Interview with Shilpi Sanchetee, Engineering Manager at Slack

Published on Oct 30, 2019

5 min read

image for Interview with Shilpi Sanchetee, Engineering Manager at Slack

Location: San Francisco 
Current Role: Senior Engineering Manager @ Slack 

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

I was a software engineer for most of my career. At my first job in a small startup, I grew my team from 1 to 20 in 1.5 years in India and San Francisco. My manager at the time strongly believed in my leadership and put me in front of our main customers, and helped me scale the team by giving me opportunities to stretch and grow my technical leadership. At the consequent companies, I joined I transitioned from being an IC to Engineering manager and joined Slack 3.5 years ago an Engineering Manager. I currently manage two teams of 15 engineers  – frontend and backend on the Platform Pillar at Slack. 

Being an IC, I saw tangible growth each day by shipping code but management is a long game where you don’t see the immediate return. Regardless, I found happiness in management. I’m really passionate about growing careers. 

What are the biggest challenges you face?

In startups and companies like Slack, you often see hyper growth and evolving cultures. It’s very hard to maintain the culture of a company and teams as they grow – I found myself facing challenges with ways to find alignment in how we used to do things and how we need to evolve as the company and our scale grows. Finding ways to make the team adept to change and grow alongside it. 

What’s your approach to hiring?

My approach to hiring has been to figure out what my team is missing both technically and, more importantly, non-technically. Who is the kind of person that will bring everyone to the next level and really allow the team to work together better than they have been. Retaining diversity allows to build diverse products and scale the product to different kinds of users – this all is achievable by hiring and retaining diverse talent.

Hiring – Work closely with recruiting is the key. I usually sit with my recruiter to screen first 10-15 resumes to bring alignment on what me and my team are looking for. Cast a wider net – build partnerships with programs like Hackbring, Code2040 

Retaining: Bring your authentic self to work! In order to make sure your amazing hires are happy and successful, I believe in bringing yourself fully to work and celebrating each individual’s strengths. It varies from person to person but talking to individuals regularly about what challenges them, what demotivates them and finding the right opportunities in addition help retain. Be a sponsor – actively advocate or sponsor folks for opportunities. 

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

Be patient. As a manager, it can be hard to know when you are doing all the right things and are delivering an impact to your team and the company. 

People first. Don’t rush into action and understand your team’s needs. Don’t apply one way of management to all your reports – change per each individual’s style.

Find your tribe. Your first team is your EM peers – build trust, invest time and help each other grow. 

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

I have always managed large teams of 10 or more individuals at any given time and hence I try to make sure I get one day a week where I don’t have 1:1s and less meetings. Other tips that have helped me manage large number of directs is elevating individuals in the team and delegating responsibilities, doing bi-weekly 1:1s depending on individual needs. 
A manager’s work is done if the team can operate seamlessly while they are on PTO. 

I hear a lot of people these days saying they struggle keeping up with Slack messages (similar to email overload). Since you work there, I wonder if you could share any best practices on this?

  • I use stars profusely. Anytime I see some message around my team member doing well or an area of improvement , I star it. This helps me with examples while giving feedback
  • Starring channels – this helps me focus on the channels and the ongoing projects. This list gets changed every few months as projects complete. As a team, we will also archive project channels to keep noise to a minimum 
  • Something that my team started doing to keep a track of all decisions – we used reacji channeler to pipe all decisions made in the team to a separate channel by using a particular reacji to it – this allowed everyone to be aware of the final decision and catching up after PTO was super easy.

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

I am very organized and it contributes to my success. I exercise regularly and it’s like meditation for me. I will make sure I go to gym and get disconnected from my phone for at least hour or so a day. I feel energized and invigorated after and often notice lack of energy when I’m unable to exercise. 

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

Google Calendar, Bear & Pocket. I love to read and I use Pocket to keep up with latest articles. Being a very organized person, I use my calendar to plan my days and Bear for my to-do list My to-do list used to very long and never ending which didn’t allow me to focus on the right things. Now each day, I come up with 3 top things to focus on. 

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

An Elegant Puzzle – Systems of Engineering Management. It’s simple, concise. I think it is *most* useful to non-managers, proto-managers, newly minted managers, (and, well, bad managers) as a survey of contemporary thinking about engineering management in startup-like, growth-oriented technology companies. With one exception, I found the content uniquely accessible from the lens of a software engineer (or other individual contributor) who has trouble relating to the managerial lens without suspicion (which I once was).

I’d recommend it to seasoned managers on a case-by-case basis (e.g. moving from a bureaucratic enterprise IT shop to a contemporary startup-y company).

What’s your approach to mentoring and coaching members of your team?

Coaching and mentoring depend on an individual needs. I usually mentor junior engineers on the team as they need direction in their career. With more senior engineers, I put my coaching hat on and want to empower them to come up with solutions and own their career progression.

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


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