What I have learned as an interim Director of Engineering at 90 Seconds
Last year I joined 90 Seconds with the original goal of building the data team and data analytics products. At the time, however, there was a lack of engineering leadership and management in place. So I was tasked with managing and scaling up the engineering team as the interim director of engineering — a role, and a challenge, I had not taken up on before.
It was undoubtedly one of the most challenging periods in my professional life. Yet I am very happy that I’ve got the opportunity to learn, to make mistakes, and to experience the whole thing. Below are the lessons I’ve learned and also principles I personally follow at 90 Seconds.
Engineering processes and directions must be set as soon as possible
- Be the process champion and constantly make sure everyone understands the system and follows through. Simplicity beats complexity every time. Start small, avoid confusions whenever possible.
- Processes aren’t set in stone. They need to be flexible and improved upon as the team grows or discovers new requirements and constraints.
- Directions and team goals need to be thought out and set early on. As the team grows, there will be more initiatives and ideas, and they will need to be aligned, prioritized and tackled depending on how they fit into the team directions and goals.
Build a culture of trust
This is a lot easier said than done, and still, is one of the most important values that must be honored by product managers, engineering managers, or any senior managers in the organization who are working with engineers on a daily basis.
- Know your boundaries. Give clear business goals, reasons, requirements and make sure they are well understood. Focus on giving the why, not just the what; and trust engineers on the how or the execution.
- Step back, observe, and follow up closely to remove any roadblock or confusion. Encourage engineers to take the lead and ownership of what they build.
- Always listen to what the engineers have to say, and take action when needed. It’s important to create transparent, unfiltered and trusted channels for this purpose. In other words, create an environment where engineers can speak freely and discuss any ideas they might have.
- Give honest feedback through regular 1–1s or occasionally right when feedback is needed for decisions or progress to be made. Do not wait until performance review is due.
There is nothing more destructive than having a low team morale with trust issues, and no one but the leaders are responsible for it.
Hiring might take up more time than you think, and it’s totally worth investing in
- Spend your time ironing out engineering recruitment practices, down to the lowest level of detail — the questions you ask, the way take-home tests are designed and sent out, things to look for when scanning through candidate’s profiles, and so on.
- Hire for the attitude, for the team player, for problem solving and learning ability, not just for the technical experiences or any specific skill sets.
- It’s not always about the salary and the perks, it’s the culture that really matters. Show potential candidates that you are willing to go the extra mile for them, and spend the effort getting them to buy into the dream you have and what you believe in.
- Lastly and more importantly, as the team scales, leadership will have to scale too. Focus on finding good leaders, or even better, identify and groom your existing engineers for leadership and people management skills
If these are the values that spark joy in you, and the kind of culture you want to be a part of, join us to build the world’s leading cloud video creation platform 😎 — because we’re hiring!
You can find all open opportunities here or:
Dat Le is the Director of Data and Engineering at 90 Seconds.