As a senior IC, a space of ambiguity emerges around how you’re perceived by other functional leads on the team. In my case, part of this confusion may be because I was a manager who transitioned to IC. What I’ve experienced is that other partners will speak to me as a manager of my function. This creates a bit of an imbalance because there are three other content designers who work on the team and I am equal to them in our flat structure. When you have tight relationships with senior leaders on the team, they don’t really know how to act with you as a senior IC. They’re used to working with managers, so they treat you the same way. I had to define who I was within the team as a senior IC as a result.
A few years ago I was focused on the Facebook product for the Japanese market. In early research, one of our subjects told us that in their feed they saw that a friend had liked something, and that this scared them. This person was now afraid to like things because they didn’t want to burden others with having to see their preferences—that’s how culturally different Japan is, and how differently our product works for the Japanese. So, I tried to solve every little problem in Facebook to make it better for Japan. We ticked off one problem after another, and at one point, we were basically creating an Instagram-like product within Facebook instead of acknowledging that we had a product called Instagram that worked great.
So, when I think back on the products that I’ve worked on that have failed, the biggest one is that we, as problem-solvers, want to get in the weeds and conquer the next thing. But occasionally we need to step back and ask, “What are we doing here? What’s the big picture?”
My challenge has been scaling myself as I’ve grown. I have only so much time to contribute to work, people, mentoring and coaching. I used to understand only one way of mentoring and coaching, but I had to grow in a different way because I couldn’t meet with 30 people in one week. Mentoring wasn’t and isn’t my full-time job, but I want to give back and make everyone better. So I had to figure out how to do that, and it was a challenge. When I started at Facebook, the design team was much smaller, so I knew who to connect with. But often, I still felt alone, not knowing if there were other people at my level. I didn’t know who to reach out to, so I went outside of the design community to ask, “What do you do to grow in your space?” I tried out a lot of things. Honestly, I didn’t know how to prioritize career development, because I’d never thought about it. I never thought of my career as a project in my portfolio, but all of a sudden, I had to; in performance reviews I was asked to explain my influence. I had to figure out a scalable way for me to grow. It was difficult.
Two challenges come to mind. I came to Facebook from design school and was surrounded by amazing designers. Then, I felt like a teenager who fell in love for the first time. “This is the project! This is my big thing! I’ve gotta put my stamp on it and it has to be amazing!” Over time, you realize you’re going to have 50 of those projects, so don’t be emotionally precious with them. It helps you make better objective decisions. The second challenge is about making mistakes— I’ve come to learn from them and be honest about them.