Looking for a new opportunity? Are you considering switching to a different tech company? Maybe a different team inside your current company? The following tips will help you decide whether a certain position or offer is right for you.
Interviewing in the tech industry is emotionally exhausting and stressful. You can read some good advice on how to cope with tech interviews from someone who has done it more than ten times. But is the decision-making process done after you pass the interviews? No. Choosing the right team can also be stressful and, arguably, it’s the decision that has the highest impact on your long-term happiness and career goals.
As I mentioned on the post about my top learnings after nine years working at Microsoft, there are 3 big pillars on anyone’s happiness at work:
- Your manager
- Your team
- Your product
“You can be perfectly happy if one of them fails. For example, even if you have a bad manager, you can still grow a lot if your team is full of smart and collaborative individuals and the product you work on is exciting and impactful. You can also be happy working on a boring product if you have an amazing team and a manager that gives you the right opportunities to grow. However, if any two of these pillars fail at the same time, it might be time to start looking for a new position.”
So let’s suppose that you already are in the team-selection process. What do you do when you cannot find a team that has all those three pillars? What if you only find teams with two of them? Which ones do you optimize for? Deciding which pillars to choose is a personal decision with many variants. Here are the tips I would have liked someone told me about many years ago.
Let’s start with the manager pillar. In my experience, this is the aspect that can affect your happiness more directly, so always maximize for it if you can. If you clearly see red flags on this area, stop and think twice. Having a bad manager can have catastrophic consequences for your career, especially in companies where your growth directly depends on your manager’s actions. The best way of clearing your concerns is by asking for a 1:1 meeting with your future manager (and skip manager, if possible), where you take the interviewer’s seat. Make sure you leave with a good understanding about how they evaluate performance, how they ensure their engineers are growing, how they make daily decisions, set goals, curate new ideas, etc. Look for a manager that is clearly invested in people, that takes pride on helping those around them grow and be happy while doing their job.
Assuming you find a position with a strong manager, now you just have to choose between team and product. Ask yourself what’s the experience that you want to get from the next three to five years? I could say ten years, but in today’s tech world people don’t usually stay that long in a position without making any changes; either they change teams/companies or the organization itself changes before they make a decision for themselves. In any case, think of the direction in which you want to grow your career. Do you want to explore a new type of business? Do you want to learn about a new tech stack? Or do you want to develop expertise in a specific area?
If you are not sure about the answers, then make a decision by using process of elimination. Ask yourself how bad are the people on the team where only the product pillar is great. If the product is amazing, it might be worth considering that position as long as you don’t see bad politics or people upset. Bad politics can usually be discarded early if you see a cohesive team, where collaboration is clearly a part of how they work. One of the best ways to probe deeper on this aspect is by asking details about a project that involved several teams in the organization, what were the challenges they faced and how they resolved them; make sure you do this before you make a decision, since bad politics (teams competing against each other, managers imposing themselves on top of each other, etc.) can mean death by a thousand cuts. That type of friction on your daily work will burn you out over time.
Alternatively, think of how bad is the product on a position where only the team pillar is great. As long as the product has some kind of impact and something to learn from it, it might be worth considering if the people in the team are the kind of peers you can learn from, collaborate with and grow alongside them. You can also play the interviewer role here, asking for face to face meetings with some of the senior engineers who work in that team. Ask them about the latest challenge they faced, what frustrates them and what excites them about their job, about what they learned from their peers since they joined the team.
I personally tend to maximize for the manager and team pillars, since they have been the biggest drivers of growth in my career. For people who have just started their career, optimizing for the product pillar is not usually the best decision unless you have also confirmed that the manager is strongly invested in their reports and that the rest of the team already works on a foundation based on collaboration and peer-to-peer growth. I call this the ‘unicorn position’ because it’s very difficult to find.
All in all, you need to realize that ultimately, navigating through several offers in tech is a privilege. So take a step back, breathe deeply, and remember that what you are going through is actually good. Welcome to the roller coaster of driving your tech career.
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