Ep. 12 How to Shift Your Career from Engineering to Product, with Nick Caldwell
Nick Caldwell is the Chief Product Officer at Looker, creating a powerful platform for building modern data experiences. Prior to joining Looker he spent 2 years at Reddit as VP of Engineering, helping quintuple the engineering team while working on a bottoms-up revamp of every part of the world’s 4th most popular website. He also spent 13 years at Microsoft, culminating in a role as General Manager of the Power BI product family where he rapidly transformed the company’s business intelligence suite. Nick holds a degree in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT and an MBA from UC Berkeley. He’s also a board member of /dev/color, a non-profit whose mission is to maximize the impact of Black software engineers. Nick is a native of P.G. County Maryland, but is happy to call San Francisco home.
In today’s episode of Develomentor, we have Nick Caldwell. Nick has held almost every technical role one can imagine: software engineer, engineering manager, general manager and VP of engineering. Nick is currently the Chief Product Officer at Looker, a business intelligence company. But prior to this, he worked at major companies from Microsoft to Reddit to NASA. Today we will not only decode Nick’s new position, but we’ll also discuss strategies on how to shift YOUR career from engineering to product!
At an early age, Nick became drawn to computer science. Inspired initially by his dad tech-savviness and later by his tenacious drive, this dream became a reality. Nick went on to graduate with a B. S in Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from UC Berkeley.
Nick started his career as a software engineer and then moved into a role as an engineer manager. He spent many years at big organizations managing large groups of people before moving into startups. Nick used his corporate experience to become a major asset to startups and their ability to scale.
You will also hear:
- How having good mentors influence the way you think about your career.
- How to check the health of an organization at different levels of management
- What it’s like to think as a C-Level executive
[01:17] – Nick Caldwell’s backstory
[01:44] – What is it like working at Reddit, Microsoft, and NASA?
[05:54] – Nick talks about managers that influenced him
[09:01] – Nick discusses the fundamental shift of thought as you progress in your career
[17:55] – Working for a large company vs a startup
[22:00] – Nick discusses the “trick” to managing large numbers of people
[23:44] – Challenges of engineering vs product management roles
[30:10] – Change of perspective as a C-Level executive
[35:08] – Nick talks about looking forward, opportunities and challenges ahead
[38:35] – Nick’s advice for transitioning careers
Shaping your career
“My father used to say, Nerds and eggheads will rule the world someday.”
“My earliest memories of hanging out with my dad are me sitting on his lap playing with a Tandy 1000”
“Leaders are people who take responsibility for what happens next.”
Thinking like a C-Level Executive
“The systems that I build now are much more about connecting the different elements of the company together to best inform what we want to build and the types of organizations that we need to build on product and engineering.”
“If you are a brand new engineer, as early as you can, start to learn about other disciplines and how they contribute because it will pay off later on in your career.”
“You can’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Comfort is the enemy of progress.”
Shift Your Career from Engineering to Product
“If you’re of the mindset of creating new products, you should probably not be at a big company”
“With product, there’s often not a concrete answer. You often have to make some sort of strategic judgment.”
“Imagine your career is going to be a patchwork of opportunities and skills. Don’t be afraid to leave your current role if there’s a next opportunity or next skill you want to have. You should piece together your career into a beautiful patchwork.”