Find the purpose
Three months back, I started my journey of VP of Engineering in Mews. In the following blogpost, I'd like to elaborate on my experience and discoveries so far.
Build on your Experience
On my path, I was fortunate to work with leaders worth following. I learned a lot from others. When I couldn't find such leader, I learned another skill, which is to move elsewhere.
In terms of software development, I started to work part-time during my university CS studies. A few years passed and I moved into the role of team lead, followed by SW architect. It was several years back when I was offered the more people-oriented role of software manager of 40 people. Regardless, I firmly believed in continuing to use the tech expertise I had continuously worked on for two decades. And, oh God, I was mistaken!
When I found myself leading approximately seven different teams, I couldn't really expect to spend time on helping others with technical decisions. I have to say, I struggled with that for the first half a year, doing my best at covering people management as well as technical solutioning. I was barely sleeping – if only having dreams about work could be defined as proper sleep. I hit the wall.
That's when I took a two-week break to decide what my top focus ought to be and hired a software architect to create an Architectural Community across the department. To me, the transition to full-time manager provided a valuable lesson. I completely changed my working habits and principles, dropped almost all my technical knowledge sources, and moved over to a much more leadership-oriented base.
The first 3 months
Shortly after joining Mews as VP of Engineering, I started talking with tech leaders and peers. In addition to that, and most importantly, I observed how leadership behaved in terms of communication, transparency, and openness. The reason being, I firmly believe people in a company copy the behavioral patterns of their direct managers.
Over the course of the first months, I'd say my primary goal was to listen and to understand why. On top of that, I decided my strategy is to succeed with 2x2 goals, to ensure I have helped to resolve at least one long-term issue (could be a process redefinition), along with implementation any of low-hanging benefits having direct impact. Ideally, projecting that towards developers and top managers.
I have to say, it made me smile to see how old I am, especially when most of the people in the company seem to be way younger. One observation I had to deal with is that I'm not smart. Not anymore. I'm just more experienced with how people should work and cooperate to get things done and I'm open enough to experiment with it.
In engineering management, constant learning is key. A good example is how the agile process got improved to 2.0 several years back, while many companies are comfortable to operate on top of a decade-old process. Potentially, we could consider other methodologies, such as using Kanban for more senior teams. It doesn't end there. I study various ways to improve team balance, performance, psychological safety, teamwork, all sorts of reviews, culture, personal relationships, you name it.
Speaking of culture, openness is key. Each Friday, we get an all-hands update about the company status from financial and customer perspectives, as well as discuss internal topics. Some of the developers understand the SaaS business model concept and look into MRR, Cost of Acquisition, or cash flow financial reports, regularly, discussing trends with the VP of Finance over Slack. That is something I have rarely experienced myself. People have interest in the company health.
The deciding factor for me is that the founders are still a core part of the company. I was amazed to see our CEO testing new features over the weekend. Don't we have QA?
In terms of transparency, we hold regular hammer-time talks at the end of week, where all sorts of questions come in and are answered. This sort of meeting has shown to be particularly crucial in times of Corona crisis.
One thing I found particularly useful is Mews’ presence in Tech Communities. We have dedicated gurus in this field, organizing various meetups, blogs, and conferences. This initiative greatly helps to attract talent and, consequently, to make talent attract more talent along the way.
Our hospitality business domain has been hit by Corona quite heavily. Right before joining Mews, I was told some people had been laid-off. It was a few days before my onboarding, when the CTO called me, and I was ready to hear that Mews is not going to need me after all. For sure, Mews could save some of the developers as opposed to hiring me. Mews decided to invest into stabilization for the long run, so we can grow on a more robust base. That is why I feel obliged. That is why I do my best.
After the period of hyper-growth, it is the right timing for us to re-think how we make our technical leaders grow, as well as how to improve our feature delivery pipeline in terms of agility.
As the 3rd month of my time at Mews comes to an end, I think of how to implement changes across teams in a more seamless way. We will experiment with dedicated Leadership and Agility Communities. Potentially, the best way could be to physically join the teams and rotate between them on a monthly basis. Besides my initiatives, I could be helpful in writing tests in functional programming :-) What do you think?
In the next blog post, I'll dig more into detail of my mission and what specific streams we have decided to invest into.