Lyncredible Navigating the tech stack of engineering management

Reflecting on my IC path, Part I

As an Engineering Manager, a big part of my job is to help engineers on my team pursue growth in their careers. Will Larson started StaffEng.com to share stories of reaching Staff Engineers. I find the stories there impressively helpful in thinking about senior engineer roles and individual contributor roles in general. I would also like to reflect on my own IC path in case that is useful. In this first post, I am going to reflect on some early misbeliefs I had on leveling.

Do not get overwhelmed

Much has been said about why the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is so dangerous. It is now believed to be 10x more deadly than influenza, in terms of both hospitalization rate and mortality rate. But that is only part of the story. COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm the healthcare system, hence causing severe second-order effects. Tech debts can do the same harm to engineering teams. I have long been pondering the ways to avoid getting overwhelmed by tech debts. I do not have a playbook yet, but I have learned some promising ideas to share.

Start with measurement

The legendary Andy Grove wrote, in High Output Management, that good indicators are key to management. It has since been popularized by the OKR framework as is depicted in Measure What Matters by John Doerr. As I practice the metrics skill on and off work, I continue to be amazed at how effective a tool it is. With the pandemic ravaging the world, I find myself relearning the importance of starting with measurement.

Fighting complacency

My originally scheduled posts have been postponed for three weeks while I watch the pandemic unfolds and escalates in the western world. I was not too concerned when China locked down 780 million people. That happened when I started this blog, and I never doubted that the Chinese people would prevail. However, I am seriously worried about the developed world, so I am writing down some unstructured management and leadership lessons I have learned from the situation. Here, the first one is to fight complacency.

Effective career conversations

While I was learning to have effective 1:1s, the career conversation 1:1 was the one I dreaded most. Every skilled manager says it is a good idea to regularly sync on career growth, but who was I to talk about other people’s career? I had never done a round of performance review. My own understanding of the ladders and levels needed to be calibrated. Once again I turned to some structures to gain confidence. I leaned heavily on the advice from Jay Shirley and Julia Evans in doing so.