December 11, 2021

Day 11 - Moving from Engineering Manager to IC

By: Brian Scott (@brainscott)
Edited by: Don O'Neill (@sntxrr)

Within the past month, I've had a radical change into a new role within my existing employer, for the past decade I was an SRE Manager building teams and a Tech Executive. I hope to summarize my experience including how that made me feel, moving into an IC Role. The thoughts and ideas in this article are from my own opinion and past experiences.

For the past 6-8 years, I've been in an Engineering Manager/TechExec role, specifically in Systems Reliability Engineering. I was comfortable, happy, and engaged in this role, managing multiple SRE teams supporting a wide range of products & platforms in the Enterprise.

Before we dive in deeper, A little history on myself, I've been playing with technology since I was in 5th grade. My English teacher at the time taught me everything he knew about repairing computers, primarily 286's & 386's, DOS, and teaching me the BASIC programming language.

As I transitioned into 8th grade, entering High School, my computer teacher approached me to ask if I wanted to help with administering the School's Network of 12 Windows NT Servers running Active Directory, Exchange & File Services with over 4000 workstations & Printers. Apparently, my 5th-grade teacher passed a few tidbits to him of what I was doing in middle school in Computer Science.

Little did I know after accepting the position that my journey began, A few startups (MySpace, remember that?) and mid-large corporations later, I ended up in Engineering Management, primarily focused on building teams that support large scale applications both On-prem and in the cloud with a focus on delivering solutions with a DevOps culture & SRE mindset.

I've been used to building high-performing engineering teams, meeting new and amazing engineers while focusing on creating T-Shaped teams, this is not necessarily a new concept but one that worked for my teams and worked well. During this time, We have had an amazing leadership team that pushed us to go above and beyond while meeting new product teams across the company every day that needed our help in delivering great solutions. In certain organizations, high technical roles can be treated as semi-management.

We introduced several new technologies & concepts to the company as a whole, developing many Communities of Practice around Config Management, Containers, CI/CD, and even Web Development with Go, and so on. With the vast coverage of different areas that the company was working in, I found myself, slowly moving into a new space that we never had a role in the company, more on this, in just a bit.

Before moving into Management, I was a Staff SRE (Systems Reliability Engineering). You might be thinking, isn’t it Site Reliability Engineering?, yes but different companies tailor the meaning of SRE to meet the needs within their respective areas. In my case, we weren’t just managing Sites & Web Applications but Systems that handle a wide range of products in the Entertainment & Media space. Think Rendering, Control Systems, and safety systems.

As a Manager, I started seeking and making new connections across the enterprise, assisting teams in onboarding the latest technology, whether that be LiDar, Kubernetes, understanding GitOps & Docker, and new tools that were bursting with Innovation in the Open Source space. While being good at helping others and always saying “YES”, I quickly found myself spread quite thin between managing 5 different SRE Teams, each team roughly 3-5 team members, supporting over 3000 Applications and some of which were centralized services for the entire enterprise to consume. It was also getting a little hard for me to stay current with the technology, which I loved.

Leadership quickly saw my success in evangelizing new technology and helping our business units move fast in adopting new methods of engineering not only with new technology but ensuring our SRE’s had the proper tools and was aware of up and coming automation tools to help them reduce toil but also accelerate in how we delivered more value to our customers internally and externally.

My leader called me into a meeting to discuss my interest in moving into an SRE role, but instead of a pure Engineering role, wanted me to pursue leading the company’s effort in evangelising new technology. He went on to explain the value and deep vision in how this would allow me to expand my reach and support more teams in helping create an organization, around Developer Advocacy and mentoring our entire Global SRE Organization to the next level and inspire others in methods such as Empathy Engineering, Automation and best practices in multiple areas, the advancements in what’s next in driving technical leadership.

I was a bit taken back but excited, there was also a bit of nervousness of course, how that might have affected my teams in-relation to my relationships between each one of my engineers. In the next few weeks, my teams and leadership were very supportive and believed that I was needed in this new role to make a bigger impact on the Organization and company as a whole.

Never be discouraged if you find yourself moving into an IC role, new opportunities have a great way of nudging you in the right direction. People often think that moving up the ladder means success but as we all have seen incredible people in IC roles such as Kelsey Hightower at Google or Jessie Frazelle of Oxide Computer. Humans do their best work when positioned to do things they love doing and provided they can reach new heights.

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