5 Lessons Learned in the Transition from Developer to Leader

Taking on a management role, for many, is an exciting opportunity. Often, it signifies a major step in your career. Plus, you have the opportunity to play an integral role in the success of your teammates. Many of us, though, didn’t embark on our careers saying, “You know what? I want to be a people manager.”

That was the case for me, at least. I started my career in tech as a C++ developer. When I looked into joining Relativity, I applied as a developer—a natural fit. During the interview, I was asked if I would consider a manager position. This was unexpected; I was immediately excited by the prospect. I also had a series of doubts running through my head: Am I ready? Do I have the right skills for the job? If I fail, I will let my team down. How do I deal with that?

I was confident in my technical skills. When it came to people management, I was less sure. But I took the plunge. Along the way, I’ve employed certain strategies that have helped me find my footing. And, as a result, I've built a fulfilling career as a leader.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

#1: Identify Your Mission

Throughout your career, you will have times where you know you are excelling. Other times, you will question your abilities. You can minimize these instances of self-doubt if you ground yourself in your mission. For me, that is helping others and building an atmosphere where my colleagues can thrive.

A positive working environment yields happier, and thereby more productive, employees. As a people manager, my goal is to build this environment and if I am doing that well, my team will succeed. If you asked me to identify my biggest success over the course of my career, it would be the teams I have built.

#2: Adjust Your Working Style

Being a developer looks very different, in many aspects, from being a manager. For example, I quickly realized that you may need to change the tools you use to stay organized and do your job well.

When I first started as a people manager, I found I had difficulty remembering day-to-day details. I could recall that I physically was in a meeting last Tuesday, but could not tell you what the meeting was about. I was getting more worried, until I confided in a colleague who mentioned that he too had this issue.

The key to remembering important details was becoming more organized. And to do this, I had to change the tools I use. Now, I use OneNote during meetings to write down important takeaways. If I receive an email, I either respond in real time or I open the email in a separate window until I have time to respond. I use Jira to track progress on projects and Outlook Calendar for events.

Find the tools that are well suited to your role. Your memory will thank you.

#3: Know Your Team

Understanding your team’s goals, successes, and roadblocks builds stronger relationships.

Saving feedback for a quarterly—or worse yet, yearly—performance review is not conducive to building strong teams. Similarly, checking in on their personal and professional aspirations this infrequently isn’t much better than never checking in at all. Things change so much month over month, and even week over week.

For this reason, I have found having weekly one-on-one meetings with my teams have been extremely useful in getting to know them on a personal level and learning about their career ambitions. Knowing your team members is crucial to having a grasp on what motivates them and how you can work together to produce stellar work.

#4: Surround Yourself with the Right People

Mentors are a large part of career success. I have consulted with various individuals on my growth and development. One colleague will provide insight into company processes. Another peer will share her tips for growing a team.

Having mentors outside your organization is important as well. These people can provide unbiased input; they don’t have an in-depth understanding of your company's inner workings to color their perspective.

As a leader, I try to emulate what inspires me about each of my mentors and channel that in my leadership style.

#5: Where You Started Will Always Matter

Being a people manager requires different skills than a developer role, without a doubt. But that is not to say my technical skills are no longer utilized.

My role is technical in nature. As a leader of engineers at Relativity, I am required to have a deep understanding of our product and emerging technologies. I still put the on-the-ground skills that started my career to good use in my current role.

Being a leader, though, lets me explore new opportunities. I get to meet and work with people from different life experiences. It’s a privilege to have these encounters every day, and I look forward to the many in my future that will help me continue to grow as a leader.

Svetlana Arsimekova is an engineering manager on Relativity's software engineering team in Krakow, Poland.

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