From Software Engineer Intern to VP of Design at Facebook. I'm Julie Zhuo, and I wrote a book on how to start your career as manager.Featured

Hi Elpha! I'm Julie Zhuo, VP of Design at Facebook, where for the last seven years I’ve lead the team responsible for the design of the Facebook app. I joined Facebook in 2006 as the first (!) software engineer intern. A month later, I joined the company full-time and realized that I enjoyed working on the visible part of the website. So I transitioned into the design team and after two years, became a design manager. When I'm not working, I write a lot about design, tech, and various other topics (like my dog) on my blog The Year of the Looking Glass. Earlier this year, I published my first book "The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You,” an everything-you-need-to-know field guide for starting your career as a manager. I wrote this because I still remember gazing up at a whole shelf of books on leadership at the bookstore and realizing most were written by retired CEOs and management consultants (mostly men) to help executives become even more effective; there wasn’t much for the new manager wondering how to overcome imposter syndrome, understand what success in the job looks like, or even how to approach a 1:1. I graduated from Stanford with a degree in computer science, and despite my Chinese roots my favorite food in the world is ramen. I also just had my third child, so I'm taking some time off to be with my family over the next few months.Ask me anything about leading design teams, being a manager, balancing family and career, building a brand through writing or something else!
Thanks so much for joining us for Office Hours this week, Julie! Julie will be answering your questions on Thursday, and please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis. :)
Love the book, it's currently next to my bed along with The Lean Startup and Blitzscaling (I feel so seen as a millennial in Silicon Valley right now). What have you found to be the best way to recruit the best talent? What do you tell your recruiters to look for? And how do you ensure that those employees stay happy retain them? Similarly, how do you foster psychological safety for your team? Finally, favorite treat to give your team?
Thank you! I'm honored my book is in such amazing company!For recruiting, what has worked best for me in getting great talent is:1) Paint a clear picture of what would be *better* about the world and its people if the team/org were to be successful, and how this person can play a role in that. Top talent doesn't go for just a paycheck, they go to have meaningful impact. So make sure your vision is super clear. 2) Be honest about the biggest hurdles and challenges that you face, and why you believe this person can help you address those challenges with their unique superpowers. Top talent isn't attracted to places that seem already perfect--they want to know how their skills can actually make a difference.3) Help them understand the environment of your team and if it will be a good fit. It doesn't help to sell a round peg into a square hole--you want to make sure that this person's values collaboration style is a good fit for your own, so be honest about exactly how your team works and what your team's values are. To retain great employees, I focus on a variation of the above--1) continue to clarify the outcomes that you and the teams are shooting for (and how their specific projects ladder up to that) 2) help people find the projects that are a great match for what they love to do and how they want to learn 3) understand their values and long-term aspirations so that you can help them continue to grow and get satisfaction out of their work. Fostering psychological safety is about making it safe for people in your team to admit mistakes or vulnerabilities. Doing that is easier said than done, but I think about the following actions:1) Make it *actually* okay for people to make mistakes or say things that won't be judged. It doesn't mean don't hold them accountable for the results of bad actions, but do so in a way that is as compassionate and private as possible, that isn't about making them feel bad but about helping them to learn from that mistakes. If you chew people out and blame them publicly when things go wrong, if you shoot down other people's ideas immediately or make them feel stupid for suggesting them in the first place, or if you permit others on the team to do so to their teammates, then you're incentivizing people to clam up or pretend like everything is fine. 2) Admit your own mistakes and vulnerabilities. If the leader shows up like a paragon of perfection every day, guess what? Others are going to take that as the norm, and be less likely to admit their own mistakes and vulnerabilities. 3) Foster strong interpersonal relationships between your teammates. It's hard for a group to feel trust if the individuals don't have good relationships with some of the other individuals in the group. Encourage people to go to lunch together, have 1:1s together, resolve interpersonal conflicts.
So insightful with great takeaways. Thank you, Julie!
Incredible advice! Agree with everything and is great to have a reminder on some things, like admitting our mistakes and vulnerabilities, I have always experienced a great response with different sets of teams, from administrative to creative ones when showing vulnerability, often people show up to the challenge, or get into other tasks to help the team move forward with the goals. I think the point of making people accountable but comfortable when making mistakes is key to performance. If one puts the blame on something not going as planned people often backup from the task out of fear to do something wrong, instead; creating an environment where mistakes can happen and revision and resetting of strategies is the most important thing, allows for them to take responsibility and come up with new solutions. I have also found that working with remote teams communication and all aspects of a message must be crystal clear, from why you decided not to talk about that point in your last catch up meeting, to talk about every word or text that might be interpreted the wrong way. I have also learned from my technical cofounders that the shorter the better to deliver progress, and that every point needs to be addressed with a solution to avoid long unproductive meetings. I hope this might help anyone who comes to this thread!
Thanks everyone for your amazing questions and for tuning into this AMA! I'm signing off now (and going to feed the baby) :)
Thank you so much for spending time with us, Julie!
Thank you so much for joining us!
Two questions for you:1. You've talked a lot about building trust as a manager. As VP, your role must involve working collaboratively with other VPs, leads and teams. How do you build and maintain trust across the organization? 2. Similar to @rachelbell's question, what was your approach in building your brand prior to publishing the book? And congrats on being a mom of 3!
To build trust across other teams, I'll often schedule 1:1s with leader to both get to know them better as people, and to understand what it is they care about. This helps a lot when we get into the big rooms to do product reviews or share our perspectives. I can't do this with everyone I work with, but I'll prioritize leaders I work with more often. It's also helpful to continually remind our teams of our shared goal, or the things we all agree on, to establish common ground.To be honest, I didn't really focus on building my brand as an explicit goal when I started blogging. That came more into view in years 2+. In year one, I was really trying to get more comfortable sharing an opinion and tossing it out there, as well as reflecting on the things I was struggling with in my day-to-day. The fact that I did it consistently for 4 years was what built up the readership and led to the book, and I'll continue to preach the merits of consistency as the thing that builds up like compound interest over time.
Thank you! This is so helpful. :)
How do you think about and evaluate staying at one company vs changing companies? And how to freshen up your skills and keep in touch if you do stay at one company? What do you think are the upsides and downsides of both?I think it's fair to say that a small group of people had the opportunity to join a rocket ship and grow their career with it, but for most people moving companies is the easiest way to gain more scope and growth. What are your thoughts on this?
Whether the right answer is to stay at a company versus changing companies is a personal decision and depends on the context. The first thing is to understand what your goals are. What skills are you hoping to learn and grow in the next few years? Which values of a team matter to you? How much does compensation or title matter to you? There are no wrong answers here--it's simply about understanding yourself.Once you have that list, then stack up how staying at your company versus pursuing a different company compares. I know people who swear they took the fastest route in both cases--in the in-company case, it's working on the most important problems and doing a stellar job so they rose through the ranks quickly and got more and more scope. In the out-company case, it's people who found a better fit in values with another company, so they did better; or it's people who went to an earlier-stage company so their experience was incredibly valuable and they were able to take on a bigger leadership role.
I'd love to learn what your biggest challenge was prior to becoming a manager in your career, and now as a manager, what is the biggest challenge? And looking back, why did you decide to go down the managerial route versus IC?
Biggest challenge prior to becoming a manager: deepening my skills in my discipline (design) and learning to produce impactful, high quality work more efficiently. Biggest challenge as a manager: knowing how to prioritize all the potential things I could do to most help my team. If I have an hour, should I focus it on recruiting? on giving feedback on a particular piece of work? on coaching someone through a problem?Why did I decide to become a manager? I find that I am more motivated to help a team achieve an outcome than on having to be the person to come up with the best solution myself. And I genuinely enjoy spending most of my day talking to and helping to empower others. Also enjoy designing processes and orgs.
Hi Julie, I loved your presentation at Mind the Product Leadership Forum and was curious then about how you evaluate people as individual contributers versus leaders, and what to look for in your first design team leader? And congratulations on the new baby!
As individual contributors, I look for a few things:* Impact of the work produced towards the team's goals* Quality or excellence of the work produced (sometimes, work can be impactful in the short term but done sloppily or unsustainably)* Team contributions -- does this person make their team, or others around them better?For my first design team lead, I'd look for someone who has scrappiness (as I imagine this is a small team environment where everybody is asked to wear different hats), has a growth mindset, and has the vision and values that you believe can help shape the foundation of the team.
I see your comments on LinkedIn, your post on Elpha... I want to build a bigger presence online (I've started with blogging about tech & investing), how do I grow that? My 2020 goal is to get invited for speaking engagements, what's a strategy that's worked for you?
Awesome that you have that goal! The most important thing I've learned is consistency--if you write, set a goal to publish a piece every week/month/X time period at the start for a year or two. Don't wait for inspiration to strike, for any one piece to be the "killer" piece, and don't give up too early. In the long run, consistency is what nets you readers. In terms of speaking engagements, once you have your voice out there and you seem like someone with something to say, you may naturally get asked to speak at various events. You can also make it known that you'd be interested in speaking engagements--the next time you become aware of a forum where you'd be interested in sharing something, contact the speakers and let them know that you'd love to talk about X topic--would they be interested in that?
I have been reading a lot about how to refine my management style and Brené Browns book about being vulnerable feels as though I have been cracked open to give myself a break from being perfect, but rather be open to share where I am at. Has that been part of your journey?
Absolutely! I wrote this in an earlier answer but I really believe that leaders connect best with their team when they are perceived as authentic. You aren't "authentic" if you come across as perfect, because nobody is perfect. Everyone has good days, bad days, failures, moments of confidence and self-doubt, moments of excitement and frustration, moments where they need help. Don't be afraid to let your team see some of that.
Thanks so much for writing The Making of a Manager, it's taught me a ton and given me lots to reflect on. Congratulations on the new little one! What did you enjoy the most about writing the book? And what did you enjoy the least?
Enjoyed the most: how much I got better as a manager as a result of focusing on this topic night after night for nearly two years. It made me really reflect on my own practices and seeing myself grow as a result was one of the most rewarding part of the experience.Enjoyed the least: editing to make sentences sound better. I'm prone to rambling so often after my first draft I'd re-read what I wrote and cringe because it was so wordy or so awkwardly executed. And then I'd have to work some sentence surgery to make it sound decent. Sentence surgery takes me a long time and isn't particularly rewarding--I keep wishing I could write things more naturally on the first try!
What is your experience working cross functionally? From a designers point of view, what is your ideal mode of collaboration with a Data Scientist? What unique values have you seen DS bring? What are some great interactions you’ve had with disagreements? How do designers think about metrics and using quantitative metrics to evaluate outcomes of design?
I feel like John Maeda has great answers for this too, would love to hear Juli's take on this!
Do you think there is a defined set of good qualities that all good managers have? Any thoughts or guidance on how to recruit and screen for those managers themselves?
Many of our companies could benefit from a high profile, bit impact advisor. Many times we don't have access to the person who could be the most beneficial. How do your recommend approaching those individuals to start a conversation?
Your book sounds amazing and very needed. I'm actually working on a similar book myself - a sort of "" guide for a first time manager for the first 6 months or so, oriented towards women. Do you have any advice for actually getting it published? I have really no idea how to go about that aspect.