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What made you move from being an iOS developer to an engineering manager?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

What made you think, "You know, I want to go from being an iOS developer to a manager?" And how did you handle that move?

Jordanna Kwok: Specifically for this role at Netflix, it took me a while. I had to think about it really hard because I had done previous transitions from being an engineer to being a manager, and they are very different roles. So, it's not like I would be coding at the same time as managing people in this particular case, so it was really a deliberate decision to leave behind the coding. And that's a hard decision to make.

I think a lot of people are like, “well, I want to code and I want to maybe manage a few people." Some companies will have that opportunity. They might call them tech lead managers, and they're able to kind of do a bit of both. But at Netflix and in the case of many other companies, they're very distinct roles, and it's almost like a career transition. It's like you're going from being a designer to being an engineer, right? They're very different responsibilities and skills that are needed. So, yeah, had to think really hard about that to see, am I ready to leave behind the coding?

"I will code outside of work or the things I always end up coding are for productivity's sake, it's like, "Hey, I should automate this thing for myself."

Paul Hudson: I remember when I went to my first coding manager role, I did not leave behind the coding and it did not go well. Because you want to do it, you've got this bug in you, I've got to get coding out of me. You're almost addicted to it, it's almost like a natural high. And you want to do it, and you've been doing it for a number of years and you're very good at it, you're very good at your job, and then it stops.

I always think of the old Star Trek movies, because there's one where Captain Kirk, the big hero in the movies, is promoted to be an admiral. And he doesn't get his own starship anymore and he hates it – he's got a desk job, and he wants to become a starship captain again so he can fly around shooting up Klingons or whatever he does all day. He hates it because he's missing that hands-on role, even though it's technically I guess in his mind more junior. But he misses the getting your hands dirty and doing things and breaking things again, and you left that behind by the sounds of it. So you don't do any coding now, or selective, cherry pick tasks for yourself?

Jordanna Kwok: I do not do any coding. I leave that up to the engineers. Certainly if I go in and code something, I'm probably going to break something at this point, and they're going to have to fix up my mess!

"In the past when I've done this transition and haven't been through the transition completely, you can do coding but you're not going to be great at it. You can do management but you're not going to be great at it. Because you're split 50-50."

Paul Hudson: You're a liability is what you're saying! “I can imagine them saying, “no, no, it's fine, Jordanna, leave it alone, we'll take it from here."

Jordanna Kwok: Exactly. But on the side, I will code outside of work or the things I always end up coding are for productivity's sake, it's like, "Hey, I should automate this thing for myself." Like meetings and whatnot. But, I think for some people they make a very deliberate choice to leave this behind to focus on the skills." Because I'll let you know that, in the past when I've done this transition and haven't been through the transition completely, you can do coding but you're not going to be great at it. You can do management but you're not going to be great at it. Because you're split 50-50, you can't really focus on being great at one or the other.

Paul Hudson: And was Netflix supportive of that? Were they giving you training or management courses to help build up your management skills?

Jordanna Kwok: So, at Netflix there isn't specific training, there isn't like a series of courses on how to get into management. But you would work with your manager to kind of build up those skills, especially if you said you wanted to have a really honest conversation about your career growth and what you wanted to do two or three years from now, whatever it may be. So, that's how I speak with team members, and some of them will say they want to explore management at some point.

"You would work with your manager to kind of build up those skills, especially if you said you wanted to have a really honest conversation about your career growth and what you wanted to do two or three years from now

And it would be up to us then to figure out what are the skills needed and maybe give exposure and opportunities. So, for example, one of the biggest things as a manager is hiring. But as an engineer, the most exposure you get is maybe you're on the interview panel. But then, beyond that, how do you give people exposure to what is it like to source people? To find people, and reach out to them? And it is kind of making those opportunities available for team members to really work on those skills, while not exactly having that job.

And so when it comes time for someone to actually transition into management and there's an opportunity, it's a lot easier because they've actually done the work, versus having just read about it or something. Because reading about it can only get you so far.

Paul Hudson: Absolutely. So they get to sort of dip a toe in and then back to coding again then another toe back in again, they're getting gentle experience, building up slowly, as opposed to someone just saying “and now you're a manager."

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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