Location: Durango, Colorado
Current role: CEO, co-founder of GitPrime
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
Early in my career, I was an engineer and ran a small consulting shop. As the business grew I took on more management responsibilities. After a number of years, I decided to join the startup world in a technical role, where I quickly became a team lead. It was sort of like, “Hey you, you have decent communication skills. How about we sacrifice you to become a manager.”
But it ended up working out really well—I was able to be a greater force multiplier as a manager than I ever would have been as an individual contributor. When I started we were just a handful of engineers, and I help scale the team to over 20 engineers.
During that experience, I noticed that, at a certain point, we start lose this intuitive, ‘garage band’ feel for what’s going on with everyone in the team. I had a desire to take care of my team better, but there really wasn’t any data to turn to understand our successes and struggles. I wished for data to do a better job of coaching the individuals on my team and to be able to communicate with stakeholders in an objective way.
We in engineering are not always the most politically savvy people, so having a wealth of facts felt necessary. That was the founding impulse for GitPrime, the company that my co-founder and I started in 2015 which provides metrics for software development.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
The challenges that you face when you’re growing a company evolve a lot. But I would say that the biggest challenges are prioritization, time management, and making quick and clear decisions.
There’s always more to be done than you could ever possibly do. Always. So you have to decide what you aren’t going to do, and be ok with that.
In regards to decision making, it’s better, in my opinion, to focus on making decisions quickly. It’s actually better to be fast and wrong—to add certainty to the equation so people can move forward—than to sit around and debate.
What is your approach to hiring?
We look for people that we believe have the character and motivation and indicators of success for a given role, as opposed to necessarily having deep experience in that role.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Be a voracious reader! A lot of people transition to management without any training or experience. But we live in a world where these things are easily accessible, and even just picking up one book can completely change or expand your perspective on what leadership really is.
My personal favorite is 12: The Elements of Great Managing. In short, it’s a really great read on the care and feeding of a team. Management done right is, in a sense, getting out of the way. It’s about making everyone a little more powerful every day.
What’s your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
I prefer to group things into big broad categories of movement. So for the first hour of every day, I’ll typically clear the deck. I like to group meetings in the morning, too, when I’m fresh. And then I’ll reserve 2-4 hour uninterrupted chucks of time for creative work, like product R&D.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
I’m a big believer in self-reliance: don’t commit to things that you can’t pull off, and don’t commit on behalf of other people when you can avoid it. We try and push responsibility outward, which helps us move fast and build a high-performing and autonomous team.
In practice, this means making sure the end objective is clear and encouraging everyone to contribute their brilliance to that.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
Sketch has been a core tool for me and I’ve been recently turned on to Figma.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “The first one to draw a visual for everyone, wins.” It’s tongue in cheek, but also true. It does really help to cement ideas with visuals when trying to communicate.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
I mentioned 12: The Elements of Great Managing earlier. I prefer that one because it’s data-driven, but there are a few others on the more squishy side that I have learned a lot from. For example, I think The Corporate Mystic has a really interesting perspective.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/traviskimmel/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/traviskimmel
- Medium: https://medium.com/@traviskimmel
- About Us: https://www.gitprime.com/about-us/
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.