About six months ago, I made the move from developer to developer/manager. It wasn’t the typical clean break, as the role is still actively involved in doing some development work. I’m on a smaller team, so this arrangement works well and makes sense. Plus, for me, I’m only about five and a half years into my career, so hanging up my developer hat completely seemed crazy. Anyway, the important part is that I have new responsibilities!
I wanted to reflect on this change a little, and now seems like as good a time as any to do so. It's been long enough that I'm in the new role, but not so long that the transition is totally complete. As with all things in adulthood, it takes time, and that’s exactly how it should be.
First, the good
I wanted this
Deep down, I wanted to be a manager. Now I am. Woo! Some of the work I was doing in my developer role was already some of the stuff of management. Strategic thinking, team organization, standards development. These were things that I was doing not just for myself. Now that I’m more empowered in my new role, I can take what I’ve done and actually put it in play. With that, I can get more direct feedback, I can make adjustments, and learn as I go. So far, this has been highly rewarding.
Environment is everything
I have a super supportive team. The people around me know about the transition, are here to help, and understand that things aren’t going to be magical overnight. I love them for that. Plus, the fact that I knew the people I would be managing made it that much easier. I know how they work, I trust them, the foundation is there. I think coming into this role from the outside would have been a huge undertaking. The opportunity to take this on while already being in the environment is a huge advantage.
Shortly after taking on my new role, I started weekly, half-hour long 1:1s with each of my team members. This has been incredibly helpful so far, and is the one constant that (I think) has held this whole thing together over time. Each week, I know that I’ve dedicated at least that much time and attention with the team.
At first, I worried that weekly would be too often. That we would run out of things to talk about. That they would seem tedious or overbearing. And they might be, at least occasionally. It has taken a little while to get into a groove, but it’s getting there.
In the 1:1s, rather than getting into the nitty gritty, I try to get a feeling. Has it been overwhelming, underwhelming, stressful, relaxing? If the week before was taxing, has this week been restorative? Is there something looming that we can pick apart a little, break down into less stressful pieces? It’s interesting to try starting these in the way that makes the most sense to me, and then following it wherever it may go.
Now, the hard stuff
I need to know the stack. This was a big shift. I'd been specializing in specific projects or features, but now I need the full knowledge base. Context, previous decisions, system-wide effects, etc. It’s expected that I am up to speed and ready to help or advise with almost anything. So, each day I am challenged to go deep, research, and connect the dots. Each day I get better and more informed in ways that I didn’t need to before. It’s hard to be a fish out of water so often, but it’s growth and opportunity (or, on a bad day, it’s exhausting and overwhelming 😅).
Handing off work
Because I am still dedicating time to development, it’s hard to know what I should take on myself and what I should hand off. I was busy before, and therefore I’m the most knowledgeable person about quite a few things, just because of sitting with it the longest. I have the backstory, so handing off is hard work, not just in convincing myself that I should do it but actually gathering up all the knowledge that I have to hand off too. This has to happen though, and it will, over time.
Previously, I was working alongside the developers that are now reporting to me. That's a strange transition for everyone! Fortunately, we knew each other. Plus, shifting my mindset has been gradual for me, so the way I approach situations has been slowly morphing. I am more often put into my managerial role by someone else than I put myself into it.
Despite all of this, I know that to others, the change in role was more abrupt. Communicating that I am still the same person with the same priorities has been a low-key goal of mine. I don’t want to find myself (or others to find me) disconnected from the work because of this change, so maintaining my position as an engaged team player is important. I want to know what’s going on, what’s going well or poorly, and help as much as possible.
With great power comes great responsibility. I now feel a new pressure to prioritize absolutely everything. My time is more limited now, so I need to be focused every day. And that focus has to be flexible. Yikes! Not only that, but I need to set priority for the team. Setting my own priorities has felt fairly natural, and I created a document that I refer to regularly with just an ordered list of the high-level projects and initiatives I want to keep an eye on. Overall, this was the least difficult transition to make.
In another six months, I’m sure I can return here and say more about what this change has meant. There are still challenges coming, and more that will need reflection. It’s been really exciting to have an opportunity to try out something that I had been curious about. I have already been able to grow so much in my personal and professional life because of this, and I can’t wait for the future.