Artsy Engineering Radio

Engineering Career Paths - Engineering Manager

April 14, 2022 Artsy Engineering Season 2 Episode 12
Artsy Engineering Radio
Engineering Career Paths - Engineering Manager
Show Notes Transcript

In engineering there are interesting sub paths of careers that you can grow into. One of them is the engineering management. What a great opportunity to hear from Elena, our new engineering manager! She will be talking to us about her own career but also about how to approach the switch into management if you are thinking about it.

Kaja:

Welcome to Artsy Engineering Radio. In our series about engineering career paths. In today's episode, we will hear from Elena and how she became an engineering manager. What do managers actually do? And how can we grow into becoming an awesome engineering manager? Let's find out and learn more in the next 30 minutes. Have fun! Okay, yeah. Welcome, again to Artsy engineering podcast. And I just did a mistake and thought I recorded or podcast and then I didn't record the first part. So we're just going to try again. Never mind. Failing is always like learning. So yeah, so I'm the host Kaya. A lot of people might know me already from this podcast. And I'm having Elena with me today an engineering manager at Artsy. And I'm super happy to ask her some questions today about her career path. Because I'm doing the series on career paths. And Elena, please introduce yourself again, for me.

Elena:

Hello, hello. So I'm Elena. I'm an engineering manager at Artsy.

Kaja:

Yeah, the good thing is also that we didn't really have any 1-1s yet. So I'm using this podcast also for myself to get to know you better. Yeah, let's jump right in with the questions about your career. So you started as an engineering manager at Artsy. And how long are you already working here?

Elena:

I started two months ago. So I'm quite fresh still, but already excited and learned some things.

Kaja:

Yeah. Cool. And Which team are you managing?

Elena:

I'm a manager of two teams, Data Platform and Velocity. But I think I'm more present in Data Platform at the moment. And I feel like Data Platform maybe needs a bit more attention.

Kaja:

Okay. Interesting. I didn't know that. Yeah, maybe we can talk about that later. So you probably were not always an engineering manager, can you let me know a little bit of the beginnings of your career and how you grew into that role?

Elena:

I started in 2007. It was my first real job. I started as a web developer, without fancy words without fancy job titles, very simple stack of technologies, HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL. And there was even no words, backend engineer or front end engineer or full stack engineer back then. But I was really interested in web development. And it looked like I was really excited because it was my first real job. I was making real websites and people used those websites. That was so interesting.

Kaja:

Yeah, it's also cool for me to hear that because I started so late. And the beginnings of the internet, and the web development back then was quite different. So when I was like, starting very late in 2017, I think the whole area of web development was already very different than from in 2007. So it's also interesting sometimes, for me to hear the experience of people started much earlier.

Elena:

What they like about web development and engineering in general, that it's never too late to start. It's never too late in terms of age of person who starts. It's never too late in terms of date. It's like, I know, I'm a bit envy for people who start now because now everything is so better. Things are so faster, there is much more resources available in the internet, you can learn a lot of things yourself. You don't need books, teachers, and there is a great community around the whole world. And so yeah, I think it's a little bit easier to start now. But it's also interesting to know how history looks like.

Kaja:

Yeah, yeah, sometimes I had this moments when, for example, when I started, I learned to use GitHub right away to share my code. But then I heard of the stories of people using like FTP connections to share their code and manually uploading it and stuff like that. And it sounds really weird to me like, oh, wow, these were wild times back then, you know? Yeah. So um, how long were you a web developer? And when did you start picking up more managee tasks and you work?

Elena:

So after a few years as a web developer, I understood that I'm more interested in what is called now backend development. And one company I moved to was doing quite big things. It was something like Google Maps, but Google Maps wasn't like that back then. And back then it was even even better than Google Maps. It was quite a local website for the place where I lived. And yeah, there was some API, of course, quite big API. And we imported their map data that contain all the data for organisations, which will be shown on the map. And so I was working as a backend developer. And was mostly focused on what API or input data imports or other things required. And my manager noticed with I am quite good in communication is probably not like quite good in general, but a bit better than the rest of the team. And so he started giving me some tasks on how to communicate with other teams who would depend on us, or who are our dependencies. For example, if we need to import data from some other system and something doesn't work with that import, how can we agree who is responsible for what, why import doesn't work? Most of those things were not really technical, but were about communications. And I was really interested in it. And I always had a big sense of accomplishment when I was able to solve such communicational issues. And yeah, I think, this is how I started becoming more like in management than engineering. But actually, almost every time I started in a new company, I was starting as a software engineer, and then I was just like, becoming a manager or team lead. Again, back then there was no word "engineering manager", or it wasn't that popular, especially in small companies. So I usually had job title like "software engineer", then later "senior software engineer", but also I was playing the role of team lead.

Kaja:

Yeah. Cool. And did you have any mentoring back then from someone in management?

Elena:

This is an interesting topic, because there were not a lot of good practices. Basically, probably save as for engineering. Now you can find a course on engineering, you can find a course in engineering management on internet, a lot of videos on YouTube, a lot of free resources, conferences, many, many things. Back then it wasn't that popular. I know, there were probably some master programs in Engineering Management, but not everywhere. And master pgrograms are not available for everyone. And yeah, I think I didn't have anyone or anything special. I was trying to learn from managers who managed me, but unfortunately, well, there were not a lot of experience. And I was mostly learning by myself and by my mistakes, which is quite painful. Now it's painful for me to remember it, because as manager, you make mistakes with people. As engineer, you make mistakes with systems. It's not that bad because okay, if some website is broken, luckily, we're not in medicine, or we're not in something important, and nobody will suffer from it most of the time. But if you work with people, and you make mistakes with people, people will suffer. And it's not a good

Kaja:

Interesting. And yeah, for me, it was also this point at my Yeah, first time I saw engineering manager as a job thing. life. So I started software engineering really late to my life. And I didn't know much about it before, I think in title around five years ago, and before that, it was mostly 2017. And then I went to a panel discussion of like women in engineering management, and I didn't know at all before that this kind of job existed. I was still naive and thinking like, oh, you know, the ultimate goal of my life is becoming an called like a "team lead" or something like that. And quite engineer. But then, at the panel discussion, I learned that there's even something else after that, that I can grow into and I was so surprised. And yeah, but since then, I'm wondering if I should, if that's like a good choice for me or not. So yeah, this is where I'm also asking you all these questions. And I wanted to ask you, like, when did you discover that this was an actual role description, or an actual job that you want to do the engineering management? often, even without a job title, just an engineer who plays the role of team lead. But when they discovered that there is a special job title for it, I was quite impressed. Because, yeah, this is what we do. We are managers, we are people managers. We are also in engineering. So engineering manager covers, all those parts, all those things that are in the job. And how did you decide that you want to, like leave the hands on coding world and become a manager? Is that like, was that a tough decision to make? Or was that clear for you that you want to do that?

Elena:

I didn't really decide because it was quite a smooth transition with all the responsibilities. So I just like wanted to take more ownership or responsibilities and then I figured out what the more ownership and responsibilities, you have the less time for actual coding and being hands-on you have. And I still miss hands-on work. But I feel better as a manager because I feel like I can enable more people and bring more impact by that. And in general, it is very inspiring to me to see how people grow to see how people achieve their goals, to see how people deliver great software. And it's much bigger than the situation when I just as an individual contributor, write some code and deliver it.

Kaja:

Yeah, I guess, what do you like least about managing? Or what do you think is like the most challenging things to learn in management?

Elena:

Hmm, that's an interesting question. I cannot say that there is something I like least. I like everything. Some things might be quite tough, but they're dependent on a particular situation. In general, in engineering, the most challenging part is not technical part. The most challenging part is how we work with people, how people work with each other. Is our environment healthy, is everyone feel free to speak, especially if they are not senior engineers, or if they just start their career, or if they have some, like special background, or if they are from underrepresented groups. So I would say my ultimate goal, or my first goal, for each team is to make an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, heard. Where everyone has a voice and can present their idea. And not just present their ideas, but actually make sure that their ideas are considered.

Kaja:

Yeah. Wow, it's so great. It's actually yeah, it's kind of like you're the knight in the armour for the engineers. And what would you say do you like most like what's the most fun part in your job?

Elena:

Well, same same part is the most fun as well. When there is a problem and someone doesn't perform and just doesn't feel enabled, or the team maybe is not extremely healthy at the moment, or they're just like people who just joined maybe around same time and they don't feel like team yet. And half a year later, you feel like okay, this is a team now they work as a team! And they actually even don't get manager anymore because they are self sufficient. This is the most inspiring part for me. I see that okay, these people don't need a manager anymore, at least for a while.

Kaja:

So there's this stereotype of women being better at like communicating and washing the dishes. Like there's all these stereotypes about women. Would you say that, like this also, sometimes plays a role? And you know, how many women are managers? Or is it actually the opposite? Like, are less women managers, although they have the stereotype of being better at communicating and doing glue work and people work?

Elena:

Hmm. To be honest, I've never thought about it like that. In general. So from my childhood, for example, I was quite like it because I didn't have to deal with many stereotypes. For example, my father was interested in amateur radio things. And so like, since my childhood, I was always around that community of amateur radio people. And I never felt like "O, I'm a girl, so I'm treated differently". Because there were a lot of women there. Well, not maybe, of course, the fewer than fewer women than men. But still, I'd never had that feeling like "I'm a girl, so I couldn't do software engineering". And I wanted to become a software engineer since 12 years old. And I feel like I'm really very lucky that I didn't meet many stereotypes. I met some stereotypes at university, for example. And then I was really surprised because it was the first time in my life someone's like, sayng "You're a girl, what do you want". Like, "Here's your number and then just like go don't ask extra questions". And that was a big surprise to me. If we talk about management specifically... Yeah, I don't have an answer. I don't think it's gender related. So it's hard for me to say.

Kaja:

Yeah, I feel like just from my experience, I cannot say that in general, but from my experience, a lot of women who are engineers are often pushed into the role of glue work, you know, like, kind of like, "Yeah, please, you know, you're the one who's taking the notes" or "you're the one who's organising some", or even just like scheduling a group event that is for team building or stuff like that. I don't know. It's like often the dynamics that I experienced were like this is pushed over to the women but at the same time, they weren't officially having this role. So, you know, so they would always get like some kind of extra responsibilities but not getting credited for it. While a lot of I would say like higher positions were filled by men that were actually having like an official role for this responsibilities, but then also didn't really do so much of that work. And I don't know. So I felt like this a little bit something out of balance. And do you have any experiences or opinions on that?

Elena:

Yeah, again, it's hard for me to say, how does it work in different teams. For my teams, for example, I always try to find strengths for each person, for each individual. And to be honest, I don't see any difference between men and women in terms of that. I remember, in my past for example, we had a great engineer who just started. He was a man. And it was the beginning of his career, but he was really great in organising things, how to organise a workshop to discuss something. He was great in taking notes, very structured. So quite often, he volunteered to take such notes. But it looked quite natural to me, but if women engineers would do the same - okay, why not? But to me, it is important to find each individual's strengths. And their background is not important, or their gender is not important, or they're like no other special characteristics are not important. So only important characteristic if people are interested, if they think or I see or other people see it's their superpower.

Kaja:

Yeah, I guess that's the best way to deal with the different characters in a team that yeah, meets different strengths for areas. In terms of teams, have we already here? Did you ever experience like any team that failed, or something where you see now what the mistake was where the team didn't cooperate well? Or something that they could have

Elena:

To me it's not about mistakes. Well, the question is done better? like, what is the reason why team doesn't communicate well? And the reasons might be very different. And this is where engineering manager role is important and this is where engineering manager needs to be involved. And if you talk about Artsy, this is maybe something I would change a little bit. Because quite often there are situations when engineering managers manage people, but they are not very presented in regular team work. So it's hard to observe how regular work look like. Is everyone engaged? What kind of roles everyone plays? And yeah, this is why, for example, currently, even though I'm quite a manager for two teams Velocity and Data Platform, I prefer to focus on Data Platform a bit more. To understand how the situation look like in the team at the moment. How can I help? Is everything fine? Is anything could be better? And to learn it, to understand that you need to be very presented.

Kaja:

Yeah. Sounds interesting. I also wasn't aware that you're like, focusing on both teams, but on data platform a bit more. Yeah. And that there's more work to do there. So because I'm always in the frog perspective, looking from down from the insight, not the bird perspective.

Elena:

Yeah, what is also quite special at Artsy, engineering managers manage people who are in the same location as they are and in Data Platform there are more people from Germany than people from the US side. So I think this is why I was more focused on Data Platform. But I feel like I should be more present for Velocity too, and I have it on my list. But I'm still onboarding and so I'm trying to prioritise. I want everything, I want to be everywhere. But priorities are important because if you just cannot choose then you will not deliver anywhere. If you want to deliver everywhere you will not deliver anywhere.

Kaja:

Yeah, that's actually an interesting point. So, the last podcast in the series I made was with Steve, and how he decided to stay more in the hands-on kind of world, although he's like a very experienced engineer, and also probably has a lot of insights in management, but he chose not to become a manager. And I wanted to know why and how he got to that decision. And he told me that his mistake was that he never committed to either one. So he was always a little bit in between. And he said that like whatever you do, just pick something and prioritise it and lean into it more. And I felt like that's actually great advice. And yeah, I would take it to my heart and and see what decision I can make. But I'm still like, not sure which way to go in my engineering career. And so what would you tell a person like me who still haven't decided which way to go? Would you? Like, what kind of advice do you have or like how to make a better decision on your

Elena:

To me is the best way is to try. So if there is an career? opportunity to try some aspects of engineering management at artsy, this is definitely something to get. And I know that at some other companies, there is like an associate programme where all the engineers who are not sure yet can try become managers for a while to see if it's their thing or not. Maybe something like that would work. But apart from that, also, knowing your strengths, knowing your interests, probably would work. I believe, basically, you manager could help a lot here as someone who should coach people a little bit also and help them understand their powers, their strengths better. There's also a Personal Development Plan template at Artsy which I think is designed to help people grow. And it's designed to help people understand who they want to become, how soon, and what kinds of things need to be tried, or need to be developed, or learned.

Kaja:

And would you say that you have to be a senior engineer before becoming manager? Or is that not so important?

Elena:

I know some engineering managers who've never been engineers, before they became managers. Who were in different roles, more related to communities or how to organise work. And in fact, if we talk about engineering, the hardest part in engineering is not engineering. The hardest part is people. So I believe anyone who is good in people management can be engineering manager too. Of course, it is easier when you understand technical things, when you have some background and experience. Just because you can understand some technical problems better. But to me, it is not require. Especially in a situation when teams have tech leads who are responsible for the technical side of things. And then it is important to have good relationships between engineering manager and tech lead to understand struggles, technical struggles. For example, what needs to be prioritised from technical perspective. But to me, personally, I agree that some skills related to people management are super essential, to me is the most important skill of engineering managers to listen to people, but not engineering.

Kaja:

Yeah, that's so true. Interesting, and because I think the only opportunity so far to get into a bit more like management kind of role, in my team at least was was the tech lead. And for that the requirement was to be a senior engineer. So like, for me, I don't have the senior title officially. And so it was like I was, I didn't have the chance to even apply for the role. So like, if I weren't wanted to try out management at Artsy, I would probably have to wait for a management position to open up and then apply for that, right?

Elena:

I would maybe try a bit different approach. If I wanted to become what like, next level in my career, for example, who my manager is, I probably would ask my manager, what my manager can delegate. Because managers are really happy to delegate as they have so many things to do. But if there is someone who's ready to take something, they will be super happy. So maybe the right place to start is like that. Also, your manager should be interested in your career too. And so if you say, "Okay, I want to become an engineering manager", your manager could probably help you make it. It's not only about learning, it's not like oh, okay, you need to pass that course on. Like, I don't know, Udemy, Coursera, somewhere else. To learn essentials on how to manage people. This is maybe be a good advice. Or to read books about management is also a good advice. But I believe we learn best when we try. And with that the question is yes, what your manager can delegate you. Which duties, which things, and then you can just take it, you can feel if you like it, you can see if it's your thing. And if it works, then you can just like take bigger and bigger and bigger little by little... And then one day, it's just a natural thing, youare a manager already because you will just do everything that other managers do.

Kaja:

Yeah, I think I'm keeping my manager already quite busy with all the wishes that I have. So I just recently wished to have like a rotation in the Velocity team because I wanted to learn more about infrastructure. And he fulfilled me that wish and like made it happen. And yeah, I guess I just have to go to my manager Santa Claus with that wish and just see what he can do for me. Is there any like last advice that you can give from what you've learned in your career or anything else that we didn't talk about that we didn't cover in this podcast that you want to want to say?

Elena:

Well, it's a good question. I think, maybe we haven't covered feedback. And feedback is super important. This is also how we learn. And this is also how managers learn. Like how managers learn how to become better managers. I said that the super important to listen to people, and it's not only about their observations of the situations. It's also about their feedback. And it is super important to make an environment where people feel free to give you feedback, especially negative feedback, something that can help you as manager grow. So yeah. And also feedback culture at Artsy is quite strong. And there is a lot of sessions, trainings, suggestions, ideas, frameworks how to deliver feedback better. So I think it is really important for anyone who want to progress with their career, and especially for managers.

Kaja:

Yeah, this is actually a good reminder to the whole engineering department. We were just told to give our managers more feedback. Yeah, to help them grow as well. So please, people keep that in mind. Give your managers feedback. They need it. Yeah. Thank you so much. And yeah, let's see, where my career goes. Let's see where your career goes from here. Yeah, that was a great session, and I think I learned so much. Thank you so much, Elena.

Elena:

Thank you. Good luck with your career.

Kaja:

Thanks.

Steve Hicks:

Thanks for listening. You can follow us on Twitter - @artsyopensource. Keep up with our blog at artsy.github.io This episode was mixed and edited by Alex Higgins. And thank you Eve Essex for our theme music. You can find her on all major streaming platforms. Until next time, this is Artsy Engineering Radio.