People and Product Focused Engineering Leadership with Happy Wang
Published on Mar 15, 2022
34 min read
In this episode, I speak with Happy Wang, SVP of Engineering at Everbridge. We talk about how to be a people and product-focused engineering leader. Happy discusses her approach to hiring at startups and career development. In addition, she shares some key points for new engineering managers and some good book recommendations.
[00:00] Vidal: So good afternoon today. I have with me Happy Wang, a good friend of mine and a senior woman engineering leader. So Happy would you’d like to introduce yourself and tell people like what you do?
Table of Contents
- What’s your background and how did you get into management?
- What are some of the highlights about being an engineering leader and what are some of the lowlights of it?
- What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
- Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
- 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 & coaching members of your team?
- What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
- Where can we go to learn more about you?
- Key Takeaways
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
[00:10] Happy: Yes. So my name is Happy Wang. So I am currently the Senior Vice President of Engineering for a global company called EverBridge.
So we are a public company. We are about over 2000 people and my engineer organization is close to 700 worldwide globally. So my job over there is basically leading the global engineering organization so the company is a very mission-driven company. We call ourselves 911 company. It’s about 20 years old.
But we started this company right after 9/11. We are in the critical event management space. So we’re using a lot of technologies to pre-alert and notify people when anything’s happened, mass notification for disaster recovery, weather, wildfire. Our customer is the private sector and the public sector.
In fact, I actually live in San Mateo County, California. And San Mateo County is our customer. So I don’t know if people have a lot of county alert for anything happening on the traffic, wildfire, vaccine distribution is all powered by the EverBridge platform backend.
[01:14] Vidal: Wow. Okay. Yeah. It’s one of these very important companies that most people have never heard of. And you have a pretty big engineering team, like you say 700 people report to you. That’s awesome. Wow. So maybe we’ll just jump in. What are some of the highlights you would say about being an engineering leader and maybe what are some of the low lights of it?
What are some of the highlights about being an engineering leader and what are some of the lowlights of it?
[01:32] Happy: Yes. So highlights for engineering leaders are really trying to continue to be a strong voice to building engineering brand, engineering culture inside the company, and also represents the company in public. And the one thing is for being a good leader for me personally, it’s really to see how I can help a company to transform. Everyone’s going to, especially Everbridge is 20 years old company, bring new thinking about how to run technology and the aging organization putting the right process, continue to groom the team, and have a different way to thinking approach is very important.
And that highlights, I personally, I’m very people-focused. I love to see engineering teams grow, especially mentor those fresh graduates, junior, middle-level people, to see how they accelerate their career is very rewarding and also building a strong leadership team and seeing how people transition from an individual, to be a manager, and also middle-level manager, how they achieve the director exec level. This is also very rewarding for me because my self-journey is from an engineer itself, slowly transitioning in the last 20 years to the position I am in today.
And that the other leadership highlight is really even most of the time I was running engineering team, but always very close with product business as well to really partner with a lot of other execs leadership team to really not only think about the technology but really think about how we building something to really deliver the customer value. And those are very exciting to me as well.
[03:01] Vidal: Awesome. Yeah, so you’re very into people, and developing people. I think that’s great. I think a lot of great engineering leaders are very people-focused. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you face today as an engineering leader?
What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
[03:13] Happy: Well? Everyone probably knows is the talent war. Okay. So today it’s very hard. Especially we have so many demands. This market is good for all the people who are on the technology side. But I think to be able to attract high talent and retain talent to be able to continuously motivate them to do their best in their job is very challenging.
So there’s one, I would I say, the first challenge is I think a lot of engineering leaders probably face the same thing is how do we actually keep the team morale up building high-performing team with all the talent grabbing on the market. The second piece is that I would say it’s about constantly looking at how we actually can stay competitive from a company perspective. I think the competition on the market is also super high even for Everbridge.
So we are facing a lot of new startups in the same space, right? CM for us, it took us 20 years to build this company. We are the market leader, but now there was a lot of more resilient technology, security space, critical event management becomes very important, especially after the pandemic.
We’ve seen the last three, four years, there was a lot of a startup coming. So the startup company, what would happen for them is they got a really a cool technology. Okay. So they are very, cutting edge technology. They have great talent. They think about digital-first, mobile-first, API first, they do a lot of AI machine learning stuff versus EverBridge. We actually have to transform from a slightly old technology stack. But we also have a lot of customers there. How can you balance to grow the revenue and to maintain the customer? Then also starting to invest in new technology to keep the company still competitive. So I think those are our challenges as well.
[04:54] Vidal: Wow. Yeah, those are two very good challenges. I’m going to ask in a little bit about hiring, but just to follow up on this, do you have any advice for people who are in that situation? They have a little older company and that technology, and as you said, they’re having to compete with startups, it’s interesting problem to have, like how you approach it?
[05:11] Happy: So I will start with retaining talent. I think there was a lot of temptation outside, especially for the engineers. For many years, I lead the engineering team, I think usually engineers care about two things.
The first thing is a challenging problem to be solved. The second thing is what kind of technology are they using? Are they cutting edge? Are they learning more? And the third piece obviously is the compensation, right? So the three pieces, it’s motivating, to actually have good talent. So I think from the retain talent perspective, my approach is focused on the personal goal for the individual. I think it’s very important for managing like I told my leaders, you got to spend some time to understand your team and that’s then an, even every single person what’s their long-term career aspiration for them.
everyone has something personally, right, they want to get out this company in four or five years
Because people coming in to work for a company, obviously we setting a goal is to meet the company revenue target, deliver product execution, but everyone has something personally, right, they want to get out this company in four or five years. Do they maybe want to move to a leadership role? Maybe they want to start their own company one day? So I think I understand the people’s career aspirations and that they will help them to give them an opportunity within your boundary. And then to help them to continue to challenge them. That’s a good way to retain people, obviously in a compensation structure. One thing, I also care about is, when I came to EverBridge, I completely revamped the comp structure and I think our comp structure is not competitive. It’s not motivating people. So I think those things, we should also look at it too, but usually, money can be the number one thing that it’s very hard to do. Cause we, we have a lot of companies out there with much better in a financial compensation package.
So the same applies to attracting talent. Before EverBridge, actually the last 10 years, I pretty much all work at startups in a lot of stuff. Early-stage you don’t have a very big base pay bonus. It’s really on the equity option based. Obviously, when it comes to raising more funding, we’re getting more customers that we can start to up the salary band for the staff.
So recruiting in the startup, especially for early-stage startups is also very challenging, especially in the bay area. But my philosophy is again, is looking for the people who are passionate about the product the company builds, who is believing the company mission, and also who actually can relate the technology they’re working on, the product working on, they believe something.
They personally love it. They feel this can give the customer a better outcome. They can change the world. So I use the example of Globality, I worked there for four years. I build the team from three engineer team to over 150 team. In the early stage when we recruit people there we really resonate with them is about the globalization mission because the company really tried to solve the problem is to create a lot of job opportunities equally, globally. So those are things that are important for some folks. They feel good about this. Those are things that most of the things we sell to and also about technology.
you can really accelerate you’re learning a lot faster in startups because your job scope is not very narrow it’s not defined. You can do multiple things. I personally think the learning speed is a lot faster.
The good thing about a startup, you have the very latest technology in your stack. A lot of people come here is try to do something they haven’t done before. So learning opportunity. The other thing is, we always talk to the team. Yes, you can really accelerate you’re learning a lot faster in startups because your job scope is not very narrow it’s not defined. You can do multiple things. I personally think the learning speed is a lot faster.
[08:31] Vidal: This is yeah. A lot of good reasons. I can tell you’ve hired people at startups because yes, you can’t compete necessarily on the total comp at a big company that has which of the technology you want people to be passionate about the mission, and yeah. You have been exposed to do a lot of things. So I think that’s really good. Could you share with us in your career, what’s a lesson you’ve learned as an engineering leader?
Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
[08:53] Happy: So I think a couple of things when I first become an engineering manager I think, one lesson when I was in early PayPal days. I become an engineering leader was the first time ever is actually is my PayPal life. Up until today, the time my mentor and my manager, the one thing he told me is still resonating very well.
You are not the manager to please everyone to make everyone happy!
And he said, Happy, a strong manager, people respect you if you actually know how to make hard decisions. You are not the manager to please everyone to make everyone happy. So I tell you the last time I learned and the first few years. I very care about, as I said, I’m a very people person, right? One thing is always cared about is how people think about me. Now, I want to make everyone happy in a team. At the beginning, we have a few people on the team. Yes. It’s a low performer.
Some years, could it be a low performer on the techno side? Some people are not low performers but do not gel with the team from a cultural perspective. I knew this. You know one thing is I have good sense. I knew my team. I knew those people. But I will not want to do anything about it because I’m not willing to make hard decisions.
So I don’t want people to think. I’m not nice, I actually, making people lose jobs or whatever you think. So I took a very long time. Then finally I realized, something I have to do about it. Why? So I finally make a decision, but it took me a very long time to make the decision as a first-time manager.
So what a consequence for that is along the way I actually lose some respect for other people in the team. Cause they look at a manager you know that issues, but you don’t want to do anything. And I actually, in fact, some top performer in my team starting to leave the company or transfer to another team, right?
So this is the one lesson I learned, and I always recall back and I actually teach my leadership team and a mentor, other leaders, especially for the young leaders, first step into manage it. That’s why my mentor always told me people, a manager, people will follow you respect.
Is there. We’ll see, you make the right decision for the teams. And sometimes this could be hard, but people still respect you, but there are not the people, you just want to make everyone happy and it doesn’t make decisions.
[11:01] Vidal: I think that’s great. Yeah, because of the other members of the team. They know that someone is not performing and then they’re like, why haven’t you done anything? Absolutely. So yeah, I was gonna ask you what’s your advice for managers just starting out, but it sounds like your advice would be to be able to make tough decisions.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Do you have any other advice for new managers? A lot of people that listen to managers club or are new to management or want to get into it. Wow.
[11:23] Happy: I do think is important is to get to know your people. I think that’s one of the things is and I guess the other thing is to get to know your people and, once you get to know your people, you actually can feel a lot more trust with your team and it also helped you to less micromanage. So I think the first-time manager, even myself, was so funny. Even today, my husband still thinks I micromanage, but I don’t think I micromanage in the early days it is, Because, especially if know from your engineer, individual become a manager, your tendency is the stuff happening is you jumping help them to solve any problems?
Because you said I done that before. I know how to do it. I remember that’s also a lesson I learned during my first few years at PayPal. Sometimes we have a very tight deadline. Okay. And we actually need to deliver and I tend to want to jump in to do stuff with the team.
Or sometimes I just sit next to them. Are you done? Do you know what’s happening? On other days, it actually adds unnecessary pressure, to the team. I think that’s also less than, so one thing is I would say to ease your own anxiety, to not be a control freak it’s to get to know your people.
So once you get to new people, you actually feel you trust them more and you know they got it. . And they will be able to do themselves without if they are, obviously, if they need support, you will always be there, as a manager, you want to support your team. I think that’s also advice, we need to, especially when you manage it, that’s a balance you have to manage when to know when to let it go.
[12:52] Vidal: I think that’s great. That’s just fantastic. Fantastic advice. You manage a very large engineering organization. You say you have 700 people there. So what’s your workday like? How do you manage your time, meetings, all the things you have to do?
What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?
[13:06] Happy: Yeah. So for Everbridge, I spend a lot of time actually working with a lot of work with a leadership team, especially my chief product officers as counterparts, and also the sales side, and also professional service.
And also, I work very closely with our corporate strategy team as well. EverBridge acquired a lot of companies in the last few years and we always, also, every year our goal is also merger acquisition for a few companies. So there is all our due diligence need to do with the company too.
But most I spend a lot of time with the product leadership team. And the strategy team and also the sales team really help to understand what is the customer pain point. Again, I always say product technology has to build something to really solve customer problems, right?
Otherwise, if we just build everything blindly and that doesn’t deliver any customer value it’s not going to do good things for the company. So we do a lot of those kinds of collaboration. Personally, I was on a call with a lot of big customers too to really listen to understand that stuff.
That’s one part of my job. Secondary job is really to look at there was a lot of our technology initiative, which is not necessary immediately have a revenue impact, but we need to do it just to, as I mentioned, just to keep everybody just stay competitive. Okay. So it’s a 20 years old company. We have a lot of modernization work to be done.
For example, we have our core product still in a monolith, so we needed to modernize them to bring them to microservice. And we are behind on the API side. So our API was okay, but a lot of API was not stable. We don’t have great version control and right now we started to do a lot of partnerships with other companies without a proper stable API is hard, right?
So that’s the one initiative we’re driving to. And the third one is really as starting to invest more in accelerating that data, AI machine learning stuff. So we have a lot of data, a lot of critical event data, and the company we are still the majority of the time and we’re doing it as notification.
When things happen, we alert you, we notify you, but we have so much data we really can tend this to be a forecast and a pre-notify you. It will be nice. You will get those kinds of forecasts, pre alerts that have to tell you, you might be in a danger zone, right?
You might have the weather could cause a wildfire. Instead of that happening, we alert you when you attend this to pre-alert you before things even happen, but there was a lot of work to be done to look at all the history, data events, how to figure out you apply what kind of machine learning models to do stuff.
So those are another spend a lot of time working with my engineer leadership to figure out how we actually accelerate those strategic and technical initiatives to help companies stay competitive in moving to another generation of the product. The third piece is really is to build strong engineering, culture, and brand to really help the company to transform a little more from sales-driven.
EverBridge is more of a sales-driven company in the last decade. But we really want to move this to a more product-led technology event, customer-focused company. So there’s a lot of our transformation education needs to be done at the exec level and also building a strong engineer, voice cultural brand within EverBridge, yeah.
[16:37] Vidal: Okay. So that’s interesting. Yeah. So you spend a lot of time, it sounds like talking with customers, understanding the product strategic items, like technology stuff, and all that. That’s awesome. Is there a personal habit you feel contributes to your success?
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
[16:52] Happy: Personal habit? I would say myself is very it sounds like in a boring, but I do think of myself as very goal-driven. Also very persistent. I don’t easily give up things and when I set a goal and I’m not afraid to challenge and I will always work towards it, obviously, sometimes, when you realize this, something is in the wrong path, you will pivot to the right path.
But in general, I’m very goal-driven and I’m very execution-focused and very persistent, to get things done regardless of the obstacles around the world, and that the other things I also feel myself is very adaptable. I think it’s important to the situation because the world is dynamic, right?
And you have to be able to manage through a lot of different, difficult situations and things changing dynamically. I think you need to be able to adapt the way you work with people. Adapt putting different processes and adapt your thinking, because different company, different stage, it started things differently.
In fact, I was always working to start a company when days I, especially a lot of early-stage startup companies. The business model keeps pivoting right before we can really find a market fit. So there was a lot of time you just have to be able to adapt to different situations.
And, if things happening, is not the way you have to do different things, you just have to be calm cause I know some people, a little bit very easy to stress out, so I’m not very easy to stress out.
I guess this is probably the one thing, I tried to remain calm and be confident and to try to work through challenges.
[18:26] Vidal: That’s great. Are there any, I don’t know, internet resources, apps, or tools may be that you find really useful in your job that you’d like to share with people at ManagerClub?
Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.
[18:38] Happy: Well actually just from that from a hiring perspective. I love LinkedIn. I know work at LinkedIn. I think this is actually my favorite. I know there was a lot of recruiting tool out there, right? One other recruiting tool. I used it quite a bit before it’s called hire.com. It’s a matchmaking marketplace.
But personally, because recruiting is my passion too. I actually love recruiting. I always feel finding a great talented engineer or leader to join a team is almost like you find a diamond, like a jewel diamond. I feel very rewarding to be able to find that person. And also convince that person right to switch jobs to come and join you? So many companies obviously EverBridge, we are large, so we actually have an official recruiting team, but the last, our company, when you first started, you actually didn’t have an official recruiting team.
Your manager usually like myself is heavily recruiting as well. So the one thing is we always rely on, getting me, I always tell my HR team and my CFO to get me recruiter seats on LinkedIn. I know it’s not cheap. It’s like $999 a year, whatever, but it’s so worth it.
Okay. So personally, if you have the recruiter seats, you’ll be able to use a lot of different fields to be able to find the people on LinkedIn. I think is a wonderful network. And I will actually be able to build exactly what I want, through a filter to find an engineer to carry all the conversations.
So I think LinkedIn is my personal, as I love this as a recruiting also networking, I read a lot about it. A lot about posting on the linking feeds is talking about the chance on the technology, on the technology, people process all the steps. I think this is one of the things I love it.
I read a lot of the articles people post on medium.com, so this is another one. I love it too. Again, in posting things, could it be technology, could it be how you lead a team, manage a team all this stuff. Medium is also the one thing I constantly read as well.
Yeah, I read some other blogs. I do actually read Harvard Business Review. A lot of the leadership concept is from there too. I read a lot of other things, a lot of times random things, or LinkedIn one thing, they always refer you to a different feed so you can move it to a different website to read the stuff.
[20:53] Vidal: That’s great. Yeah. No, I think that’s absolutely really good advice for someone who’s in a startup or even at a bigger company. Have the managers like use LinkedIn, use recruiter accounts and I’m surprised at some companies people don’t do that. That’s really key. Speaking of reading. Okay. So you like to read medium. I think it’s a great site. All these things are good sites. Is there perhaps a book, you would recommend to engineering leaders?
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
[21:16] Happy: Yeah I have a couple of books. I like it. One is more, I don’t know if you definitely know what does it is, all the people in Silicon Valley know a famous product-led person, Marty Cagan.
So I am personally a big fan of Marty Cagan and I actually even invited him to do a one-hour virtual conversation with EverBridge. Cause we want to really transform the company to be a product company. So Marty Cagan has two books. One is called Inspired. One is called Empowered.
So Inspired the audience is all the engineer and product people, but Empowered is about all the people, product leadership team, or engineering, right? Empowered is really it’s about how we actually build a product that is valuable for the company, valuable for the customer.
It’s really customer-driven focus. There was a lot in the book, there’s a lot of philosophy about, the customer value stream, a lot about how you organize a team, right? How do you organize a team, how do you collaborate between product and engineering, how do you just covert from a feature factory? Cause a lot of the early days, like people just build the features, but really, is deliver customer value. So those are really good books.
How do you organize a team, how do you collaborate between product and engineering, how do you just covert from a feature factory?
So another book I also like is called The Messy Middle, Scott Belsky. So I think Scott I think he is probably the CPO of Adobe, but he also sits on a board in Globality, one of a company I worked for before.
The Messy Middle is really it’s about, I personally really resonate very well how do you handle a tough situation? Cause you know, everything is, you, especially with work for a startup company, you will have hardballs thrown to you. And then, everything’s changed dynamically. And how do you actually come out of the massive middle road and continue motivating, inspiring team-leading through difficult changes?
[23:08] Vidal: Yeah. It’s interesting, you mentioned the Marty Cagan books and it’s not surprising because you seem to be a very product-oriented engineering leader, right? Like you’re meeting with the customers, you’re meeting with your chief product officer. And of course, you’re going to like this book because it’s, product management.
That’s really great that you are so into the product. Have you always been that way or did you get that? Because you were in many startups and you have to be that way? And then you just say a little bit about your product focus.
[23:33] Happy: Yeah. So I think many startup companies, actually, run both product and technology altogether.
So I think, that’s also helped but I think even back to early days, so I was hired at PayPal was the first engineer on the UI development team. Okay. So I was at your first, your official engineering PayPal, and then, and we also the front-end engineer. We work very closely with UI designer product time.
I feel a lot of back-end engineers probably focus on different areas, but for us, we got to make sure we implement the user interface customer delight for all the steps. So I back up to my PayPal days. I feel always very close to the product management team and the user experience team to make sure we actually can create a user experience to delight customers. And then my second role in PayPal actually is leading the mobile device team on the mobile team in 2009 as actually helped build the first, a few mobile with PayPal. Again, this is also very customer-centric. PayPal’s mobile team is relatively small compared to all other larger engineering organizations. So we work very closely with the product to understand.
So I think the training days may be in the PayPal days to really understand the product. After PayPal, I pivot my career a little bit into enterprise space, from FinTech consumer to enterprise. So I build the first engineering team for Service Now before the IPO.
And in that, I was very fortunate too because not a lot of people had the opportunity to work with Fred Luddy, the founder of the Service Now. The time he stepped down from CEO. He is actually chief product officer CPO. So I was working with him very closely. My role over there is to drive the mobile platform and also the second-generation UI platform. We are trying to build an HTML 5 app on the tablet cause the time of Service Now doesn’t have the mobile app yet. Working with the chief product officer also founder Fred Luddy is also a very rewarding experience because we also talked to a customer every day. I really think that a year and a half over there is making me, even more, think technology cannot just build in the dark, right? So we really understand what are use cases, what solving problems, cause no matter you are, the consumer space or enterprise space, right? You make money from customers, right?
….we also talked to a customer every day. I really think that a year and a half over there is making me, even more, think technology cannot just build in the dark…
You make money is to deliver the value to the customer, especially for enterprise customers, all about renewal rate, retention rate, and also the up-sell. So your product has really to solve the core of their business problems then you can keep your upsell rate, retention rate high.
[26:06] Vidal: That’s fantastic. No, it totally makes sense now. And yes, you are very product-focused which is great. That’s awesome. Could you tell me a little bit what is your approach to developing members of your team, and people that report to you, how do you work with them to maybe get them to the next level?
What is your approach to developing & coaching members of your team?
[26:23] Happy: Yeah. Yeah. Great question. What developing people is also, there was a lot of. There was some part of a leadership job. I personally thought excited about it. For example, I look at IT budgets, how we cut budget expenses, but the hard part is we talk about how to recruit talent.
The second piece is developing people. So people ask me questions so Happy when did you decide to move from IC role to first time become a manager? Because there’s always transitioning, cause when I was in the IC role I’m also a pretty good developer. I love writing code and it’s funny. When I was a UI engineer in PayPal I used to hold the record. I’ve fixed like 500 bugs within two months, I had the most fixed bugs in teams. So I love that part too, but the moment actually really I see myself, I maybe would like management job every time I see my team get a promoted. Okay. They get to the next level. I felt so rewarded. I felt rewarded more than myself get promoted. I think that moment I realized I love to develop my people. I love to see people accelerate their careers, to get to the next level even more than myself.
Demand people, I always told my leaders is. It’s a collaboration. Okay. So I told her, I told all the team, yes. A career quick development team plan is not a one-way street. First, you have to motivate yourself, right? Because if you just need to ask, manage to create a plan for yourself, if you don’t have the goal doesn’t want to achieve is not going to work.
Okay. That’s why some companies as well, there’s OKR goal, you need to achieve a hundred percent, you need a hundred percent of your team member to have a career development plan. I usually don’t like that approach because it’s not a goal, hundred percent, it’s about, how many people they want develop themselves and they’re your managed to help us for them.
So assume, you have a team member, who really wants to work on a development plan. There was no, you happy. And here’s what I want to go. And I want to achieve my career goal in too short to medium term. There I was putting a lot of time with that person to really study, to evaluate where they are today, and to figure out the skill gap.
And then really find every single way you can to actually give them an opportunity to develop that skill. So this is something I think is a management job because once you identify the skill gap and the people agreed that you have to diversify your gap, I think as managers to really give them the opportunity to help them to develop skill, right?
Because if you don’t give them an opportunity to develop they will never get there. So that means sometimes you will take a risk for your people. You will give them a task. They may not be able to right there do it, but you let them do it, because even they fail you were there supporting them, so I did it as my manager did for me before, too. So sometimes they push me and they gave me a task. I wouldn’t say, oh, I don’t think I can do it. I feel it’s just a bit beyond what I have ever done before, but a good manager will tell you “Happy, I believe in you, if you fail, I will be there supporting you!”
a good manager will tell you “Happy, I believe in you, if you fail, I will be there supporting you!”
So those are very important. So you needed to take risks for some of your people helping them develop their key skills. And our last one is just to promote your people. I use every single way to promote my team, to promote leader public, small audience, large audience.
I think everyone needs a sponsor. Sponsorship is very important from a leadership level. And then I would say the last one is, to be honest, and direct. That’s my style too. And sometimes things don’t work. You got to give them constructive feedback in real-time, okay? Because otherwise, they will never develop.
I see some manager is harder to give constructive feedback. But they will tell me, oh, Happy, I don’t think they are working and I will first ask did you tell to that person? Did you give the example? They say, “ah no.” And I also realized that real-time is most important because if you give feedback a month later, it’s not effective. Usually, after the meeting, I will pull some people, “can I give you some feedback on the meeting because I think you should do it this way, but that way?” So I think those coaching ability to be able to give direct constructive feedback is also important to developing your people.
[30:26] Vidal: I think that’s just fantastic. Would you say yes? Like I like that, after a meeting or pull them aside, Hey, can I give you some feedback? Like immediately. The managers who wait and they’re uncomfortable. And it’s when someone gets the year-end review only then do they get the feedback. That’s not very good.
And I love what you shared about how you got into management. I didn’t ask you but some people get into management for a good reason, some people get into management for bad reasons. And you got into management for a fantastic reason because you like developing people, and you were happy to see them develop, which I think is a very great reason.
I love that. I have just one more question for you. What do you think it takes to make a great engineering leader?
What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
[31:06] Happy: What does it take to be a great engineering leader? I think, again, I feel first you need the right motivation to be a leader.
Okay. Management I would tell people is not about the glory. Okay. If there was a good part of management, there is a bad part of management. Okay. A lot of time, I also remember sometime in the early beginning of my transition to a manager, sometimes I feel a bit lost too because the way you engineer, where you feel, you are measurable, while I got this feature launched. I accomplished. I solved this challenging problem. I helped the team. I helped the company launch this product. But the manager actually doesn’t really have a lot of concrete results. Okay.
And, sometimes you come back home or what I do today, I spent eight hours in meetings talking about stuff. Did I write code? No. Did I do this? No. So I think not everyone likes those jobs. That’s why you will see people who actually go from IC to become managers, in the end, say being a manager is not for me. I’ll go back to IC. So I think first, I would suggest everyone who wants to go to management really needs to understand what you’re getting into.
And is that job is going to motivate you? Okay. And for me, it’s motivating. Cause when I passed that initial the blueness, I’ve fantastic feel like, developing people, launch, help team, see the teams getting a lot of recognition is more important.
you have to start from a base focus on people. I think it’s very important, cause in every company I always say people are a foundation.
So then the second thing is I really think the engineering leaders is you have to start from a base focus on people. I think it’s very important, cause in every company I always say people are a foundation. I feel very fortunate that I always have a lot of followers from one company to another company.
Cause every time I change, the people say are you hiring? I think I’ve developed that strong relationship, who is your team is going so long away, and they may not follow you to another next company immediately. They could follow you to a few other companies, right? So you always get those groups of people you can trust, fantastic. You can do things together. So how do you build those relationships? You basically focus on people and that helped them develop and also grow them together in that they can also help you to execute. So I always said, company, if the team culture is the people trust, the leadership they work with.
Above and beyond by themselves, right? You don’t need to ask them to do things. They would just do those things for you, if you don’t focus on the people, you don’t have a clear developing goal for them. Or even doesn’t have a clear goal for the teams and the team a lot of people are going to be lost. Especially when, when tough situation happening, they are not gonna pull together. The last one I would say is engineer leaders, you also have to be constantly developing. Okay. I believe I personally love learning.
The other thing, I do a lot of LinkedIn self-learning videos, also important. I use, learning opportunity material, the video of LinkedIn as well. So I think things to change, how you lead a team let’s say, when I was in PayPal, right?
It’s 15 years ago, how I lead a team back there, is not how I lead the team today. It’s so different not even just so you know, every company now, even just teams size are different and the people involved, all the engineers like 15 years ago, how engineer worked together? The process versus today how engineers work? Dev process is different also technology difference, right? So I think, as a leader, you always have. Self-developing as well to understand, how to, cause it, we all want every engineering leader. I want to build a high-performing team. You execute to resolve, drive, achieve goals.
The how to get there — every company is different. Every year could it be different right? Every couple of years is different because of the nature of the market and the company and also the technology, the dynamic of the team personality. So, 15 years ago, they are just puppets doing elementary school. So you actually work with different dynamic engineering team personalities too, because of all the different things. I think self-learning also is very important.
[34:53] Vidal: These are all great things and I think it obviously reflects great credit on you.
You’re it’s such a people-focused engineering leader say that people will follow you from company to company. That’s like the highest compliment, right. Anyone could pay right. That they follow you.
[35:05] Happy: So I feel pretty lucky on that part. Yeah. Yeah. And I did the other thing, this not only just engineered, I always tell people you’ve gotta be passionate about what you’re doing.
So that’s always I, we have quite a while to it’s we used to work together a bit too, so I think the positive image is very important for a leader to be confident, be positive and happy. People have to see your energy. People have to see your passion. What are you doing? I think those naturally can influence your team and your peers, and even your upper management.
positive image is very important for a leader to be confident, be positive, and happy. People have to see your energy. People have to see your passion. What are you doing? I think those naturally can influence your team and your peers, and even your upper management.
[35:33] Vidal: No, I agree. Yeah, that’s very important. Okay. Happy, you’ve been really generous with your time. You shared a lot of really valuable things. It’s great to catch up with you. And if people wanted to reach out to you to learn more about you or any of the opportunities that you have what be the best way for them to reach you?
Where can we go to learn more about you?
[35:50] Happy: Definitely reach me on LinkedIn. I am always on LinkedIn. Message me on LinkedIn. I check on LinkedIn messages pretty often. But yeah, so I also can share my email and my phone numbers, if you want to, I can give them to you, but I wouldn’t say what LinkedIn message, probably is, is sufficient enough to reach me.
[36:11] Vidal: Awesome. Listen, Happy, thank you again so much for coming and I really appreciate it.
[36:16] Happy: Thank you so much.
- You can really accelerate you’re learning a lot faster in startups because your job scope is not very narrow or defined. You can do multiple things. Learning speed is a lot faster.
- Everyone has something personally they want to get out this company in four or five years…
- You are not the manager to please everyone to make everyone happy!
- We also talked to a customer every day. I really think that a year and a half over there is making me, even more, think technology cannot just build in the dark…
- How do you organize a team, how do you collaborate between product and engineering, how do you just covert from a “feature factory?”
- A good manager will tell you “I believe in you, if you fail, I will be there supporting you!”
- You have to start with a focus on people. I think it’s very important, cause in every company I always say people are the foundation.
- Management is not about the glory
- A positive image is very important for a leader. Be confident, be positive, and happy. People have to see your energy. People have to see your passion. These things inevitably have an impact on your team, peers, and even top management.
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