Office Hours: I’m an Engineering Leader with over 14 years of industry experience in companies like Google, Uber, and early-stage startups. I’m Irina Stanescu. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Irina Stanescu, an engineering leader and leadership coach. I have over 14 years of experience working in companies like Google, Uber and early stage startups.

I was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, but my career journey has led me to San Francisco, California, where I currently reside. Throughout my career, I have worked in various roles including software engineer, tech lead, and manager. My journey made me realize that I love coaching and helping people achieve their goals, which is why I started my own coaching practice on the side.

I have personally experienced and overcome burnout, which inspired me to create my newsletter "Musings of a Caring Techie" at It covers topics such as burnout, leadership, tech culture, and building a successful career while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Besides writing, during my downtime, I enjoy staying active, reading and snuggling with my cat.

Ask me anything about developing leadership skills, being an engineering manager, “caring too much”, recovering from burnout, active listening, having productive conversations, leading with candor, career transitions, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @ironmissy!Elphas – please ask @ironmissy your questions before Friday, September 29th. @ironmissy may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Thank you for having me! 🙏🏻
Hi again, Irina! - What is something you helped implement at a company that you're really proud of? (I know it may be touchy with Google and possible NDAs!)- Can we see a picture of your cat?
Oh hi friend!! Great questions.At Uber, I was the tech lead for the entire eater delivery experience (what you see in the app after you place an order), and in 2019 we did a full redesign of the UI + rework of the backend. I’m really proud of how the team came together to execute in a very short amount of time. We also made some very thoughtful architectural calls that helped build many new features seamlessly.I can't attach photos here, but this is her Instagram account: you enjoy the cat silliness!
Thank you so much, Irina! Would love to learn more about building a successful career in tech while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
It’s my pleasure to connect with all of you, so happy to tackle this question.Work-life balance means different things for different people so the first thing I invite people to ask themselves is what that means for them.I know for myself that to feel balanced, I need some sort of creative project, something where I get to play and be creative, and I need to feel connected to people. These are the types of activities that would fill my cup, rather than drain it. Working longer hours didn’t lead to better and faster results. It ended up only making me feel more tired and less fulfilled.This changed how I thought about how I spent my time, and what I prioritize.In addition, I learned to self-advocate for what I wanted and what I didn’t want. We often forget we have the agency to advocate in our own best interest. Some other things that worked for me were:- understanding and honoring my needs, such as taking breaks when needed and prioritizing self-care activities- taking the time to reflect on what truly brings me joy and fulfillment, and actively seeking out those things in my daily life- finding ways to optimize my productivity and work more efficiently, such as setting clear goals, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and utilizing time management techniques- learning to assertively and confidently say “no” to commitments or tasks that do not align with my priorities or values, allowing me to focus on what truly matters to me and avoid unnecessary stress or overwhelmHope this helps!
Hi Irina! Why all these great women leave a Romania? :)I am proud to be Romanian but I feel like also there isn’t much done in Romania to encourage more girls to embrace the techy field. Do you know such a groups in Romania?
Hello fellow Romanian! ❤️ 🇷🇴Unfortunately, I don’t know of groups in Romania to support women in tech initiatives. Granted, I left 12 years ago, so they might exist, I just am not aware of any.
Your career journey is so interesting! Was there a pivotal moment that made you realize you enjoyed coaching? Do you have any memorable success stories you've witnessed or been a part of in your coaching practice?
The a-ha moment that I enjoyed coaching came around 2019 while pondering about the following question “what are the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most and find most fulfilling?”. I was a tech lead at the moment.I realized that the most magical moments for me were when people on my team would come to me with various problems, some that even I didn’t know how to solve, but I would help them find their own solutions.It reminded me of the time when I was a teaching assistant in college, which is a period I have very fond memories of. I applied the same mindset then, of helping people find solutions instead of telling them what to do. My students got the best grades in that year.This is the essence of coaching.So then it dawned on me, I don’t depend on a job to create these magical moments. I can do it as a side passion / project.In terms of memorable success stories, I want to say people getting promoted or getting opportunities bigger than they thought they would get. But I think the coaching successes that I’m most proud of are the internal transformations, building true self-confidence, people thinking about themselves differently and having a better relationship with themselves, which resulted in them aiming for more and being more successful.
Given your experience working in both large tech companies like Google and startups, what are the main differences in leadership and management styles you've seen in these different environments?
Excellent question!A general rule of thumb is: the bigger the company, the more mature the processes and culture are. Large tech companies usually have a more hierarchical structure, which impacts the leadership and management style.In bigger companies, leadership tends to be more traditional and focused on operational efficiency and managing resources. Having more resources and bigger budgets for various functions allows for larger teams and well-defined processes. Communication tends to be more formalized and structured. Due to the hierarchical structure, there is more managing up / managing down that needs to happen in order to build good relationships. The culture is more established, so leadership just needs to maintain it.In startups, leadership is more entrepreneurial and hands-on. Being adaptable and nimble is key. There is usually a lack of resources, so being deliberate and thoughtful about how to prioritize work and using these resources is very important. Communication is often informal and frequent, so building relationships happens more organically. Culture in smaller companies is still developing, so leadership must be more involved in making sure it evolves at a healthy pace together with the company.Hope this answers your question!
Hi Irina! If you could go back in time and start your career over, but knowing everything that you know today, what would you do to grow faster + what would you avoid doing because it didn't serve you like you thought it would?
What a fantastic question! I’ve actually pondered about this a lot.I would raise my standards, trust myself more, set better boundaries, have more courage, and take more risks. I would rely less on the approval and permission of others, and focus more on getting that validation from myself and my intuition.I would embrace the fact that my time is valuable and that it doesn’t come back, and act accordingly. I think fear of the unknown and lack of self-confidence held me back at times because it made me stay in certain situations for longer than I should have.I would prioritize building a good support system, and finding “my tribe” and taking better care of my mental health. Always have a mentor, coach, or peer you can openly discuss your challenges is priceless!! You don’t have to go it alone.Hope this helps!
Hi Irina! What are some common challenges you've seen engineers face when transitioning into management roles? And how do you suggest overcoming these?
Great question!Some of the common challenges I’ve seen engineers transitioning into management are:- lack of clarity: unclear expectations about the duties and challenges of the role, unclear motivation for why they want to transition to management- lack of support: feeling like they're being thrown into the ocean expecting to know how to swim- not understanding the mindset shifts that come with this transition: their job is not about them anymore, it’s about the team, understanding managers need to put the team firstTo help with the clarity bit, I wrote an entire series called “So you want to be a manager” if you’re curious: respect to the support part, you need a good relationship with your own manager. You need to be able to not be afraid to have real conversations with them about the challenges you’re facing and the support you need. In addition, getting mentorship, coaching, and finding a group of peers at similar levels can be very beneficial for both learning purposes, and also to feel like you’re not alone.
Would you be able to share more about how you grew as a software engineer to tech lead, then manager? What were some things you considered, or did that helped you along your journey?Often times, it feels like spending personal time to develop tech skills (at the cost of other activities) can very quickly backfire into burnout.
Hi and thank you for the question! For me, a pivotal moment in my career was when I was still an eng 2 and my manager at the time nominated me for a leadership training called Edge organized within Google. That was the first time I started asking myself, what do I really want to do with my career, rather than just following what was expected of me.During the training I learned that leadership is not a role, it’s an attitude and series of behaviors. It made me realize that if I start acting like a leader, I am one. That’s how I became the de-facto leader in my little sphere of influence within my team and I was offered the tech lead role. I talk more about my story here: being a TL for many years, I realized that I am fascinated by human dynamics and that I love developing teams and cultures. That’s something a TL definitely contributes to, but it’s not the main focus of their time. I spent a significant amount of time in the TL role because I still wanted to develop my technical skills, and wasn’t ready to give that up just yet. Transitioning to management when I felt fully ready to focus on people development.With respect to burnout, that can happen no matter what role you’re in.I share my story and lessons in this series: this helps!
So nice to meet you, Irina and thanks so much for making the time to be with us this week. I was wondering if you had any tips for first time managers? And what has been your tips to build a successful career while staying healthy etc.?And do you ever want to move back to Europe (Romania or elsewhere)?
Nice to meet you as well, thank you for your great question.I think even before becoming managers, in the contemplation phase, people need to get a super clear understanding of what they’re signing up for, what they’re trading off when giving up on IC, and to understand their “why”. I actually wrote a 5 part series on “So you want to be a manager” that deep dives into how to think about this transition for Tech managers., I believe new managers should focus on building trust with their reports. This takes time and slow increments, but it’s foundational for collaboration and feedback. Don’t rush the process.Third, you’re not expected to have all the answers. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit that. Instead, focus on finding the answers collectively and engaging the expertise of your team.Lastly, focus on building your coaching skills. The best managers I know are excellent coaches. They know how to listen, and they ask excellent questions.Regarding your second question, my biggest secret for building a successful career while staying healthy is adopting non-negotiable healthy habits. I realized I’m much more efficient when I’m rested, so I’m always prioritizing getting quality sleep and staying active. Choose whatever type of movement you enjoy most because that will make it the most likely to sustain. I personally did a combination of weight training, workout classes, yoga, and dance.Regarding moving back to Europe, it’s not something I am planning at the moment, but who knows what the future holds.
Hi Irina! As a coach, how has it been with revenue and what are your rates? I find this super inspirational because I want to start my own business in the future.
Hi!I’ve approached coaching as my side business, and an extra stream of income. Who knows what the future will bring, but for now I plan to keep a tech job in parallel. The reason for that isn’t financial, but more around how I want to spend my time. I love coaching but I also love working with teams and building products.Kudos to you for wanting to start your own business!! It takes a lot of courage, but it’s worth it. One thing to keep in mind that it’s not an either-or thing. If you want to take the leap and switch to focusing on your business full-time, great! But if you want to de-risk it, it’s okay to start it alongside another job. It gives you more flexibility to experiment and figure out your business model / product offering.I would love to talk more about my coaching offering in DMs.
Hello! I'm so interested to hear more about the concept of "caring too much" in a professional context. Could you elaborate on that and how you can strike a balance between caring deeply about your work and avoiding burnout?
In the past, I was given the feedback that I care too much, so when choosing the title of my newsletter “Musings of a Caring Techie”, I decided to fully embrace caring, but also to reclaim and redefine it.Burnout is also known as “the cost of caring too much”. The biggest takeaway from my burnout experience was not to care less but to care differently. To avoid burnout, we need to care about ourselves “too much”. Not in a selfish way, but in a self-protective way. When we deeply know our worth and how much we have to bring to the table, we can set better boundaries, put our own oxygen mask first, and approach achievement and career growth with a self-compassionate mindset. So after my burnout experience, I came up with 10 anti-burnout strategies that I’ve successfully implemented since, and talk about them in more detail here: