Engineering Leadership with Guillermo Manzo, Senior Manager Expedia & US Marine

Published on May 8, 2022

23 min read

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Guillermo Manzo, Senior Engineering Manager at Expedia, joins me this week. We hear how he went from the Marine Corps to a successful engineering leader. Guillermo offers leadership and delegation tips. We discuss hiring diversity. And we cover his approach to career advancement and leveling up his direct reports among other things.

Transcript

[00:00] Vidal: Good afternoon today I have with me Guillermo Manzo an engineering leader at Expedia. Welcome to ManagersClub!

[00:08] Guillermo: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

[00:10] Vidal: It’s great to have you here. So, Guillermo, I know you have a non-traditional background. You were in the Marine Corps and all that.

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What’s your background, and how did you get into management?

Could you share a little bit of your story with ManagersClub and how you ended up in engineering leadership?

[00:22] Guillermo: Yeah, sure thing. So, um, as you mentioned, I joined the Marine Corps at the young age of 17 uh, straight out of high school. And from there, I worked in areas of like logistics, supply management lots of, you know, chain management, et cetera.

And during that time, as all Marines, you know, get trouble every now and then and one of the punishments I had is I had to go to the office. I sit down in the office about three feet from the big boss in the military, or at least in my unit.

And uh, he asked me to fill out a government form and it was a shell form, so it was empty. It was just basically coming up with a framework of the form so he could type in the paperwork. And I spent six hours making a checkbox that would be used in the form. And ever since I learned to make that checkbox, it just made me really excited.

And I was just super interested in uh, how that check box was made, how the code did that. And then from that time, I didn’t do too much in there, but really you know, It was the first taste technical like a code in general. And from there as I got out um, you know, I was also playing sports.

And I had an opportunity to do some tryouts in Seattle. And one of the questions I asked while I was trying out was “if I don’t make it uh, what do people do in Washington to get paid?” And they said, engineering, right. You know, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and big names. They called out for areas in which, you know, people work here in the Seattle area. And from there I started looking into a little deeper and I realized that, yeah, it was a very strong community of engineering. Lots of opportunities. Most schools were built to teach people about software development uh, information technology in general.

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So I took the opportunity to use my VA benefits and go to school a little bit, understand a little more. And I had my first job within about seven months when I joined school if that makes sense. So that’s kinda how I got into computer science in general or IT in general.

And then from there, I think the leadership aspect, you know, I’ve always felt like um, not just my military background before that, you know how to learn, how to survive pretty young. I have a lot of siblings, um, you know, lots of orders, commands and demanding. I just try to learn some of the things that I thought were beneficial to my life on how they did things like how my brothers and sisters would operate on a day-to-day basis. And then I learned also what not to do, and as I gained more perspective and as technology stacks got more interesting to me and the problems got more complex, I felt like I was better helping people to solve these problems than to just solve them myself.

And that’s how I started leading into leadership in general in IT.

[03:04] Vidal: Okay. First of all, you don’t thank you for your service and it’s a great way you got into IT. So basically following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

[03:13] Guillermo: Yeah. Yeah. I was just trying to figure out how to get a job. But it was it was lots of inspiration. Cause the main point was that they’re saying they own these big large companies. So if you go back to California where I was from the Central Valley there’s some farmland, I can go farm with my family or work at the 7- 11 or, something down the street of whatever’s available. And I think the main point they were running across was that you want to be here, whether you’re playing sports or not. This is a place where you can grow and thrive. And leadership just followed naturally in my progression of my career.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?

[00:03:48] Vidal: Awesome. What are some of the biggest challenges you face now as an engineering leader?

[00:03:53] Guillermo: I would say patience and control. The biggest challenge I have is learning to be more patient. Right. Uh, as you move up in the ladder things take a little bit more time. At least from your perspective, right?

But if you look at the holistic picture of the end-to-end whether you’re an individual contributor, who’s writing just a piece of code to push into production, or you’re a junior leader having to come up with the requirements, idea, talk to some people and so on, so forth, which takes a couple of weeks.

And then as you get into senior leadership, those couple of weeks could be a couple of months, just to get everybody aligned understanding what the problem is and so forth. And most of the time you probably feel like you have an idea, right? You have an answer, but you have to convince everybody of that.

And that’s where patience comes into play as well as control. Because as a leader you’re no longer in control of the code that’s been developed. You’re more or less in control of managing the careers of the people who are developing that code and that’s a big change in approach versus being the guy or the woman who says, you know, I’m going to do that because you asked me to go and solve that problem.

I’m in control of solving that problem. Now I have to rely on those the directs that I have as well as the other senior leaders around me to align and work towards the same direction. So patience and control is what I would see as natural challenges in this space.

[00:05:22] Vidal: That’s a great thing to share patience and control and yeah, a lot of the things engineering leader, it’s the reward or the payoff is indirect. Yeah. Yeah. So you don’t immediately see it, right? Like when you’re just committing a piece of code, now you’re managing people and you know, it’s just, you’re more removed from it. So I get that.

[00:05:41] Guillermo: On the money, like the rewards are indirect, like you know, great job Guillermo for getting that platform built out. And what they’re really saying is a great job to your 30 developers that got the platform built that all your 50 developers that got the end-to-end delivery going forward. And what you do with that great job is you should definitely make sure that message is relayed to those who delivered that effort because that’s really what your leaders tell you when they say great jobs. Now they know I didn’t do the code, the delivery, they know that I managed the engineers and I strategically developed, aligned the work, the workload, and got them in the right place.

But at the end of the day, they took that step for us to get the job done.

Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?

[00:06:18] Vidal: Yeah, absolutely. I say, yeah, the credit goes to the team. Could you share with us a lesson you’ve learned as an engineering leader?

[00:06:27] Guillermo: Yeah you don’t always have the right answer even if you think you do. And I learned that lesson coming from the individual contributor world you got people reaching out to you in Slack left and right.

This guy knows the answer. This guy wrote the doc. This guy knows this. Right and really, that was just my perspective, my approach to it. But as you get more into that leadership role, you have other all-star leaders too. And other stronger characters, or who you think was the weak leader is actually pretty solid in their space.

Once you get to their perspective and realize that, your answer may not always be the right one. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means it’s not the only one. Therefore it may not always be right. So, uh, As I learned that, I learned to gather more perspective and take a different approach to how I propose solutions.

That way I can include all those involved. And if my answer is the right one, it won’t be because I said so just because everybody agrees that it is. So definitely one of the challenges there is that no, come up with the answers, but just expect that your answer may not be the right one.

[00:07:31] Vidal: I think that’s great. Yeah. To come from a place like, Hey, this is what I think, but, I could be wrong, don’t have all the answers. So I think that’s great.

Hiring is an important function of management. What is your approach to hiring?

Could you discuss a little bit your approach to hiring? And I also happen to know you’re very passionate about diversity. So then if you wanted to say anything about diversity in hiring too.

[00:07:47] Guillermo: Yeah. So when it comes to hiring in general, based on the skill set that I’m looking for, I really just look for everybody to have the drive, the willingness to do the job, that’s put in front of them. And also uh, you know, how they fit in terms of personality and cultural fit for me as a leader, I think that’s way more important to whether they can develop.

And the other thing that I try to ascertain from talking to candidates and looking for new roles is really their ability to learn how to learn. If they can’t learn, then they will most likely fail. I think that’s really truthful, right?

So it’s not they know the answer upfront, but can they go figure out how to figure it out first? And then once they do that, can they go figure it out? Based on the level of seniority that I’m looking for those soft skills more than anything, and then I’ll rely on my engineers to pimp technical discrepancies. But the majority of the time those soft skills if not 90% of my reasoning and that kind of leads to the diversity piece, right? There’s so many different communication styles so many different types of soft skills and some of the other skills that some people may see as tough to deal with and things like that. What I really looked out for is, if I see those difficult skills do you usually find them from like when you’re looking for just one type of candidate, right? If you’re unconsciously looking at only these types, whether they’re white males or black males or whatever, you’re just you’re narrowing your focus too much.

And so looking from a diverse perspective, you don’t really focus on how they interact with different people, right? From different area. Um, like myself. So most people will call me red in the sense that I’m very driven, objective-driven. And even in my tone you can hear that but most of the time the candidates are reserved.

They’re trying to get paid. They’re trying to find a job. Yeah, I tend to take that into consideration. And most of the time you get a good set of personalities and skillset just based on diversity enabling candidates to have an opportunity to interview from a diverse perspective.

So I always look to ensure that, do we have any female candidates that apply to the role, right? Do we have any Asian candidates, black males, or anybody that’s applied to the role, and if they have it, it’s not really they’re not there? It’s what are we doing in our job description? Or am I in my reach out to find these people so they could see that this role is available.

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Now I tend to hashtag, #blackintech, #womenintech, #asianintech, whoever in tech because my intent is to get to whoever is it the best person for the job will get hired. However, we definitely want to ensure that you have enough people who’ve had a chance to get that job.

So that’s kind of how I go about tackling diversity.

What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?

[00:10:40] Vidal: That’s great. That’s great. What would be your advice for managers who are just starting out?

[00:10:48] Guillermo: So my advice would be to dive right in, right? Whether that be, you know, if you’re, if you’re transitioning into management from your current team or, your current company per se it doesn’t change nothing. Once you get to manager you’re starting over, right. So if you’re a senior engineer and you switched to senior manager, that’s the title change right there. They are still learning from scratch.

So dive right in, and understand what your team needs. What are the blockers right in front of you? The pain points right in front of them. Now, like the moment you joined aim to solve those while you’re learning to do the job. Because if you immediately provide value to your engineers, they’ll respect you in return and they won’t be afraid to rely on you when things get tough and they won’t be afraid to ping you on those difficult questions that needed decision, right?

So I definitely don’t hesitate to make decisions, but I also don’t hesitate to get feedback. I don’t hesitate to get feedback from the most junior engineer I have to ensure that the decisions I made at the top did not negatively impact them at the bottom. Dive right in to connect it to your directs, understand their pain points, and solve their problems. And I’m almost certain if you solve their problems, you’ll end up solving the majority of yours.

And I’m almost certain if you solve their problems, you’ll end up solving the majority of yours.

[00:12:02] Vidal: I think that’s great. I like how you focus on solving their problems, and that’s like the first thing you came up with, just dive in, solve their problems and yeah, you’ll figure it out the rest later. Um, so I really liked that.

[00:12:15] Guillermo: Yeah. Because at the end of the day, if you think about in this case, a senior manager, there probably are starting to be more removed from technical work in general. So diving right-hand doesn’t mean going and trying to get a PR review for a 10,000-line PR.

Diving right in to understand what was the lead time for them to get that PR created? What were the blockers for them to get to that pipeline creation stage? And how can I work with my peers, my new peers, right? My newfound collaborating teams to help alleviate that problem for my engineer.

That’s gonna, that’s going to garner respect for sure!

What’s your workday like, and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?

[00:12:52] Vidal: Yeah. What is your workday like? How do you manage all the things you have to do as an engineering manager?

[00:13:03] Guillermo: Delegation. Right. Uh, So I would say a normal workday for me. I got your leadership meeting and you got your business reviews and, checking out your high-level metrics to see where you stand for the quarter, so on and so forth.

But really I focus a lot of my time and delegating some of the key areas of opportunity that would benefit me, either my managers under me or the engineers under me so that they can grow and be able to tackle things that are a little bit more complex.

So I’ll give you a good example. If I’m talking to another leader and they have this cool piece of functionality, yeah, sure. I know exactly who can get it done, but I would prefer to see if my manager can find something. That they think can get it done. And if they can understand the problem and find the right resource for me.

So I tend to find ways to delegate the good opportunities to connect engineers that I have with other engineers that I know are doing good things on, uh, uh, sister parts of the platform. And then really from there, I block out time on my calendar to go through those action items.

So as I mentioned, I’m very action-oriented. So I’ll definitely capture some items that I’ll get it done sometime today. I’m indifferent of when but I know I will get it done. So I definitely make sure that I’m available to my peers, my seniors, my senior leaders, as well as my engineers. And then I’ll go ahead and tackle, my administrative work or any other IC-related type work that I have to deal with.

But yeah I definitely have to dodge a lot of meetings, because, you can have five or six meetings being requested in the same hour. So that’s where good delegation for management type things. I’ll delegate it to my junior manager. And then for more, complex

fun tack on fun challenges. I’ll get those right to the team up front. Hey, who wants to try this out? I don’t want to pinpoint, who’s gonna try it once say who wants to try it? And let’s say a junior engineer is oh, I could take that on. Then I’ll just, pick my, more senior engineers that, Hey, just pay attention, give a chance to see how they do, and give them some good feedback.

Yeah, I just focused on ensuring that there’s a culture and a healthy environment for the team.

[00:15:15] Vidal: Yeah, I think delegation is great. Yeah. Because something that you might easily be able to do could be a great growth opportunity for someone else. So it clears your plate and also gives them an opportunity to demonstrate something.

What’s a personal habit contributing to your success as an engineering leader?

That’s great. What would you say is a personal habit that’s contributed to your success?

[00:15:35] Guillermo: Okay. So let’s see personal habit? I wouldn’t say I have that many great personal habits, but I will say that I do wake up. I do think about the key things that I have to tackle on a daily basis.

I capture those things. before I move on move forward. And like I mentioned whether it’s the war that kicked us off at the end of the day, or kick them off in the middle of the day, the main thing is I captured them. I know exactly what I have. to do. So, you know, if you’re getting up every day and you have to slop through work sometimes where it’s a rough day.

As long as you captured everything you have to do at the least, you can go through those processes and check the right boxes. So making a tough day that much quicker. And if you can’t get to them, and you get busy in all those meetings and calendar invites, et cetera. Yeah. That nice list to look at will tell you, oh, I still have five things to do. Maybe it’s time to delegate a little bit more, to free up some more time in space, or find more resources in general. So capturing the action. I was happy to take on, on a daily basis. It is super important. And that also extends to things that, have like monthly deadlines and quarterly deadlines, et cetera.

[00:16:44] Vidal: Okay. So it sounds like you keep, like a checklist or list of goals of what you want to accomplish each day to focus on.

[00:16:52] Guillermo: Yeah. So just like a quick list, I write it down. I put stars next to the things that are supercritical that I need to tackle. And again, I call it a daily list, but it’s more like a list in general. And I capture, the key things that I need to do, and it’s not always oh, go have them, go do this meeting and check this box.

Sometimes it’s literally drinking a gallon of water. Hey, drink that eight ounces of water that you said you were going to do right now cause I’m trying to drink a gallon of water a day. So I have to make sure I put that in front of me, that’s, you know, for me personally, I’ll forget cause I’ll get busy doing something else, helping someone else out. And I forgot to drink my water. So something so simple can keep, clearly if that was a more complex issue, then you can see where you’re in more trouble.

If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?

[00:17:36] Vidal: Got it. If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?

[00:17:41] Guillermo: I can recommend the book The Prince by Machiavelli. It just helps you understand different perspectives and approaches that those who consider themselves princes have taken right or should take to make themselves successful.

Definitely a book where you have to ascertain your own thoughts and approaches out of it. But I just found it really insightful and I am a big fan of his historical artifacts and things like that. So I’m a big fan of, the Renaissance area, and Kings and Queens. So the Prince definitely fits the bill.

[00:18:11] Vidal: I think that’s great. It’s a classic. And the fact it’s still around and people read it. There are a lot of truths like in the Prince. Yeah.

Can you share an internet resource, app, or tool that helps you as a manager?

Is there maybe an internet resource or an app or a tool that you use you might recommend to people?.

[00:18:28] Guillermo: Yeah, sure. No problem. This one’s super easy. And if anybody says, otherwise, they’re crazy though. Google clearly is that tool, right? And I don’t say that as just a vanilla answer. Literally like before I was a leader doing my first interview for help desk. It was just a contract then it wasn’t even a big one.

 I was still learning. Like I told you, I was still in college actually. And I hate school. So I was already trying to find a job, but I had to still know what they were talking about.

As they were talking, I had already Googled some of the questions I had for help [00:19:00] desk and I had Googled a couple of answers then from Google, I clicked down and drill in, and then I would Google the response to see what other types of questions were asked based on the response given I keep going back and forth.

And then as you get to coding, and developing in dev ops, that. You know that random error that said Java script socket IO is wait, what are you going do with that? When you Google it, you Google it, you find it in stack overflow, little Google, you don’t actually go to stack overflow and search it.

You Google it and you get stack overflow, at least from my perspective. So I would say that Google search engine was super key for me. Definitely. And by the way, I give that, I told the same thing when with Microsoft asked question as well, Google not being Google.

[00:19:43] Vidal: Yeah. I search things all the time like on your phone, you can search stuff like you can get the answer. Okay.

As a manager, what is your approach to career development & leveling up members of your team?

What is your approach to developing the members of your team? How do you do your career development or coaching of your staff?

[00:19:58] Guillermo: All right. So those are two things, right? So when it comes to developing the team right, in my case, the directs I have are engineering managers and software developers.

So from a software development perspective. Like I, I don’t know Javascript. But what I do know is that Javascript fits well with, other frameworks I’ve built, React, node.js, those types of things. So as I have my one-on-ones and skip meetings with the engineers, I start to understand from a technical perspective where they feel, they are lacking based on the stack were working on.

All right. I, I do know the stack that we have and all the technologies that are attached to it. So I just, you know, help, especially with new hires and junior engineers, I definitely want to make sure that they feel like they can make mistakes. And that I will go and find the materials they need to go and learn the things for the platform they’re building. Especially with software developers, right I definitely make sure that in my team, there’s like a healthy growth space where people can make mistakes, people could fail, trial, and learn.

And I think that’s super critical for someone getting into their software development career. And even for that senior person who has been stressed out for maybe the past three years from like super reorgs or high-level architecture development, and major PLCs or whatnot. So I give that space for the junior all the way to the senior.

And engineers with space can be very successful. Now how I coach them once they have that space I’m fairly hands-on in the sense that I have no issues giving direct feedback. All right. So example, if we’re like in an internal presentation with just the engineers, and they’re doing a presentation, I actually don’t just give them feedback on the thing they demoed, I actually give them feedback on how they presented, right. So they can only say, oh, here’s the problem I’m solving. And then here’s a solution we provided and so on, so forth.

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And like, one of the main questions I would ask is oh, of course, who asks for that right now? What metrics did you use? What metrics did you improve and ask those questions internally. I’d grill them pretty consistently internally, because I’m aware that those are questions, when I’m in the senior meetings and so forth, so they need to start learning ahead of time, how to prepare to see their work right? And sell the things they do sell why they do things. So I really just take a hands-on approach. I’m a servant leader per se. So I I just give them candid feedback and then let them know that the feedback I’m giving them is it’s not like performance, negative based feedback.

It’s actually feedback, that they can take. Right now and go do something with it. So they, if they’re about to present in front of senior leaders, then you know, I will coach them on that presentation. Not just your presentation itself, but on how they present right. Based on their style.

And help them out there. And then as I mentioned with development I keep continuing to improve it by enabling that space and then finding areas of opportunity in which that they can learn and if, my untraditional background is the reasoning, why do that?

Because I, I learned based on, because I was hands-on, I didn’t learn from a book I learned because I just went in there and started doing it and I messed it up. So I tend to put them in that similar position and then support them. So that’s how I develop and coach. Of course, they’re coaching me too so it goes both ways.

[00:23:21] Vidal: Okay. So when you say they coach you to you ask them for like upward feedback?

[00:23:27] Guillermo: Yeah, absolutely.

I ask for feedback all the time. I’m firing off requests for people to do things like interviews. “Hey, can someone come to do this interview?” “Can we do this?” “Can someone jump on that?” Or, “Hey, I need this quicker….”

You start to get into a habit. Yeah. As a manager you want a lot, you need a lot. What I tend to do though, is I tend to do team surveys, to understand, how am I doing right?

How do you feel I’m doing? Am I providing everything you need? Did you have what you needed upfront from me to do your job? Or did you have to go find me to do that? So I actually asked if I was, you know, say hey um, like let’s say I’m sharp in uh, feedback even in an internal presentation during my next one on one with that person, I’ll ask them, “Hey, how’d you feel about the feedback I gave you?” “Did you feel like it was accurate?”

And most of the time they’ll tell me, “Hey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting that. It felt pretty sharp.” And I’m a feedback because I’m a driven person, so I’m aware that I may, I can come off as a pretty Marine Corps style straight shot. I definitely always seek feedback from my engineers, because I want them to know that I do care about their opinion. So I do that actually almost like on a daily or weekly basis as needed.

What does it take to be a great engineering leader?

[00:24:35] Vidal: That’s great. So one more question for you. What does it take to be a great engineering leader?

[00:24:41] Guillermo: I can definitely give you my perspective. So what I think it takes to be a great engineering leader is to just don’t be afraid to fail, and just go try. So I think the main thing is to accept that you don’t know, you can, accept that you failed completely ethically, what you have to do next though, is understand how you could not fail again. So don’t make the same mistake twice. It is also a good piece of feedback that I would give in regards to being a great leader in general. A great leader in general is basically don’t make the same mistake twice and don’t be afraid to fail.

[00:25:15] Vidal: Guillermo, you’ve been really generous with your time. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing stuff with ManagersClub.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Where should people is someone to connect with you may be to ask you questions or something later, what would be the best place to reach you?

[00:25:28] Guillermo: Oh, you can definitely connect with me on LinkedIn for sure.

And I’m sure the links will be provided after, but yeah, I’m on LinkedIn, and my email is there. If you want to email me from there. Happy to have a phone call, or chat with anybody.

[00:25:41] Vidal: Awesome. All right. Again, thank you so much. And I’ll share it in the notes.

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