The Engineering Manager README
In June, I joined carwow as the first senior engineering manager. Before carwow, I was an engineer/tech lead for seven years and then four years ago transitioned into engineering/software development management.
One of the things I find really challenging is to explain the engineering management role to companies that don’t have a history of hiring for these roles. It’s also one of the things I love about the role because it allows me to help augment engineering teams and managers with values that I believe are key to scaling engineering organizations.
I recently ran into the Engineering manager README format that has become popular online. The premise is simply that an Engineering manager writes up a README file on GitHub that is basically a Manager User manual. I thought it would be a great idea to write one up for myself and for all the carwow EM’s to do one too. My goal was to simplify explaining what my role would entail. I thought it would also be a great opportunity to explore my own philosophies, things I’ve learned over the past few years managing teams and assess opportunities for learning in my own journey. So here it is:
Engineering Manager README
What is this?
This is inspired by Manager README, a document that helps introduce you to my management style, philosophy, and expectations. The intended audience is primarily anyone who reports in to me, though anyone is free to read it — or even provide feedback on it! This is a living document and will be a README on git somewhere. So hi! Let’s get to know me.
Note: 'You' in this document is you the engineer/manager.
I’m an engineer turned manager and have worked with a lot of early/late stage startups and also at large behemoths like Amazon and Oracle. This gives me the unique experience of learning what works and what doesn’t at both ends of the scale spectrum. I have a passion for using technology to build products that solve real world problems. What I am most passionate though is managing engineers and building great high performing but empathetic teams.
As a Senior Engineering Manager at carwow, it is my job to:
1. Attract and Retain world-class talent (that’s you). This means doing a lot of interviews, talking to a lot of people.
2. Give engineers and managers a sense of purpose and direction. This means focusing on building high performance teams, helping you understand where you stand and how you can measurably grow in your career, building a deeply value focused engineering org.
3. Help with planning and delivering on goals. This means setting context on roadmaps and product direction so that you, always know why are you doing what you are doing and reporting back state of the world higher up the chain.
4. Develop and improve my own abilities as a leader.
How I approach my job
Your success is ultimately my success, so I will go out of my way to try and make you successful without micro-managing. I believe that regardless of the complexity of the problem you are trying to tackle, you already have the answer in you, my role is to help you find it. I rely heavily on open questions, rather than jumping straight to advice, but if you explicitly ask for advice I am more than happy to provide it. If you need to chat, come grab me, anytime.
How I expect you to approach your job
Engineers: carwow has hired you because of your experience and skills, and I am not here to tell you how to do your job. I believe you are able to operate as a professional adult, and make smart decisions. This does not mean that I expect you to do everything on your own , I am here to provide you guidance and mentorship (either through me, or by finding the people you should be getting it from). When you need help, I expect you to not hesitate and ask for it. If you feel you made a mistake, own up to it, as will I.
Managers: Please routinely reach out to your team’s stakeholders, keep an ear to the ground about what they’re launching, and be proactive about responding to them when they reach out. Please continue to educate yourself on leadership: use the tech budget to go learn from of the best leaders in the industry. It goes without saying, but please have weekly 1:1s with your direct reports. More on 1:1’s later.
My role is empowerment. I want you to think this is a great place to work, come in motivated every day to solve hard challenges. I want you to get out of bed excited. I also want to ensure the company is doing great because you are doing great and delivering great value. If that is not happening, why are we here?
If I succeed at my job:
You feel empowered as a leader to figure out what you need to do and how you think it should be done and then to get it done
You have enough context to understand your priority and focus over upcoming waves
You have built effective relationships with others in the company
You know where you stand in your career within and outside of carwow and understand how to move up.
You are motivated, focused, having fun, & not burning out
If I fail at any of these — especially anything that puts retaining you at risk — you would be doing me a huge favor by letting me know as soon as possible. I want you to reflect back 10 years from now at your time spent at carwow and consider it to be the best work you’ve ever done. If you’re still here then, I’ve done my job well.
Software Development Principles
As an engineering manager I strongly believed in putting people over process and changing process to accommodate our needs and goals. As a senior engineering manager I will stay out of the planning loop where possible while guiding tech leads, principals and managers distill what I believe are values that are important to me, which are:
Customer focus: Are we obsessed about customer needs and working towards the ‘wow’ in carwow’s values?. Are we being empathetic towards our customers.?
Transparency: Are we clearly and transparently oversharing information within and across teams.?
Curiosity: Are we constantly learning? Are we finding ways to improve processes/people/products?
Bias for Action: Do we see opportunities where other’s see roadblocks? Are we actively biased for taking action? Are we open to calculated risk taking and not slowing down cycles?
Ownership: Are we acting as owners? Are we thinking long term enough and challenging ourselves to think big? Are we ensuring that we never say “That’s not my job”?
I’m big on 1-on-1’s. Mostly this time is about you. Yes, I am the reason why 1–1’s will now be weekly. My role will be to listen to you. I will also use this time for us to to work through your career goals and use it for feedback on my own performance as a manager. While skeptical of some parts, I have adopted a version of Radical Candor for feedback. I’ve been guilty of being over empathetic in the past while missing the point of giving feedback, but I’ve pivoted that to caring personally but challenging directly when I see an opportunity for improvement. While I understand it may be hard for everyone to be on board with this, I expect the same from my team and my managers.
Known Failure modes
I am not perfect. I’ve learnt more from failures than I have from success, so I believe while I will have all the right intentions, these are some of the things I am guilty of having done before that I would personally liked to be called out on.
1. Exploring too deeply during meetings/conversations: I love to explore important topics to death and sometimes will prioritise doing that over my next meeting/conversation. (e.g. I once spent 4 hours in a meeting talking to someone from Infosec battling out key security points in a 30 min meeting. Needless to say the rest of my day was with pissed off folks.)
2. Rambling: My conversation style is to work off of visual cues from my audience and sometimes when I don’t get a cue, I can continue to elaborate my point which can come off as rambling. I am actively learning to correct this.
Here are some things that I am both aware of, and that may or may not impact how you work with me:
* Based on personality tests I classify as EFNP.
* I have strong opinions on product and UX but I know my boundaries.
* I love data and I will trust you but will always try and go on to verify the data, do not take this personally.
* I am allergic to Shrimp and Shellfish.
* I don’t take life too seriously and very open to feedback regardless of how critical.
Hope this helps you to understand my role, my philosophies and helps us work together to build rewarding careers at carwow for both you and me while building a solid international technology product and brand.
At first, I found this surprisingly hard to write without copying paragraphs as they were , especially from the most popular ones since they from other README’s online and started to question its purpose. But as I wrote it, I realised there maybe good value in documenting this for anyone who doesn’t understand the role, for new starts on my teams and for quickly explaining the role and value of engineering management to non technology leadership. It can also be exhausting for new EM’s to be constantly asked what their role is and for them to clarify it.
On the flip side, I found this tweet insightful since it forced me to think if this should be the other way around.
Although we might not do README’s from everyone, I might encourage principal engineers to do theirs so I can learn how to work with them as well.