Object Literally

Switching Departments at your Current Company

October 04, 2020

I started a sales role at SalesLoft when I moved to Atlanta, 11 years into a successful career in sales. At the time, I had exactly 0 years of professional experience as a developer.

If you’re interested, check out this article about my decision to switch careers.

A little over a year into my SalesLoft journey, I accepted an offer as a Junior UI Engineer. The advice in this post is for anyone looking to make a similar switch. Whether you’re coming from a non-technical or technical role, here are some tips to moving into engineering without leaving your current company.

Find a Mentor

Find an Internal Advocate

Go for Coffee

Toot Your Own Horn

Do a Good Job

Find a Mentor

A mentor:

  • Does not necessarily have to work at your company (but in this case, it’s better if he/she does)
  • Is 1-3 levels above where you are in your career
  • Works with you formally or informally on your career objectives
  • Can work with you to discuss challenges in your code and help you get unstuck when you hit a problem
  • Follows your lead. You drive the relationship - deciding what to meet about, bringing forward questions that you have, facilitating times to meet, etc.

Remember that you can have more than one mentor. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say that you should try and find more than one mentor. Different mentors can help with different areas of your life. For example, you may have a mentor for parenting, a mentor for becoming a better JavaScript developer, and an internal mentor at your company who helps you navigate your career as an engineer.

Find an Internal Advocate

This person is likely a different person from your mentor, but it could be the same person. An internal advocate will go to bat for you when you’re not around. The internal advocate will get in front of the right people (and make sure that YOU’RE put in front of the right people) with the message that you rock and you would make a strong fit on your company’s engineering team. Here are some qualities of a good advocate:

  • Works for your company at a senior leadership or higher
  • Provides you with helpful information about how to stand out at your organization
  • Is trusted and respected by the people who make the hiring decisions on your engineering team
  • If put in front of one of the people who make the hiring decision on your engineering team, is willing to speak on behalf of you
  • Speaks highly of you (and often) when you’re not around

Quick tips:

  • Give him/her talking points! Make a point to regularly reach out to show them projects you’re working on and ask for their feedback. Ask: “If I were building this for {{our company}}, what would I add?” “If I were working on this project with others, what kinds of things should I incorporate?” “Is this something you’d find useful? What would you change?”

Go for coffee

Invite someone from your engineering team out for coffee once a week. I mean, it doesn’t have to be coffee. Could be tea. Could be for a walk and talk over the phone. This rule is true for everything - it’s not always what you know - it’s WHO you know. When it comes down to you vs another internal candidate, if more people on your engineering team already know you and start to see you as a natural fit for the team, they are going to advocate for YOU to be the next engineering hire.

Quick tips: Spread the love to different people. One a week is fine.

Toot your own horn

Self-advocacy makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable. It can feel like bragging or showing off. But if you’re not letting people know about what you’re working on, no one will know about all of the time and effort you’ve been putting into learning to code. And I can guarantee that if there IS someone else who feels comfortable talking about their work, they are going to get that job when it opens up before you do.

Here are some ways to toot your own horn (without feeling too braggy):

Set up quarterly meetings with the hiring manager to talk through progress. I used this spreadsheet in one of my conversations to highlight the projects that I’d done and how they mapped to the skills on the junior job listing.

Show your hiring manager your plan – ask for feedback

Get buy-in from your current manager

This section assumes that you have a manager who would be open to seeing you grow, even if it doesn’t mean that it will be with them. Managers understand that you aren’t planning to stay with them forever. Plan out how you will tell your manager that you’re thinking about moving to a different team and ask for their support. Many places will want you to be in your current role for at least a year before making any transitions. You may be surprised – sometimes you just need to ask.

Figure out which projects would be appealing to your team and BUILD THEM

Learn about your company’s tech stack

Know Who Cares

Pop Quiz – who at your company (besides you) benefits when you switch to the engineering team?

Is it your current manager? Nope. Although he/she might be happy for you and (hopefully) very encouraging of you, losing a valuable team member is going to leave a void to fill. It’s more work. Your manager will need to post a job req, go through a ton of interviews, conduct onboarding for the new hire, brace for decreased productivity while your replacement ramps, etc all because you chose to leave.

What about the recruiter? It’s true, recruiters get credit for getting the junior role filled. Keep in mind, however, that although they bring candidates forward, they don’t make the decisions about which candidate gets the job. So the rule here is, definitely make sure to get to know your recruiters and get on their good side, but

So who really benefits? Your new hiring manager! Not only that, this person has the ability to make the decision about whether or not you get the job! This person is the person you want to pay the most attention to and make the happiest. Your next manager will be getting a great new hire

Quick Tips:

  • Other junior candidates might have that CS Degree or bootcamp education that you don’t, but your huge advantage is your knowledge of your own company and access to your hiring manager.

Do a Good Job!

Have you ever heard the expression “dress for the job you want, not the job you have?”
That’s what we’re going for here. Even if you work for a big company where you are pretty confident that your current manager doesn’t have any contact with the hiring manager of the team you’d like to move to, rest assured - your future manager will find out about your work ethic, ability to contribute to a team, and overall fit from members of your current team. Make sure you’re doing a great job in your role today!

Once I made the decision that software engineering would be my next career path, I needed to become strategic about the way that I approached getting the attention of the hiring managers on our engineering team.

If you’re looking to make a switch to a more technical role but don’t want to leave your current company (I assume that’s why you’re here in the first place!), this article is for you. You will be competing against others inside and outside of your organization with more experience than you. Impostor syndrome may have already kicked in before you’ve even finished your resume. Here are some practical pieces of advice based on things I’ve done to stand out.

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