From Software Engineer to VP of Engineering: Leadership in Action at Cheesecake Labs
Caroline Schmitz | Aug 17, 2022
The opportunity to work at Cheesecake Labs appeared on my LinkedIn feed in the middle of a detailed job hunt. I was looking to work in an environment that felt collaborative and professional — I also wanted to be somewhere that my potential career trajectory was made clear.
At the time, my job description was Software Engineer. But I knew that in the not-so-distant future I wanted to climb to Senior Engineer and, eventually, to Tech Lead.
Even as I started my initial research into the Cheesecake Labs company and how it operates, I could tell that I’d found my tribe. The projects looked excellent. The team had great reviews. The structure of the company was exactly what I had in mind.
Now all I had to go was get in!
I entered the CKL recruitment process in March and on April 14th 2021, I was logging on for my first day.
The CKL recruitment team was really receptive to my aspirations of becoming a Tech Lead. In fact, they even encouraged me to join the leadership acceleration program from as early as my first day.
That’s one of the stand-out values I’ve come to love here at Cheesecake Labs. Sure, we’re a software design and engineering partner, but technology isn’t the only thing that matters here.
Professional and personal development is something that’s always been a priority for me — and that’s echoed back by the Cheesecake Labs team 100%. After all, the better we feel in the jobs we’re doing, the better job we can do for our clients.
As an aspiring Tech Lead, I look up to the rest of the Senior Team as people who have “been there, done that” and can show me how it’s done.
Within my first few weeks in the team, I had sat down for a 1-to-1 with my Project Manager to talk about leadership, what it means to be a leader at CKL, and the ways that I could improve my leadership skills and competencies.
My PM gives me development tasks to try, but he also more-or-less leaves me to do the job: to lead! I’ve been inspired to step up and take the position of a leader — even if I still feel like I’m on the journey to getting there! I manage conversations with our clients and organize the engineering team.
Now that I’m training as a Tech Lead I’m also closer to the VP of Engineering. He’s giving me his advice, feedback on what to improve, and telling me what I need to do to become a better leader.
Massive thanks to the senior staffers who’ve supported me so far in the program:
There’s always a learning curve to navigate when starting at a new company. And in my move to Cheesecake Labs, I’m also learning how to level up and manage a team.
It’s not always easy — but it is always fun.
I’ve managed to avoid getting stressed out by anything simply because my colleagues are so welcoming. I also get the feeling that they genuinely care about my progression. Mistakes aren’t mistakes, they’re lessons. And with the emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ I get to take all the advice I’m hearing and put it into practice immediately.
Other Cakers who have been through the leadership program here say that 1 year at CKL is like 3 years elsewhere. And I can believe them! Our company has a fast-paced learning method and we develop people in record time.
They say that, as a leader, you need to be a great communicator, have empathy for others, and know the value of teamwork (and how to promote it). I hope that during my first three months on the Cheesecake Labs leadership program I’ve started to exhibit these skills.
And, who knows, maybe I’ll even help inspire other people who want to get to where I am today?
If you’re reading this thinking, “How can I make the step from Software Engineer to Senior Engineer or Tech Lead?”, my advice would be:
The technology industry is constantly evolving.
I would say that keeping up-to-date with sector news, insights, and opinions is important for anyone working within our field — but it’s essential if you want to be a leader. Remember, people will look to you as someone who knows their stuff (both clients and colleagues alike).
Read everything you can. Play around with new tech as it becomes available. Have an opinion on what’s changing and why.
Being a Tech Lead is about both understanding and championing tech and helping other people succeed. That’s why I’d recommend any aspiring Senior Engineer to find and follow the prominent leaders who resonate with you.
Personally, I like Bill Gates and follow him on LinkedIn and via his blog. I make it my mission to read some of the books that Bill recommends — especially the ones on leadership and personal development, even if there’s no direct link back to the work I do.
I think there’s something to be gained from simply observing the world’s best leaders and thinking, “Okay, what’s working for them and why?
How did they achieve it?”.
This is an unusual time to become a new manager. My team is distributed right across Brazil and, as it stands we don’t have any plans to meet up IRL. And, at the same time, our projects move quickly and it’s crucial we all stay connected.
I’ve set the standard that my team checks in formally, once a day, to share news and updates. We also chat using Slack throughout the day, but with the understanding that someone’s response will not always be synchronous. We’ve all got our own stuff going on as we continue to navigate the pandemic — and we need to be as sensitive to that as possible while keeping morale and energy high and achieving excellence in our products.
There’s very little way of knowing what my next three months of tech leadership will bring, let alone the next three years! But for as long as I stay at Cheesecake Labs, I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be an unforgettable experience indeed.
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