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Hello! What's your background and what do you do?

My background is in Software Engineering. I started my career as a SysAdmin and then moved on to Slideshare where I worked with Ruby on Rails and Javascript. This was the time when IE6 was on its way out, HTML5 early APIs were being adopted (I built a range slider using CSS because the HTML5 API was not implemented yet) and JQuery was still king of the frontend libraries. Fast forward a few years later I was involved in the Desktop rewrite of the Linkedin Feed on Ember. I started as a Staff Engineer on the team and transitioned over to Management.

How was your transition from software development to management like?

It was organic. When the SlideShare team joined LinkedIn I was looking for a new challenge and ended up being the tech lead for the new iOS app being developed in Swift with a team of 4 people. Having worked on a startup before joining a larger company, I didn’t let my role define me and did whatever was needed to make the project a success. This included doing things beyond engineering. When I moved to a different team (the home page of Linkedin), I brought that approach to my role and did my best to not just focus on the technical aspect but also ensure the project as a whole succeeded. This included working with others to identify roadblocks and changes in schedule, communicating wins and losses and motivating those around me to hit the goal we had. At some point I realized a large part of what I was doing was in fact management. With a bit of encouragement from my managers, I took the leap.

Having said that, there were a few surprises. The biggest in fact was that I was doing just a small part of management in my lead role. There is more to running a team than just meeting goals and shipping. A few main ones are: The amount of time spent on taking an active interest in understanding what team members are interested in doing and their career aspirations (aka people management), thinking of how the immediate work ties into the larger plans of the team and the company(strategy) and learning to measure progress in terms of things less tangible than shipped features or lines of code.

What does your day-to-day work look like, and what motivates you to do it every day?

Each day is different. Some days are about making sure everything in planned and in place for the next 3 months of execution. Some days are about firefighting and making sure everyone goes home having understood that they made a difference during an oncall shift. Some days are familiar and exciting ones where you sit down with the team to work through a complex technical or architectural problem. And then you have some special days that you will remember as having made a real difference. I can remember one incident which still makes me feel good even though it has been more than a year. An engineer was struggling and was on the verge of leaving for good. I was a new manager at the time and took the time to understand what was worrying that engineer. Turns out it was a simple matter of tweaking what was expected from the person so they didn’t have to work on a particular technology piece. It totally turned them around, they stayed with us and was an important part in shipping one of the projects we were working on then.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?

Someone once said ‘your biggest enemy is you’. Having been a person who had all the answers at his fingertips it was hard to let go and trust the team. There is a fine line between a manager who understands the technical problems the team is dealing with to help the team navigate obstacles and a manager who gets in the team’s way because he wants to be involved in everything. At some point I realized I was becoming a bottleneck. I am now more selective about the areas I deep dive into.

What has been the biggest surprise so far? Something you didn't expect?

How hard it is to measure success on a day to day basis. As an engineer I knew immediately if what I did was working. As a manager, often the decisions or the approach I take have an impact days or weeks later. That is hard to accept and internalize. The feedback loop is longer and takes some getting used to.

What's the best advice you've received about being a manager?

Listen. Listen a lot. I still find it difficult to do that with the multitude of opinions in my own mind but the more I listen, the better I understand the motivations of the team and others.

What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?

Managing can be very rewarding but may not be for everyone. Try out some of its responsibilities while working your current role by talking to your manager and taking on some of their daily responsibilities. Find a mentor who is an experienced manager. You can ask them even the simplest of questions.

Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?

I am at https://www.linkedin.com/in/graydot.

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