Interview with Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering at Range
Published on Sep 7, 2021
31 min read
[00:00] Vidal: Good morning, everyone. Today I have with me, Jean Hsu. Welcome to ManagersClub, Jean.
[00:05] Jean: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Table of Contents
- What’s your background and how did you get into management?
- What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
- What are your thoughts about the transition to hybrid workforce?
- Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
- What is your approach to hiring?
- What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
- What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
- Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.
- If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
- What is your approach to developing, mentoring & coaching members of your team?
- What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
- Where can we go to learn more about you?
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
[00:06] Vidal: It’s great to have you here. Maybe just start a little bit of introduction, tell people a little about yourself. I know you’ve been your VP of engineering that you also even were a leadership coach.
[00:14] Jean: Yeah, I started my career at Google and was there for a year and a half. I really learned a ton, but I think going in, I never really thought I would stay there for too long and I could see It would become very comfortable to stay there pretty much indefinitely. So pretty soon I left and kind of entered the world of startups joining Pulse, which later got acquired by LinkedIn, and then joined Obvious, which then became Medium. And it was there that I really grew into engineering leadership. I was a Medium for about five and a half years. Towards the end of that, I was feeling a bit burnt out and looking for something different.
So I went into coaching, built up a coaching business then started a leadership development company for engineers and engineering leaders did a lot of sales and marketing and non-engineering stuff, which was very new and what I was looking for, just kind of something different to dig my teeth into.
And then last year in the pandemic, I realized I was really missing teams. I missed building products with a group of people and growing people and seeing the kind of day in and day out and not just like seeing them for a workshop or for a coaching session. And I joined Range as VP of Engineering and I had worked with the founders at Medium before.
Definitely already knew them and knew some of the team already as well.
[01:38] Vidal: You have a great background and a very extensive in leadership. That’s awesome.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
Can you tell us what are some of the biggest challenges you face these days as an engineering leader?
[01:47] Jean: Especially at an early stage startup, I think is just trying to make sure I’m working on the right things. There are so many things that I could be working on at the stage we’re at, we’ve got five engineers, not counting me and the CEO. And so there are days when I’m like, oh, I could do IC engineering work or I can do lead time chats or do some kind of external, more public-facing VPE work. There’s also like longer-term technical vision stuff that I’m a little bit less adept at. And so it’s just figuring out where am I most useful for the company and where do I want to grow and balancing all those things.
And I think I’ve been navigating that pretty well. I think it’s a little bit like, it’s just very dynamic, right? Like when I joined Range, I started off I had a conversation with my manager when he was talking to me about joining, he said, it’s going to be pretty hands-on, you’re going to have to learn, Go and React.
And really contribute to the code base. By the time I joined, we had hired two engineers who had really hit the ground running. And so it became more of a choice of do I want to spend the time getting up to speed in the codebase so I can contribute. And I decided I did. So I spent a few months like maybe half time doing IC work and really familiarizing myself with the codebase. And then pretty soon, like in January I realized, “oh, this is not the best use of my time.” I think I should be spending more time on top of funnel acquisition, really leveraging what I’ve been doing in the past few years with building networks of engineering leaders and engaging them to bring that to Range. And so I started reaching out to people doing these lead time chats, converting that to a podcast doing more like external talks and blog posts and all those sorts of things. So all of those things I really enjoy, but I think it’s really yeah, who knows after Range raises a series A it might be totally different, right?
Then we’ll be hiring and I think just navigating and feeling into what does the company needs and what do I want and trying to make sure those are both met.
[03:45] Vidal: I think that’s great. And it makes me think this is a big difference between engineering leaders and ICs. Lots of times, iCs are told these are the projects you’re going to work on, and lots of times managers, their job is to figure out what’s important? What can I let drop?
There’s so many things you could do, what is the most important, impactful thing to do? And yeah, you can puzzle a lot about that. I do too, you know
[04:09] Jean: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s a lot of stuff that like I think there’s a kind of like a feeling out of ” Hey, I think this would be a good idea” and put it out there. And then the CEO and, other founders okay, sounds good. I’m like, okay I guess I’m just gonna do it. There’s not as much of a process when you’re on the leadership team or there’s less cause it doesn’t really have to scale it just a few people doing what they think makes sense and it’s good for the company. And so it was like a lot of skunkworks projects that are hopefully impactful. And yeah, it’s been fun.
[04:40] Vidal: That’s cool. That’s cool. Earlier we were talking about, now that we’re hopefully exiting this pandemic, keeping my fingers crossed and things are coming back to normal. We were talking about the transition to part-time working from home hybrid workforce.
What are your thoughts about the transition to hybrid workforce?
What are your thoughts on this?
[04:55] Jean: Before I joined Range, I talked to Dan the CEO, and was like, are you all going back to an office? Because their office used to be by the ballpark in SF and, I love the team, but there’s just no way I’m going to commute from Berkeley to the ballpark every day, five days a week. And so it was important to me that I wouldn’t have to do that post-pandemic. And I think for a lot of people they’re seeing that remote or hybrid. They’re able to be productive, especially engineers. I think, maybe for other functions, I think it may be a little bit more challenging, like marketing or where the work is inherently, maybe more collaborative all the time.
But I think for engineering, the work is well-suited to asynchronous back and forth. Have some focus, time, open a PR that kind of work cadence. So I think people are realizing that it’s possible and now companies are asking them to come back and some people obviously do want to go, they’ve been working in their apartments with roommates and are missing that social aspect of work.
But I think for a lot of folks, especially people who have kids or who live a little bit further out from the offices, don’t want to go back. Maybe they want to go back two days a week, but definitely don’t want to be going back five days a week and commuting. And so I think now that the cat’s kind of out of the bag that is possible employers are going to have to find ways to meet people with the flexibility that they want.
And I think there’s going to be as these companies are announcing their policies, whether that’s, three days in the office, two days at home or a remote-first, but they do have office spaces that people can come into. Or if they’re like an office first culture, that’s like pretty, pretty strongly four days a week in the office.
I think people, especially engineers who are in high demand are going to start shopping around for companies that fit what they want better. So if they don’t want to go back in an office and the company they’re at is an office first culture. They may start looking for a remote-first culture.
So I think you’re going to see a big kind of talent reshuffle. And then I think what’s interesting is like a year out. I think you’re going to see another reshuffle where companies are saying, oh, we’re remote first, but feel free to come into the office. But then all of these sort of without a lot of intention and tooling and structure around that. I think there’s going to be a lot of workplace inequities that arise where maybe they’re technically a remote-first culture, but the remote employees feel like second-class citizens or they don’t get the social interactions and opportunities that happen in an office.
And maybe people are not as intentional about putting those in place for the remote employees. So then they’re going to move and look for an actually remote-first culture and there’s going to be like figuring out, okay, what is this company saying? And what’s in the press and what is the actual reality of their internal culture.
[07:46] Vidal: I think that’s a really good point. Yes. Are they really sincere about it? Like we’ll see. And but I just think we’re very lucky in this industry. Not only is software engineering a great thing right? It’s a great thing to do and it totally can be done remotely. We’re lucky.
Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
Could you share a lesson you’ve learned in the past as an engineering leader?
[08:05] Jean: I think one of the lessons I learned early on, maybe in the transition to engineering leadership was to really not assume that people know what I want. I remember there was a time at Medium where I had led projects when the team was smaller. I think I’d probably come back from my first maternity leave and felt like I was just languishing and this IC role really wanting to be seen as a leader, really wanting to be like given opportunities. Like I thought, oh, if I do really good work, someone’s going to come along and say “Hey, who’s doing really good work, Jean. She should lead this next project.” And it just never happens. And it was really demoralizing because I saw all the people that had joined around the same time as me, or even later be put in these more explicit leadership roles. And so there was definitely a time of what’s wrong with me that I’m not being given these opportunities. And I think I realized that I hadn’t really spoken up.
I hadn’t really talked to my manager. Around this time I also switched managers to my current manager now, actually. And so having some conversations with him, being clear about what I wanted, and also just starting to do some of the things that I felt were in the realm of control and not like pigeonholing myself or boxing myself into what I thought my role was supposed to be. And to starting to mentor other engineers or starting to take on some org process or engineering org processes revamping the onboarding for new engineers, things like that, I think really helped.
But I think that’s something that I’ve heard. Just the realization that you can wait and wait for someone to recognize you, but, and if you have a really good manager it can happen. But at some point, you’re going to have to develop the skill to say what you want, be clear about it, and start to work towards it without waiting for someone to recognize your talents and potential.
[10:05] Vidal: I think that’s great. Especially as you mentioned, you learned that early on. Cause I tell that to some of my engineers, that are young, out of school. In school, you don’t necessarily have to speak up, but if you do really well on the test, you’ll get a good grade, but here, if you do really well on the test but you don’t speak up and no one knows what you’re doing, you’re not going to get a good grade on the test.
[10:24] Jean: Yeah. I think it’s something that engineers are not set up well to do because. Yeah in school, you do the problem sets, you do the project, they run it through something, give you a grade. And then, the first few years of your career, it’s the same, right? You take on the tasks that are assigned to you.
You finish them, you check the box. So everyone’s always laying out exactly what it is that you need to do to improve yourself as an engineer. But then you get to a point where no one’s going to tell you, that, that was a big realization for me. It was like, wow. If I did really well, and this was coming back to my first maternity leave, I think I was like, let me just keep my head down and be productive as an IC.
And so I did all the things that were, assigned to me. And I think at some point I realized wait, if I just keep doing really well, the things that are assigned to me as, like coding tasks, the only outcome is that I’m just going to be assigned more coding tasks, right?
There’s nothing about that, that shows like I can lead a team. I can lead a project. So that was quite a realization.
What is your approach to hiring?
[11:26] Vidal: Exactly. What is your approach to hiring and recruiting? Do you have any advice on that?.
[11:30] Jean: Most of my experience at Medium I was often slotted into this like behavioral interview. I’ll talk more about interviewing that’s where a lot of my experience is. So, I didn’t do any sort of technical questions, but I feel pretty strongly about this interview.
It’s loosely based off of TopGrading interview. And so the process is you walk through a bunch of former roles. And for each one, you ask a similar set of questions, what led you to join that company? What were some of the highlights, some of the lowlights? What drove the decision to join the next company?
And you dig into what motivates this person, and then you also get to see a bunch of patterns. We once interviewed someone who passed all the technical screens, seemed to be strong, at least, in technical interviewing, which is, its own skillset altogether, but he passed the technical screens.
But when I sat down to do the topgrade, I felt over the course of these different roles that this person had, there was a pattern of blaming problems on external things, right? Like the economy, oh, the company was going through a reorg and all those things I feel like are legit, right?
Like the tech industry is sometimes a bit of a mess. And I think there are toxic work environments, but digging into that and then realizing that this person was kind of someone who didn’t produce a lot of output, but really had very little awareness around that. And so digging in to see how long did this project take and something that was maybe, a script that I imagine I most would have taken a few weeks, took six months, and then the next year was spent maintaining that script.
And so digging into finding patterns and digging into these patterns of behavior are really important because I think when you just look at what someone’s capable of in the moment it’s a snapshot, right? And that person may not know that much of what you need them to know in the moment, but if they’re out a really steep learning curve, if they’re on a steep trajectory I’d much rather hire someone who is on that trajectory.
Who’s going to be here in six months than someone who’s here, but, has plateaued in their learning.
[13:53] Vidal: I love the Top Grading stuff. I read those books and I actually went to training Jeffrey Smart once, a long time ago. I love their career history form. One of the challenges of course is to run a complete career history form on someone that can be like a three-hour interview, which doesn’t fit.
[14:09] Jean: Yeah, you really have to, you have to take the resume, find like maybe three representative roles. If you want it to fit in an hour. So that’s why I said it’s loosely based off of it, but I do think on the opposite side and that’s the assessment side, but I do think it plays a dual role, which is that I find that once I have Topgraded someone if we do extend an offer to them, they do feel like they’ve been seen, they’ve been heard, their journey has been like acknowledged and understood rather than just ” Oh, I just went through, five hours of interviews that had no relevance to where I’ve been or where I want to go.”
And yeah, I find that people really enjoy the conversation. I think I’m probably a little bit less intense than the kind of very technical top grade where it’s it feels maybe it can feel maybe like a little bit like an interrogation. At least that’s what I’ve heard from other people, but I try to make it conversational, let them know “Hey, I’m going to ask you a set of questions. I may cut you off,” but also lets you know, like how good is this person at communicating? If I ask you a question and you go off for 15 minutes without checking in saying, “Hey, is this the right level of detail?” Or I find that it’s very helpful to determine if this person is good at figuring out how granular they should go in communicating with someone which as an engineer is really important.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
[15:30] Vidal: Absolutely. You have a lot of experience as an engineering manager, plus you coach people what would be your advice for managers who are just starting out?
[15:41] Jean: Right now, I would say it’s really hard. I just talked to someone who is just starting out as an engineering manager and kind of struggling and not sure if they want to continue. And I think the transition from engineer to engineering manager is challenging and the best of times particularly right now, when you know, you’re managing people who are, have maybe had a really rough year, very likely had a really rough year.
You yourself may have really had a rough year. I just think it’s really, I think it’s hard to make a decision of, is this for me when this is a year we’ve just all been through. So I guess just keeping that in mind what other advice for new engineering managers? I do think there’s a period where it feels really overwhelming.
You don’t know, you don’t know what are the key things you need to keep track of, or you need to know. And so you over-function and try to know everything and try to get involved in everything. A metaphor I had heard or an analogy was like for people who rock climb, like the first time you rock climb you expend so much effort, right?
Because you don’t know when to lean back and just like hang versus holding on really tight. And so I think as you. start to develop as you start to manage people more and you start to develop that sense of okay, I don’t need to know maybe this level of detail. I just need to know these are the flags to look out for.
Then you can lean back and start to do other, I was just talking to someone who’s talking about the idea of IC manager work. So having focus for managers to have focus time. To do things like work on the org process work on like projects that are in the manager realm that are maybe not IC coding work or more iC manager work and we just recorded a lead time chat with Rachel Steadman at Asana. So I’m excited to release that.
[17:34] Vidal: Analogy of rock climbing. I hadn’t heard it before, but I think it is definitely a great analogy.
[17:40] Jean: I think it’s also challenging because a lot of times people. they’re encouraged to try out management, but they’re put in this TLM, like tech lead manager role. And I can understand the why behind that. Oh, that you can like transition. You can do other things if you don’t like it.
But it’s a really hard role because you’re responsible for both the technical execution and quality and all those things. And you’re responsible for the people management, making sure the team is running smoothly. And a lot of times both of those things are pretty new skillsets. And so you’re throwing someone in the deep end and seeing if they can really do well. And in that, and then be like, okay, you can do if you can do that, then we’ll pull you back and just do one of those roles. It’s a bit, I think it’s a bit rough.
What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?
[18:26] Vidal: Yeah. Speaking of overwhelm, what’s your workday, like how do you manage your time emails, et cetera, all the information pouring in?
[18:40] Jean: I actually just, asked on Twitter how many hours of meetings most managers are in. Because I’ve been hearing like, 25 to 30 hours a week, which But yeah. And the Twitter replies confirmed, a lot of managers are looking at 25 to 30 hours a week of meetings. If not more.
Mine’s a bit lighter because at Range we use Range really a lot for asynchronous work and then. We also lean into a lot of other asynchronous tools like Loom a lot of Google docs and Google slides and those sorts of things. So mine is actually not too heavy. I looked at a typical week.
I have about 10 to 11 hours of meetings a week. So that’s roughly two a day, a little bit more because we have no meetings on Wednesdays. So generally I’ll have meetings in the morning. I’ll have some team meetings or one-on-ones Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and then in the afternoon, I typically have some more time for kind of heads-down work.
I am currently in a. Because of the pandemic and children and such, my kids and then another kid that they’ve been put in a pod with have been they’re here every Monday. Depending on the weather and we have a babysitter for the mornings, but depending on whether or not I can find a babysitter for the afternoon sometimes I am in charge of them. They’re all five to eight. They don’t need constant supervision, but generally, I’m probably at like half capacity then, and then just make sure I get my work done the rest of the week so it’s a bit more fluid.
I think working at Range has really made me appreciate the kind of rejection of the nine-to-five butts in seat type mentality of how work gets done because there are just times when it’s the middle of a workday and I just don’t feel productive. And it’s hard to get work done when you don’t want to get work done. So knowing that it’s totally okay for me to go run an errand, go buy groceries, or go for a walk and then come back and try again.
It’s been helpful. So I don’t know, I don’t have a ton of structure, probably meetings in the mornings and then more focused time in the afternoon is the main pattern.
[20:44] Vidal: Okay. Yeah.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
I think that flexibility that people have being at home that, if they need to take care of an errand or look after your kids for a few minutes. I think it’s really nice. That’s a really nice thing. What would you say is a personal habit that contributes to your success, Jean?
[20:59] Jean: I listened to this, two years ago, two or three years ago, my partner and I listened to this Peter Attia podcast with the guy who wrote Why We Sleep. And it was like two hours long and it basically just talks about how important sleep is and how a lot of us are sleep deprived and have been basically our whole lives. So we started sleeping eight plus hours, which on my Fitbit when you sleep eight hours, you have to actually be in bed for nine hours because there’s like going to sleep and then waking up and then all the wakeful moments in between.
But yeah I find that when I do sleep. When I have built up five days of eight plus hours of sleep. I just feel good. And now I can even tell when I dip under and I have a few nights of seven and a half hours like I can start to feel myself drag a bit.
And so I don’t have a lot of oh, I drink matcha every morning or like exercise every day. But I think sleep is really important and I just focused on sleep for a year because I realized that when I have slept. I just make better decisions. So I figured if I just focused on sleep, then all the other stuff would follow.
And mostly that’s been good. I feel like I worked on sleep for a year. Now I’m in the pandemic. I really struggled to be physically active, but now that things are opening up again like going to ultimate Frisbee pick-up games was my main source of exercise and that wasn’t possible for a while.
And now it is. So I think all those pieces are coming back together and I guess work-wise I am not a very structured person. I’d say I don’t practice Inbox Zero. I don’t have any Getting Things Done system in place, but I do think using Range has been a really lightweight, but easy way for me to track my work, to plan my work at the beginning of the day. Range is all about asynchronous check-ins in the morning.
I’ll go in. I’ll look at what’s left over that. I didn’t get done. What’s on my plate for the day. drag a bunch of stuff in, and then like plan my day for five minutes in the morning. Know that my whole team will see it. And then later when I’m tired and lower energy and I’m like, oh, I don’t know what to work on.
Instead of just kind of staying in that state, I’ll go look at what I had said I was going to do and then pick off something that feels doable in that moment. I found that habit, it’s the social pressure of okay, everyone at Range checks in on Range, has helped me establish that habit.
Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.
[23:26] Vidal: Okay speaking of tools, I was going to ask if there’s like a tool that you really depend on you could talk about Range or if there’s some other tools as well that you. might recommend or resource.
[23:37] Jean: Yeah, definitely Range for check-ins and for meetings. Other than that, we’ve really been enjoying Figjam. So we used to use MURAL and now we’ve experimented with Figjam, but it’s been a fun way for. Like every two weeks at the end of a two-week cycle, we’ll do a cycle recap and we’ll just have an empty Figjam board.
And we’ll say, screenshot or put whatever things you want to celebrate on it. And then we also have a gratitude corner full can put faces of people that they want to thank. And then we go through them. That’s been really fun, a nice way to capture like cycle over cycle. What are the things that we’re we want to celebrate?
[24:18] Vidal: Like a retrospective, but you’re focusing on things that went well now it sounds and It’s very visual. sounds like.
[24:25] Jean: It’s very visual. There’s a lot of screenshots of new features which is the, I think people often think these things are worse remotely. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think if you try to take exactly what was the in-person version and translate it into a remote version, oftentimes it’s worse, right?
Because you’re taking what works in person and trying to do it remotely, but if you’re in a room with a whiteboard, you can’t take a screenshot and put it on the whiteboard. You can’t, you also can’t like, leave it up for a long time. You can’t capture it as an artifact to look back on later.
I think finding ways to blend asynchronous and synchronous work has also become possible. So oftentimes we’ll do brainstorms on some of the, on Figjam or Google slides where people we’ll put ideas and then, our PM will say okay, we have a meeting next Tuesday, before then please put on all your ideas for this “How Might We Statement (HMWs)”? And then that gives people who maybe don’t want to come up with ideas on the spot. Hey, you have five minutes, write down 10 sticky notes of ideas. People who want to marinate in the prompt a little bit longer. I think it gives those people a bit more space to be creative.
And so we’ve been really experimenting with that blend of asynchronous and synchronous work for collaboration.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
[25:48] Vidal: That’s really cool to try that out. If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
[25:56] Jean: I think for engineering managers. Okay. There’s the standards. There’s like Managers Path. But I actually really like this book called Turn the Ship Around and it’s a book about. I don’t even know what the term is. I read it such a long time ago, but he was like the person who led a nuclear submarine and he had seen a leader.
He said the kind of default system was very like command and control, right? As the person who runs the submarine, I’m just going to tell you what to do. You tell me what it’s done. I’ll tell you if you did it wrong. But he had seen a leader model elsewhere. And so he tried to adopt that on his nuclear submarine.
And by the end, of his efforts, it was very interesting. He would basically just walk around the submarine and he’d do his rounds and people would come up to him and say here’s the data. I think we need to surface a submarine because X, Y, and Z. And then he would just say Okay, sounds good.
And so he really, it became a situation where people had more autonomy were empowered to make decisions. Also knew they had to back those decisions up with context and data. And, what I would say about this book is nuclear submarines cannot be easy to run. And so it’s if he could do that on a nuclear submarine, I feel like we can definitely do it on software engineering teams and create better workplaces where people feel responsible feel empowered, and aren’t just taking commands and doing what they’re told.
[27:23] Vidal: I love this book. I don’t know if but I was in the Navy. For awhile. And so Captain Marquet, yes. He was a captain at the Santa Fe, his focus
[27:32] Jean: captain. Yeah.
[27:33] Vidal: captain of a nuclear submarine. And one thing I really took from this book is he created this culture of, I intend to. So you’d say I intend to, he would encourage the teams to the crew members to say that.
So I’ve even adopted that. Like sometimes there’ll be like in an email or something and I’ll just tell someone, I intend to do this,
[27:49] Jean: yeah. If there are no objections, I will continue to implies that. And that’s
[27:54] Vidal: but then I’m gonna do them.
[27:55] Jean: that’s something I found as a good tip for working with like exact, some people who are busy, I think a lot of times people think they need permission. And so they’ll, send a huge thing and then be like, what do you think?
And like a busy, exec is not going to have time to share all their thoughts on a topic. And so I quickly realized like, oh, what you can do is actually just say, Hey, based on all this I’m going to, I intend to do this. Let me know if you have any objections and then, a day or two past passes, no objections, just go do it.
And then the feedback I got, later on, was like, oh yeah, like Jean handles that really well. Like she just does it and not like it keeps you in the loop in a very like, thoughtful way as well. So I intend to
[28:36] Vidal: Yeah, it’s great. The book teaches that and it’s just
[28:41] Jean: Yeah, I’ll have to reread it. I just remember reading it and being like, wow, this is, I know nothing about submarines or the Navy, or, some of these books, they’re like very sports metaphor oriented. And so sometimes I’m a bit wary of these things where they try to like bridge these things but yeah, it was fantastic.
What is your approach to developing, mentoring & coaching members of your team?
[28:59] Vidal: What is your approach to developing mentoring, members of your team. This would include career development too in general, like developing members of your team.
[29:11] Jean: Yeah. One thing I think that I tend to do, I try to have this conversation pretty early on and then make sure that it’s something we can continue talking about is that I ask people, like when I joined Range, I talked to the engineers at Range and I said obviously I like being at Range.
But we’re not going to be at Range for the rest of our lives. At some point we’re going to move on, we’re going to do other things. And when that happens what is it that you want to do next? And what do you want to get out of your time at Range? And I think this is something that some people are afraid to talk about.
Like leaving a company feels a little bit like a taboo topic to talk about or to bring up maybe as an IC or a direct report of oh, I wouldn’t talk about that. It’s going to seem like I’m thinking about leaving or I’m not loyal to the company or whatever. And I think as a manager, you can really bring it up in this like a really contextually, thoughtful way of “Hey, let’s be honest.”
Like we’re neither of us are going to be here forever. And I really want to understand what is it you want to do next? And I remember some people it’s very surprising what people say. I think some people want to start their own company. They’re like, this is the last company I want to work at that’s, not mine.
Someone I asked this at a previous company said they wanted to go into VC at some point, which I had never would have thought. Some people want to go a more traditional kind of management path or like staff engineer path. But I think understanding that and then digging into what’s interesting to them about that path, really understanding where they want to go in the long-term or medium to longterm can then help you frame any opportunities, any feedback you have, if, if oh, this person really wants to be a senior tech lead like that’s the direction they’re going and say their communication is not very clear. People have come to you with it. You may feel like, oh, I don’t know how to give this person this critical feedback because you may avoid it.
But if you feel like, oh, you actually know where this person wants to go. And they also feel like you’re there to help support them getting there. Then you can have a really really authentic conversation of Hey, I’m here to support you. I know that you want to grow into a senior tech lead. Could I give you some feedback on something that I think is maybe holding you back from getting there?
And then we can work on it. We can come up with a plan to work on it together, and that feels pretty good there. They probably will come out of it being really thankful that you gave him that feedback rather than oh my, my manager just gave me all this negative feedback and I feel really bad about it.
[31:47] Vidal: I feel that’s a super important and fantastic thing. If you should know, what. Yeah, what they want to do next. What do they want to get out of it? That’s so great. Because like you say, that can help direct so many things.
[32:01] Jean: Yeah.
[32:01] Vidal: I’m really excited to ask you this question cause there’s such a broad experience.
What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
You’ve worked with so many engineering leaders. What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
[32:13] Jean: Ooh. Well, one thing that comes to mind is I think being an engineering leader is a lot. Depending on the company, depending on the stage, I feel like there’s a lot of unknowns. So I think one of the things that I think is very helpful in becoming a great engineering leader is being somewhat comfortable and maybe even pushing how comfortable you are with uncertainty and your ability to navigate uncertainty.
I remember also at Mia, I was in this situation that I have been in before, where my team was not really delivering. And it was brought to my attention, we were working on it. And my first thought was like, oh shit, like I’m failing. This is really bad.
Like everyone knows this team isn’t doing well. And then as I thought about it more, I was like, oh, this is actually really good because I think I’ve been too comfortable. I’ve been in this phase where I know how to do everything. And then I go and do it. And this is a new space where I’m not sure what to do to turn this team around.
But I do know that I’ll figure it out. And then on the other end of it, I’ll look back and realize that I learned what it took to kind of debug this team. And so once I had reframed that for myself It went from like feeling overwhelmed and stressed. And like I had failed to actually being excited to tackle this challenge and realizing that I should be looking for maybe more situations where I am challenged in this way.
So I guess there’s like both the uncertainty being able to navigate uncertainty and also me being able to reframe things and adopting a really an embracing, a growth mindset of like in areas that you’re not as comfortable in. And there’s just a lot like I think there’s also knowing what’s in your control. I think as an engineering leader there’s a lot that you can do and there’s a lot that you can’t do. If there are some things that, I remember talking to a coach and I was like really stressed out about something someone else was doing with their team. And at some point this person was like, it’s really it really shows a lot about your character, that you really care about this person, but at some point, it’s also like above your pay grade, right?
There are things that are outside your realm of influence that you can worry about it, but if you can’t do anything about it, then it’s just draining on you. So figuring out what are the things you can do? What are the things you are in control of acting on those things or not acting on those things and then trying to let go of the rest because it’s a lot of people’s stuff and people’s stuff can be complicated?
It can be really draining. I think if you don’t find ways to manage it.
[34:51] Vidal: it’s been awesome having you here. You have shared so many valuable ideas, lessons. It’s been incredible. And I really appreciate, you’ve been very generous with your time to come on. Where can people go to learn more about you if they want to connect with you afterward?
Where can we go to learn more about you?
[35:08] Jean: Sure. I am pretty active on Twitter. My handle is J Y H S U. Yeah, that’s probably the best place. That’s where I post updates on the time chats and yeah, anything that I’m up to.
[35:21] Vidal: All right. I’ll post the link to it again. Thank you so much. It’s been great having you here, and I really appreciate it.
[35:28] Jean: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
[35:30] Vidal: Anytime.
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