Interview with Dr. James Stanier, VP Engineering at Brandwatch
Published on Dec 11, 2017
3 min read
Location: Brighton, UK
Current role: VP Engineering, Brandwatch
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
I did Computer Science as an undergraduate and then took an interest in compilers, which became the subject of my Ph.D. After completing my thesis, I joined a fairly small company called Brandwatch in my university town, and 6 years and 3 rounds of VC funding later, I find myself as one of the senior engineering managers in the department. It was a conscious choice to go down the management track rather than that of an individual contributor. I feel that enabling and helping others do a great job is really satisfying.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
I’d say there’s two: one is being in a very competitive and crowded marketplace. We are the leading social intelligence company, and also I think the largest at 380 people, however we need to make sure that we are always building the right thing and failing fast when it doesn’t work out. Getting larger can bring inertia and we have a number of very small startups offering some niche solutions that are threatening. It’s the classic Innovator’s Dilemma story.
What is your approach to hiring?
Most of our engineers are in Brighton, which is a small town about an hour from London. Hiring is difficult: we are doing “big data” work in a town that’s not well-known for that, hence the hiring pool is small and it can take time for positions to get filled. We are the largest independent technology company in our city. Many people commute to London for their work. As such, we focus a lot on retaining our talented staff so that they stick with us for a long time, and we have good connections with local universities to ensure that we hire the best graduates and train them up. We’re in it for the long play in our location.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
I’d be wary of all of the management books that are out there; nothing is better than just doing it and learning as you go. Be yourself, be responsible and support your staff as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of asking for a mentor. Be aware that it is a very different career path to an individual contributor, and that it can be emotionally draining at times. But if you persist, you’ll find that in the technology industry the number of technically-aware good managers is quite small, so you can make a real impact and have great career prospects.
Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
My habits are pretty unexciting. I’m typically in the office between 8:30-9: 00 AM and I go home around 6 PM. I stop when I’m tired; there’s always more to do than you can fit in a day. I try to arrange my calendar so that I batch meetings together on some days, leaving myself some afternoons and mornings of uninterruptible time to focus on my own work. I do the inbox zero thing and check my emails about 3-4 times a day.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Constant dissatisfaction with my own performance. I’m not particularly competitive with others, but I’m competitive with myself. It pushes me forward.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
This is off-piste, but Dark Sky is the most fantastic local weather application. Very useful when you have a dog that doesn’t like the rain…
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
High Output Management by Andy Grove is still the best introduction to being a manager that exists. It’s easy to read and full of great, practical ideas.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub, etc.)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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