My Path From Individual Contributor to Design Engineering Manager in Just Five Years

Sponsored by Cirrus Logic


Photo courtesy of Cirrus Logic.

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“I was surprised to be asked to move into leadership so early in my career — after just five years as an individual contributor,” says Katy, design engineering manager at Cirrus Logic. “The opportunity came as a mix of good timing and the work I had done on a previous successful project. I worried at first that I may have an issue earning respect from the larger engineering community I worked in but decided: ‘Why not try?’”

And, she’s glad she made that leap. “Being in a leadership role has exposed me to many new and interesting technical challenges that I may not have engaged with otherwise,” Katy explains.

Here, Katy describes her career journey from individual contributor to manager, what she’s learned through this career growth process and her best advice for women who want to take similar career leaps.

Tell us about your job.

I’m a design manager at Cirrus Logic, a company that produces low-power, mixed-signal semiconductors used in a wide range of mobile applications. I manage a team of analog and digital circuit design engineers. It’s a role that is part technical lead, part project manager and part people manager. I’ve been in this management role for three years. Before that, I was an analog circuit design engineer.

Many people believe that developing your career means changing companies. What has enabled you to develop your career at Cirrus Logic?

I believe that Cirrus Logic is a healthy, “medium”-sized company. It’s small and flexible enough that you’re able to explore areas adjacent to your primary role but large enough to have dedicated people in roles that support the development of a chip from concept through production.

At Cirrus Logic, we form cross-functional project groups that allow me to consider the impact of my work on other functions, meet people from other sub-specialties and learn the context behind my role.

In this way, based on your appetite for responsibility, you can easily scale up or scale down your impact to the group or to the larger organization and, in doing so, scale your advancement. 

Can you identify anything you said or did that ear marked you as someone ready for advancement?

I like to fix things and think about the best way something can be done. I like processes and strive for efficiency. The first time I got noticed as having leadership potential was when, as a design engineer, I noticed that the process we were using for a certain kind of simulation setup was complicated and inefficient, and I felt compelled to fix it. To get that done, I also needed to teach other engineers the new process, hold separate meetings and develop documentation. This was recognized as leadership potential and put me on a path to becoming a project lead and then a manager.

What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?

Fairness and respect. I’ve been with the same manager for nearly 10 years, and we’ve developed a good working relationship because he treats me with fairness and respect by openly sharing information from up and down the organization — maintaining professionalism while understanding the human aspects of work and helping promote projects I am working on.

Managing people — especially if you’re new to it — is not easy. How have your colleagues helped set you up for success?

I have two other managers who are my peers and our teams work together very closely. I have found these relationships are valuable for sharing observations and ideas about people management. It is helpful to have people with another perspective on your side.

What’s been your most valuable career mistake?

Not setting boundaries for my own personal time and then getting overloaded. I’ve learned work will take up as much time as you let it, but if you communicate your bandwidth clearly, things work out better for you and the people you work with. 

What’s something at work that you’re especially good at?

Communication and time management.

What about outside of work?

I draw as a hobby, making small artwork for my family.

What are you trying to improve on?

Coaching. Moving from an individual contributor role to a manager means that I’ve had to shift focus from my own work to promoting and supporting the work of the people on my team. I try to remain conscious of this.

What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

I’ve made an effort to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been presented with and I feel that has paid off.


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