Interview with Karen Cohen, Engineering Manager and Product Architect at Wix.com

Published on May 13, 2019

4 min read

image for Interview with Karen Cohen, Engineering Manager and Product Architect at Wix.com

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel
Current Role: Engineering Manager and Product Architect at Wix.com

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

My first encounter with management was at age 21, working as an officer and software developer in the Israeli army. I led a team of developers who worked on multiple applications I had little to no knowledge about. To lead the team well, I had to find ways to provide value and gain their trust despite not being an expert in their focus areas. I learned how to delegate and rely on my team’s expertise, and how important I am in showcasing their abilities to others while retaining my influence.

I enjoy being involved in the business aspect as well as the technical and human aspect of building products. Since my first position at age 18 as a developer, I’ve held multiple roles including product manager, architect and R&D manager.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Managing requires a different skill set than that of being a developer. As a developer, your focus is on technical skills and you challenge yourself by developing something else in a new technology. Managing a team requires interdependency: your team relies on you to set forth the culture, you rely on the team to act on that culture and to manifest it, and you also rely on management to set forth the priorities and greater culture at hand. My task as a manager is to make sure that each group is in sync and operating smoothly.

An example is in helping your team grow. As a manager you plant a seed, but you have to wait to see if the idea or practice has implanted. The seed depends on the resources around it but also on itself. You can water it, provide the essential nutrients, etc., but ultimately each seed varies. My objective is to create an ecosystem that can ultimately nurture itself and grow as a unit with minimum input from outside sources. This takes time.

What is your approach to hiring?

I look for a match between the person’s passion (and skill set) and my team’s needs. This can be a technical expertise that my team may need assistance with or a focus on communication or integration.

I don’t care about degrees or the number of years of experience a person has worked with some technology, those rarely correlate with one’s contribution to a team. I’m very lucky to work at a company that supports that approach.

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

Start viewing accountability differently. You’ve probably gotten used to being the one doing the job, but now you are accountable in a different way. Your job is to make sure the thing gets done, not necessarily to be the person who does it. Delegating doesn’t make you any less of a contributor to the success of the company or team.

Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?

Mornings and afternoons are usually less hectic, so that’s when I do any solo work that requires concentration. If there are small tasks that I need to get done (like replying to the easy emails, those that don’t require much brain power) I do those between meetings. I like scheduling 1-on-1 walking meetings after lunch, the weather in Tel Aviv is great and our office is by the beach so we get fresh air and avoid the distractions at the office.

What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

I take time getting to know the background of any problem. Then, together with the person who approached me, we work on communicating the need behind the problem, be it technical or otherwise. This helps us reach a wider variety of solutions and uncover biases in the initial thought process.

This habit keeps all parties learning and growing together, all the while instilling humility.

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

Trello helps my husband and I share the load in managing our household. We use it to manage our shopping list as well as household chores, things that need fixing around the house, renovation projects, and even baby names we like (when applicable).

I go to https://www.askamanager.org/ whenever I have a political problem I want to research. I search for alternative solutions to the problem I need to solve.

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

The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier is well-written and extremely practical. It discusses the before and after of going into management or technical leadership, and is relevant for both new and novice leaders in tech.

What is your approach to mentoring and coaching members of your team?

I ask more questions than I give answers, and if I do supply answers I label them as options. I stress that it is not up to me to make a decision for them, be it technical or otherwise. I find that this approach generates self-confidence and accountability.

Where can we go to learn more about you? (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog, GitHub)

LinkedIn: https://il.linkedin.com/in/karenzellnercohen

Twitter and Medium: @karen_meep

Blog: https://karenmeep.github.io/

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