During a recent job search, I introduced myself to many people, and had to quickly communicate a sense of who I am, and how I manage a team. Maybe this write-up will be useful as an introduction to team members in the future.
I started coding in middle school and got into web stuff after Apple World 1996. I did some freelance during college at Boston University, where I majored in Computer Science. I went to a tiny startup called Bullhorn after graduation. It was a 10 person company that grew to 300+ by the time I left. I was hands-on, doing everything from coding a custom email server to racking physical servers.
At the subsequent two companies, I focused on Python back-end work. I also transitioned to be a full-time manager. I’ve found that managing people is the way that I can have the most impact. Specifically, I can help promote healthy relationships, excellent communication and high-leverage work on the team.
I love mentoring new engineers, and also first time managers. I geek out on culture and process initiatives like hiring, promotion process, tech talks and blogging.
My definition of high functioning individuals and teams tie back to these principles.
Teams must be allowed to determine their own solutions, and set their own priorities. There should be a clear line between the leadership that sets a vision and explains the WHY, versus the team that determines the HOW. Teams cannot be self-actualized without autonomy.
Inside the team, there should be a high level of trust, bred by radical honesty. Part of building trust is demonstrating that what is said inside the team will remain confidential. A team will grow best and maintain stability in the face of change if it can be candid with itself.
In the course of a project, there are many choices along the way about scope. How exactly is the team optimizing, and making the right trade-offs between the Iron Triangle axis of scope, quality and time? If they are NOT continuously making those trade-offs, they are in danger of having too much scope, and taking too much time.
During my latest job search, I fielded some of the same questions many times. I thought it would be useful to document some of the most common ones.
What are your expectations from your team?
- Hit your short-term sprint estimates nearly 100% of the time.
- Don’t skip one on ones, come engaged with stuff to talk about.
- Identify a personal goal I can help you work on.
- Be excellent to each other.
- Bias to over-communicate in writing.
What are your expectations for managers that report to you?
What can you expect from me, as a manager?
- Weekly one on ones.
- Honest real-time feedback.
- Running a tight meeting.
- Autonomy to make your own technical decisions.
- Freedom to work your own hours, as long as your tasks get done.
How do you manage people?
I try to set a strong vision for the team, and help them identify the lightest necessary process. With that foundation in place, I’ve found that most teams just need autonomy, healthy relationships and permission to invest in high leverage work in order to be successful.
Tactically, I like to focus on healthy relationships by doing a lot of one on ones, and leading retrospectives. I tend to over-delegate versus micro-manage. I try to be a stabilizing force on the team, amping down in the face of chaos or uncertainty, versus amping up.
How do you hire people?
I like to evaluate candidates on communication skills, pragmatism and debugging in addition to raw technical ability. I like people on the team who can generate strong yes/no signals from their interviews. I value strong referrals.
How would your team describe you?
Unflappable, practical, informal, disciplined.
What is your biggest weaknesses?
I have a pretty poor memory. That’s one of the reasons that I write so much. It’s also why I practice GTD.
What are your biggest strengths?
Organization, process, attention to detail. I excel at being able to rally and inspire a team.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself?
I’m introverted, but I can get energy from spending time with people as long as I know them well. I find that it takes six months to get comfortable with a new team or business partner.
What I need to be successful
- Weekly 1:1s with my boss, notes ahead of time on topics.
- Direct, unfiltered transparency on what’s going on around/above the team from high level stakeholders.
- Direct, explicit feedback around “third rails” - things NOT to do/mess with. When to NOT push to clarify ambiguity.
- Meetings that start on time, stick to an agenda, and write ups with action items and notes.
- Projects with high priority that allow the team autonomy in finding a solution.
- Dedicated no meeting time in the mornings.
What Motivates Me
I’m motivated by projects where I can:
- Collect evidence
- Set long term goals
- Refine a process iteratively
- Take my time to think things through
- Offer guidance to others
My super power is managing execution. I’m at at my best when I can take charge and help everyone through a crisis.