Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

What Should You Be Doing?

Jem Young

Jem Young

Engineering Management Fundamentals 101

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The "What Should You Be Doing?" Lesson is part of the full, Engineering Management Fundamentals 101 course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Jem advises new managers to refrain from taking immediate action in their first 30 days. Instead, they should focus on listening and understanding the context, history, relationships, and dynamics of their team. This lesson also emphasizes the importance of being curious, asking questions, running effective meetings, building relationships with partners, evaluating and improving team processes, and understanding the role of the team in relation to the business. The lesson concludes with an exercise to help new managers understand their new position and set long-term strategies.


Transcript from the "What Should You Be Doing?" Lesson

>> So what should you be doing? Nothing. I mean that. Your first 30 days, and this is for any kind of people leadership role, don't do anything. You don't know anything. You don't know the context, you don't know the history, you don't know the relationships, you don't the dynamics, you don't know what's important.

So if you go in there and start pulling things, saying, why are we doing this, this is completely broken? There's probably a reason why we're doing that, you just don't understand that. And you can't if you're too busy moving, and you never will if you're too busy moving.

So you should do nothing and listen, even if things are glaringly obviously broken, unless someone's in danger or just something really toxic is going on, just listen. Listen to what people are saying, and really, really listen and ask those questions. Be curious. Ryan mentioned that earlier about his leadership style, his curiosity when it comes to solving conflicts, things like that.

You should always be curious. Earlier, I said in one-on-ones, your most powerful tool, ask everybody on the team the same question. How's the team doing? What's one thing that we can be improving on right now? What can I as a manager do for you right now? Next week, what's one thing that could be going better?

What's one thing we're really good at? And ask everybody that same question, you will get a really good snapshot of the team, and you'll know what to do next. But you can only do it if you listen instead of trying to fix everything. And you're responsible for one-on-ones, for team meetings, for stand-ups, sometimes project check-ins, you now represent an entire team, sometimes an organization.

That's on you, you gotta run meetings. So we talked about public speaking, you better get good at it [LAUGH] real fast. You can't just sit there quietly and hope someone will say something, cuz now that someone is you. It's happened to me before, I just stood there, I'm like, why isn't anybody saying anything?

Wait, that's my job now.
>> [LAUGH]
>> This is different. You should definitely be meeting your partners, finding out what's important to them, what you should be doing, what they're working on. And you should be looking at processes. If you have a process in your team where it takes three engineers to sign off on every pull request, is that a good process?

I don't know, maybe. But you should be looking at all the processes that your team has and saying, okay, why do we do this thing? Be curious about it. Don't try to change it, but look critically at it. And what can you do to make these processes better?

And chances are, if you became a new manager, oftentimes they do that when the team's about to grow, which you might have to hire soon. Congratulations, you're a new manager. You gotta hire, which is one of the most important and difficult things you're gonna do, which is why we're gonna cover it in Engineering Management 102 tomorrow, a big section on hiring.

But oftentimes, you have to hire immediately, and it's very scary, especially as a new manager. [LAUGH] You're responsible for setting competition, finding the right personality. But of all these, the most important thing you can do is just listen, and write down what's going on, and then share that with the team later.

Here's what I observed, here's what's going well, here's things I can do better. And listen to your team, listen to your manager. They all wanna help you, they're all telling you something. And the most important thing you can do is try to listen and take that away. So I have an exercise here on understanding your new position.

I'll cover it, we don't have to do it right now. But it's just you're a new manager, what do you focus on now? And this is just to get you in the mind of business. And we talked about this earlier, you should understand now what your company does.

If you didn't before, you should do that now. How does your company make money? What is important to them? You should know that now. What role does your team have in relationship to the business? The most important question you really need an answer to. Cuz if you don't have an answer to that, you can't set long-term strategy, you can't set the vision of the team, because you don't know what you're supposed to be doing.

What role do you have in relationship to the business? We talked about the roles of engineering managers, it's gonna be different depending on where you sit. You should understand what you should be doing. Who are the users? Like I said, I run a platform team, so my users are other engineers at the company.

Your users might be real users using your products. They might be other engineers. They might be other teams. They might be other engineers in different companies. But you should know who the users are at a high level of your team. And who are your partners? Who are the people you count on, you use their software, or you work together and ship things?

So in your first 30 days, probably, hopefully before you take on the role, you should have answered these questions. You have to, otherwise you probably won't be very effective as a leader. So if you get to this stage, come back to this worksheet, fill it out, hopefully, it'll provide some insights for you.

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