Tips for Engineering Managers from Range’s VP of Engineering
All great engineering managers are continuous learners, excellent communicators, and efficient problem solvers. But that’s not all. According to Jean Hsu, former engineer at Google and Medium and the current VP of engineering at Range, a good team leader is much more than that.
In this blog, Hsu talks about some traits that make up for great engineering managers.
Working on the right things for maximum impact
Engineering managers must always prioritize the right tasks for the maximum benefit of the company. According to Hsu: “There are so many things one can work on in an early-stage startup. Thus, it is important to determine where you are most useful and where you want to grow while balancing other things. For example, when I joined Range, I spent the first few months dividing my time between IC work and codebase. However, soon, I realized this was not the best use of my time. Instead, I should be working on top of the funnel acquisition, leverage networks of engineering leaders, and bring them to Range.”
She further adds that there are few processes to support new ideas when you are on a leadership team. Generally, people do what they think is good for the company. “It is basically like a lot of different projects taken by individuals hoping to make an impact. So I think it is necessary to navigate how you can serve the company as well as meet your targets in the proper manner,” Hsu explains.
Comfortably dealing with uncertainty
Engineering managers confidently navigate through uncertain times and motivate their teammates to face the unknowns. Hsu says: “During my time at Mia, I was in a situation where my team was not delivering, and while we were working to fix it, my initial thought was we are failing. But then I realized I am just in a phase where I am unsure what to do to turn this team around, but I will figure it out. Once I had reframed my thoughts, I went from feeling stressed to being excited to tackle this challenge.”
And thus, she says that it is essential to look for situations that provide the right learning curve to deal with problems in the future.
Hsu further adds that engineering managers must realize there is a lot they can do and a lot they cannot do. Therefore, they must learn to live with uncertainty and treat it as a part of their life. “There will be things that are outside your control, but if you keep stressing over it, then it will be draining on you. So, figure out the things in your control and place faith in your abilities to overcome the challenges. Then, by formulating a strategy that can steer you and your team towards success, you will be showing that you are comfortable navigating uncertainty at any stage,” she concludes.
Preparing teammates for future
Understanding what employees need not just from their current role but from their career itself is what engineering managers must do to prepare them well. Hsu elaborates further: “When I joined Range, I told all the engineers here that I like being at Range, but at some point, we will move on. [I also asked them that] when they do [move on] what will they be interested in working and how can we best utilize their time here. This practice helped me learn more about their interests and what they would be more inclined to work towards.”
She adds: “Some people want to take the more traditional management path like staff engineer etc. So, understanding the reason behind their decision and learning what interests them about this particular role can help you present the right opportunities.”
Allowing employees flexible work-life balance
Engineering managers must always try to create a healthy work-life balance for their team. Hsu notes that with many companies changing their policies to have a remote-first culture in place, there will be a significant talent reshuffle. “Employees will prefer companies which have a proper structure in place to facilitate seamless office and remote work. Post-pandemic, a lot of people like me are looking for a healthy work-life balance [with] hybrid work options,” she adds.
She further continues: “For engineers, since the work is suited for asynchronous back and forth, they can increase their productivity while working remotely. Engineering managers must understand the impact of the policies on the company and employee productivity and well-being. [It is] only then can they retain and attract top talent.”
High-performing engineering managers instill an action-oriented mindset into everything they do. They focus on doing the right things as well as getting things done. They know how to set a vision and convey expectations. But most importantly, as Hsu notes, great engineering managers actively listen to their team members’ concerns and address them by building a cohesive working environment.
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