Two crucial skills for Engineering Managers

Interview with Anand Safi, Senior Engineering Leader @ Mark43
March 8, 2022
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Anand is a Senior Engineering Leader, currently working at Mark43 - a public safety SaaS company. Over the past decade, Anand has progressed from starting as an aspiring engineer to becoming an engineering leader. Anand also is a Startup Advisor, Volunteer Board Member, and an established tech mentor outside of his role. He loves reading about engineering culture, team dynamics, and new advancements in tech.

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Tell us about your transition from an Engineer to Eng Manager. 

I spent around seven years as an IC engineer doing work related to quality control when automation was picking up and eventually moved to front-end development. I started with UI and web dev and went onto full-stack development and continued to progress from there. My move to management was intentional as I’ve always been a customer-focused, collaborative engineer. I loved reading about product-market fit and user research. At some point in my career, I realized that I was on a path where I could choose to be a staff engineer or start fresh as an engineering manager. I chose the latter because I wanted to get a seat at the table and be more proactive in building teams, developing products and strategies. 

What are skills crucial for managers?

The most important aspect of management is owning your calendar. Owning your calendar is the number one skill a manager must have as you’ll quickly realize that you are spread thin between team meetings, one on ones, management tasks, and other collaboration activities like contributing to roadmap planning, recruitment, etc. The ability to reserve focus times will heighten your productivity in a dedicated day. 

Another skill needed to succeed as an engineering manager is being able to manage a team both inwardly and outwardly. Early on in the role, people tend to be inward-focused and just make sure their team is delivering on their goals/commitments, but having an outwards focus as well and knowing what your peers are working on and the challenges they’re facing to help build a peer network for them is also necessary to progress as an engineering leader. Any intel will help you think more holistically about the culture and roadmap of the project. 

How did you get into mentoring Engineers?

I first started by being on the receiving end of the mentoring. I found that as I shared my goals and challenges with my mentors, the more outspoken I was, the more people were aware of my strengths. It helped me spot opportunities, and I continue to reap the benefits I received as a mentee to this day. Once I transitioned into a leadership role, I felt capable enough to start giving back what I received as a mentee by helping out junior to mid-level engineers. The secret to mentorship is that oftentimes the mentor gets more out of it than the mentee; I love learning about new perspectives and culture from the people I mentor and there are many times when I get proven wrong and get to change my own perspective.

What’s the best advice someone's ever told you?

I would give two pieces of advice. The first is one I received when I was an individual contributor. My manager told me that “Saying no is a superpower.” As a growing engineer, I had great relationships with my teammates and other teams so whenever any request or question came in I would immediately try to help out. This led to a lot of interruptions and distractions in my own work, so I had to better structure accepting those requests over time. I’ve come to realize that saying no is a lesson one must master in order to grow in their career. Oftentimes people don’t realize that no is always an option. 

The second piece of advice I’d share is to make sure your role is replaceable. I did a lot of work as a new engineering manager, so the team got very comfortable receiving well-crafted and defined work. Soon my reports were relying on me for key input in completing their tasks. I am currently trying to fix this by delegating more technical decision-making to others on the team so they can take more ownership and make the process more agile.

How should Engineers approach networking?

Ask yourself, what are you looking to get out of this specific connection? Stating the context is more important than a massive outreach. Networking should also be done diligently; if you use a template for all your interactions it is likely to just sit in people’s inboxes. You have a much higher chance of making a connection if you personalize your efforts and put quality over quantity. And once you get the connection, you should leave it open. It might not be a mutual fit at the moment, but I’ve seen cases where some opportunity will present itself several months later. Making sure you are keeping the doors open both ways can help a lot in the long run. 

Learn more about Anand Safi on his blog!

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