Prioritize and re-plan your tasks. You should review your project plan and scope, and prioritize the most important and urgent tasks that are essential for delivering the project. You should also re-plan your tasks and milestones, and set realistic and achievable deadlines that account for the current situation and the remaining work. You should communicate your new plan and priorities to your team, manager, and stakeholders, and get their feedback and approval.
  • • Delegate and collaborate with your team. You should leverage the skills and strengths of your team members, and delegate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. You should also foster a culture of collaboration and support among your team, and encourage them to communicate, coordinate, and help each other. You should also provide your team with the necessary resources, guidance, and feedback to help them complete their tasks efficiently and effectively.
  • Monitor and track your progress. You should regularly monitor and track your team's progress and performance, and compare it with your plan and expectations. You should use tools and metrics to measure and visualize your progress, such as Gantt charts, burn-down charts, or dashboards. You should also check in with your team and stakeholders frequently, and provide them with updates and reports on your status and achievements. You should also celebrate your team's successes and milestones, and recognize and reward their efforts.

Indirect influence is the ability to persuade or motivate others to take action or support your ideas without having direct authority or power over them. It is a valuable skill for software engineers, as they often need to collaborate with different stakeholders, such as customers, product managers, executives, and peers, who may have different goals, opinions, or preferences. To develop indirect influence as a software engineer, you can try the following strategies:

  • Build trust and rapport. People are more likely to listen to and follow someone they trust and respect. To build trust and rapport, you should communicate openly and honestly, show interest and empathy, deliver on your promises, and acknowledge your mistakes.
  • Demonstrate your expertise and credibility. People are more likely to trust and follow someone who has the knowledge and skills to solve problems and deliver results. To demonstrate your expertise and credibility, you should showcase your work and achievements, share your insights and feedback, and keep learning and improving your skills.
  • Understand and align with the goals and interests of others. People are more likely to support and cooperate with someone who understands and aligns with their goals and interests. To understand and align with the goals and interests of others, you should ask questions and listen actively, identify common ground and mutual benefits, and tailor your message and approach to suit their needs and preferences.
  • Use positive and persuasive language. People are more likely to respond positively and favorably to someone who uses positive and persuasive language. To use positive and persuasive language, you should avoid negative or aggressive words, use positive or neutral words, emphasize the benefits and value of your ideas, and provide evidence and examples to support your claims.
  • Leverage your network and relationships. People are more likely to be influenced by someone who has a strong network and relationships with others. To leverage your network and relationships, you should seek and offer help, exchange information and resources, build alliances and coalitions, and use social proof and testimonials to validate your ideas.

Getting people to agree with your point of view can be challenging, especially when there is a conflict or disagreement. However, there are some strategies that you can use to persuade or influence others in a positive and respectful way. Here are some tips that you can try:

  • Understand their perspective. Before you try to convince others of your point of view, you should first try to understand theirs. Listen to their arguments and concerns, and ask questions to clarify their position. Try to empathize with their feelings and motivations, and acknowledge their valid points. This will show them that you respect them and care about their opinion, and make them more open to listening to you.
  • Use facts and evidence. To support your point of view, you should use facts and evidence that are relevant, credible, and convincing. You should also anticipate and address any potential objections or counterarguments that the other person may have, and explain why your point of view is better or more beneficial. You should avoid using emotional appeals or personal attacks, as they may backfire and damage your relationship.
  • Appeal to their values and interests. To persuade others of your point of view, you should also appeal to their values and interests, and show them how your point of view aligns with them. You should identify the common ground and mutual benefits that you share, and emphasize them in your communication. You should also use positive and persuasive language, such as words that convey confidence, respect, and appreciation.
  • Be flexible and open-minded. To get others to agree with your point of view, you should also be flexible and open-minded, and willing to compromise or adjust your position if necessary. You should not insist on being right or having the final say, but rather focus on finding a solution that works for both parties. You should also respect the other person's right to disagree, and accept that you may not always get what you want.

Managing up means behaving in a way that makes you an easy employee to manage. It involves anticipating a manager's needs and being as effective in the workplace as possible. People who manage up effectively show initiative and dedication to the job while staying connected to their manager.

Management styles. East Coast engineering managers may tend to be more formal, hierarchical, and conservative in their approach, while West Coast engineering managers may tend to be more casual, flat, and creative in their approach. East Coast engineering managers may also value more stability, predictability, and efficiency, while West Coast engineering managers may value more agility, experimentation, and innovation.

Responsibilities. East Coast engineering managers may have more focus on delivering products and services that meet the needs and expectations of existing customers and markets, while West Coast engineering managers may have more focus on creating products and services that disrupt and transform new customers and markets. East Coast engineering managers may also have more involvement in business and financial aspects of their projects, while West Coast engineering managers may have more involvement in technical and design aspects of their projects.

Challenges. East Coast engineering managers may face more challenges in attracting and retaining talent, as they compete with other industries and sectors for engineering talent, while West Coast engineering managers may face more challenges in managing and scaling talent, as they deal with the rapid growth and change of their engineering teams. East Coast engineering managers may also face more challenges in adapting to the changing technologies and trends, while West Coast engineering managers may face more challenges in balancing the risks and benefits of their innovations.

Steve Jobs was unique in the sense that he was not driven by hierarchy. So many managers are authoritarian and power-based. He allowed his staff to bring their abilities to the table in unique ways thus empowering them to be their best. In return, Apple thrived.

Steve Jobs: "If you wanna hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by ideas not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don't stay."

Software engineering managers are typically hiring managers responsible for hiring new talent for your team and often have the final say about who joins the company. Recruitment and hiring questions are designed to evaluate how you screen potential candidates, interview applicants, and present potential hires to upper management.

Here are some questions about hiring you may be asked:

  1. Where do you find the talent, and how do you test its quality?
  2. How would you describe your approach to the hiring process?
  3. How do you hire top engineering talent?
  4. What are your thoughts about diversity in your team? What do you do to ensure you have diversity?
  5. What aspects of software development do you consider when hiring new talent?
  6. How do you structure orientation and onboarding practices for new joiners?
  7. How do you work with recruiters?
  8. What do you look for when hiring a new developer, QA analyst, or data engineer for your team?

Establishes and builds processes and structures based on business and technical requirements to channel data from multiple inputs, route appropriately, and store using any combination of distributed (cloud) structures, local databases, and other applicable storage forms as required. Uses knowledge of project objectives, business and customer needs, and distributed data systems to develop technical tools and programming, leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big-data techniques to cleanse, organize and transform data and to maintain, detect, defend, clean, and update data structures and integrity on an automated basis. Designs, builds, and oversees the deployment and operation of technology architecture, solutions, and software to capture, manage, store, and utilize structured and unstructured data from internal and external sources. Identifies causes of detected problems and implements solutions that minimize points of failure and improve data quality. Creates and establishes design standards and assurance processes for software, systems, and applications development to ensure compatibility and operability of data connections, flows, and storage requirements. Reviews internal and external business and product requirements for data operations and activity and suggests changes and upgrades to systems and storage to accommodate ongoing needs. Maintains customer privacy by enforcing data governance structures, defining data accessibility, using data in compliance with applicable laws and policies, and defining and documenting data classification and lineage.


Responsibilities of People Management

  • Managers deliver success through empowerment and accountability by modeling, coaching, and caring.
  • Model - Live our culture; Embody our values; Practice our leadership principles.
  • Coach - Define team objectives and outcomes; Enable success across boundaries; Help the team adapt and learn.
  • Care - Attract and retain great people; Know each individual’s capabilities and aspirations; Invest in the growth of others.

L6 to L7 interviews are designed to assess your ability to lead and manage engineering teams and projects at a senior level. You will be expected to demonstrate your technical expertise, your leadership skills, your strategic thinking, and your impact on the organization and the industry. Some of the areas that you should prepare for are:

• Technical depth and breadth. You should be able to design and implement complex and scalable systems, using the best practices and technologies for the problem domain. You should also be able to explain the trade-offs and alternatives of your design choices, and how they align with the business goals and constraints. You should be familiar with the current trends and challenges in the engineering field, and be able to learn new skills and tools quickly.

• Leadership and management. You should be able to lead and mentor engineers of different levels and backgrounds, and foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and excellence. You should be able to communicate effectively with different stakeholders, such as customers, product managers, executives, and peers, and influence their decisions and actions. You should be able to handle conflicts, feedback, and performance issues, and resolve them constructively. You should be able to delegate, prioritize, and execute tasks efficiently and effectively, and measure and improve the outcomes and quality of your work and your team's work.

• Strategic thinking and vision. You should be able to identify and define the problems and opportunities that are relevant and impactful for the organization and the industry, and propose and execute solutions that are aligned with the vision and mission of the company. You should be able to anticipate and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of the customers and the market, and leverage your insights and data to drive innovation and growth. You should be able to evaluate and balance the risks and benefits of your actions and decisions, and consider the short-term and long-term implications and trade-offs.

To prepare for L6 to L7 interviews, you should review your past projects and achievements, and prepare stories and examples that showcase your skills and impact in the above areas. You should also practice your system design and coding skills, and refresh your knowledge of the core concepts and technologies that are relevant to your domain. You should also research the company and the role that you are applying for, and understand their values, goals, challenges, and expectations. You should also prepare questions to ask the interviewers, to demonstrate your interest and curiosity, and to learn more about the company and the role.

Remember, a bad software engineering manager can be expensive to a company; hence they want to assess a candidate from all aspects. The goal is to get a candidate who aligns with your company’s values. The alignment with values is critical to ensure that they fit into your culture.

Does this person enjoy their job? Does the candidate like working at the company? What is the primary factor behind his motivation? Do they enjoy teaching and training others? Are they laid back or demanding? How do they view the company’s future prospects?

What made you decide to join the company?

This question will help you know the candidate’s level of interest in the job. Interviewers ask this question to test your motivation; they’ll want to hear that your choice to interview with this company aligns with your skills and experience. They also want to know whether you’ll go the extra mile as an employee.

  • What do you like about working for this company?
  • In what type of work environment are you most productive and happy?
  • What’s the last book you read?
  • What’s your favorite podcast?
  • What is your leadership style?
  • Do you do any charitable work?

How to move from IC to Engineering Manager or VP

Will Larson is the CTO at Carta, an ownership and equity management platform that raised at a $7.4b valuation in 2021. Prior to joining Carta, Will was CTO at Calm, founded Stripe's Foundation Engineering org, and led Uber’s Platform Engineering people and strategy. Will also writes extensively about engineering leadership, and has authored two books in this area: Staff Engineer, and An Elegant Puzzle.

1. Develop Leadership Skills:

  • Enhance your leadership skills by taking on leadership roles in projects, mentoring junior team members, and leading initiatives within your team or organization.
  • Focus on communication, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and decision-making skills, which are essential for effective leadership.

2. Gain Management Experience:

  • Seek opportunities to gain management experience by taking on supervisory roles, leading small teams, or serving as a technical lead on projects.
  • Learn about people management, performance evaluation, team building, and coaching techniques to effectively manage and motivate your team.

3. Acquire Business Acumen:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of business operations, strategy, and market dynamics. Familiarize yourself with the business goals, priorities, and challenges of your organization.
  • Learn how to align engineering efforts with business objectives, prioritize projects based on business value, and make data-driven decisions that drive business outcomes.

4. Expand Your Network:

  • Build relationships with other leaders, managers, and executives within your organization and industry. Seek mentorship and guidance from experienced leaders who can provide valuable insights and support.
  • Attend industry events, conferences, and networking opportunities to expand your professional network and learn from others in leadership roles.

5. Develop Strategic Thinking:

  • Develop strategic thinking skills by analyzing market trends, competitive landscapes, and emerging technologies. Identify opportunities for innovation and growth that align with your organization's long-term objectives.
  • Learn how to formulate and communicate a compelling vision, strategy, and roadmap for your team or organization.

6. Pursue Professional Development:

  • Invest in ongoing learning and professional development to enhance your leadership and management skills. Consider enrolling in management courses, workshops, or certifications relevant to your career goals.
  • Seek feedback from peers, mentors, and managers to identify areas for improvement and opportunities for growth.

7. Demonstrate Impact:

  • Demonstrate your ability to drive results and deliver value as a leader. Highlight your contributions to successful projects, improvements in team performance, and alignment of engineering efforts with business objectives.
  • Document your achievements, leadership experiences, and impact on the organization to showcase your readiness for a management role.

8. Prepare for Interviews:

  • Prepare for interviews by researching the responsibilities, expectations, and challenges of engineering management or VP positions.
  • Be ready to discuss your leadership philosophy, management approach, problem-solving abilities, and vision for driving organizational success.

9. Seek Feedback and Support:

  • Seek feedback from colleagues, mentors, and managers throughout the transition process. Use their insights to identify areas for growth and development.
  • Surround yourself with a supportive network of peers, mentors, and advisors who can provide guidance, encouragement, and support as you navigate your career transition.

10. Be Patient and Persistent:

  • Recognize that transitioning from an individual contributor to a management role takes time, effort, and persistence. Be patient with yourself and embrace the learning curve as you develop new skills and capabilities.
  • Stay focused on your career goals, remain open to feedback and opportunities for growth, and continue to invest in your development as a leader and manager.

By following these steps and proactively developing your leadership, management, and strategic thinking skills, you can successfully transition from an individual contributor to an engineering manager or VP role. Remember to leverage your technical expertise, passion for innovation, and commitment to excellence as you embark on this exciting career journey.

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