A Day in the Life of a Tech Director Being Promoted to General Manager
Growing isn't as simple as learning new skills. It frequently means moving into areas of discomfort. This is a set of anecdotes from my move to GM.
Hey all! We're getting some cooler weather in Seattle, which I appreciate! And my wife finished doing some Lightroom work from our Japan trip, so I grabbed more photos than usual for this article.
I wrote a popular article not too long ago which walked through a typical day in the life of a Senior Engineering Manager at Amazon.
I've intended to write another similar article at some point. And then I had a couple of people in a short period of time ask me details about my move to general manager. A general manager (in the context of an Amazon career) or GM is a person who owns a business, from product to finance to technology.
I think it was an interesting experience to go through, so I'm going to share what it felt like. Why do I feel it'll be intriguing?
Because I think there are many people who could write advice on how to be a good GM. I don't know how many people would be willing to admit what it feels like to change career trajectories.
We all have the potential to encounter those scary moments. When you're a great engineer, and offered a chance to move into management. It's exciting, but you're moving from "I know how to do my job!" to "I'm not great at my job anymore!"
This article is intended to be at the intersection of the discomfort of career change, the excitement of learning new things, and the inevitable imposter syndrome that comes with the experience.
As usual, I'm changing necessary details to protect the innocent, and those who are not innocent. That means projects, and people, and identities, and statements were all shuffled in such a way to avoid potential identifying of people and / or situations.
My career growth as a technologist
I started as a software engineer, did that moderately fine. I moved into development management, and I found it suited me more. I was promoted up the management chain, and found that I liked the job even more as I grew into more senior roles.
At the culmination of my purely technical career, I was a Technology Director over a fairly large organization, with many senior technology leaders reporting to me. I stayed close to the bigger technology discussions (such as important system designs), and regularly participated at a fairly technical level on operational events.
While my organization included the project management group (feature launch management), the organization's business (marketing, content, sales) and product teams were managed by separate leaders. While I've always had an opinion on these topics, they did not report to me. Having an opinion is very different from being on the hook for delivery, as it turns out.
Moving to General Manager
The short version is that I was looking for a new role after taking a lovely sabbatical. I spoke to Ethan Evans to see if he had any open roles available. I'd previously attended a hiring manager training presentation of his, and I'd been impressed.
He said he had a general manager role open. That was interesting because I was mostly looking for Technology Director roles. However, I had a long-term interest in becoming a GM, so I told him I was interested.
He asked relevant questions regarding my work experience, both technical and product related. I apparently convinced him that I could figure out how to be a general manager, and I was offered the role. I was soon running the "Publishing Services" business of Amazon Games.
And that's where my story takes place.
A few days into the GM role - Meeting one of my product managers
Knock-Knock on my office door. I guess it was meeting time.
I was a bit nervous. This was my first one-on-one with one of the product managers who was now reporting to me. I'd intersected with them in meetings a couple of times already, and I had felt something odd. I suspected they weren't thrilled for some reason to have me here.
"Hello." Edgar said curtly, walking into my office. I was pretty sure I wasn't imagining the tension.
"Hey there Edgar! I'm glad we finally have some time to meet, and we can get to know each other better." I might have gone overboard a bit on being positive, in reaction to the tone I was feeling.
"Yes, I'd like to know a few things." Edgar said, with a tone which was absolutely not friendly. Lovely.