A Day in the Life of 4 Engineering Managers

by Janey Zitomer
March 20, 2020

Software Engineering Manager Kyle Wenholz recently looked at Karat’s product roadmap with one of his direct reports in mind. He knew this employee didn’t need much direction and had a passion for digging into hard technical problems, so he assigned him a project that made good use of those strengths. 

“I was there to make sure he was properly resourced and to remove blockers as they came up,” Wenholz said. 

The following engineering managers have created environments that set their teams up for success, not only by aligning skills with certain projects, but also by knowing when to take a backseat. They are leading daily stand-ups, whiteboarding ideas and holding one-on-ones. And at companies focused on improving technical interview support, simplifying online ad experiences and lowering prescription medicine costs, that extra attention matters. 


 

Quantcast
Quantcast

In his role as senior engineering manager at Quantcast, Sean Kelly has received feedback that he used to ask team members for status updates too often. Since then, he’s worked with direct reports to find other ways to check in on project statuses: tickets, monitoring, deployment logs and PRs. This adjustment shows that Kelly trusts his engineers to perform.

 

Kelly’s professional background: I have a business school background and became an engineer at a small startup through necessity. The startup was acquired by Quantcast and I became a tech lead. I was excited to align a group of us toward a common goal. I realized that I enjoyed orchestrating the team's success more than writing code, so I worked with my boss to identify management expectations. I siphoned additional responsibilities while demonstrating I could still execute on my deliverables as an engineer. Eventually, a business need arose and I was assigned two direct reports.

His typical day: A typical day starts with some self-focused time to respond to dangling emails or Slack threads, read new design documents, review code and generally reflect on the state of the team. Later in the morning, I'll lead a daily stand-up to learn about status and blockers from team members. My focus is on helping team members remove friction. This may involve walking through a tricky piece of code or getting feedback from product managers to understand what to build next.

I offer coaching, mentoring and encouragement when they need it and fade to the background when they don’t.’’  

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Right before I became an engineering manager, a veteran engineering manager told me, “You will only go as far as your team takes you.” I’ve taken these words to heart by trying to create an environment for team members to be successful. I offer coaching, mentoring and encouragement when they need it and fade to the background when they don’t. 

 

Zipwhip
Zipwhip

At Zipwhip, Khang Nguyen holds a number of positions. He’s a software engineering manager and is on the onboarding and account management team. Nguyen came to Zipwhip after more than eight years leading developers at Texas Instruments. He considers good engineering managers people who allow their teams to make mistakes in safe spaces so that they can learn and move on. 

 

Nguyen’s professional background: I started my career as a software engineer at a semiconductor company developing online tools for circuit design. Our organization expanded rapidly and I was given the opportunity to lead a new team that was in formation. I’ve taken these skills to Zipwhip, where I am currently leading a team of engineers developing internal and customer-facing software applications.  

His typical day: I’m responsible for driving the development of new products and features from concept to production. This includes working with the product and marketing teams to determine requirements, overseeing project execution and delivering the results to customers. On a typical day, I dedicate time for one-on-one meetings with my team members, facilitate collaboration meetings with other teams, participate in technical discussions and plan ahead for future projects and growth opportunities.

Good engineering managers inspire their teams to become better.’’

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Good engineering managers inspire their teams to become better. They facilitate continuous growth by giving them a safe space to make mistakes, learn and improve over time. They have genuine empathy for their team members. They care about their employees as human beings and create an environment that motivates them to perform at their highest potential. Engineers are hungry for clarity and want to know that their effort will produce clear and impactful results. Good engineering managers frequently think ahead to resolve potential roadblocks. They provide clarity regarding what it means to be successful.

 

Blink Health
Blink Health

When An An Tran made the transition from technical program manager to engineering manager at Amazon, it was easier than initially expected. She said that people became her projects and helping her team reach their personal goals became her milestones. As a current engineering manager at Blink Health, Tran trusts her team to deliver on commitments however they best see fit. 

 

Tran’s professional background: I started my career as a software engineer. I benefited from having strong technical program managers (TPM) as role models. Once I entered that role myself, I was able to lead teams and mentor junior engineers. I partnered with the engineering managers on my team to plan projects for career development and ensure direct reports had ample opportunities for growth. I was asked to formally manage at multiple points in my career, but I had aspirations of becoming a tech principal at Amazon. Once I reached principal TPM, I decided the time was right to take on a managerial role. 

Her typical day: A typical day at Blink Health starts with reviewing metrics from the day before and discussing what’s in store during stand-ups. Do our customers enjoy our product? What can we do to support them? Much of my day involves unblocking teammates and their projects, whiteboarding ideas and helping engineers come to design decisions. The rest is focused on thinking about how to make prices affordable and transparent to patients because the best medication is one they can afford. 

I like to foster an environment of continuous learning.’’  

 

What makes a good engineering manager? 

One of Blink Health’s first principles is “humans first.” Good engineering managers are active listeners, taking into account people’s strengths, motivators and interests to pair them with assignments that require them to stretch a little. I like to foster an environment of continuous learning. Being a good engineering manager means providing timely feedback and being candid with your team about both positive and negative issues. Don’t be afraid to show humility. Stand by your team and be fearless. 

 

Karat
Karat

Wenholz comes to work every day ready to solve a problem he can relate to: improving subpar technical interviews. Wenholz said that successful engineering managers create a sense of purpose for their team, providing them with resources to align business and departmental goals. 

 

Wenholz’s professional background: I started my career at Amazon on a small team in reverse logistics. Then I went to Google to work on cloud products. During that time, I realized I wanted exposure to a wider range of software engineering experiences and started looking for opportunities at smaller companies. I had also just gone through Google’s interviewer training and was conducting a lot of technical interviews. Even at a company like Google, I saw how broken the interview process was. Karat’s mission to make technical interviews more predictive, fair and enjoyable really spoke to me. So I joined as a senior software engineer and transitioned into engineering manager about a year ago.

His typical day: My job is to make sure my team is successful. I spend time aligning our engineering projects with the company’s business goals. Then I work on removing any issues so my engineers can do what they do best. For example, we have a strong senior software engineer who likes digging into the hardest technical problems and does well without too much direction. So, we looked at our product roadmap and gave him a project spanning a couple of months. We set him up with the support he needed and then let him run with it. I was there to make sure he was properly resourced and to remove blockers as they came up.

I spend time aligning our engineering projects with the company’s business goals.’’  

 

What makes a good engineering manager?

Good engineering managers create a sense of purpose and mission for the team. Luckily at Karat, the mission is clear. Every engineer I know has experienced at least one terrible technical interview over their career, so we’re solving a problem we can all relate to. This helps keep the team excited about the work we’re doing. I also strive to get to know my team and build trust so I can map to the growth and opportunities they’re looking for.

 

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