A Day in the Life of Austin Engineering Managers

March 16, 2020
RetailMeNot team
RetailMeNot

“There is a difference between management and leadership,” RetailMeNot Engineering Manager Ani Chan said. “You can be a manager without being a leader and be a leader without being a manager. The difference is that people need to willingly follow you as a leader.”

Chan said for an engineering manager to be viewed as a leader, they need to cultivate one key trait: trust. 

Real leadership is achieved when direct reports want to follow a manager — and contribute to team success — of their own volition, not necessarily because their professional hierarchy dictates it. Building connections with employees and establishing a foundation of trust is a vital part of facilitating that. 

“Get to know team members as individuals,” Medici Senior Engineering Manager Raleigh Schickel said. “Treat them as equals. They’ll return that trust with their best work.”

Trust isn’t the only trait engineering leaders should foster within their teams. Adaptability is also important, as different employees might require different management styles. Managers should also help their direct reports reach their professional goals and approach problem-solving the same way they would approach a code debug. 

 

Ani Chan
Engineering Manager

Chan found herself an engineering manager at RetailMeNot based on her love of iOS programming and an opportunity to move into management. Chan went from debugging code to debugging a team of engineers, applying the same development principles of problem-solving and feedback to people management. 

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

After graduating from college with my computer science degree, I jumped into the Austin startup scene as a full-stack software engineer before making the move to RetailMeNot. I worked on a number of our back-end systems during the past five years before finding a passion for iOS development. 

As an engineer, I’ve always had an interest in the broader product, focusing on software and organizational processes. When there was a need for an engineering manager on the iOS team, I knew the skills I’d honed in those areas applied to the job. The rest is history.

The same tactics for debugging software apply to debugging teams and projects.”

 

What are your responsibilities on a typical day? 

Every day starts with a daily standup where I’m looking for ways to enable my team to do their jobs with the least amount of friction as possible. But that standup is the only constant in my routine most days.

Sometimes, I’m working with the engineers who report to me in one-on-one meetings, discussing daily items and coaching them through their next career hurdles. Other days, I’m working cross-functionally to set the broader strategy and roadmap for the RetailMeNot app. Some days, I’m sitting with other engineers to review upcoming architecture decisions to assess any dependencies or risk. Or I’m putting on my project manager hat to organize the work we’re planning for the upcoming sprint. Being a manager requires the ability to adapt constantly and manage your time carefully.

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

I don’t think there’s one mold for being a good engineering manager. Having employees who possess diverse strengths means having diverse management styles, all of which are equally effective. However, there are two specific things I value in my job and that I’ve valued in other managers. 

The first is understanding that there is a difference between management and leadership. You can be a manager without being a leader and be a leader without being a manager. The difference is that people need to willingly follow you as a leader. I believe great managers have to be great leaders first and foremost, and that comes from building trust and genuine connections with their teams.

The second is actually something we’re all familiar with as engineers: debugging. A lot of the same tactics for debugging software apply to debugging teams and projects; ask the right questions, challenge your assumptions, think creatively, eliminate possible factors that could be contributing to a bug, add feedback loops, and then assess feedback. The best engineering managers have carried this contributor skill into their leadership careers.

 

Raleigh Schickel
Senior Engineering Manager

Schickel worked his way through the engineering leadership ranks at a logistics company before becoming a senior engineering manager at Medici. Experience and mentorship taught him the value of creating a culture of trust within his team by getting to know the people he leads, and managing them without an ego. 

 

How did you become an engineering manager?

My first jobs were at a grocery store and a restaurant, and I found myself in management at both places. My next role was with a local defense contractor and after 10 years, I wanted a change. I ended up at the University of Texas at Austin and graduated with a computer science degree. 

My first software engineering role was with uShip and I had direct reports within a year. I was interested in the role partially because I really like helping and teaching people. I also thought it would allow me to be valuable to the organization while I grew as an engineer. I’m thankful to have had great mentors in Nick Parker and Andy Michaelis to help me navigate those early days.

Having patience is important because people don’t have unit tests.”

 

What are your responsibilities on a typical day? 

I wear lots of hats in my role. In the mornings, I act as a scrum master for a feature team and as a product manager on a more technical team. After stand-ups, I have a few one-on-ones with remote team members. The afternoons bring one-on-ones with local team members — walking if the weather is nice — and taking action on anything the team needs from me. If there is time, I focus on strategic things such as quarterly goals, impactful technical initiatives or how to help the team at large be even better.

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Build trust. Get to know team members as individuals. Treat them as equals. They’ll return that trust with their best work. Don’t have an ego. A management role is about the team, not the leader. Give praise and take blame. When things go well, it’s because of the work of the team. When things don’t go smoothly, managers should shoulder the blame as their leader.

A manager should always be coaching. People have lots of choices as to where they work. Helping people do the best work of their career and preparing them for their next role, even if it’s at another company, is a differentiator. And having patience is important because people don’t have unit tests.

 

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