On a random Friday around nine months into one of my past roles, the tech lead of our team, and also my manager, announced they would be leaving the company for a new job. We all congratulated our colleague as the happy yet bittersweet feeling led us into the weekend.
On my commute home that evening, I couldn’t help but think that backfilling my manager as Tech Lead was a real possibility. Even though I was quite new to the team, I had demonstrated my technical expertise and leadership experience.
It was an opportunity for me to grow with both people management and leading technical architecture decisions; but, I had some hesitation since I hadn't been in the role very long. Would management really take a chance and promote someone this new in the organisation? There was only one way to find out!
The Conversation with my Manager
Before I made any decision towards the tech lead position, I took two actions over the weekend; first, I discussed it with a few mentors, explaining the situation, the opportunity, and my hesitations. And second, I went through my checklist for making big decisions.
The end result? I decided to go for it and have a conversation with my manager first thing Monday morning. The worst thing that could happen was being told no right? I arrived at the office (wow do I miss the office) around 9:00 am and immediately scheduled a meeting with my manager for 11:30 am.
It felt like an eternity watching the clock as it slowly ticked towards midday. I tried focusing on my usual work instead of watching the clock, it didn’t help much, but eventually, I found myself walking towards the meeting room.
As the conversation began, I acknowledged the team appreciated all of the hard work and dedication displayed during their time as our manager. Following up on that, I detailed some of my achievements on the team and highlighted my leadership experiences in past roles. I ended by explaining that the tech lead role offered me growth opportunities in two areas: management and architecting high-level technical decisions. Both would be really helpful in my career!
My manager replied with their approval and informed me there were a few candidates being considered, with me being one of them. Obviously, there was no guarantee that it would end up me, but consideration was a great first step and I was excited by the opportunity!
He informed me that the decision wouldn’t be made for another week or two; but in the meantime, I’d be given any updates.
There was one big challenge - our Engineering Manager was out on paternity leave, making it a bit difficult to easily decide on the next steps, communicate the decisions to our team, and make sure everyone was on the same page.
Splitting Our Team & Working on a New Project
Losing my manager put the team in a bit of a bind since we were smack-bang in the middle of a huge project. The goal of this project was to essentially revamp the design of our product and release a new version, while in parallel updating features in the current version. Initial talks on how we would proceed had already begun.
In the blink of an eye, the two weeks between the announcement and my manager’s last day flew by. The sequence of events that happened once he left went something like the following.
First, it was announced that our team would be splitting up into two parts: one to focus on maintaining and adding features to our current application, with the second focusing on developing the revamped design version.
At the time, we had two Senior Engineers on the team, me being one of them. Each of us would be in charge of leading one part by coordinating with our partner teams and contributing features that met product requirements. We also had two associate Engineers, who would be also split up into each area. Another developer with strong domain knowledge of the organization’s architecture and data flow would be our “tech advisor” if we needed any assistance.
Basically, we split the team in two with each focusing on the respective priorities, where both Senior Engineers would be acting tech leads and had an extra resource that could help make sure our architectures fit into the overall system appropriately.
You can imagine my exhilaration on leading the new architecture; I immediately got to work!
The Almost Promotion
The situation became quite interesting in the following few weeks.
Initial Conversation with Leadership
Approximately one month or so after our manager had left, a meeting was sent over on my calendar by one of our leadership team members. This wasn’t out of the norm, as we met with leadership every so often; and, I’d have the opportunity to ask questions about the future of our team.
It was in this 30-minute meeting I was told that my acting tech lead role would become permanent! The tech lead role expectations were read out loud to me, and I graciously accepted and stated I was confident in meeting them. Further, one of the associate engineers on our team would now report to me, meaning I’d have my first direct report!
Lastly, during the meeting, I was informed that our tech advisor would be backfilling my old manager’s role and would be my new manager. With so much changing, I was asked to wait until announcing it to the team as other conversations were still in the works; eventually, leadership informed everyone on our team of the new team structure. Immediately I changed my LinkedIn profile, my e-mail signature, and told my friends and family the news!
A Month Later…
The initial changes and unknowns for our team’s future had become old news and our Engineering Manager was back from paternity leave after a few weeks had passed.
I was growing curious while anxiously waiting for communication from the HR team. It’s common that an increase in responsibilities (especially having a new direct report) results in additional pay, promotion raises typically being anywhere from 10-20%. That process can be slow and I exhibited the virtue of patience to the best of my abilities.
That patience had run out at the month mark, and after asking my manager for an update; I ended up setting up time with the Engineering Manager instead. I broached the conversation with a simple question of status regarding my promotion and quickly became flabbergasted.
“I’m not sure what promotion you’re talking about, could you give me more details?”
“Sure, I can do that,” I said, following up with the details of my conversation with the leadership team member regarding our team split and tech lead role.
“I’m sorry to hear this, as I had no knowledge of that conversation and we don’t have any tech lead positions available that you could be promoted into.”
The response came like a bullet to the gut. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like a brick was residing in my stomach. It was very apparent a miscommunication had occurred, and a wave of embarrassment came over me as I walked back to my desk.
The main question that played like a broken record player in my mind was: why would you announce it before the HR team had verified it?
The Lessons Learned
I reconciled in the knowledge that it boiled down to a communication issue, similar to the “telephone game” we played when we were younger. I felt pride in knowing that the opportunity was considered for me by leadership, yet disappointed in taking on new responsibilities with the assumption of changes in pay.
It was important to reflect on what areas I could control and take the following lessons away for the future!
We can all understand that messages across different mediums like Slack or Zoom cause misunderstandings, especially when there are multiple levels that a message travels from.
There were evolving situations changing every day when my original manager left, and with his manager being out while huge projects were moving forward, I can empathize with how intentions were misinterpreted.
For big decisions and important conversations, it is important that all of your ducks are aligned before communicating them - especially for something like a promotion.
Trust but Verify
Trusting others should be seen as a positive in one’s character; the world runs on our trust in each other.
The lesson here for me was verifying the promotion with HR, or verifying that the process was started instead of assuming it. There’s nothing incorrect in the behaviour of verifying moments that have a large impact on you when they depend on others. It isn’t a breach of trust and something I’ll be doing in the future.
Understand Your Company Promotion Process
This situation was the first and last time I would be promoted without the knowledge of the full promotion process in my organization. In the future, I will know how the pay increase works, how the title change happens, and how one tracks it throughout.
I highly recommend you do the same!
Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset
Being passed over for a promotion or being told you’re getting promoted when you actually don’t create a flurry of emotions. Give yourself some processing time, then remind yourself that promotions will be available in the future at your current company and there are many job opportunities in other organizations as well (abundance mindset).
In other words, put it into a big-picture perspective so you can see this one blip in your path isn’t a show-stopper. Make it your motivation going forward instead!
Organizational structure ebbs and flows. People are promoted when opportunities arrive, people change companies as they find exciting growth opportunities, all the while we each go to work each day with different objectives. Some fight for their promotions by going above their responsibilities every single day; while others love what they do and enjoy the comfortable feeling of where they are.
No matter where you are in your career, I hope that writing about this situation can help you avoid it in your future. Mistakes don’t define you and learning from them is the surefire way towards becoming the person you envision yourself to be!