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I recently joined a new company, a fintech startup, as a data engineering manager. My previous experience was in tech lead roles. As I led engineering teams multiple times, I don't think I lack experience in this space. However, I always worked with project managers and head/director roles, who determined the department's strategic direction. I contributed to it in the past, but I never led that.

My new role will be driving data engineering initiatives within the company. In other words, as opposed to being the one that executes against a strategy, I'll have to come up with the strategy myself.

I have lots of ideas regarding technical improvements. Nonetheless, my line manager gave me some feedback the other day that I should focus less on technical details and finding out what the company needs and what adds value to the business. He said I should "lead the company" in my area of expertise.

I do not have experience in selling a strategy to senior management/C-suite. I appreciate that it is something you can learn only with experience. If someone reading this has more experience with it, I'd like to know what is the best advice you could give to yourself when you progress from a technical role to a more strategic one. These could be advice on both how to deal with people as well as how to organise yourself.

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    Spend more time understanding customer needs.
    – keshlam
    Sep 3, 2023 at 17:36
  • I would also include investor needs and business needs, and then really tie in the customer needs back to business needs.
    – Nelson
    Sep 5, 2023 at 6:38

2 Answers 2

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Talk to people.

Ask the company's top-grossing sales reps what they wish they knew about their customers and prospects. Maybe go along on some sales calls, just to listen.

Find out from the most senior working stiff in your accounting department what sorts of reports (from your data) they wish they had available, and which reports they generate now that give them a big pain in the xxs neck.

Ask executives what they'd like to see in one or two dashboards describing the current state of some part of the business.

Then figure out how describe a prototype project or two well enough that you can get a staff member to implement it in a week or two, for a prototype. (Don't fall for the temptation to implement it yourself, that's what your boss warned you about.) By picking some low-hanging fruit that actually helps people do their jobs you'll learn a lot about the business and its needs, and you'll build the trust that gets people to start telling you their real unsolved problems.

Start an internal blog or wiki or something where you write a series of 500-word idea pieces (or short slide decks if that's what floats your boat) on what's possible in your area. Not every idea has to be good. This is mostly for you, as a way to hone the communication skills you need to be an effective strategist.

Read The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.

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There are different types of strategy. There are marketing/sales strategies meaning what types of customers to sell to and what products to offer. There are technical strategies meaning what types of projects to develop, on what platform(s), and in which order. These are different but deeply intertwined with each other.

You may not need to "sell a strategy to senior management/C-suite." I suspect that what the company needs is more someone who can extract a technical strategy out of the marketing/sales strategy, put together the 4-year plan of how the company will start with building on platform X and use the capabilities of that platform to grow to meet the expected sales. Part of the challenge will be identifying what items in the sales force "wish list" can't be done with today's technology or will cost far more than the investors have provided. You may need to suggest alternatives that may meet the customer's needs instead of directly giving sales what they wish for. This process is iterative as sales will constantly come up with ideas and will need your input and understandings of what can be done to refine their ideas. The technical strategy constantly changes based on customer needs / sales person's wishes.

Sales people need to know what the alternatives are and why what your company's technical strategy is superior. You may need to study up on parts of data management that you don't have experience with. You will need to explain why your choices are the right ones when compared to the alternatives out there.

As a fintech startup, you don't have technical debt at this time. Once the first line of code is written, you have some. But pivoting the business is very common for startup companies. Part of your job will be identifying when the previous technical strategy needs to be tossed out and a whole new strategy adopted. This is another place where your existing knowledge won't help. You need to be able to learn about new technologies, evaluate them, and make a choice for the company based on learning and not experience.

In short, you get to learn a lot and make decisions based on incomplete information. Welcome to management.

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