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Asana Engineering Growth Paths

Asana Engineering TeamEngineering Team
April 29th, 2023
7 min read
Asana Engineering Growth Paths

Committed to learning and continuous improvement, Asana’s Engineering organization develops its engineering talent through giving and taking responsibility, co-creation, mentorship, and the opportunity to experience internal mobility to grow skillsets. Our Engineering organization’s teams and scope continues to expand, creating the need for new leaders and program owners to build careers that align with their goals

There are opportunities for Engineers at Asana regardless of background. Some engineers at Asana are Individual Contributors, Program Leads, or Managers – and the growth path is up to them. Read on to get to know Yacob, Yamilex, Bradley, Eric and Rachael, who all share their engineering journeys and advice for other Engineers who are trying to expand their careers. 

Yacob Yonas, Program Lead, New York

Q: You grew from an Individual Contributor to a Program Lead, what was crucial to taking that step?

Yacob: When I started on our team, I felt like it was a good opportunity to voice some ideas on how we could improve our team processes to make us more effective since I brought a new perspective. This involved changes to how we organized our work in Asana and how we split up work and engineers across workstreams. My PL at the time was very receptive to the feedback, and we worked together to implement those changes. I think my work on improving how our team worked helped me to showcase my skills in project leadership and work organization, so when the PL role on my team opened up and I was chosen to step in, it felt like a more natural transition.

My advice to someone considering how they can make a transition to a role like PL is to speak up when you see opportunities to improve how your team works.

Q: What do you do in your day-to-day?

Yacob: My top priority is keeping engineers on my team unblocked to do their best work. This involves working with our product and design teams to ensure we have highly leveraged work on our roadmap, discussing team vision, revving on mocks/specs, and anticipating staffing needs. I also collaborate with ICs on the team to work through the technical problems they’re facing and I’ll pick up small engineering tasks to keep my technical skills sharp.

Q: What career advice can you share? 

Yacob: Keep an open mind as it relates to trying out different projects or teams early in your career. You never know what you might learn from a given team or project. I’ve had multiple projects that I initially wasn’t very excited about, but after completing them I realized these projects taught me something that was critical for my growth as an engineer.

Yamilex Avila-Stanley, Program Lead, San Francisco

Q: You grew from an Individual Contributor (IC) to a Program Lead (PL), what was crucial to taking that step?

Yamilex: Express interest in leading a workstream, actually lead one, and then reflect on it. Early on, I communicated with my PL and manager that I was interested in leading a workstream and started small. When I got the opportunity, I made sure I was clear on expectations with my PL and stakeholders and leveraged them to develop my PL skills. Specifically, I grew in stakeholder management, learned how to set key milestones, identified opportunities for technical improvements, and made sure my entire team had clarity they needed to get the work done. 

Q: What do you do in your day-to-day?

Yamilex: My key responsibilities include planning our team’s roadmap, project planning, and making sure we’re making quality technical decisions and execution of the team’s goals. I’m also focused on making sure my team is unblocked to do highly leveraged work.

Q: How do you think about your growth?

Yamilex: I follow my interests and look for challenging opportunities. At Asana, I started out in Product Engineering on our Monetization Team before moving to Infrastructure and working on application data loading, and finally now onto the Core Performance team. I’ve enjoyed taking on new challenges across our engineering organization.

Q: What career advice would you like to give?

Yamilex: Early on in your career, lean into what you find most interesting, even if the opportunity seems out of your reach. When I started at Asana as a new grad I remember feeling inexperienced compared to our senior engineers. I was afraid of taking on new opportunities and failing, but I pushed myself to do it anyway. Asana’s culture is supportive and learning-centric, so I felt comfortable reaching for new opportunities.

Bradley Portnoy, Engineering Manager, San Francisco

Q: You grew from a Program Lead to an Engineering Manager (EM), what were the keys to taking that step?  

Bradley: Prior to joining Asana, I had spent time an EM at my last company, but when I joined Asana I wanted to finish honing a few of my technical skills. I put a lot of emphasis on 1:1s with my teammates, managing stakeholders and cross-functional partners, and delivering on commitments of building great products, all while learning more about technical scaling – which serves me well as one of the managers in our new Scale Area.

Q: What do you do in your day-to-day?

Bradley: I manage the Consistency & Control team, part of the Scale Area. We’re focused on improving the product experience for our large enterprise customers. My top responsibility is helping my reports grow and thrive. I also spend time trying to keep the road clear for them, working with our team’s PL to sequence our engineering projects, and with our cross-functional partners to ensure there’s always plenty of work ready to go for the engineers. Finally, I think about long-term strategy for the team: what changes can we make to thrive even more as we grow?

Q: How do you think about your growth?

Bradley: I’m always trying to grow at an accelerated pace, perhaps because I got a late start to engineering. I’m also trying to be more focused as to what I’m working on; my manager helps me maintain an Asana project with growth goals each quarter to keep me focused on my top priorities.

Q: What career advice would you like to give?

Bradley: Find a company and a manager that supports you. This can mean a place that has the right kinds of projects, business cases that you’re passionate about, or a manager who’s really willing to invest in you – but without one or both of these, it’ll be really hard to grow!

Eric Pelz, Pillar Tech Lead, San Francisco

Q: You grew from an Individual Contributor to an Engineering Manager and into a Pillar Tech Lead, what were the keys to taking that step?

Eric: As an IC, I spent a lot of time working with other PLs, and thinking about how to grow more effective teams. One situation stuck out that led me to management, which was partnering closely with our New York City office when they were a single team. I supported their work and growth by partnering closely with the PL and other team members, and this made me excited to explore the management path. I still kept one foot in the door on the IC side – PLing a team (I was a “tech lead manager”) and spending a lot of time coaching PLs. After managing for two years, I reached a point where I was spread too thin, and couldn’t grow in either the IC and EM paths. I decided that returning to the IC world would let me focus and have a larger impact, and I was able to leverage a lot of the tools I learned as a manager in guiding teams in the Workflow Pillar. 

Q: What do you do in your day-to-day?

Eric: I’m the Pillar Tech Lead of the Workflow Pillar (one of our 3 product pillars), and the Area of Responsibility holder for Engineering Program Lead Experience. This role involves a lot of collaboration, a good dose of solo projects, and little coding. I usually gravitate towards initiatives which improve how others work together, and on technical projects which affect multiple teams or are hard to reverse.

Q: How do you think about your growth?

Eric: I’ve always focused on identifying the types of work I found interesting and impactful.  When I noticed a stretch opportunity, I tried to lean into it. I think this worked out well in hindsight, but at the time it wasn’t always the most reassuring growth path. It can feel uncomfortable to not have a clear path ahead, or know whether you’re focusing on the “right things”, but I’ve since tried to embrace that same uncertainty. 

Q: What career advice would you like to give?

Eric: Try not to think about your career growth as a single binary decision. While sometimes there are concrete decisions ahead of you (do you switch jobs? do you apply for a management position that just opened up?), the most important thing is the impact you’re having with your work. Regardless of whether you’re a Tech Lead, a Manager, moonlighting as a PM, there’s a lot of shared skills and experiences across different roles and responsibilities, and all of these will add up to help you in your overall career. Don’t sweat it if you try something, and realize it wasn’t for you. As long as you learned something from it, you can apply that to the next challenge ahead of you!

Rachael Stedman, Area Lead, San Francisco

Q: You grew from an Engineering Manager to an Area Lead, what were the keys to taking that step?

Rachael: There are so many things I’ve learned along the way and to name a few:

  • Learning to build systems and processes that run themselves and sustain beyond my direct involvement

  • Successfully hiring and growing engineers and engineering leaders

  • Learning how to identity and match folks with appropriately sized challenges – a lot of my job is connecting folks on my teams with opportunities and empowering them to solve them, providing support/coaching only as needed

  • Helping clarify team boundaries and ensuring each team knows how their work contributes to and ladders up to the overall area mission and company objectives

  • Learning how to navigate uncertain and novel situations, this requires a self-awareness about what you do and don’t know (reflection) and an enthusiasm to learn

Q: What do you do in your day-to-day?

Rachael: I’m the engineering lead for our Scale Area, the set of teams responsible for the Asana Enterprise product. Asana aims to rival the best enterprise software, with a deep bench of functionality and controls powerful enough to meet the needs of the world’s largest companies, along with rock-solid stability, security, and compliance.

As part of my role, I’m responsible for ensuring long-term success of the engineering teams within the area. Some of what my day consists of supporting and empowering the engineering leaders who report to me, identifying opportunities for training, or education to improve the long-term velocity of the teams, making staffing and planning decisions, and ensuring that all engineers have understanding and excitement about the area’s mission and know how their work ladders up.

Q: How do you think about your growth?

Rachael: Earlier in my career I focused very much on the outcomes I wanted to achieve. Over the past three years or so I’ve paid more attention to the “how” of getting there as well. I still have goals, but these days I balance that with a focus on the following: work at a sustainable pace, enjoy the journey and help others take joy in the journey, seek growth, and cultivate genuine connection.

Q: What career advice would you like to give?

Rachael: Tip #1 It’s okay to not have your career figured out. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a complete five-year plan, you’re not alone. If you have no idea what you want to do, my recommendation would be to optimize for growth. As you acquire skills, you’ll likely learn more about what impact you’d like to have using those skills. Tip #2 don’t be afraid to talk about your career with your manager, even beyond your current role at your current company.

Come grow with the Engineering Team at Asana—we’re hiring!

Interested in making a managerial or technical impact? We’re always looking for experienced engineers to join our growing San FranciscoNew YorkVancouver, and Reykjavik offices – come join us! 

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