It’s been about sixteen months since I’ve worked from an office, but my return is around the corner. I’ll have a commute and a routine and not the sketchy mishmash of home and work on which I’ve survived. I have a former coach who advised me to “protect your mornings”. I stand by this advice, and I do my best to heed it. But I get a lot out of the entropy of the start of the workday. As people come into the office, they pinball to and fro, and there’s a benefit to being a pinball, too. And so I learned to appreciate the art of hanging out in the kitchen.
Engineering management books and blog posts will often try and describe the holistic job of management. They will list of a handful of generic responsibilities and almost always end with “the responsibility of hiring (and firing) for the team”. The “firing” is always brought up in this dramatic way. It never sat well with me. And so when folks ask me for my responsibilities as an engineering manager, I substitute the dramatic phrasing for “the responsibility of shaping the team”. At first, I leaned on this phrasing because it seemed more personal. But over time, the framing has been useful and never more useful than when I’m planning a backfill for a teammate who’s leaving.
There’s an old story that’s meant to promote the value of investing in your team. It goes something like this.
A CTO and a CEO are discussing the budget for the upcoming year. The CTO is trying to carve out budget for education for his team. The CEO is unsure. CEO: “What if we we set aside this educational budget for our employees and they leave?” CTO: “What if we don’t, and they stay?”
Before most of the software engineering world quickly pivoted to remote work in 2020, I was an advocate for the one-on-one notebook. In fact, I had a notebook that I carried with me everywhere. Medium-sized with a 100 or so pages, I usually filled one up in about three months time.
The other week, I had a one-on-one with an engineer. They were working through their approach to a project. There were a few options the engineer already had in mind for how to break down the epic, and they were thinking through the best approach for the work. They had more data about some of these approaches, but they were only scratching the surface of others. Some of the approaches were riskier but had upside; others were safer and cheaper. I knew none of this when I started the conversation. When we finished, they had a few next steps including some metrics to track down and some people to consult.