Finding Fulfillment at Work with Robert Slifka

 

Robert SlifkaToday’s guest is Robert Slifka. Rob is the VP of Engineering at Sharethrough, providers of a technology platform for publishers to manage their native monetization strategy. Prior to Sharethrough he was a back-end engineer and led teams working on design automation software, encryption services and storage appliances. He is also founder of the Calibrate conference for new engineering managers, now in it’s fourth year. Rob holds a BS in Computer Science from Simon Fraser University.

On today’s show we discuss Calibrate, the conference for software engineering managers he organizes, the importance of finding good fit for both employees and companies and having a more fulfilling work experience.

Contact Info:

LinkedIn

Show Notes:

Calibrate Conference

San Francisco Engineering Leadership Community (SFELC) 

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change

Software Lead Weekly

Scaling Teams: Strategies for Building Successful Teams and Organizations

Read Full Transcript

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:00] Alright good afternoon Robert welcome to the show.

Robert Slifka:
[0:02] Good afternoon thank you for having me.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:04] Absolutely I love definitely having you in the show here and your guest in the studio today in my office in San Francisco so like usual I really really appreciate you coming in today and taking the time for that thank you.

Robert Slifka:
[0:14] You’re welcome thank you.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:15] Sir Robert let’s start off with how I start up most of my guest limit of background about yourself high-level how to get to where you are today.

Robert Slifka:
[0:22] Yeah well my backgrounds in software engineering went to school for computer science in Vancouver.
And I spent most my life before I moved out to Canada for five years and moved down here in about 2002 was a software engineer for,
about 10 years or so and then now in management and Leadership for the last 10 years.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:44] And your title right now is what are you coming to.

Robert Slifka:
[0:46] VP of engineering at R3.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:47] Excellent congratulations on the great achievement.

Robert Slifka:
[0:50] Thank you.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:50] Cheers to fill a VP of engineering we can commiserate over beers later and Scotch after this episode.
So one of the things to do is now how did you get into management some of my time and my gas today that you know it’s a career path for them they planned it it’s it’s a progression they know what they want and other times it’s you wake up,
Monday morning and your manager right what was your path.

Robert Slifka:
[1:15] That’s a good question I did not give a single thought towards management never as a career until I was asked in 2008 or so,
all of my time spent in University I’d love to talk for development every book I read was about languages patterns architectures.
And I really wanted to be a software architect when I graduate that was the Holy Grail like I could do that you know if I could be one of the greats like Kent back or Fowler.
I want to be this week until after couple years but I realized so I graduate 2002 and what I realized was on it but I had head internship site I had spent some time at Intel Research In Motion.
And what I learned was that you know in most roles you do have you do have a lot of freedom.

Christian Mccarrick:
[2:04] Yep.

Robert Slifka:
[2:04] And how your purse to work and while Eunice folks might not call some of those rolls architecture when I realized about myself was that at scratch that itch of having that freedom to kind of create a system or subsystem.
I need to see those parts kind of working together in harmony even though the title Was An Architect that I felt like pretty quickly after I graduated like oh I guess this is just what engineering is.
And so I was just in a group for about 4 or 5 years at one point I thought I wanted to be a recruiter I had a stent where I.

Christian Mccarrick:
[2:36] Interesting choice right.

Robert Slifka:
[2:37] And because I really enjoyed those kind of moments with candidates another engineers at one point I wanted to be a ux designer I took kind of a year in the middle of a 5% right out of school and I did only design.
And then I was asking 2008 by Mya my first engineer manager John will do but I’m going to person my boss and moved on he was one of the founders of the.
And I John asked if I would be interested in this and I thought I guess I don’t know what are the answers that I gave right away which I’m surprised he even gave me the opportunity was well I’m not interested in.
And then I.

Christian Mccarrick:
[3:21] Are the people turning down.

Robert Slifka:
[3:22] So I so it was one of those things where I thought yeah I mean I do enjoy working with people.
What if I did it full time how would that feel and so completely not deliberately no preparation no thought went into it.
You are very much had the experience of coming you know proverbially come in on a Monday morning and.
I don’t know what I should be doing now I don’t know if I would have when I type on the keyboard.

Christian Mccarrick:
[3:48] And that position did you end up managing former peers.

Robert Slifka:
[3:52] I did I did manage former pierce three folks and who are local and then three that we were using from from Cotati offshore some of which were senior and some of which Virginia.

Christian Mccarrick:
[4:04] And one of the things I like to ask, I guess because you know we definitely all make some what were as you what were some of the early mistakes you made stepping into management.

Robert Slifka:
[4:14] I would say they’re probably a lot of things I didn’t know I mean.
If I would have done many things differently but I think that the seam of mistake,
what happened but the overall theme of mistake would be two phases related to the same thing.
At 1 would be not recognizing something quickly enough.
And that’s a whole class at the whole failure mode in and of itself another feeling remote is when you do recognize something what level of action is appropriate at both in kind of degree and urgency.
And those two things for me for managers that I you don’t have health and height.
And held in high esteem is leaders are ones that that have that ability to pattern match and understand when things are going sideways know when to course-correct and what level of course correction in what year did she is behind the.
That to me is sort of the black magic of a manager.

Christian Mccarrick:
[5:19] Yep and I think of you mentioned before to one of the things is if.
If you think something might be wrong or then you should probably do it right away right I think one of the common things is it’s having to have that are putting off those hard conversations are putting up those things that maybe they will get better.
Did ever get better.

Robert Slifka:
[5:41] They don’t end in Austin in the universe is that you to lose to this earlier you know that one of the things is that by the time you realize something.
Your team’s been living with it.
Write an end so that that action you know this A Real Fine needle that thread there in terms of how quickly do I need to handle this and what’s the severity of the response.

Christian Mccarrick:
[6:01] That’s right and I think one thing that gets overlooked a little bit with with some new managers is.
And you brought up really good point there is your team is living with these things and your team is looking at you to make these hard decisions and if you don’t do that right then they’re losing their faith and respect Music Manager.

Robert Slifka:
[6:20] Yeah and Kim Scott radical Candor author she has a great intro to radical Candor the talk that she gave it to the first round CTS I’m at one of the one of the lines that she uses really stuck with me which is his managers we learn our lessons on the.

Christian Mccarrick:
[6:36] Which isn’t very sorry for all those people in my early days I’m I apologize I truly do.

Robert Slifka:
[6:39] I apologize as well so your you know your earnestly trying to improve in and get these things right but you know every every moment that you delay when your Spidey senses going off is a moment that.
Your team is paying for right like people are going home and it’s you’re ruining their day right there and that you know people are going to go and talk to their significant others and then.
The knowing that you can.
Have a you know what I like is that you can have a really positive effect but don’t think about it is like mitigating a disaster all the time think about it is like they can either go home and say nothing which is great or they can go home and say I had a awesome day today.
Because I got to focus on work and doing all sorts of productive meaningful things and not dealing with work.

Christian Mccarrick:
[7:22] Yeah I need the stuff that goes along with the insurance or interpersonal.
You’re absolutely nothing said what would you recommend to maybe a new manager that’s coming to the organization right now or you know if you are mentor to someone in there getting an injury management what are some of the top things that you would recommend to them just starting out.

Robert Slifka:
[7:41] So it’s your through we have had most of our managers come from within.
And so I think over the course of the seven and I’m including myself I guess.
Over the course of the seven years that I’ve been there that’s about like 5 to 7 people I guess yeah and so really what one thing that I’ve become,
search custom to over the years is this like new manager engineering manager specifically onboarding so we have we have some materials that we’ve kind of collected over the years with respect to how things are going to feel.
Here’s some things are going to change for you as you make this transition with the idea being that you know I I went through it it was tough it was a struggle.
What things can we share about how this new world feels and in your what might be the most obvious short-term changes.
Getting comfortable with what success looks like.
You know it isn’t this the sort of like you know number of Futures are lines of code anymore it’s it’s about you and your team not right how is your team doing in another is.
Getting rid of the Marcy at one of the speakers at the calibrate the conference that I kind of talks about is going to kind of letting go of that.
Baggage that you had about what a what a manager is or does right and knowing that you know you have the opportunity to do a really positive job there.
And if you receive your job exclusively as at the person who solves everybody’s problems on your team.

[9:16] You’re going to have a shit day today and your teams ever going to grow right so understanding the site if I could kind of summarize all that I would say.
Coming to terms with what success looks like not about lines of code it’s about you sure people.
Getting rid of any manager baggage you might have like what are some of those perceptions you had about management that we need to attack sort of head-on and the third would be the thing that I forgot was the third point.

Christian Mccarrick:
[9:42] Excellence moving get it out later.

Robert Slifka:
[9:44] But I’m sure there wasn’t.

Christian Mccarrick:
[9:48] Play there might have it and you know one of the things that you’ve actually been at share through for quite a while now so how many years have you been there.

Robert Slifka:
[9:56] Seven and a half years.

Christian Mccarrick:
[9:58] And you started as an is a software developer reference.

Robert Slifka:
[10:01] I did yeah I was a manager for two years prior to share through and came on as employee 10 or 11 or so as an individual contributor.

Christian Mccarrick:
[10:10] Okay and you know how did that how did that process work for you right so what went from a software engineer individual contributor up through the ranks I think that you would from under the director and then fine.

Robert Slifka:
[10:23] WPA.

Christian Mccarrick:
[10:24] Yes and how did you do find it that’s a lot natural course of events for four people at one and one organization to go from Icy to the VP of engineering.

Robert Slifka:
[10:34] I don’t know if I’d say that’s the most common it it certainly depends I was fortunate enough to be present at share through.
As the company grew and we do invest a lot more people I’m really fortunate to have a executive coach her name is why she is absolutely phenomenal.
You know as I was growing as the phases this year the reason we’re changing the people the product of culture I was really fortunate to be able to evolve with that through a lot of assistance from folks like Marcy and I am from that the Greatsword of people and culture we have a charger.
Which which allowed me to go through that don’t happen all the time but I was fortunate to be able to kind of be at the right place at the right time and I’d be able to adapt in the ways that the company needed me to each of those juncture.
Going from manager to director to BP is a very different.

Christian Mccarrick:
[11:21] You know and it’s kind of timing right now too for those if you’re listening in January right now when this is does the group called because a great group run by Jerry Lee Lewis at the San Francisco stuff for engineering leadership.

Robert Slifka:
[11:31] Sflc.

Christian Mccarrick:
[11:34] Sflc right it said to meet up definitely look at that and I’ll put in the show notes but I think their next Meetup is specifically about I think it’s called the path to the VP of in.

Robert Slifka:
[11:43] Yes that’s right.

Christian Mccarrick:
[11:43] Right and you know it’s a common goal I think for a lot of people who are into that soften J managers like to have a goal they want to be maybe this offer maybe the CTO or did you give engineering.
So mean tell me about was that your goal when you serve got into management say hey I wanted to keep engineering or is it just sort of a time went on as you got more responsibilities it just became something like hey I’m ready for this now this is something I want to do and you and you come into the role.

Robert Slifka:
[12:09] Yeah you know some of that happened as similar to a lot of things in my life I guess is you’re sort of doing it and then you look backwards and say there’s a pattern to the things that I’ve enjoyed you.
And as I am with my 10-year unicolor increase from being a manager to director and being there I realized I really enjoy this is something I’m getting a lot out of nearest transition into leadership.
Because it’s a very difficult thing and there’s not a lot of supporting resources for it and I enjoyed being able to also kind of influence the organization and culture just outside of my own perfume.
I’m moving into the VP roles and executive you you have a.
You have a lot more of that gift of a chance to do that in a really you have a responsibility to.

Christian Mccarrick:
[12:58] And what do you view cuz it it’s some different different organizations what do you view as the role of a VP of engineering.

Robert Slifka:
[13:05] I really don’t know if they spend or or have a strong opinion is kind of where I am but I really do believe that it’s a people management role,
I’m that that the CTO or if it’s not the CTO if it’s you know your VP of Technology operations Chief Architect,
I know that there’s a role for technology in an organization and there’s a role for people.
I am the VP engineering for me it has to be I think I haven’t met any babies but haven’t started out and gone through a technical track.
They have to be able to appreciate the work that their people are doing and in my opinion and it is a role that is firmly planted in people manager.
And there’s some folks your technical that’s totally fine.
But the the challenge that I have is that if there isn’t someone holy focused on the organization right who are we how do we work what is what is a good engineer what is good productivity to get team look like for us then then who is.
And this is something that’s important to you and I think culture is a differentiator super important and how you positively affect people’s lives in and out of work then.
Should someone be responsible for it.

Christian Mccarrick:
[14:11] Absolutely and I think an anecdote I was interviewing what other company I will name for VP of engineering position and.
Yeah I think I walked in and there was really not much meet and greet there was nothing I walked in the room like 6 white boards and it was literally about,
you know red black tree traversal and conversion to linked lists and all sorts of crazy algorithms.
Okay I’ll do that but I think the expectation of what they wanted somebody to do that instantly like almost in their head was probably not the right person you want running your pee.
Engineering organization right it’s just a different kind of mindset right now that I haven’t done that.
The role and I agree with you on that right the role becomes more of a people Centric roll are you still have to have come to the ranks I think an understanding technology get that respect and know what’s going on but that was like wow I don’t think you maybe understand you’re hiring for.

Robert Slifka:
[15:05] Absolutely and I talked about that sort of Arc right as it goes over time you know is an engineering manager engineering team lead right when you’re managing.
Good look like.
You know so you can if I was interviewing somebody to be engineering manager for the teams it would be it would be pretty technical right I mean they have to make that team better.
Write in a bar they have to uphold people too but as you move from sort of you know director to BP like your purview in your responsibilities change.
Until that the technical requirements you know again that the way that I think about it is your choice if I with the work.
Like what is it like to be an engineer here at Cher through or here at tell me so that you can address the that the concerns of the problems look for opportunities for UT.
But beyond meaning.

Christian Mccarrick:
[16:01] Yeah but it’s true and it’s things like spreadsheets and.

Robert Slifka:
[16:04] This this is what’s exciting now.

Christian Mccarrick:
[16:07] You know I’m exciting and it is it maybe.
Absolutely there right so you know one of the things too and how I met you Rob was at a conference calls calibrate right which I actually attended last September and,
tell me a little bit about what what calibrate is.

Robert Slifka:
[16:29] Calibrate is a conference for new engineering managers.
To have just been are about to or have just been at was just entered into entering leadership.
And have up to about we say 3 ish years of experience that’s really The Sweet Spot I think you’ll get the most out of the event.
It’s been an event to be done for 3 years now each year it’s about a hundred and fifty hundred sixty people.
High-end it’s put on by a group of Engineers the three people that are guys in myself Sonia Shivani were all that Indian leaders and everybody who speaks is there has been an engineer.

Christian Mccarrick:
[17:13] Yep and what a day what was the onus for you kind of starting that’s right you did this three years he woke up and said hey I want to burn myself with the you knew I had a job and a second night job by throwing a big conference.

Robert Slifka:
[17:25] Yeah it sounds like a terrible idea if I knew how difficult it was to it should you run a conference like I probably would have.

Christian Mccarrick:
[17:30] That’s what I say about that podcast.

Robert Slifka:
[17:31] Every week so you know that.
You know like I said we have a lot of engineering managers kind of come from within people who are first-time leaders.
And each time that happened you know seeing starting to see these patterns over time.
How can I help folks with the transition other than tell them what to expect about one-on-one really all I was doing we’ve got a couple Pages written that talk about how your relationship with your people and then and how your understanding of yourself but that was it.
It’s so near the idea of an event where we could bring people together to talk about the challenges Pacific engineering leadership.
During a period of people’s careers where they are really struggling to figure out you know what is it I do.
How do I know a guy doing a good job good job for the people on my team we really wanted to bring people together to.
Hear about lessons that are sort of like hard one from folks who’ve done it but also take to come together as a group right to know that it’s a lonely road.

Christian Mccarrick:
[18:46] Yes absolutely.

Robert Slifka:
[18:47] And we wanted to create an environment where people feel safe to talk about leadership challenges with people outside of their organization.
To the there’s kind of some sort of like.

Christian Mccarrick:
[19:07] It’s a media sound bite.

Robert Slifka:
[19:08] That’s it that’s the sound like there’s kind of like a secret and double secret thing.
This is the secret double secret things are that you know when you go to conferences you generally look at the speakers in the concept that’s why I’m going to the event so I can hear this thing depending on the conference you go to.
Depending on the side you may or may not also assume like I’m going to talk to some people just networking but if it’s a massive event who am I talking to.
I don’t know any other people sort of like me in terms of the challenges and are concerned and so the networking is a part of that but I really don’t like the word.

Christian Mccarrick:
[19:46] Ticket sales thing.

Robert Slifka:
[19:48] So the first like sort of secret thing about calibrate is that we we want to bring people together and I deliver to this earlier so that they understand that they are not alone,
for the challenges that they have that they’re facing right there are other people out there going through similar things you have learned so much in your role as a leader.
And by putting you with other people who were in that role is an opportunity for you to understand just how much you’ve learned and how far you’ve come.
Even though back at the ranch might not feel that way but I guarantee you it is that way and of course you can learn from other people and start.
I think that we have kept in mind since the very beginning of calibrate was making sure that it was a place where you felt as though.
There are other people there like you right so we had diversity and inclusion goals that we weren’t very transparent about until the third year.
Where we really want people up on stage.
People that are all the speakers we have been phenomenal that you can look at it say like that is an awesome person doing the job that I am doing or about to do that I can aspire to be like.
And you know they they are like me in whatever way that they might be like you write we want to put people out there that you can identify with this like excellent in the role so that you feel like this is a job in group that did include to you.
That you’re not the first person like you to try and Tackle this.
Have to that that’s the stuff that we don’t really tell people too much actually come thing I don’t know why but that’s this.

Christian Mccarrick:
[21:23] Show me sometimes it gets to be I don’t know sensitive topic I think.

Robert Slifka:
[21:27] Absolutely in and we haven’t even know we have an application process at that strikes people is a little odd.
Normally when I want to go to a conference I pay the money and go to the account of the go to the conference.
Yeah sure we’re selective because we have those goals and it’s important for us to do that we think we did a really good job in year 3 with the with those goals and any hitting some of the numbers that we look for.
And we hope that we can do a way better job every year and kind of doing this and the more more renowned for the event grows the more we hope we can do that.

Christian Mccarrick:
[21:58] It’s a great goal and it’s one of the reasons one of the things I strive for in this podcast is well.
We all have gotten to become engineering leaders through very different paths right there isn’t just one I got a CS degree at Stanford.
I just did a Google and you know now I’m going to be an engineering director somewhere right you know people have come from art backgrounds to.
Formal background in informal to switching careers to things like hackbright or other things and I think it’s important for all my listeners to understand that there is not any single right path to become an engineering leadership or engineering manager.
And not to mention I think other people are underrepresented groups and what not.
That we know I think we’re trying to encourage as well to get into Engineering Management right to provide that level of no diversity in and difference of thoughts and I think inclusion at a higher level.

[22:57] Know what are the units for 3 years now what is been some of the biggest feedback they’ve gotten from from Dana, it’s whether it’s from the guests or the speakers themselves.

Robert Slifka:
[23:05] You know the thing that surprised me and we’ve addressed this in a Year too and your three was no yes we want to bring people together and.
You know when I walked in to the first calibrate you know that that morning thing September 20th 2015 and.
Before the event and we have you know like a little breakfast and people were seated or on the tables like in LA,
the maybe that’s wrong and you know it in enter energetic engage conversation and I don’t know many conferences that I’ve been to Prior where you walk in and,
there is a loud group of people talking to each other.
At 8 in the mornings at like haven’t come with each other and that was the first you no inkling of like wow this is really necessary like we really needed to have done this.
And so the biggest learning I would say over the years we keep adding we had more breaks we make them longer and we’ve extended the the the afternoon sort of like happy hour or socializing session.
To allow like space for beautiful things to breathe and it means that we have we actually had went from 11 to 9.
This year and it’s to allow for that space right in realizing like yeah people are there for the content.
Really the end up coming for each other especially people who come back like you don’t have a lot of opportunity to go to a place where there it’s all engineering manager.
These are my peace.

Christian Mccarrick:
[24:34] And I think you know I’ve mentioned and some of my other guests to mention our previous cop podcast I know you know Kate has an orange my previous podcast.
They really they’ve talked about this and I’ve also talked about just the loneliness of being an engineering manager.
And you know I I don’t quite fit the bill into your 0 to 3 years of experience being as your manager cuz I went to take a break this year man I think I don’t I don’t I don’t want to tell everyone how old I am really.
Albert definitely greater than 3 years of injury management but I think I have to say that not only did I learn.
Interesting new things from some of the great speakers that were there.
Albert really did give that opportunity to networking I don’t think is right word at all for what calibrate about it’s really about.
Really what I I kind of jokes funny or people but it’s the people who understand what you’re going through what you’ve gone through and you know I learned.
Things from its going to why do mentoring which is everything too I learned some new things from the people I mentor.
You know as much as I’ll learn from someone who you know has bigger better not better but you know larger and more experience in doing other things that I’ve done before so I think the conference is is.
Absolutely needed in a wonderful thing for that writes the question into you been doing for 3 years is there going to be a fourth.

Robert Slifka:
[25:54] You know after the first year I told myself there’s no way that I’m going to do this again.
And one of the things that I have struggled with as it is a leader over the years is understanding when and how to ask for help for things and realize you know.
Lenient assertive weakness of mine realized I needed to ask for help.
And so what I thought what I did was Bonnie and Sonia they are now organizers of the event as well they helped organize last year.

Christian Mccarrick:
[26:26] Shivani was a guest on my show to an awesome guess go back to listen to episode if you haven’t.

Robert Slifka:
[26:30] Yes they did a phenomenal job the whole way the event sort of feels the content that is all Sonia.
That she does such a remarkable job and I don’t know that I could trust even to anybody better but are we going to do it again this year yes we are over over dinner after the event last year the three of us got together and said I guess we should do.
It’s just it’s so draining when you’re done like your ear I have such a high the day of the event the day after that, man what are we doing like what why are we doing this.

Christian Mccarrick:
[27:02] Yep.

Robert Slifka:
[27:04] Yeah and then and then every year we we get back and we decide we want to do it again.

Christian Mccarrick:
[27:06] And what’s the altitude in a chauffeur for my listeners it says it’s on the Calgary conference in San Francisco when is it when is it happen every year.

Robert Slifka:
[27:16] It’s always late September in between dreamforce and Oracle world the one event that it tends to overlap with strangeloop which is a huge bummer for us because strangeloop is an awesome event,
they weren’t we that’s kind of our sweet spot it’s hard to do it before and after those two events.

Christian Mccarrick:
[27:34] Yeah sure so as you look towards a 40-year some of the earnings from the previous unit 3 of mention definitely about having some more time for people to interact with each other what you have on tap for the 4th year in Hindi.

Robert Slifka:
[27:46] We have talked about some format changes you know it while it is it a shorter event its [9:30] to [4:30] with private two hours of breaks thrown in so we want it to.
Be a training day of conferences but you are kind of sitting in the chair in and being talked at.
And you should have sessions of quite sure they’re there about 20 minutes so you get a lot of diversity of speakers thought.
But again you’re sitting in that chair all day and so and anyway that we can make the event of the rescue and after recession but anything we can do to change up the day to break things up and.
And especially you include because like I said the focus is people anything we can do to include people more in the sessions.
You know now is the time of the year where we can be crazy with the ideas like maybe we’ll do workshops and things before the event and you know multiple day passes.

Christian Mccarrick:
[28:33] Ellen DeGeneres slot game show Kings.

Robert Slifka:
[28:36] Yeah check out of your chair if it’s so you know whatever so we we’re still ideating but in general some of those things are we you can trust will stay the same it’ll still be a day that doesn’t feel.
Exhausting when you’re done hopefully it’ll please a good way exhausting like and and will be in a relatively short and feature a lot of very people focused.

Christian Mccarrick:
[28:59] Well excellent it again put on the show notes I would highly recommend anyone to you know apply to go to the conference cuz it definitely is worth it not only for the speakers but for being able to you no talk with your peers you know that are dead are definitely out there.
And it’s not tells it all right that’s kind of anti kind of sale goals.

Robert Slifka:
[29:18] Not at all we actually make sure we don’t really have sponsors for the event yeah there’s no like Halle Booth of sponsors like throwing Swagat you if that’s what you’re looking for you might be disappointed.

Christian Mccarrick:
[29:25] That’s right yes yes what SWAG is cool but you know.

Robert Slifka:
[29:29] By so I can be cool.

Christian Mccarrick:
[29:32] So what are things we talk about the past 2.
It or just recently is you know you’ve you’ve talked a little bit about you know how you want to give back and different things and what are the things you mention to me and kind of a quote is it when your life subjective has been to help a million people have a morphic field experience at work.
So what does that mean.

Robert Slifka:
[29:50] I’m really thankful that you asked me to to speak with so much notice because it gave.
They gave me a chance to it to kind of think about that sort of thing and like much of the lessons in my life at you know you sort of look.
Backwards and try and piece together how did I can I get to where I am you know what are the things that are in common about some of the decisions I’ve made or some of the things I enjoy.
And so this that really had that effect of looking and seeing what’s really all about.
Right and one of the other sort of Secrets of calibrate is that yes it’s an engineering manager conference but a lot of those lessons apply universally to managing.
And so when I thought about.
You’re doing that you know headset this word of goalie how do I how do I scale my influence so that I can help more more people do this cuz I hope that I am and then that I can until when you start to think about,
you know the numbers from a leverage perspective you know if you’re if you’re managing managers and assuming an average team size of 4 to 6.
And then those managers move on to other opportunities hopefully there’s positive influence there.
Calibrate is an event is about 100 and 7580 people each year and if you do that same mass you can start to add the numbers are pretty.
And so like at like all good okay ours which is a manager now like this is the way you think about things,
you know hundred thousand felt like you know when you start to get into the thousands after running a conference like that felt why am I might actually hit that sooner than I think.
So I wanted to pick a number that was a nice round number but also like good hair felt a little bit beyond the realm of.

[31:23] Achievability it’s very much a stretch goal and so I might not ever hit it which is totally fine but it’s a good as the design it’s a good design.
Write the decisions that I’m making her sort of in in lines of hopefully hitting some of those.

Christian Mccarrick:
[31:36] And you need to talk about there’s two ways that you do that to have one is affecting the people that could be Force multipliers right beneath them and then the other half is you know directly directly influencing the people themselves so,
what are the differences between the two.

Robert Slifka:
[31:52] To the that the first one is what is the one that really kind of calibrate addresses the second is one that I really have a lot of work to do.
And that’s about helping people understand what a good fit for them looks like.
How do I know I’m embarking on the right opportunity or that this opportunity I’m about to take on his right for me and then once within that opportunity how did they affect the people around them,
without being in a leadership role themselves right like these non leader leaders that one that the most that I’ve done there I’m part of a group of mentors at coding school for women called.
Which is been phenomenal Adventure there for about the last 2 years and one of the things I talk to the engineers at the right about a couple times this semester that you career services at the end.
Cohort which is about going to finding an opportunity to speak to them about is you know interviewing employers.
How do you know if the opportunity that you’re taking on is one that’s going to be a good fit for you.
This is a way of helping you understand if this is an environment that’s going to let you be an effective non leader.
That we talked about about you know growth is an engineer.
And so if we can help you understand that you’ll have at that you’re going to an organization that the fits you the chance that you can have that impact is his mother.

[33:22] It’s a most of that for engineers has to do with helping them understand some things but.
A part of the DNA of the organization so that they can make decisions about those opportunities instead of asking an employer.
Decision they should make an example I mean if you ask somebody you know did the team hear about quality.
Yes of course they are like we make high-quality software okay we’ll check that box we can’t really do that like what you’re asking is about their interpretation of quality.

Christian Mccarrick:
[33:53] Is it important.

Robert Slifka:
[33:54] Exactly what you can do is understand like what would be some of the observable outcome,
the practices are processes that that a team might have Freight do they do test your development unit or integration testing do you use integration or deployment do they do coders use those kind of things and so you can make a decision later.
Right to see if that’s a good fit for you and if it’s the entire that kind of environment you can come into and have a broader impact.

Christian Mccarrick:
[34:18] And so it really talking about it too I think it involves a little bit of self introspection.
Defining out what are the you’re the absolute these are the things I say I have to have these are the things I don’t care about these two things that can’t be use of things that you know vice versa.

Robert Slifka:
[34:35] The challenge that is so you can come to split that right one of the things you and I talked about earlier saying was a manager how do I do that doesn’t itch and year out of.
Is it near the thing that I really advocators there’s a few things that I that I talked to folks about her looking for working in one is it.
I was on the core product and I did a few things like that that I talked about but often when I find it kind of focused on technical things.
And they’re very optimistic about the change they can bring to an organization.
Write like well they don’t I found out that they don’t write any tests you know I’ll get them to do test-driven development because once they see how good it is though Bella.
If Only They knew I think is anybody has been in here will tell you coming in and changing even a moderately sized or small organization can be pretty difficult so.
You know what I say is that though the way the things are probably the way they’re going to be for a while so you need to be comfortable with that to your point but the absolute star.
With what those things are if they’re not a great testing shop then they’re probably not going to be for a while and you know understanding that the ways that.
The you can make it in Pakistan take time to wrap up for those and you know you there’s going to be some things you live with day today you get comfortable with those.
That’s just going to be yet and it’s interesting that they taking that shift and saying k When I was a leader what do I look for.
A lot of what I suggest is you look for managerial and executive alignment about how work is done what is a pretty broad statement.

Christian Mccarrick:
[36:11] So how did Eddie to Eddie discern that right how do you feel that out.

Robert Slifka:
[36:14] Yes it would I what I think is the most telling there’s is the process by which something happen.
And by that I mean so for example Cherokee one of the things that we did was we recently launched a career path.
It took us about six months to get to the point where we were comfortable with what we had we then did that as an executive team that career Pathways Pacific engineering is an executive team we did that.
Reply from that same thinking to the manager at each team has their own career path but we want to say hi standard for management across all of sheriff.
So we have that yes it’s important to have that but how did it come about.
Well myself and the VP of people and another sort of interested person who happened to be an engineer.
We got together over the course of several weeks and I think about 3 months to create the managers that we started by getting an agreement of what success look like like how do we know we’re doing the job who’s the audience.
Took that through a pretty structure process and came out with something that we had a rated on many times included lots of people at different stages but this notion of like executive teamwork cross-functionally to achieve something.
That’s the that’s the kind of team that I like to be apart of.

Christian Mccarrick:
[37:30] And if you’re up if you’re an engineering manager right now looking for a new opportunity and you happen to be interviewing.
What types of questions then do you ask to get that information out right is it just blatant like how did you do the last process or is there going to be more subtle about it.

Robert Slifka:
[37:47] Yeah.
That’s it that’s the question I get most often and the one that is the most difficult is kind of like an investigator that you’re trying to figure out how this place functions because that’s what you live with.
It’s so often it is the how questions that you’ll focus on so you know interviewing from a product perspective you might.
You might want to know like how does how does a bill become lawyer right like how does he know how does an idea how do you go from an idea to figure out like what is this idea should we work on it.
And then once we do start working on it what does that look like does somebody dream up an idea creative spec designer designs at hands off engineering gets built no one uses.
Like if if that’s a process that’s fine and that works for some people it doesn’t for others but I know that the house of that process those transactional that transactional flow between teams sign an environment that that I would really try to.
By asking about the house if you let him inside to make your own assessment like how they made that decision or what artifacts they believed were important to produce I don’t know if I could really kind of work.
What I look for is you know a lot of inclusiveness and cross functionality and how things get done.
And a lot of communication collaboration like seeing those things so it’s it’s the how questions like pick a thing an artifact or something that’s important about it some practice or process the organization has.
Tell me about it why do you do or don’t do code reviews right tell me about your you know your testing process or how do you ensure quality here.

[39:19] And then once you get that answer then it’s all about why like why this that why that’s that and of course you’re not doing this like to antagonize them are in an accusatory.
Dare you what gave you the right you’re doing it to find out like what is every day look like here when a big thing that affects a lot of people in this is more for the manager prospective.
When something that affects people is being worked on so recently worked on we just kind of Crunk what ship this a couple days ago you know how we choose technology.
Rights important thing to write down and agree on cuz it’s an engineer like I found out about this thing I think you could really help us what do I do what do I need to get start.
And so you know this thing involves people and how they think and work were they included in the creation of this document like how did you do that.

Christian Mccarrick:
[40:06] But I think having a document like that and if you were interviewing anywhere I think that has very concrete examples of things like a Playbook.
Or I could have vacation of how they choose new technology I think especially as a leader going into an organization like that it makes your job easier right because.
You can say.
Okay even and it allows you to delegate some of those decisions down for her to the chain because there is no ambiguity it’s this is kind of how we do things here so I’m comfortable with you making decision as long as you have the guard rails.
So make it a nut and then it allows then other people are you to be able to focus more on strategic decisions and then looking for thinking of your team.
So I think that’s fair to you again ever walk into a thing and they say that you have a question about something and they can hold on a minute let you know print out their playbook for you. That says a lot right there.

Robert Slifka:
[40:57] And I think.
That’s the most common source of dysfunction for me between teams tends to be.
Saying that there’s not something written down is more proxy for saying if you can’t come to a consensus enough to write down how things work here.
Then that’s sort of a sniff you know to use the sort of like Valerie factoring thing like it’s a little bit of a smell and often you know what good looks like you know the product team and they tearing team in the solutions team that might not be on the same page about.
And this notion of like writing it down and being transparent about that but kind of forces you take to do that and so often people shy away from writing it down because they they know what conflicts going to come up when they.

Christian Mccarrick:
[41:44] Whatever we want that.

Robert Slifka:
[41:46] Yeah I thought that all the time it’s a one of the things that I love about working truth or is that you know might you know Kurt who’s our VP of product like her and I are glued at the hip.
And I are friends I talk to me about his home improvement projects and a you know he’s he’s a great guy and I really doubt you that relationship and I know that for the success of my teams in for the greater success of Cher through have a good relationship.
Right and we certainly do not agree on things all the time not by a mile.
Or should we could relationship we agree on everything but it means we can talk about everything.

Christian Mccarrick:
[42:20] That’s right you can come to a resolution in a professional way. Hopefully benefits the company.

Robert Slifka:
[42:25] Yes we can get some together in a room we will get something right if it written down.

Christian Mccarrick:
[42:29] I want to flip this around a little bit because you know you talked about having people find what’s important to them and make sure they have cultural fit with your organization.
But is hiring managers which you know most of my listeners are at this point how do you then turn around when you are interviewing for candidates right how to use us out.
That they will be a good fit for you and vice versa because you can if they come in it’s baking switch they’re not happy they leave right now if that’s not good either.

Robert Slifka:
[42:57] So one of the challenges of figuring out that that fit question for us it comes into sort of a culture and values interview and of course going back to I just said.
If you want to consistently do that.
You have a better chance of doing it if you’ve written down your values and your culture write the things that are important to you so that you can take that and start to understand how.
What would behavior from somebody in past jobs look like.
That match that those values right it’s a one of ours is purpose and it has to do with your kind of demanding contacts too many maybe a strange word we should think about raising that differently but the ideas I’m not sure how something works or why I might be getting asked for this thing.
I’m curious what’s going on like how did how did we kind of come to this point you don’t want people who do that I was interviewing someone.
And I was wanted to know how the you know data pipeline worked at my company.
And I have a what have you done to further that right like as evidence of this DeMent context of what have you done to kind of further yourself.
Nothing like okay well that that’s fine need some places don’t do that like maybe it was really hard for this person to figure out when I give them the benefit of the doubt like this is a challenge I said okay so what stopped you from that like well I guess I didn’t ask the person who worked on that part of the system.
Why don’t you ask them where they sat next to me and I guess I never just thought about it if it might be it might be the start of the Bridge Too Far there,
I say like it is it if if if part of your sort of operating like day today is that last night I just prefer that kind of come in put my headphones on and get my thing done even if I’m curious about how other things work.

[44:38] You’re not going to have a good time at your other that’s not to say that your style working isn’t awesome.
It’s just that you know of our Engineers you know what our career path you’ll see 25% of how we evaluate Engineers technical the rest of it is about transparency purpose.
Data communication really are leadership.

Christian Mccarrick:
[44:58] Which is also you know where I just was reading the over the holiday have a great study to the Google had done about evaluating what sort of makes none of their best managers but some of the best engineers.
And when they take they idolize you know quantitatively I don’t know the dimensions to use but I think the number one thing at the bottom is technical skill.
Right I think everything else above it rated higher like how did the former teams their their social context like how they perform well and in giving feedback and curiosity and all these things rated much higher than just raw technical ability.

Robert Slifka:
[45:31] Yeah those are the things that.
That you can teach so you know that those other things about you no communication transparency purpose like really wanting to know the meaning behind the things you’re working on it’s hard to put those in.
It’s a lot easier for somebody new to learn a new language that to learn like intellectual curiosity.

Christian Mccarrick:
[45:53] And I answered your question to ask if there if the candidate said well I really wanted to but the guy had his headphones on everyday and every time I’m over to him he scowled me where that’s a different answer.

Robert Slifka:
[46:02] Totally different answer yet absolutely you know just seeing that you know that the person is done I think kind of rolling the spec ops original question like you’re looking for I can like it’s behavior-based interviewing what are our values and what are some behaviors that other organizations are in your past.
That you might have exhibited the show that like this is an important way for you to.

Christian Mccarrick:
[46:20] And you know,
what else it is there anything else coming to the end hear that Robert you want to share for kind of other listed for our listeners that new management and the things we’ve talked about for about calibrate or you serve about,
you don’t value it in yourself and itself introspective about what to look for in a new job.

Robert Slifka:
[46:39] Yeah yeah you know I really.
I really would prefer if people put themselves a little bit more.
Value themselves more assertive in the interview process and in their day today sort of lives.
To say you know I mentioned this before we are meeting that you know I’m I’m from Eastern Ohio my whole family grew up in still valley during a really tough time in the in the seventies and eighties.
And for us you know the ability to find happiness on the job really was a challenging thing.
You know somebody offers you a job you take that job yes sir there’s not a lot going around like mine and so growing up and then when I when I graduated graduated in 2001 to 2002.
Basements of the.com bust right of like it was I will take anything you know but we’re really blessed to be in this place where we we do have at least a little bit of choice many of us do not ever fortunate for that.
But I really do know you spend so much of your time at the office I really would like people to to Value themselves more in that relationship.
This isn’t about.
You is the evaluate e right like spend at least if you don’t spend you know you have $100 to spend spend at least 15 or $20 on understanding yourself and how you know opportunity is going to be a fit for you.
You spend so much time there you put so much energy in it it should be rewarding in some way and that doesn’t mean that everybody has to work at a place with a cause per se.

[48:13] It does mean I think that you should work in an environment with people that you know that you would kind of work on anything.
And that’s why I’ve been at church for so long because you know we work on it we work on software for for Publishers L monetize the properties but if that’s changed over the years and it’s going to change wherever you working on the first day of knocking.
To find a place that the kind of really fulfills you in that way and there’s ways that you can get that for filming that aren’t necessarily you know people use the word phrase like mission-driven there’s ways you can get that fulfillment by doing you know any work can be meaningful.
Doesn’t matter which way you can find meaning in it and you can do in a way that that’s really rewarding.
I take away thing would be if people that to really put themselves first in those you know when those conversations.

Christian Mccarrick:
[48:56] Absolutely it’s a great point and kind of find out what makes what what makes you filled and what words you and then try to work towards that.
I think that’s why you know you do the the calibrate conference and I’m doing this podcast it’s if I think we know we kind of share a common goal of really trying to help other people right.

Robert Slifka:
[49:13] Yes absolutely.

Christian Mccarrick:
[49:14] To avoid some of the mistakes you’ve made so that hopefully we can raise the whole bar this industry which is I think I’ve gone through some tough times as a blade from a leadership standpoint.

Robert Slifka:
[49:24] Absolutely and that’s why I really admire so much for doing this if you’re doing it to regularly I mean you know each of us has very time-consuming day jobs.

Christian Mccarrick:
[49:31] Really you don’t say.

Robert Slifka:
[49:33] We do have some other stuff to do and then people and I’m sure you got this question about people ask got to be crazy to do this thing like why are you doing it what’s the financial gain.

Christian Mccarrick:
[49:43] Zero right now.

Robert Slifka:
[49:44] Calibrate.

Christian Mccarrick:
[49:45] Calibrate is zero this is zero Jerry at Elsie’s is zero.

Robert Slifka:
[49:50] And we do it because it needs to be done.

Christian Mccarrick:
[49:53] Absolutely you know one final thing I like to ask to all of the guests to come on the show what are some resources aside from this podcast.
That you would recommend to engineering managers or to the engineer managers to really kind of help them either you get into the field or you know did learn something new.

Robert Slifka:
[50:13] If you’re in new engineering manager one of the things that I wish somebody told me was.
Other managers at your organization that have nothing to do with engineering can teach you so much and I think sometimes is engineers.
Especially in the valley we can think of ourselves as well you know this message anything is pretty different than anything else like it is and it is.

Christian Mccarrick:
[50:36] People Are People.

Robert Slifka:
[50:37] People Are People.
It might my grandmother was a teacher at my at my mother has his run to the Head sort of people manager jobs are all life and people are people you deal with the same challenges so the first thing is that you will feel a lot less alone,
if you can really develop relationships with other managers that your organization,
lot of people you can learn from Chris Burgers Chris is listening is that was the manager that you a team that the company that I worked at when I was broke.
And many many years of management experience and was a great sounding board.
Am I crazy Chris like what the hell does this work how does the world work man and he was terrific for that so the first thing I say is like other managers your company other experienced managers and they don’t have to be from engineering to be really helpful.
And at least how do you understanding like you’re not alone.
With respect to sort of more specific resources my two big books from last year three big book radical Candor number one read that book.
Not about Engineering Management particular but it is about people management absolute must read Kim’s got his amazing and I forget who the co-founder is Randall.

Christian Mccarrick:
[51:40] Yeah tell me that’s too but.

Robert Slifka:
[51:42] Great actually great.
Wreck in the first manager path is phenomenal.

Christian Mccarrick:
[51:52] End on the clock.

Robert Slifka:
[51:53] And on the podcast please reply as soon as you know that that book is great not just for managers but for people who were.
Thinking about the transition there’s a section in there that is worth the price of admission just in those few pages which talks about Camille’s perspective before the change and how it actually worked out.
So good so so good those three pages could be you make a whole book.
And then scaling teams are scaling up the David lost a great book about not really a great Playbook starting point.
Dave is also a great person.
Really really good that leader in somebody you can learn a lot from those of the books and the people and like I said this podcast calibrate definitely there’s three years worth of Calgary videos on mine give those a it doesn’t listen.

Christian Mccarrick:
[52:46] And I’ll put the at some point out that the links to those Calvary videos on the show notes as well as the book said that Robert mentioned I think if I was taking your name a a single resource that is got the most votes for my for my guest it’s definitely has to be the managers past,
getting followed by radical Candor think those two are always in the top the top two right I should all the time so she.

[53:12] Alright Robert thank you very much for coming in this afternoon definitely appreciate you coming into two as I called my studio.

Robert Slifka:
[53:18] You’re welcome thank you very much.

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