Mar 11 2020

People first: One engineer’s career path to management

By Meta Careers
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Throughout her career, Lila P. has focused on building community and staying connected at work to help inspire her teams and increase their productivity. Now a software engineering manager at Meta, Lila shares below how her passion for people inspired her career journey—including her transition from engineering to management.
The road to my current role wasn’t a straight path from A to B. It made me wonder: what would my career path look like if it was a project I was going to deliver? The journey would call for a product description and requirements, insights I learned along the way, roadblocks I faced and the overall impact on myself and the people I’ve managed.

Product description: It’s different for everyone

Everyone has a different journey to get to their ideal end goal. As the main stakeholder in my own career journey, I set requirements for what I wanted. That meant an open heart, open mind, curiosity and to always practice self-care.

Initial iterations: My early career

I started my career in technology as a software developer at a company where I learned the basics, but my job wasn’t particularly interesting to me. I was building software for embedded systems. When I moved into a more user-facing role, as a front end developer, I discovered that user empathy was my passion. At the same time, I became a scrum master where I discovered that I got a kick out of helping people and teams be more efficient.
When I had my daughter, I went on two years of parental leave. After that, I took a new role at Spotify where I was one of the most experienced people on my team. I wasn’t in a user-facing role, but I provided value by leading my team with my expertise in processes and helping others rather than writing code. Once again, the human aspect of my role was something I gravitated towards naturally and felt inspired by.

Insights

Looking back, I see a few specific moments in time that led me to ultimately pivot my career path:
  • Valuable conversations. I was fortunate to have a conversation with my manager, who suggested that I would be a strong engineering manager. The idea hadn’t crossed my mind before, but I was curious and it triggered some personal evaluation.
  • Self-reflection. Over a two-week period, I challenged myself to think about what gave me energy and what drained me. In the end, I looked at all the data I gathered and tried to identify patterns. It was obvious that helping people is what I enjoy most.
  • People first. As I reflected on my past roles, which were significantly different, I discovered that the common denominators were people. I always felt energized by making a direct impact on people’s lives.

Roadblocks

Once I decided to transition into management, I needed to land a role. I applied within my company, but the team was looking for a seasoned manager and I didn’t have any experience yet. To move forward, I:
  • Took on a challenge. After many meetings with my director, he finally let me know he would give me a chance if I hired one new person to the team. I knew it would be a challenge. Our hiring bar was high, and our candidate pool was extremely limited. In the end, I filled the role with a highly qualified candidate from a diverse background. This candidate considered the position because she saw me, a woman, in the hiring manager role.
  • Researched. Actually succeeding in a role I’d never had before, but fought so hard for, was scary and overwhelming. I decided to approach it with curiosity. I interviewed my colleagues, read books and made plenty of mistakes.
  • Adjusted my mindset about failure. At first, I felt paralyzed to make decisions because I was afraid to make mistakes. I finally realized that if I didn’t allow myself to fail, I would never move forward. I started to trust myself again, which allowed me to enjoy my new role.

Milestones: Landing at Meta

Once I adjusted my mindset, I really started to grow. I got the opportunity to move to London and work at Meta, where I grew my nine-person team into an organization of several teams, all working towards a shared mission. Working at this scale has taught me to look at the bigger picture. My work also allows me to drive impact through something that has always been my passion: people.
My perspective has changed too. Today, I focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses, and I refuse to be confined by labels. Though I’m more introverted and feel exhausted by large group events, I discovered that I can find the energy when I feel connected to a larger purpose. I know that I can overcome my weakness to do my job, while caring for myself and being conscious of my limits.

Learnings: User impact

I’ve learned so much during my career journey. Here are three key areas I think about each day:
  • Empowerment. As a leader, I’ve been given the power to empower people. I work with my team to define a successful outcome and let them make the decisions to get us there. I also discovered that to truly innovate and drive our organization forward, I needed to create an environment that inspired my team to take risks.
  • Being a role model. Strong leaders model the behavior they want to see. I bring my authentic self to work each day to set this example.
  • Building community through shared values.
    “Magic happens when people feel like they belong.”
    I build community by staying true to the company values and encouraging people to work on a common mission. For example, we say to ‘be bold’ as a company, so I celebrate failure when it comes from a risk worth taking.

Retrospective

My career is still ongoing, therefore this is only a sprint retrospective, not the project round up. These are some techniques that have helped me through the years:
  • Work on your own terms. Unless you cater to your own needs, your journey will be significantly hard. I chose to work for a company and manager who focused on results, rather than time spent in the office, so I can leave early to pick up my child from school.
  • Optimize your process for learning. There will be many twists and turns in your career, but as long as you’re learning something from it you’ll be fine.
  • Be the imposter. Stop feeling like an imposter. In times of self-doubt and uncertainty, try to be the imposter instead. Ask all the questions, reach out when you need help, stop pretending you know exactly what you’re talking about. This has been my most effective shortcut to growth.

Stay connected

Header photo by Joshua Ness
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