Skip to main content

Chimers in leadership: Meet Emily Anderson, Senior Director of Engineering

a person smiling for a picture

When Emily Anderson was first asked to manage the team of her recently acquired startup, she nearly cried. “I wondered if they thought I wasn’t a good enough engineer to keep my role as an individual contributor (IC),” she says. “When I asked them what I had done wrong, they told me nothing—just that I was the most qualified for the job. When I probed further about what gave them that sense, they told me they thought I was a bit of a natural leader. I had good energy and perspective that balanced having fun while getting stuff done while absorbing the hard parts of working at a startup.”

Her background as a teacher also gave her the ability to command the classroom and organize chaos when it arose—great skills for the leader of a recently acquired startup. “They told me I didn’t have to take the role, but recommended that I try it and thought I’d be good at it,” Emily says. “I took the reins of the team and have been in leadership roles ever since.” 

What is my job?

In the first few weeks of her role, Emily often debated what her job was. “Going from being a peer to being their boss was a strange transition,” she says. “I wondered how I would be able to support my mentors. I spent much of that early time figuring out how those relationships worked and having open and candid conversations about how I’d make sure our relationships were beneficial on both sides.”

Over time, Emily has found a lot of joy in being a leader, mostly in her team’s enjoyment of their work. “When my team is high functioning, executing, and shipping great products, you can feel it,” she says. “You can tell that they enjoy their jobs and feel fulfilled—when you see that, you know that whatever you’re doing as an organization is working.”

Sometimes, however, she does miss putting on a pair of headphones and jamming out for hours: “There’s nothing like being able to shut out the world and create something tangible and test it,” she says. “That’s one of the hardest things about being a leader. When you run a test on code, it either works or it doesn’t. But when you manage people, you can spend hours doing your best trying to support them but you don’t know whether it’s working all the time.” 

Leading by example

When it comes to how Emily leads, much of her philosophy comes from the example her parents set for her. “How my parents led was an example for me,” she says. “My mum was a stay-at-home parent and very involved in the PTA and Junior League; my dad was a lawyer, administrator, and my soccer coach. They were good leaders with a balanced variety of tools in their toolbox. For example, my dad knew how to make hard policy calls at work and be there for his family and team.”

From the example her parents set, Emily learned how to have tough conversations in a loving way while getting her point across. She continues to gather inputs from leaders around her and books on leadership but comes back to her upbringing. “My core leadership skills go back to how I became who I am,” she says. 

Focus on what matters

In her time as a leader, Emily has seen many paths to leadership and learned many lessons. One lesson she holds close is that hunger for a title can often be misplaced. “When you decide what makes a good leader and aspire to do that while advocating for yourself, that’s when you’ll get somewhere,” she says. “Forcing things by focusing on titles can be a waste of energy. If you do good work, it’ll be recognized, so focus on doing that. If you’re a people leader, the job should be about the people—that’s where your energy should go.”

To others considering leadership—or, as she was, being handed an opportunity to lead a team—Emily compares life to a highway: “Life is full of on and off ramps,” she says. “Make sure that if you’re getting onto an on-ramp, you have the mental and physical capacity to absorb that change, because it’s often a drastic shift. Moving into leadership takes work and a lot of time and energy—when you know you’re ready for it, you’ll accelerate up to speed and do great things.”