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New adventures, same company

I recently shifted roles at FusionAuth. Where I was previously head of developer relation (devrel), I’ve relinquished this role to Tony Blank, who is now leading that team. I can’t wait to see what Tony and the team do to help developers build on and learn about FusionAuth.

But why did I switch roles? I’d been leading the devrel function for almost four years and built the team to:

  • two full time employees
  • one part time contractor
  • three agencies

Last year, I took a long hard look at what I was doing and what I wanted to do.

I noticed I didn’t want to be on a manager’s schedule and didn’t want to spend a large chunk of my workday in meetings. I enjoyed the impact of the devrel team and am very proud of everyone who was a part of it.

Yet I also noticed a pattern in my career. I have often:

  • been hired in an IC role
  • had an opportunity to take a management role, because the business needed it and I could do an okay job
  • took the opportunity
  • didn’t enjoy it but also didn’t see a way out
  • started looking for a new job
  • quit the company

I can think of three times this has happened in the last decade.

When I started to build out the devrel team at FusionAuth, especially when I was hiring the full-time employees in the last year or so, I communicated clearly to my managers that I’d build the initial team because I saw a business need. Devrel and market awareness go hand in hand and I think the latter is what FusionAuth needs right now.

But I was also clear that I wanted to hand team management to someone who cares about that as a discipline. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I like some parts of people management, but that I don’t compare well with others working toward mastery of that craft.

I’m happy to report that my managers at FusionAuth heard me. They were willing to allow me to hire someone who has built out a great devrel team in the past and who really loves to do so; that would be Tony. (Raising our round helped with this too.)

So, where does that leave me? My new title is principal product engineer. What I’ll be doing is high impact individual contributor (IC) work. Combining my knowledge of CIAM, my understanding of the company based on my tenure, and my software skills, I’ll be working on processes, code, and integrations to help solve FusionAuth’s business problems.

At a company growing as fast as we are, there are always bumps to smooth out. Because of my history and skillset, I’m a good person to help. The first thing I’m doing is building out a training program to help employees sell more effectively; it’s been fun to evaluate and select a learning management system, create the curriculum, and build out the training modules.

I’ll miss some pieces of devrel, but I expect to continue to do some devrel-esque tasks. For example, there are several long-form guides and example applications that I can’t wait to write. In fact, building out the training has unearthed holes in our documentation that I can’t wait to fill.

When I look back, I often spun out of a company because I didn’t see a way out of a management role. This is because managers are among the most highly paid employees. Once I was promoted, I didn’t think that my superiors, who were in some cases the owners of the company, would see a place for me. I wasn’t sure there was a high impact IC role at these companies.

But I made a mistake. I didn’t talk to them about alternatives. Part of this was due to my immaturity but a larger part was due to my fear and distrust. After all, if I mentioned I wasn’t happy managing a team, but that was what the business needed, I feared I wouldn’t be needed. But jumping to this conclusion without discussing options removed any agency from my managers. It is possible that I could have moved laterally within the company or found another path forward.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t trust them enough to explain how I was feeling and discuss the job shift I wanted to make.

That’s why I’m proud I had this tough conversation at FusionAuth. I was able to because:

  • I had seen the pattern enough times to know that I could do management for a while but would eventually become unhappy enough to leave
  • I knew I didn’t want to leave because of the team, the problem and the overall opportunity
  • I was in a unique position, having been there for most of the growth yet not having a C level role
  • I’d seen other folks in difficult situation be treated fairly

This conversation could have resulted in a departure for me if there was no budget or need for a high level IC role. The fact that it didn’t have that result gives me hope that there is a path, and a budget, for non-managerial technical leadership, even at smaller companies. In fact, I’m hoping this inspires other folks at FusionAuth, who may want to increase their impact without managing people, to stick around.

I also look forward to solving tons of problems as we keep growing.

Here’s to new adventures!