Photo by Fleur on Unsplash
Butterflies! Amazing creatures they are. So much attention goes into their creation, and a symbol of beauty comes to life at the end. They haven’t been born instantly; they go through the delicate process of change and evolution: a transition, step by step.
A baby butterfly goes through three different stages before it’s fully grown. This process is called metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is a significant change from a tiny egg to a fluttering butterfly. Looking back at how I got drawn into Leadership when I was an engineer, I see a similar transition. I went through a metamorphosis, a multi-stage evolution, one step at a time.
I was inside an egg during the first two years of my engineering career journey. I did not know much about how things run how a project executes successfully end-to-end. I was just good at doing my part which was developing and delivering a simple task back to the bigger team.
After two years, I started to break that egg; I got some sneak peeks into the planning phase, requirement building, architecture analysis, and execution. It interests me — even more than what I was doing which was coding and delivering tasks. I asked my manager if I could participate in requirement gathering and execution. I started reading and learning about project management, understanding how to run a meeting, making a presentation, inspiring others who work with me, and influencing the product’s direction. After a while, I was no longer only coding and delivering features. I was part of the conversations and decisions on the scope, timing, road mapping, and delivery strategy of an initiative. I transitioned into a Caterpillar; my world was more prominent than an egg. It was complex yet attractive.
If you are in the first two years of your career, start getting curious about the world outside while you are focused on mastering your technical skills. Ask lots of questions, have an aptitude for learning, and ask for opportunities to expand your role. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:
- What are some ways that could help me expand my current role and make more impact?
- How could I add more value to the team?
- How could I develop non-technical expertise to compliment my technical skills? What’s my plan of action?
In almost two years, I got my first project to lead end-to-end. I was excited. I loved engineering and coding, but what made my job exciting wasn’t coding alone. It was working with people and the challenges of building products. I knew I had to learn more about Leadership, communication, and collaboration as my responsibilities were growing.
I bought my first leadership book, “The HBR Guide to Project Management.” I had so much thirst for this type of non-technical knowledge. I took notes on the strategies I could take from this book and apply them to current initiatives at work. I identified areas I had to dig deeper and learn. A week later, I finished the book. I went back to the bookstore, and this time I bought five more books. Over time, my library grew. There was a new shelf with books on leadership/career-growth topics!
The first non-technical bookshelf — 2015
I enjoyed reading leadership and self-development books. Every book taught me something new, added value to my career and work routine. As a result, I improved in communicating at work. I got better at communication and collaboration. After a year in, I realized for every technical book I read; I read 4 non-technical ones. I was investing heavily into learning and improving my leadership and career development skills. It worried me a bit. So, I asked myself: “Am I diverging from being a software engineer?” That day, I had a chat with my mentor; she told me: “You are transitioning again.” Yes, I was about to transition from a caterpillar to a chrysalis. I was growing and expanding my skills. That does not mean I gave up on my technical skills. My learning plan was a highway with five lanes to technical depth and a FastTrack lane to Leadership.
Me reading Designing Your Life in Devout Coffee — Fremont CA — 2017
In about two years, I had led many initiatives to success, coached and mentored many engineers across the industry, and also made many mistakes along the way. I have learned about myself, my leadership style, nuances of project management, and strategical thinking.
Looking back, I am most grateful for having the opportunity to mentor and coach others. Those mentorships allowed me to understand if I could one day empower and motivate others to find their best self. Every mentee taught me something valuable and made me grow into a dimension I never thought I would.
I am also grateful for my mistakes and failures. Those taught me great lessons that I will never forget. They opened my perspective to learning more about myself, understanding my flaws and shortcomings, and becoming strong enough to accept what was my fault and strive to learn and do better next time. I always believe:
At the same time, I got to lead a fantastic team of UI engineers and embark on the journey of becoming an engineering manager. Although this was just the start of the flying journey, I had to learn and grow. If you just started your leadership journey, here are some suggestions for you:
- Have a learning aptitude, never stop learning.
- Be a great listener. Listen not only to words but also to interactions.
- Be open to hear feedback from others, even if it’s hard.
- Find your own leadership style rather than imitating someone else’s.
- Accept that you are going to make mistakes on this journey and be open to learning from those.
- Admit the gaps in your knowledge and reward those who speak up.
People won’t become leaders overnight; Leadership requires a change process. It requires changing your mindset, shifting your thinking, broadening your view, and seeing perspectives that you could not see before. People often ask me what I need to do to transition into Leadership. Well, remember the butterflies. You need to change who you are today and evolve into a leader of tomorrow: