A Day in the Life of 4 Engineering Managers, Part II

March 16, 2020
Pampered Chef team
pampered chef

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to management.

An engineering manager who spent his childhood hacking old computer monitors to play Pac-Man will likely have a different leadership style than a manager who helped build the network technology behind the storied Motorola Razr. 

“It’s important to figure out the right balance of skills that works for a manager and their teams,” Brian Hogan, a Pampered Chef software engineering manager with almost 15 years of management experience. “What works for one leader may not work for others.”

Engineering leads across Chicago said getting to know team members on an individual level is a vital part of how they manage their teams. By understanding their employees — as well as removing roadblocks and providing continued learning resources — managers can help their engineers reach both personal and team goals.

“The best engineering managers I’ve had were the ones who listened to my concerns,” Livly Senior Software Engineer and Squad Manager Stephen Farr said. “My managers validated them and worked with me to create a resolution strategy.”

 

Stan George
Software Engineering Manager

George has almost a decade of experience as an engineering manager, and he can trace his passion for engineering back to hacking old computer monitors to play Pac-Man. Since becoming a people manager at Cat Digital, George said he’s supported his team in a variety of ways, like buying literature to support their learning and implementing daily deadlines to help eliminate their roadblocks.

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

I have loved computers since I was a kid. I was hooked by “Pac-Man” and “Prince of Persia” PC games in middle school. The first computer I got was a used IBM PC XT. The monitor had neon green fonts, and I could not get video games to play on it. That’s where my career of hacking, debugging and troubleshooting began. 

I went on to get a bachelor and master's degree in computer science and I was OK at coding, but eventually people decided I was causing too much trouble and encouraged me to take a management role. I was reluctant at first, but I found I could have a larger impact on the projects that our teams take on as a manager.

 

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What are some of the ways you support your team? 

I keep a list of any blockers my team has and work to resolve them before noon. In the afternoons, I have one-on-ones with my team members. I set up story-grooming sessions with product owners and work with product management to determine the priorities of features for the services I own. Hiring requires serious attention, so I also need to be on top of scheduling candidates, setting up interview panels and other related duties related. 

My main goal is to help engineers in their careers. I support the education of my team by buying them books, courses and sending them to conferences. I encourage engineers to write blogs and contribute to open-source projects, and urge them to learn as part of their core work responsibilities.

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Being available and cheerful. The team should be comfortable approaching me with any kind of issue — like improving a process, getting rid of unnecessary ceremonies or something else — and know that I will address it. I believe a manager should be the first line of defense against bugs and conflicting priorities, and my team needs to know that I have their back. 

 

Makarand Karvekar
Systems Software Director

According to Karvekar, a director at Jiobit, getting to know employees better creates increased opportunities for mentorship and facilitating an engineer’s professional and personal growth,. 

“I constantly hone my active listening skills to identify the motivations of each member of my team,” Karvekar said.

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

I began my professional career working with cellular network technology at Motorola and later moved to the mobile division. As a result, I had the unique opportunity to be involved in the rise of today’s advanced mobile phone technology, like the Motorola Razr and Android-based devices. As I expanded my engineering expertise, I also developed an interest in leading teams. So I decided to pursue a part-time engineering management degree through Northwestern. The program gave me exposure to the startup world and after 16 years at Motorola, I joined the embedded engineering team at Jiobit three years ago. 

 

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What are your responsibilities on a typical day? 

On a typical day, I interact with other engineers and product managers to deliver projects on our roadmap and solve system issues as they arise. Additionally, I brainstorm design ideas and engineering issues with the team, review customer feedback to develop new feature ideas, and improve software quality with code reviews and automated testing. 

Mentorship is important to me and I try to instill ownership and purpose in everything the team does. But I don’t just leave all of the heavy lifting to them; I regularly contribute to technical tasks as well.

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Having a strong technical background and the desire to be involved in deeply technical engineering discussions is must. But equally important is a manager’s ability to unlock a team’s full potential and to lead by example and with integrity and respect. I strongly believe that empathy is the key to this balance, and I constantly hone my active listening skills to identify the motivations of each member of my team. Aligning the needs of individuals with the goals of the team as a whole allows me to present effective solutions to problems.

 

 

Stephen Farr
Senior Software Engineer and Squad Manager

Listening goes a long way in ensuring that direct reports feel supported. Farr noted how important it was to him that his previous managers were attentive to his concerns when he was an engineer. And since becoming a manager at Livly, that is a practice he works to embody within his own team.

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

I’ve spent the majority of my career building Android and iOS applications for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to brand new startups with no users. After working on my first few apps, I got an opportunity to work as a tech lead for a large company. I discovered that I really enjoyed the mentoring and people aspect of the tech lead role as much, if not more, than the tech aspect. This experience eventually led to me moving into the role of engineering manager.

 

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What are your responsibilities on a typical day? 

A typical day for me involves wearing a lot of different hats. On most days, I have my own individual contributor tasks to accomplish for our mobile projects. I also ensure that my team has everything they need to succeed, run our weekly one-on-ones and work with the product team to define the technical requirements for our upcoming tasks.

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

I believe a good engineering manager is someone who really listens to their direct reports and doesn’t just wait to talk. In my past, the best engineering managers I’ve had were the ones who listened to my concerns, validated them and worked with me to create a resolution strategy. It takes a lot of practice to break the habit of listening to respond instead of listening to understand.

 

Brian Hogan
Software Engineering Manager

Learning lessons and making mistakes are often a vital part of developing new skills. In Hogan’s early leadership career, he had to learn the importance of taking a people-first rather than a code-driven approach to leadership. Developing cultures of trust and teamwork among his reports was an essential part of how he evolved into the leader he is today at Pampered Chef.

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

When my manager at the time was suddenly asked to lead a project on a different team, we needed to backfill his role quickly. I was presented the opportunity to lead, but I was more of an experienced developer that was given authority and decision-making power than a leader. I struggled in the first several years. Over time, I realized the importance of relationships, collaboration and building trust with my teams. Only after that did I really start to become a true engineering manager.

 

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What are some of the ways you support your team? 

My first priority on most days is attending our sprint ceremonies and any one-on-one meetings I have with my team. Besides being aware of what is generally going on, I need to identify where we are hitting roadblocks or facing problems so that I can help coordinate getting us past those issues. 

When all of the needs for my teams are met, I spend most of my time strategizing and looking forward. I define career development and training opportunities tailored toward each developer’s individual goals. 

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Over the last couple of years, I have also come to appreciate the value of collaboration. We discuss options and figure out the best path forward as a team. That practice has been the most efficient way to get a lot of ideas on the table quickly and to agree on the best one. 

Continuous improvement and learning from mistakes are also important in being successful as an engineering manager. Leaders should strive for themselves and their teams to be better today than they were yesterday.

 

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