Although the tech industry has been historically male-dominated, we’re excited to see a growing number of our female teammates breaking the status quo and assuming technical leadership roles. At our RV Women in Tech panel event, we heard from five female tech leaders about the winding road to leadership, the value of mentorship, and what it’s like to be a #techboss.
1) What’s your advice for deciding between a management track and a principal engineering track?
April, Engineering Director | Florida: Be true to yourself. What do you genuinely enjoy? I’m actually having this conversation with someone on my team right now. He has capabilities to be a people leader and capabilities to be a principal engineer. It really comes down to what you get enjoyment from. What are the accomplishments that you feel the most pride about? What actually gets you excited?
Julia, VP of Engineering | Charlotte: Red Ventures intentionally offers a lot of mentorship opportunities – whether that’s through Road to Hire programs or just mentoring and encouraging newer team members. Take advantage of those opportunities and see how you do. These kinds of experiences can help you see if you’re ready for a management role or not. And you can learn a lot as a mentor, even if it doesn’t become part of your career. As a human being, it feels rewarding to see someone else grow as a result of your mentorship.
Caroline, Recruiting Manager | Charlotte: Just try it! One thing I love about RV is that you can try both – you don’t have to pick your path for life. Sometimes people choose a track based on the stage of their life. Maybe you really want to focus on getting to a certain place technically, which means you can’t take direct reports at this time. That doesn’t mean you’ll never manage anyone ever again. It’s fluid. If an organization doesn’t have this approach, it shows that they’re not as agile as they should be. When we have conversations about growth at RV, it’s just that: a conversation. And it changes every year – as it should. You’re different every year. It’s great to be at a company that helps you reach your goals and be with you throughout your whole journey.
2) More generally, how do you determine what you really want to do? How do you make sure you’re putting yourself on that path?
Brittany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: Reflect on the most rewarding experiences of your career. Not just, “what was that experience?” but “what made it so rewarding?” Really get down to the core of what that was – and then seek out similar experiences. It’s also important to be transparent with your manager. As a manager, I can only help you if I know what your goals are. Once I know about your goals, I can be very intentional about finding opportunities to suit them. If I don’t know where your head’s at, all I can give you is a generic path. Communicating upfront with your manager has been really helpful to me, both in my own career progression – and as the manager of my team.
3) For someone who’s new to tech (and might not have the educational background or experience) – what steps can you take to get your foot in the door?
April, Engineering Director | Florida: If you see a problem, go after it. For example – on my team, we said a hundred times, “it’d be great to have our metrics more visible for the whole team,” but nobody had time to work on it because we were all working on tasks for the business. I had a couple engineers take a weekend to throw something together. When they brought it to me, I was so impressed. It’s a great way to show initiative AND demonstrate your capabilities.
Julia, VP of Engineering | Charlotte: Red Ventures is a networking culture. At any given time, you can reach out to anybody working on any project, on any vertical. You’ll find that just about everyone is willing to sit down with you. Reach out to people who you think you can learn a lot from. And stay up to date on where we need tech talent throughout the organization. Raise your hand whenever you can.
4) How do you deal with the increased responsibilities and stresses that come with promotions?
Caroline, Recruiting Manager | Charlotte: Red Ventures has an interesting mentality that a lot of companies share. Often, you will be operating in a role for a period of time before your title technically changes. The philosophy here is intentional: we want to set you up for success, so we’ll help you get there. Instead of an overnight switch, it’s a slow build-up where you’re taking on more bit by bit, until that official title change feels completely natural.
Brittany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: Communicate with your manager. Over the course of my career, there have been many times when I’ve been really, really hungry for more responsibility. I’d go to my manager and say, “I want more projects, bring it on!” There have also been times (usually shortly after that ‘bring it on’ period) where I’d have to say, “Hey, I’m exhausted, can we back it off for a week or two?” Generally, your manager doesn’t WANT to burn you out. Tech is a field with extremely high burnout – so don’t be afraid to take a temporary step back if you need to recharge. Be upfront and honest about your capabilities – and communicate with your manager to make sure you’re still meeting the requirements of your role.
Julia, VP of Engineering | Charlotte: Every single morning, I ask myself, “what are my top priorities for today?” In a leadership role, it’s so easy to be pulled into many different things. I constantly check with myself to make sure the most important things get my energy. Map out your time-spend based on your top priorities – and hold yourself accountable to that.
April, Engineering Director | Florida: Manage your calendar, don’t let your calendar manage you. If I don’t actively look at my calendar in the morning and determine the things that HAVE to get done, I’ll get drawn into a hundred different things.
5) Tell us about the transition from ‘individual contributor’ (where you’re doing ALL the things) to ‘manager’ (where you’re spending more time managing work and people).
April, Engineering Director | Florida: You have to understand what your impact is – and where you drive most value for your organization. Me writing code is not going to help Red Ventures. Me being a multiplier to my team will absolutely help Red Ventures. The transition can be hard. You’re used to getting a pat on the back for being the person that shipped the thing. And now you’re not the person shipping the thing. You have to realize that as a manager, your success is not just about what you can do – it’s about what your team can do.
Tiffany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: It’s challenging, but you have to change your mindset. As a manager, it’s your job to transfer all your learnings to your team. In that way, the success of your team is your own success. It’s also about finding the right balance. As managers, we do have to get our hands dirty once in a while. We do have to go in and fix bugs. And we don’t usually get to work on the fun, exciting projects. But, that’s the nature of the job – and that’s what I love. I love removing the roadblocks for my team, helping them prioritize their work, collaborating with the business teams to figure out which projects will drive the best results.
6) As you get higher up in leadership roles, how do you stay connected to technology/trends so you can provide valuable feedback for your team?
Julia, VP of Engineering | Charlotte: In tech leadership, you absolutely have to embrace continuous learning. That’s no question. You’ll never be able to learn as fast as this industry changes. I subscribe to about 10 popular software engineering blogs – so I scan that content regularly. We also have group forums where engineers across RV discuss trending topics. I contribute to that channel on a regular basis.
But, as much as the industry changes, the fundamentals of software technology are very much the same. It’s just that people develop more tools to make certain things easier, better, safer, quicker. But the fundamentals are still there. As engineering leaders, we have to help younger developers build up their ‘engineer acumen.’ That’s a pure engineering mindset – not specific to a language or API library. Keep pushing yourself to use your experience and approach tech problems from a more ‘holistic’ view.
Tiffany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: It’s okay to be vulnerable. Let your team know if you aren’t aware of new technology they’re using. Don’t be afraid to ask them, “can you walk you through what you’re working on so I can have a better understanding?” For example, I currently manage two back-end engineers. I am originally front-end skilled, so I don’t know a whole lot about the backend. I rely on my team to help me understand things I don’t know – we are both trying to grow.
Brittany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: You should still be plugged into the work your team is doing. You should still understand how it’s functioning, and you should still be giving feedback on that. I try to give my team a high level of ownership over their projects, so I’ll let them own whiteboarding sessions and code reviews. But, I’m still involved and still giving feedback and staying up to date with how things are functioning. Even though there’s not as much direct coding work, there are still many ways to stay current about what’s going on in the industry.
7) How has mentorship ramped up your career?
CA: My current manager completely changed my philosophy on management. He said, “I’m just here to make you excellent in whatever you want to be.” That’s very different from someone who says, “I want to make you the best engineer in the company.” It’s more about holistic growth. But, over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of bad managers before I had good ones. They were the ones who helped me say, “I never want to do that.”
Brittany, Engineering Manager | Charlotte: A lot of times when we talk about mentorship, we think of something really formal: “You’re the mentor, you’re the mentee – now sit down and have coffee together regularly.” Something I’ve benefited from at RV is peer mentorship. Mid-level and associate-level engineers have taught me so much. Stay open to mentorship in whatever form it comes. Try to leverage everyone’s strengths and learn something new from every person you encounter.
April, Engineering Director | Florida: Networking is also super important. It’s great to get exposure to lots of different people. When someone shares their experiences with you, it might spark something in you that you weren’t even aware of.
Julia, VP of Engineering | Charlotte: When I chose to do a graduate degree in AI, I did not know anything about it. The only motivation I had back then was that I loved music. For my project, I collected 10k different pieces of music, then used fuzzy logic machine learning to predict whether it would be a happy song, a sad song, or a classic song – all based on the frequencies of the notes. So, the way I look at AI – it’s not just the algorithms, the technology, the concepts. It’s how you apply all that to your day-to-day life. Of course, AI has changed a lot. But I still believe the fundamentals: apply what we already know to predict something that we’d like to know.
Looking for additional career, mentorship, or leadership tips? Read more from RV women who inspire us.