Interview with Sue Nallapeta, Sr. Director, Engineering/Acting Head of Engineering at Zoosk

Published on Mar 21, 2018

3 min read

image for Interview with Sue Nallapeta, Sr. Director, Engineering/Acting Head of Engineering at Zoosk

Location: San Fransisco Bay Area
Current Role: Sr. Director, Engineering/Acting Head of Engineering

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

I started my career as a Software Engineer back in India and moved to the United States to get my Masters degree in Computer Science and AI/ML. I continued my career as an individual contributor for a few years in a small company which had a very flat structure. I had always taken up leadership initiatives at the university or the companies I work at and knew I enjoyed it. I got an opportunity to mentor couple of junior developers and enjoyed that role and I knew I wanted to move into management. This was back in 2011 where many companies did not have dual career path and a lot of companies believed you needed many years of experience before you could become a manager. I got an opportunity to manage a web development team due to my background in a particular technology and domain that was uncommon. I decided to take it. That opportunity helped me grow to where I am today. I had great mentors there who helped me be a better manager. Since then I never looked back. Continued to stay in management and grow. 6 years after leaving IC role, I grew to head the engineering team.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

I have faced multiple challenges. One of the biggest from the past is when Kodak had filed for bankruptcy and Kodak Gallery was going to get sold. As a company, we had to deal with morale issues of employees and keep them motivated. The way we did it was to come up with a company-wide initiative and challenge everyone to work on something that would be useful in their next job. My job was to get the team to build mobile responsive website which was not very common across e-commerce sites during 2012. The challenge was to ensure they are focussed. It was not easy. We were able to launch the new product in a mobile responsive site all in a month’s time.

Another biggest challenge I currently face is to articulate a vision strong enough to motivate people to excel at what they do, earn their trust and be a strong leader for my team. There is no single solution to this as there are many contributing factors from company objectives to individual career goals. That makes it challenging and equally exciting.

What is your approach to hiring?

I believe in attitude, culture fit of a person is very important to hiring. We can train people on technologies but it is harder to fix attitude problems and cultural mismatch. The way we do that at Zoosk is by having what we call “evergreen” positions. These are not approved recs that we need to fill. Instead, we are always looking for great people and when we find the right fit, we get approval to hire them to appropriate positions. This helps us get good candidates and reduces the pressure of hiring for critical needs.

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

Make a lot of decisions. You are going to run into a lot of challenges and many times want to move back to an IC role. However, it is important to make decisions even if they are wrong. The more decisions you make, better you get at making decisions and your confidence as a leader starts to develop.

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

My work day is always filled a bunch of meetings, decision making, strategizing for each quarter, hiring. I have to prioritize. I know I cannot get to everything. Each day, I set a goal that I want to accomplish and try to stay focused on completing that one goal. This helps me focus on one thing and getting it done, instead of partially completing many tasks.

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

I am very deadline driven. I set aside deadlines for myself so I can meet it.

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

I follow blogs such as https://dev.to hackernoon.com

In medium medium.com, I follow Technology articles in general. Specifically, I do pay attention to https://medium.com/swlh, https://medium.com/personal-growth, https://ykode.id/ freakonomics.com

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

I highly recommend “The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier” and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Both are great books if you are new managers and want to find that motivation to lead.

Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, Github, etc.)

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sushmanallapeta/

https://www.platohq.com/our_mentors.html

https://www.twitter.com/sushmars

This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.

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