Like many other software engineers out there, I used to think that I’m not a “people” people (at least not a good one)
At last I found time to write about me as Engineering Manager, a very unique role which I still can’t comprehend what it really is. But hey that’s the beauty right! When we don’t know, trying to understand and then tinker that out.
It began a year and half ago, second semester of 2017. The first batch of so-called Engineering Manager at my company, what we did back then? Honestly I didn’t know! In the first month I still code, one big and important feature. At the same time I was the squad lead, scrum master, technical architect, coach, entertaining all stakeholder and -you know- doing that random management stuffs. It was real chaos, things needed to change.
Let Go, about being easy to yourself
Let go, may be that’s the keyword I learnt through out this journey. One by one I put all that roles to others, the equation is not how much we can help team but how many people we can empower and build the bridge together. By doing that I could have more time to find what that Engineering Manager really is. In first semester I did a lot of experimentation (I still do), what’s the proper way to approach a project, communication pattern with product and business team and how we do agile development.
There was time that I tried to bring all the team for scrum ceremony. As predicted the team is too large for single scrum ceremony, daily will last for 30 mins more.
On pressure, failures and all “that’s too much for me” moments
Unfortunately even when I let go many of that roles, my team was still too big -It was too big that we had to split this into 4 tribes throughout the year. There was time that burnt out is understatement to describe my physical and emotional being, and even worse when the outcome of that suffering was failure.
Did you ever hear that being a good leader, no matter what kind of leader you are, your mental state is your team mental state. When you’re sad, your team are. When you’re so optimistic, your team are. And when you’re frustrated, your team are! It was months of crunch time and I had too many timeout moment to counts, but that helped me. In every timeout I prayed, doing warrior breathing or throwing some random yoga pose. Then I would be ready to face my team with all the positivity needed.
I think it’s very important to have another interest outside our day job. At that time I happened to have yoga class every week, so it helped. Naturally yoga poses are very difficult, it needs focus, physical strength and high pain tolerant (coincident?), all of that helped me to empty my brain from all other things. So Refreshing.
Another thing I learnt on that period was comrades are important, people whom we go to battlefield together. I had a lot of discussion about architectural design, problem solving or even debate with them, it was up and down situation. But In that kind of situation your hearth would say that people will always be here to charge the storm together. Your comrades would understand what’s that smirk means, or will shed tears together on many emotional moments. -Yeah I shed many (happy) tears-
Oh man after you passed that, anything will look like a piece of cake for you
It’s people not users. it’s people not resource
No no, I will not talking about UI/UX, product research or anything. The adage means that when we say user we will detach the beingness of human from the word. It’s similar with when we say our team member as resource, they are human being not a resource like rocks or oils.
My second moment of chaos was on how I underestimate people’s disappointment, I was too naïve back then. The way I brought news to people is almost the same to every person, how I motivate them was with the same treatment. That was big mistake, even Harper Lee wrote about this more than 50 years ago “all men are not created equal”.
Like many other software engineers out there, I used to think that I’m not a “people” people (at least not a good one). No it’s not, from many feedbacks actually I’m quite good people people -apparently that’s just an unnecessary mental block-. After this realization, all possibility comes to my mind. I eagerly add my time to hear, trust and coach people in my team. Yes it is not perfect, but I’m trying.
Helicopter is not destined to be exploded
My last semester as Engineering Manager was easier, I had more time to think more broadly – some might say big picture or Helicopter view. On this mode many problems become more clear to me, very exciting right! I had several big contributions to my employer on this time period, when I have more time to think and identify what no one have time to think. This is also the uniqueness of this role, that I also have authority to drive and empower people to solve and respond to problem. But man it was not for granted.
These moments shaped my definition of Engineering Manager even further they defined me as human being. In this era I believe the most important is not exact definition and understanding but the ability to identify, respond and adapt quickly. At the end of the day if you ask me what’s Engineering Manager I would not be able to give that kind of definition you found on wikipedia. Instead I can tell stories and then let’s distill together what’s this.
It’s quite long story already and don’t forget to take it with a grain of salt. There are 34 `I` in this story, it can be just narcissistic article, but you made it to the end.