4 min read

Moving from Individual Contributor to Manager

Moving from IC to Manager is probably the most common way to become an engineering manager. Individual contributor is a basic first step.
Team of ICs
Team of ICs

As an experienced engineering manager at a leading FAANG company, I've spent the past four years navigating the challenges and rewards of transitioning from an individual contributor (IC) to a manager. In this post, I'll share 20 vital facts that helped me succeed in my journey of engineering manager. If you're thinking of making a similar move, these insights might just make your transition smoother and more effective.

Table of contents:

1. Embrace the Shift in Perspective

When moving from an individual contributor to a manager, you need to understand that your perspective will dramatically shift. As an IC, you're primarily focused on completing your tasks and projects. As a manager, your scope broadens to look at the bigger picture. Your goal is to enhance your team's capacity for success. Identify bottlenecks in your processes and consider how your team can be more effective​

2. Your Role as a Champion

As a manager, you're no longer the star of the team but the team's champion. You have to inspire your team to give their best, fight for them, teach them, and defend them. Your success is measured by your team's capacity to succeed. Don't be the all-star; be the champion.

3. Let Accountability Fall Back on the Team

Initially, you might feel the need to pick up the slack and rescue the team when things are behind. However, doing so can make the team reliant on being rescued. Instead, challenge the team to step up to their responsibility. A calculated failure for the team can be much more powerful than you stepping in to meet a commitment​​.

4. Understanding Your Team

Knowing each individual on your team is essential. Weekly one-on-ones are the best way to build relationships and understand each member of your team. This invaluable time helps you to ensure each person is happy and productive. It's a chance to learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations.

5. Leveraging One-on-Ones

One-on-one meetings are the perfect avenue to learn about your team members. Ask questions like "What was your favorite part of the week?" and "What was your least favorite part of the week?" These insights can reveal inefficiencies and problems in the team that you wouldn't catch otherwise​.

6. Identifying Opportunities for Growth

Through one-on-ones, you can discover where each employee can thrive in the organization. Knowing their interests and aspirations can help you guide them towards roles they would excel in and enjoy. When they thrive, they contribute more to the team's success​.

7. Fostering a Shared Vision

One-on-one meetings also allow you to paint a vision of what you think your employee can do individually and how they can contribute to the team. Establish challenges together and then follow up on them regularly. This shared vision helps focus your teammates on achieving their personal and team goals​.

8. Empower Your Team

Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader means letting go of your personal capacity. However, the new excitement and challenges that come with increasing your team’s capacity will more than make up for the loss. Be the champion, visionary, and coach your team needs​​.

9. Communication is Key

As a manager, you'll be communicating more than ever. Not just with your team, but also with other teams, managers, and stakeholders. You'll need to clearly articulate your team's progress, blockers, and needs, as well as manage expectations.

10. Your Emotional Intelligence Matters

The ability to empathize, handle difficult conversations, manage your emotions, and understand others' emotions is critical. People look to you for guidance, and how you react to situations can set the tone for the whole team.

11. Time Management is More Important than Ever

You'll be juggling many tasks, from team meetings to one-on-ones, project planning, and more. Effective time management can help you handle your responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed.

12. You'll Need to Delegate

As a manager, you can't do everything yourself. Delegation is a skill you'll need to master. It involves trusting your team and giving them the autonomy to complete tasks and projects.

13. You're a Role Model

Your team will look to you as an example. Your work ethic, attitude, and behavior can significantly influence your team's morale and productivity.

14. Continuous Learning is a Must

Moving into management doesn't mean you stop learning. Whether it's about your industry, management techniques, or your team, continuous learning helps you stay effective and adaptable.

15. You'll Need to Make Tough Decisions

From resource allocation to performance reviews and conflict resolution, management involves making tough decisions. It's crucial to be fair, transparent, and empathetic.

16. Your Success Depends on Your Team

Your success as a manager is closely tied to your team's performance. Investing time and effort into developing your team members can lead to better outcomes for everyone.

17. Feedback is Essential

Providing clear, constructive feedback helps your team grow. Equally, being open to feedback about your management style can help you improve and adapt.

18. Patience is a Virtue

Things may not always go as planned, and progress may be slower than you'd like. Patience and resilience can help you navigate these challenges.

19. Balance is Key

It's important to balance the needs of the business with the needs of your team. This can be challenging, but it's essential for long-term success.

20. It's a Rewarding Journey

Despite the challenges, becoming a manager can be incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to influence your team's growth, success, and job satisfaction. Embrace the journey, and enjoy the learning and growth that comes with it.

There you have it: 20 facts about transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager. Remember, everyone's journey is unique, and what worked for me might not necessarily work for you. Take these insights as suggestions and adapt them to your own circumstances and style. Good luck!