Interview with Jorge Salas, Application Development Manager at Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago

Published on Feb 2, 2021

16 min read

image for Interview with Jorge Salas, Application Development Manager at Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago

Vidal Graupera: [00:00] This afternoon I have with me, Jorge Salas. Welcome to ManagersClub.

Jorge Salas: [00:04] Thank you, Vidal.

Vidal Graupera: [00:07] Jorge, tell everyone a little bit about yourself.

Jorge Salas: [00:12] Born and raised in Chicago of Mexican immigrant folks. I went to school at UIC, which is a University of Illinois at Chicago, and I got my bachelor’s of science in computer science from the college of engineering.

Vidal Graupera: [00:33] Where do you work now, Jorge?

Jorge Salas: [00:35] I work at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, and I’m an application development manager there. I manage about ten people of various roles. So we have junior developers, mid-level developers, senior developers, architects, scrum masters systems analysts, and quality engineers. Yeah.

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

Vidal Graupera: [00:58] How did you get into management originally?

Jorge Salas: [01:05] So I started as a developer. Learned a lot of good things from very talented software engineers. As I went through my time of being a developer, consultant, co-founder, I caught my first management opportunity at a Fortune 500 finance company called Northern Trust. And after being a tech lead for two years, they wanted someone to manage a team of two.

I was in a way volunteered, and then I took it on, and I started managing my first team of two 50% management, 50%, still being hands-on.

Vidal Graupera: [01:43] That’s great. How did you find it?

Jorge Salas: [01:47] I found it a little bit challenging a little bit overwhelming at times. It’s not the fact that I had a lot of work, but just the nature of the opportunity was that I was managing two of my peers that I’ve worked together with for several years. So it went from being peers and working side by side to being their manager.

So that was a little bit. It took some time to get adjusted, but after some time, we settled into our roles. I was able to be their manager in a very deep and very connected way because I really knew them well from an individual contributor perspective.

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

Vidal Graupera: [00:02:30] Yes, I’ve heard that can be a real challenge for people who transition to being a manager over their former peers. On that note, could you tell us what are the biggest challenges you face today as an engineering leader?

Jorge Salas: [00:02:44] I think for me is staying current on new technology, especially on the user face and front end frameworks. I feel that they change a lot and very often, usually a three-month cadence of new versions or even new technology frameworks altogether, are not uncommon. So I think for me it is just knowing, finding the right balance between details.

But not being the coder per se, and be able to make informed decisions and being helpful to my team and not just being the manager doesn’t really know a whole bunch. I think with coding as with riding a bicycle, you exercise those skills by doing and practicing. So I think you have to find a way where you feel comfortable with the topic to be able to make informed decisions and have intelligent conversations with your team. So I think that for me is the biggest challenge is keeping up with tech that changes so often.

Vidal Graupera: [00:03:44] What do you do to keep up with it? Do you work like on side projects or like small projects? What do you do?

Jorge Salas: [00:03:51] I think for me, I do a combination of academic or theoretical training in addition to I may do a little bit, like I may do a tutorial, I do hands-on stuff. I also try to immerse myself if it is an initiative or project that is using a new tech or could even be a new process. But I try to immerse myself a little bit deeper in that project.

I think that’s how I learned the most. And also just asking a lot of questions. asking why and why. And usually, whatever framework it is I’ve been lucky to have current frameworks tied to my past experience. I try to connect the dots that way.

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

Vidal Graupera: [00:04:37] Okay.  Makes sense. Could you share with us a lesson you’ve learned as an engineering leader over the years?

Jorge Salas: [00:04:46] I think one lesson I learned in this happened while I was going through a performance review and I was certain that I was going to get promoted to the next level of management. And yet for a couple of reasons I was told no, and that I needed to focus on these couple of things. So one of the things was being a little bit closer to the tech that my team was working on.

And I think this was further compounded by the fact that my manager, who was assessing me and telling me this is that he himself was very detail-oriented. And in fact, the times he went pretty deep on a  couple of instances that kind of opened my eyes like, Whoa, if he’s in that deep, he may have those deeper expectations for me.

So I learned that it’s not there’s a balancing knowing enough about your team and what they’re doing, but also knowing your manager and what is important to them. So for me, it was. Learning this after the fact, not expecting a promotion or et cetera, or raise just because you’ve done X and Y and Z, but also being explicit and having that shared understanding between your manager and what you’re looking to do and their expectations of you.

Vidal Graupera: [00:06:09] Boy, that’s an interesting story. I think encountered like some directors or VPs who can really go really deep into details. That and yeah, that can be, that can be a real challenge to deal with. So I feel you there at that moment I’ve encountered people like that. I’ll really important job engineering manager job. Obviously it’s like hiring and recruiting.

What is your approach to hiring?

Could you say a little bit about how you approach hiring or recruiting? What do you do to succeed in that?

Jorge Salas: [00:06:35] Yes. First and foremost, I’m a big stickler for communication and culture fits. And when you see excellent communication skills, verbal and written on the job description for me that’s not another bullet item. I make it clear to the vendors I’m working with, HR, that’s helping me and all the people on my interview team that this is important.

So after that, and a close first is I prioritize aptitude, attitude, and potential to learn over experience and tech skills. Now that isn’t always possible and if it’s not, maybe I’d try to look for a contractor if I’m looking at a specific skillset, but I try to hire someone for the longterm. I looked to mold into up-skill and if I’m able to communicate, and if I feel that I can get along with this person, if I feel that they’re going to have the potential to learn, and my team also feels the same.

And it’s yes,  I can solve problems with this person. Then that is first and foremost, the tech is the rest. We can train, we can upskill for tech, but personality, characteristics, and culture fit are things that you can’t really train for.

Vidal Graupera: [00:07:52] I agree with you. A lot of the technology, of course, you can train them. but make your talk a little bit more what do you do to assess this culture fit? You’re looking for this ability to learn like any specific things you, you look for, you ask?

Jorge Salas: [00:08:08] Yeah. there’s at least one or two things. 

The first one is if they don’t have specific experience in the tech stack that you’re recruiting for then I look for a comparable example. A lot of times what people do is they work on a passion project that they’re interested in, or they contribute to an open-source project. And those are, to me, clear indicators that they have that initiative to drive and the passion to do that because nobody’s really telling them to do that. They’re taking it upon themselves to go ahead and find those avenues to get that experience and to practice their craft so I think that’s one thing, 

The second thing is I like to ask open-ended questions. Like one of my favorites, I think it, I don’t know if it came from Facebook or one of the FANG companies is an open-ended question, like all the good ones, and it asks them, “What would a good day, a good workday look for you. What would it look like for you? If you came home and you had to sell, you had to tell your friends or family, Hey, I had a really good day what happened?” And that kind of tells me what they prioritize what they feel passionate about, what they feel strongly about. So I think that those are a couple of ways that I, that I assess, their potential and also having a very robust and a big interview team. Usually, most of my developers are in the interview panel and I use it to get a good sample of feedback and data points from multiple people. It’s not just one or two people.

Vidal Graupera: [00:09:47] Thanks for sharing that. That’s an interesting question to ask, like what would their, a good day look like for them? what would be your advice for new managers? Managers who are just starting out.

Jorge Salas: [00:09:59] I would say, be patient, listen, and learn and know that managing people may not, may require different strategies per individual. my initial manager experience experiences were very daunting and I had doubts. I was going to be successful or even be respected. My first manager opportunity, like I shared before I was managing peers.

So there’s a little bit of awkwardness, to begin with. though they didn’t want the job. My peers. The work, the working experience changed because I w I would be responsible for their performance review raises career pathing. I also learned a lot of their personal information, which I didn’t know beforehand.

Eventually, we settled into our new roles in relationships, and I was able to review and assess them at a pretty, I think at a, I don’t know, I don’t know if anyone could have done it better, but it was just because I had that working, shoulder to shoulder, experience with them. So I think patience, I think.

Logic, us as engineers, we tend to use logic and, just pure data to solve problems and for a lot of things that work, but that isn’t always the case for people. I think you have to be empathetic. You have to be emotionally intelligent. I think I learned a lot from books and training around emotional intelligence in addition to just having to work with people and not just direct reports, but people that don’t report to you as well. How do you handle difficult conversations? Wow, that’s a big depends. So I think for me having those difficult conversations was the hardest thing. but it was just my experience.

I tell myself before and after a difficult conversation or a difficult situation, I just repeat to myself, everything’s going to be okay. I’m going to do the best that I can with the information that I have and the experience and the resources that I have at the moment. I think that’s helped me.

Get, feel more comfortable when I first started out managing and know that it’s not just the next level. It’s not, Oh, senior developers, senior software engineer or architect, and then manager. you really, it’s an altogether different job title, to be honest. And you find yourself not just being a manager, but a therapist, a coach, and the mentor.

Vidal Graupera: [00:12:33] Yeah, that’s totally different. So yeah, so being patient is what I hear being patient with yourself being kind, but yeah, it is difficult managing people. They’re not logical. They’re not like computers, they’re not so predictable. 

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

Tell me what’s your workday like? How do you manage, like all the things you have to do as a manager your calendar, your emails, like Slack, all these things. How do you organize yourself?

Jorge Salas: [00:12:55] I have a lot of standing meetings in addition to ad hoc meetings, in addition to meetings that I’m just invited to last minute. And it’s usually with my staff, my peers, senior management and executives, and the, and then sometimes initiatives specific working sessions. So emails for me can be very distracting so I think, if they’re not managed properly they can be real disruptors in my day-to-day.

So I try to keep a task list in Outlook ordered by date and time and sensitivity. I take about five to 10 minutes of the top of my day to review and refine my to do’s in the morning. and usually sometimes in the evening, before I end my in my day, so I try to refine and rank what’s important to get accomplished that day and then everything else I set aside either for tomorrow, the end of the week, next week, next month, depending on their priority.

So I think, and also one thing I would share is that if I need to accomplish something time-sensitive, I will sometimes close Outlook. I will put myself on, do not to disturb, and you’d be surprised what you can accomplish, what you can accomplish with 15 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.

Vidal Graupera: [00:14:16] So creating some blocks of focus time. Got it. Could you share, is there maybe an Internet resource or tool that you depend on that you really like that helps you in your work?

Jorge Salas: [00:14:30] I think my top three right now are LinkedIn medium.com and Slack LinkedIn, because of topic, focus groups, you can join and collaboration with folks in my field. I know a lot of the people in my network. so I think there’s some comfort with sharing and asking for advice, whether publicly or one-to-one, there’s also very, a lot of groups that are theme focused.

So if you have an interest or a passion for a theme, you can join the group. And there’s a lot of good, guidance and advice shared there. medium.com keeps me my fingertips. on the pulse of new trends in technology, if there is a competing or, not competing, if there is, a controversy about a technology or an anti-pattern, usually I can count on medium.com to give me  the low down on.

And that it’s usually tack and process on medium. And then Slack is such a rich opportunity. I really used it earlier this year when I was in my job search and I belong to, I don’t know how many Slack channels that workspaces, but I like it because it’s organized by theme and topic. And you can contribute to as much as you want or as little.

And I’ve always found it very valuable until in terms of advice, in terms of book recommendations, actually just the other day I asked, I posted on the several of them. if anyone had any advice for someone that’s considering a solution architect role in path. And I got some very good information.

So I think Slack is very rich. And also if you just want to vent it just want to look at pictures of food. I think it’s Slack as is a nice little rich community. that I’ve used a lot recently.

Vidal Graupera: [00:16:19] These are good. Obviously, LinkedIn is really great, I work at LinkedIn now. And, Slack, I’d love to hear. Maybe later we could just share and the notes if you have some specific, Slack communities that you like or LinkedIn groups that you think might be good for listeners.

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

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

Jorge Salas: [00:16:41] I think my number one book would be Working with Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman. I think this book was one of the first ones that I read about the amygdala hijack attack, which kind of prompts. Us to fight her flight. and then it goes into this deep and it’s not just psychology, soft stuff.

There’s a lot of biology and science to how we react to certain situations. So I think that was the first book that I read about — whoa, dealing with people is very complex. So that led me to really read more emotional intelligence books, and also attend at least two EI training courses.

What is your approach to developing, mentoring & coaching members of your team?

Vidal Graupera: [00:17:32] Oh, wow. Okay, great. What is your approach to mentoring and coaching members of your team?

Jorge Salas: [00:17:42] Ooh. I tried to listen to what my team is asking for. So we mentioned patience a little bit, and that was tough for me to get it initially, as as developers we’re problem solvers, we’re very logical and  We see a solution and we say why can’t you think like that? So I think, sometimes it may not be as easy as it sounds so, so I find that feelings of, or lack of trust and support are themes that exist in many staff and projects.

But they are, they’re hard to discuss and I think you have to have a good comfort level with your team, establish that rapport. As soon as you get that trust and they feel that they’re supported. I just feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds connections with team members. and I’m also getting better at not solving or fixing a problem if someone just wants to be heard.

And a lot of times I find myself that people come to me as Oh, I have this problem. But once we start talking about it, not necessarily solutioning that, but just start speaking about the problem out loud or put in a whiteboard, they have a good idea of what solution is already. I’m just a sounding board.

I think that’s one way. Another way is allowing team members to come up with the solutions on their own and you asking guiding questions, not necessarily giving answers. I think has, cause it doesn’t help me as much because it may be I’ve solved similar problems like that in the past. I’m not getting much value from that. And also they’re not getting the benefit of having that experience of problem-solving and talking things out and coming up with solutions on their own, which I think is the best way to learn and retain.

Vidal Graupera: [00:19:31] Yeah. Like lots of coaches, like they haven’t actually solved the problem themselves, but they lead you down a path to solve it or how you think about it. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

So, Jorge, you’ve been very generous with your time. Thank you so much for coming on to ManagersClub. You’ve been a great guest and I really enjoyed speaking with you. where could people go to learn more about you if they wanted to connect with you or just learn more about you?

Jorge Salas: [00:20:01] Sure. At least two or three different ways right now, my LinkedIn, as I’m on there often, it’s one of the tabs on my Chrome browser and I can share my LinkedIn profile. But if you look for Jorge Salas in Chicago. There aren’t too many of me so LinkedIn is number one.

Number two, I’m also an actor. I’ve dabbled that. That’s my hobby. You can find my profile on backstage. If you search for Jorge Salas actor, on backstage.com.

And lastly, I am going to be doing, I’m going to give any be giving a presentation for the Treehouse Organization. They have a conference. Oh God coming up early December 9th. I’ll be presenting there. The session is called, “So You Wanna Be in Tech.”

Vidal Graupera: [00:20:49] That’s great. I’ll put links to those. Actually. Let me ask you one more question. Jorge, I forgot this. You do acting and improv, you mentioned, is there anything like in acting and improv that’s maybe helped you in engineering, leadership, like you said, that you want to say about that? Cause it’s pretty unique.

Tell me about your passion for acting and improv

Jorge Salas: [00:21:08] Yes. I initially took improv at the Second City as, to be honest, a professional career training course. I wanted to get more out of my comfort zone and think more on the fly or off the cuff. So I took one improv course. I really liked it. I had a lot of fun and so I ended up taking five courses, the entire core level at the second city had a lot of fun.

Vidal Graupera: [00:21:33] Wow. And has acting and comedy helped you in your work? This is pretty interesting.

Jorge Salas: [00:21:39] Yeah, the improv definitely helped me feel more comfortable off the cuff going when one starts a project or there’s a plan, pretty much the plan changes as soon as you stop writing. Surprises handling things a little bit more gradually or when you’re asked to speak on the spot,  also being more comfortable speaking to medium and large, audiences, too.

And then lastly, I would say with the acting, et cetera, and improv as well, being able to. Reach audiences with a very common denominator approach and knowing who your audience is. And, maybe not going so deep.

Vidal Graupera: [00:22:23] So it’s helped you connect with people.

Jorge Salas: [00:22:26] Yeah. I think just being comfortable speaking in front of people, whether you’re interviewing, whether you’re giving a presentation. At the end of the day, it’s a performance. I think you’re either selling yourself in the context of an interview or you’re selling an idea, selling an approach so I think that’s how it’s helped me

Vidal Graupera: [00:22:46] I think that’s great. I know a lot of people who want to get better at that. They do things like Toastmasters, but you’re the first person I met who did improv and acting so I think that’s really unique.

Okay, thank you for sharing again. Thank you so much for being on ManagersClub. I really appreciate it.

Jorge Salas: [00:23:01] Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Resources Mentioned

Slack groups:

  • Techqueria – Latinx in Tech
  • Chicago Tech
  • CTO Craft

LinkedIn Groups

  • Transformational Leadership – Frontrunners in Organizations
  • Harvard Business Review
  • The Engineering Manager Network – #1 Group for Engineering Managers

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