Things I learned in 2017

This is an unordered list of things I learned or mulled over in 2017 [1].

It is incredibly hard to interview and hire engineering managers, particularly first line managers.

2017 was the year I decided to look for a new job. I spent some time interviewing at various companies, of various sizes for an engineering manager position. Technical interviews for engineers have received a fair amount of attention. This has led to the process evolving, and some standardization around the format e.g. most people know to expect a few coding assignments, some design, some for team fit etc. However, in my experience almost every company I interviewed at, did engineering manager interviews differently. It was both interesting and frustrating to find such a huge variation. It also pointed to the underlying problem of most tech companies not having figured out what a first line manager in their organization “should” look like. It was no accident that the company I chose to work at, Stripe, has in my opinion the best screening process. This probably needs to be it’s own larger post at some point.

The lack of evolution around the process of interviewing engineering managers likely has some impact on the diversity of teams.

It was surprising to find that a few tech companies that have public diversity and inclusion goals don’t seem to reflect these in the engineering manager interview process or don’t do this in a way that is easily apparent to the interviewee. This gap is interesting given the outsize potential for impact it has on the future makeup of their engineering teams. It would be interesting to see more research around this [2]. Even though it seems obvious, organizations wanting to improve their diversity and inclusion statistics should review “both” their technical interview screens as well as engineering manager screens.

Engineering management in itself, is getting more attention and the manner in which organizations develop their philosophy around this will be a key differentiator for organization culture.

I attended my first ever “engineering leadership” conference: Calibrate [3], in 2017. It was an interesting experience and I plan to attend similar conferences. I hope that this area continues to evolve and I expect to learn and in turn write more about this.

Online communities are moving to being smaller and closed, using platforms such as Slack and Facebook.

It is interesting that one of the big takeaways from Zuckerberg’s analysis of Facebook’s impact on the 2017 US election was more of a focus on communities. Separate from the political impact, I intuitively think that this is the right step. So far, however Facebook hasn’t built any truly interesting community features in it’s groups so it remains an area for innovation, where perhaps Twitter or other players could differentiate themselves. But, if I had to guess I would probably bet on future online communities being based on a combination of Facebook, Slack or one-off custom platforms. The impact on the future of Twitter will be interesting, though I don’t think it will die as a result, just become quieter and less interesting. Slack communities, will be the interesting space to watch evolve.

Indian e-commerce is a fascinating space right now.

As more and more of the country moves online, it’s been interesting to watch the rise of the app ecosystem in India. A recent visit, demonstrated how much the economy, particularly in cities such as Bangalore, has moved to being online. We used apps to order everything from rickshaw rides to facials at home.

Better automation in agriculture, is an underrated and unexplored area for potential for growth in India.

This is a wild card observation based on a couple of recent conversations with family connected to agriculture in India [5]. The migration of a large section of the rural population to cities has left villages with a shortage of manual labor. Work that used to be done by hand traditionally is now significantly more expensive or goes undone. Agricultural automation, similar to what is available in other parts of the world, has the potential to help solve this problem. Interestingly, my initial more obvious solution of a migrant workforce from other parts of the country, doing this, does not seem viable. If people leave their villages at all, they would prefer to migrate to towns or cities, vs move to other villages. Automation obviously has the potential to be disruptive in an undesirable way, but in the absence of other public policies encouraging rural development, continued urban migration, seems inevitable.

For a large section of the population, 2017 was incredibly emotionally exhausting, cathartic, and filled with both hope and despair.

This is not a learning, but just something I spent a lot of thought on this year. After living, working and traveling in multiple countries , being a minority and an immigrant, and experiencing harassment in a variety of forms, I thought nothing could faze me, but 2017 challenged that notion. Enough has been written on this, that I don’t have anything original to contribute, except that I no longer take anything for granted. But I am hopeful that 2017 was that the watershed year we needed and are moving to a better world.

[1] These might seem obvious depending on your life experience. 2017 was just the year “I” experienced these personally.

[2] Google’s much cited research on teams is probably the closest https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/.

[3] Calibrate: https://www.calibratesf.com/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/building-global-community/10154544292806634/

[5] https://twitter.com/citizen_kola and others who don’t have an online presence

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