Interview with Tom Bartel Germany-based software developer, engineering manager, speaker, and author
Published on Jan 9, 2018
4 min read
Location: Düsseldorf, Germany
Current Role: Product Manager and Talent Lead
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
My background is in classical Computer Science, specializing in software development. I stumbled into management when my current employer, trivago, was growing rapidly, and additional management capacity was needed. My boss asked me if I was willing to take on management responsibility, and I accepted.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Keeping people challenged and making sure they get the maximum out of their time with trivago, besides their paychecks and an entry in their CV.
Additionally, preventing the team from splitting up into different camps who pursue different philosophies. As a development team grows, this can become a real danger.
What is your approach to hiring?
First of all, I ask myself if the team size is really the bottleneck here. I have seen people being added and speed of execution go down.
If the answer is “Yes, we need more people”, then definitely do some skill tests, but start with really simple ones to make the candidate feel comfortable and build up some confidence. I like having a certain set of standardized problems and questions for comparability, but an interview should not be too robot-like.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Embrace the fact that it’s a different job, and that the qualities that make you a great engineer will not help you much in becoming a good manager.
Find a mentor (not necessarily your manager, not necessarily from your company), or a peer group, and read at least two good books about management.
Find your own management style and allow yourself some time for that.
Management takes time. Step back from deep technical involvement for a while to free that time up.
Finally: If, after some months, you are clearly unhappy with your role, then consider returning to a technical IC role.
Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
I try to start early and use my high-energy time, i.e., the first two or three hours in the morning, on the currently most important issue – preparing an important presentation, thinking about strategy, thinking about a hard problem, etc. Before that, during my commute, I usually write for my blog, or a book, or I just write some thoughts down.
I try to push email to the lower-energy hours around lunchtime. One-on-one meetings I usually have in the afternoon. Of course, unforeseen events happen, and I face interruptions, so I cannot always strictly implement my schedule.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Hm, difficult question. I have been contemplating about this for a while, and I think there is no one thing, but many small ones.
So let me pick one: One great habit is to always finish what you begin, which is a recipe to build up willpower. I learned that from Dandapani (https://dandapani.org), who has given some workshops at trivago. “Finish what you begin” applies to hundreds of situations in our lives.
It can mean making your bed after you get up, by which you finish sleeping.
It can mean washing the dishes after dinner, by which you finish eating.
It can mean writing in your journal before you go to sleep, by which you finish the day.
It can mean writing your interview evaluation right after you had the interview, by which you finish the interview process before you begin anything new.
And all that, you do even if you don’t feel like it right now. This builds up tremendous willpower over time, which will enable you to do things you did not think you were capable of.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
Reminders to myself, whether it’s Slack’s “remind” function, or an email variant like followupthen.com. Reminders are great for both relationship building (e.g., if you know somebody has an important exam in three days, set a reminder to ask them how it went) and for your own productivity: You don’t “fire and forget” when asking somebody else for their part of the job, but you will follow up at regular intervals if nothing seems to be happening.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
Probably “High Output Management” by former Intel president Andy Grove, because it clearly transports the thought that, as a manager, you are the mini-CEO of your sub-organization, and encourages you to act accordingly.
If you feel like that book is too old for you, I would recommend “The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier, because it is full of practical advice about how to take ownership and be effective, both as an individual contributor and as a manager.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub, etc.)
On my blog at https://tombartel.me, I write mostly about communication and management in the software development context. There are also some downloadable assets, and some information on my guide about the transition from software developer to manager.
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.
Discover Other Posts You Might Like
Sep 26, 2023
1 min read
Unveiling the Secrets to New Manager Success
… [Read more](https://www.managersclub.com/unveiling-the-secrets-to-new-manager-success/ "Unveiling the Secrets to New Manager Success")
Sep 26, 2023
1 min read
Accelerating AI in Your Team: Strategies for Success
… [Read more](https://www.managersclub.com/accelerating-ai-in-your-team-strategies-for-success/ "Accelerating AI in Your Team: Strategies for Success")
May 31, 2023
1 min read
How to Stay Motivated and Crush Business-Critical Projects
In this video, Rajesh Janakiraman, an engineering manager at Google, shares his insights and experiences on leading business critical projects while ensuring his team remains motivated and doesn’t burn out. Business critical projects can be intense, high visibility deadlines that often shift roadmaps and include executive-level oversight. Building the right team, maintaining communication, and managing expectations around these challenging projects are crucial to preventing burnout and driving results.
May 26, 2023
1 min read
📣 Join Managers Club: A Collaborative Discord Community for Engineering Leaders 📣
Are you on the lookout for a collaborative, engaging community tailored specifically for your role? Look no further! Introducing the Managers Club Discord server dedicated to leadership in engineering. We’re a community of engineering managers, team leads, and CTOs who come together to share experiences, best practices, and insights.
May 25, 2023
1 min read
Measuring Success & Performance of Managers – A Deep Dive
Are you an Engineering Manager curious about gauging your effectiveness and success in your role? In this insightful episode, we dive deep into metrics and stakeholder management with Ivan Bilan, an experienced engineering manager. Discover the core metrics for measuring engineering manager performance in people leadership, product quality, delivery, and self-promotion, and learn the importance of stakeholder management in driving team success. In this video, we will be looking at how to measure success and performance for managers. We’ll be exploring different methods and tools that managers can use to measure their own success, as well as the success of their team. Don’t miss out on these valuable insights and strategies!
May 16, 2023
1 min read
Red Flags and Insider Tips for Working with Recruiters
In this engaging conversation, experienced technical recruiter Kate Parton shares vital advice and insider tips for candidates seeking job opportunities in the tech industry. She discusses red flags to watch for, navigating compensation discussions, common misconceptions about the recruiting process, and how to make the most of your partnership with a recruiter. Discover the role of social media and the rise of AI in the hiring process. Kate shares valuable tips and advice on making your job search and interview process smoother and more successful. Tune in for an insider’s perspective on the world of recruitment and how to avoid common pitfalls!