From new grads to engineering managers: Three Atlassian on their journeys, constant learning, and support along the way
We sat down with Agnes, Edith, and David to hear about what brought them to Atlassian, how their careers have grown over the years, and how there’s always something new to explore if you know where to look.
Why did you join Atlassian?
Agnes: I started here part-time when I was still a student. When I graduated, I did look into other companies, but I was surrounded by super-smart people. I was still learning. And even back then, I knew it was a special culture. This was 14 years ago; I’m not sure we even had formal company values yet. But the values we have now—“build with heart and balance,” “be the change you seek”—were already ingrained into everything we did.
David: I was originally interested because Atlassian was smaller than the other tech companies in Sydney, and I wanted to have a direct impact. Then I did an office tour, and people seemed to have a lot of autonomy and freedom—they were working toward real goals, under their own steam, not just ticking boxes. That was really attractive to me.
Edith: I did an internship here while I was at university, and it was refreshingly different from other experiences I’d had. I wasn’t just working on side projects—senior people were answering my questions, pair programming with me, making sure I had whatever I needed to be successful. They were so invested in helping me out, even though they knew I was only going to be here for six months. The whole experience just cemented my decision to apply.
What were your first few weeks like?
Edith: Our on-boarding process has changed over the years, but there was already some structure in place when David and I joined—we both started at the same time in 2012, as what Atlassian calls “graduate developers.” One thing I liked is that it introduced us to the company as a whole, from the business model to the engineering vision to the overall strategy. They wanted to help us become fully-fledged Atlassians, rather than just giving us the skills we needed to commit code as soon as possible. That helped me connect to the broader purpose behind my job.
David: We were given real work to do from day one, and that trust was empowering. When you know decisions you make are actually going to show up in the product, you want to rise to that challenge. Of course we always want to make sure people have the support they need. But when I have a new grad on my team, I try to treat them like anyone else.
Agnes: We’ve definitely come a long way since I joined! I was one of three grads at the time, and there wasn’t a robust training program like there is now. But I do remember—and I think this is still true today—that I was part of the conversation from the very beginning. People asked for my opinions during meetings and technical discussions. They wanted everyone’s feedback. I never felt like the junior person in the room.
After several successful years as developers, which included working closely with mentors and honing their technical skills, Agnes, David, and Edith were all ready to take on a new challenge. For them, management was the next step. As you grow your own career here, you’ll find there are several potential paths to explore, and your manager will help you navigate them. One path may be management, but it could also be working on increasingly complex development responsibilities as an individual contributor.
What was your transition like from an individual contributor to a management role?
Agnes: When I was first asked about being a manager, I think I said, “No!” Luckily, my manager suggested just giving it a try, and said that I’d always be able to go back to an individual contributor role. For the first six months, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. But eventually, I figured out how to let go of the technical side a bit, so I could focus on supporting and unblocking the team.
David: I was the same way; “management” was like a bad word to me when I was 20. But I had a great manager who let me get a feel for it with training wheels at first—I covered for him while he was on vacation, and once that went well, I decided to give it a try. It was hard for me to let go at first, too. But seeing what it was like to help other people succeed was the big revelation. I realized I didn’t have to build something myself to feel like I was contributing.
Edith: It’s funny, my manager thought I was going to say no to being a team lead—but I actually said yes! There was something about the relationship between managers and teams at Atlassian that made it seem less scary, like we were all in it together. I did worry at first about not staying close to the code. But once I dove into all the books and training on management, I realized it’s such a broad craft. There’s always something new to learn, and you can have just as much rigor as you would on technical work. So it ended up being super interesting to me.
“We were given real work to do from day one, and that trust was empowering. When you know decisions you make are actually going to show up in the product, you want to rise to that challenge.”
What’s an example of something you’ve learned as a manager?
David: When I was still very new, I ended up on a pretty big, high-stakes project. The manager who’d been leading it moved to another part of the company, and I headed up the last 15%. I’d primarily been a backend engineer until that point, and it was my first experience making decisions on areas I didn’t have a background in—the frontend and operations side of things. But our senior engineering leaders were really supportive. They understood I was new. The project ended up going well, and it was definitely an opportunity to grow.
Edith: I had a similar experience early on. We’d acquired a new collaborative editing service and needed to integrate it with the existing product, which had been around for years. The big challenges for me were around managing stakeholders and understanding command intent. An ask to my team might have been based on certain assumptions and translated through a few layers of management, and I had to learn to communicate context back, and make sure I always understood the “why” so I could help my team understand it, too. It was a good example of how Atlassian embraces a growth mindset—failure is not only okay, it’s also an opportunity to learn.
In terms of people management, I’ve learned not to project my own perspective onto the people on my team. You can’t assume someone likes to work in the same way or at the same pace you do. You have to ask. That means building a connection, so you both feel safe being completely honest.
David: Absolutely—and I think that’s almost more important in an environment that’s as open and positive at Atlassian, because we can assume everyone has good intentions and is doing their best. But that doesn’t mean you know what someone’s thinking.
Agnes: Since I’ve spent my whole career here, I have a lot of learnings to choose from! How to give feedback was a big one. Listening is another. We have five official company values, but we joke that the sixth is “Seek first to understand.” That’s even true in terms of code; we maintain some older products, and it can be tough to imagine why something was built a certain way years ago. But there were reasons at the time, and it’s important to know those before you dive in.
“You can’t assume someone likes to work in the same way or at the same pace you do. You have to ask. That means building a connection, so you both feel safe being completely honest.”
How are you approaching remote management during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Edith: I read a nice quote the other day about this situation: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” It’s important to recognize that everyone’s experiencing this differently. Some team members want to hear that it’s okay to maintain a healthy work-life balance, others want to take advantage of the momentum of having more focused heads-down time. We almost need to over-index our conversations to make sure we’re supporting people as individuals.
Agnes: We’re getting a lot of support as managers, as well. I’ve managed remotely here and there, and we’ve always worked with teams based in Mountain View, so we’re drawing on some of those experiences—regular video calls help a lot, for example. But we’re also getting resources like webinars and leaning on our Trello colleagues, who have always been remote, for advice. It’s been interesting to see all the different ways we can stay connected and have fun—games, remote lunches, team social events. I’ve noticed we’re sharing a lot of photos, too, which we didn’t do much when we were in the office. It’s been nice to see that personal side of people.
David: Encouraging people to take time off is important, too. The three of us have been here long enough that when someone tells us, “Take whatever time you need,” we know they mean it. But a new grad, or someone coming from a different environment, might not be sure. One thing that’s helped me get the message across is asking people for a concrete handover plan—how will their work be covered while they’re away? That helps people understand that I really do want them to clear their plate and completely unplug.
What are you looking forward to learning as you continue to grow your career?
David: I’m just starting to manage managers, and there’s a lot to learn there. I’m trying to learn from our senior leadership, some of whom are responsible for the outcomes of hundreds of people. It’s a challenge, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Agnes: That’s something I’m learning, too. Just like we had to let go of the technical side when we started managing, we have to let go now of running teams directly. It’s more about coaching and mentoring. I’m also looking forward to contributing more on the strategic side of things; I’m getting much more involved in planning for 2021.
Edith: Trying something new is always motivating for me, so thinking about strategy and things like customer impact and user experience is exciting. And like David and Agnes, I’m still learning how to manage managers, especially how to think ahead about what they’ll need help navigating. And sometimes, it’s them pushing me to think differently, or introducing me to a new concept. It’s about coaching and influencing while still making room to learn from the people on your team.
We hope the paths Edith, Agnes, and David have taken at Atlassian might inspire you to start your own. If you’d like to learn more, check out open roles. Our team is excited to meet you!
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