Transitioning to Engineering Management with Shivani Sharma

Shivani Sharma from SlackShivani is a Senior Engineering Manager at Slack and currently leads the New User Experience engineering team. She is passionate about the engineering leadership craft. She is a mentor in the www.platohq.com community where she mentors startup CTOs and engineering managers. Shivani also recently joined the Ascent expert community, a program in partnership with Sequoia Capital, that focuses on career development and mentorship for professional women.
In her 10 years working in Silicon Valley she has worked at Google, BigFix and IBM. She is a UCLA graduate in Electrical Engineering and in her free time enjoys running, yoga and when she can get away, traveling the world.
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Show Notes:

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Show Transcript:

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:07] Good afternoon Shivani welcome to the show.

Shivani Sharma:
[0:09] Thank you for having me Christian.

Christian Mccarrick:
[0:11] Absolutely always my pleasure so funny that you’re calling and remote today and and I just wanted to.
Get a little bit of the background of where you started from your kind of high level of Education may be into your your current career and everything kind of in-between and any important steps along the way.

Shivani Sharma:
[0:30] Absolutely so I I did my degree from UCLA in electrical engineering and at that time I.
I think a lot of the jobs that I was applying for wanted a wanted Masters in electrical engineering and I wasn’t quite ready to commit to going back to school so I tried my hand at applying for software engineering jobs cuz I did take some computer science classes and,
doing starting out by doing a few Consulting short-term contract position starting out but eventually,
where are micro really started was when I was able to join Google in 2008 and work as an ETL data warehousing engineer and that’s kind of where my career started to take off and solidify in software and I never really look,
to go back to Hardware after 9 months I Google I went to a startup called bigfix and work in the security space.
It was a small start-up to so I was able to wear many hats and got a lot of experience especially when IBM acquired the company.
And I moved my way into management because with with the chaos of all the changes and the transitions localizing our product to making expanding into International markets.
And also scaling a product for through the large IBM business channels sorry for the sales channels you know there’s a lot of opportunity to learn,
and I move it into management there and after spending a few years,
spent six years at IBM and a couple of those years doing management I decided I want to go back to a smaller company and help see a smaller company that was fast growing and help them succeed and that brought me to slack where I am today.

[2:12] And I’ve been here for about 2 years and have seen about Forex growth in the number of people during that time.

Christian Mccarrick:
[2:19] Sure well that’s and that’s pretty large growth for writing that cert of that vertical growth of the company and what’s your current role and it’s locked today.

Shivani Sharma:
[2:27] My current role is a senior engineering manager for flax new user experience team.

Christian Mccarrick:
[2:33] Okay great and coming from a large I mean one of the largest organizations going into slack we what were some of the challenges you faced going to making that transition if any.

Shivani Sharma:
[2:46] Yeah there were many challenges I think coming to a smaller company after I’d spent six years at IBM post-acquisition it was.
There a lot of things I took for granted that IBM having Place being at a very mature company even just basic processes and tooling and just the way the system and structure set up to even communicate in between.
Different teams in organizations and departments that was already,
you know the protocol was already laid out and are released processes were already laid out and even a recruiting processes so when I first started at slack a lot of my time was figuring out how we can have a,
efficient streamlined hiring pipeline for engineers you know I had I had to grow my team by 2X,
and I are double that team in you know six months and,
along the way I established the Cody exercises and helped even standardized the way the interview across the different functional engineering rolls so that we had some way to calibrate,
judge people fairly during the interview process.

Christian Mccarrick:
[3:54] Sure more said of quantitatively than just your gut feelings and qualitative frame.

Shivani Sharma:
[3:59] Exactly exactly and the other point was that we you know being conscious of diversity and inclusion and you know how we going to get varied buried people,
in the room so that we can have differences of thought and approaches so that we can be Innovative and so thinking about that future as well.

Christian Mccarrick:
[4:18] Absolutely and you think your time spent learning well at IBM actually helped you to bring some of that that guidance into slack at the time.

Shivani Sharma:
[4:29] It did because I saw what worked at scale so there were some things that you know if we had.
200 500 people that wasn’t going to scale at the time when I joined slack it was maybe 70 or 80 engineering you have people in engineering,
I’m so you know I was thinking about how can we streamline the grating of the Kodi exercises how can we streamline the process and just have a central place where we keep all that information and which people are qualified to.
To evaluate the different facets of the interview and how to be trained people to do those exercises effectively and how do we also train folks to also take their unconscious by a thought of it or at least be aware of their,
biases so that they’re just evaluating on the criteria that we’ve we’ve laid out for those interviews.

Christian Mccarrick:
[5:18] Sure and about how large is your team right now.

Shivani Sharma:
[5:21] My current team so my direct reports I have 14 somebody my team is quite large yes that’s a lot of one-on-ones that I have every week.

Christian Mccarrick:
[5:29] Yes it is and you are you doing any managers as well or is it strictly individual contributors.

Shivani Sharma:
[5:36] So right now individual contributors this is actually the second team that I’ve managed that slack my previous team I did have one manager beneath me,
according to me and I still am enter her from time to time as she’s she’s grown in her role and you know Chris all those are really good trusting.
Relationship and I’m I’m glad I’m still able to offer her mentorship in advice and coaching.

Christian Mccarrick:
[6:00] That’s awesome and we’ll get into a little bit more of that mentorship things a little bit later in the show cuz I definitely to come back to that right.

[6:08] What’s the questions always asked to is what any mistakes you’ve made that real estate of stand out in your career that that that you’ve made and might be common to other engineering managers for stepping into their their first role.

Shivani Sharma:
[6:20] Yeah so I think the things that stand out for me when I was first making that transition.

[6:28] It’s.

[6:38] The thing that stands out for me in terms of the mistakes I’ve made have all been really centered around.
Me not being defensive if things aren’t going right and instead actually listening to the feedback that come from my team on things to improve.
I think it’s it’s scary getting feedback as a new manager from your team and especially when you’re you’re figuring things out when you’re trying to figure out you know.
How to run your weekly project meetings even the structure around.
You know what do you have Sprint’s in the frequency and you know making sure that all of those things are actually a good use of the engineers time.
So I think it was it was important to instead listen take feedback not get defensive you know all of these things are are here to help make the process better.
And and and their and I’m even coming to you two to talk about things that they think could be improved or any concerns that they have in general,
that’s a good thing that means that there’s two way transparency and communication if they feel comfortable raising their concerns so I see that as a good thing and it takes some getting used to though as a new manager.

Christian Mccarrick:
[7:48] Absolutely yeah that’s a very good point because lot of times you start of one kind of stick your head in the sand and hope you’re doing okay and you’re really not but getting a feedback early.

[7:58] Is is critical actually think to improving as a manager and if you if if you take that feedback to heart and you actually act upon it to try to improve.

[8:09] Any anything you would have done differently I know the obvious you you talked a little about nothing defensive anything else that in hindsight you might have done differently besides that.

Shivani Sharma:
[8:19] Yeah some other things is when I was when I first became a new manager I.
You know I’ve been an engineer for so many years and being at a startup and then. Start being acquired by IBM I have been working with the same people for over seven and a half years and,
at that time I had you know I had technical mentors but I didn’t really I wasn’t prepared to have mentors in the leadership space and so,
in the beginning I don’t really have people to ask questions or turn to and it was challenging also because that I be on my my manager was in Dublin Ireland and you know.
I could only reach him before Unit 10 a.m. California time.
So you know it definitely felt felt different and isolating and I think I definitely would have you know once my manager.
When I was engineer talk to me about hey I think you’d make a great manager I probably should have started to seek out people.
In the company and also start going to events to meet other people outside the company and and try to find mentors so that one actually was in the role I had I had folks to.
To learn from into to bounce ideas off of them to see how how they were doing things on their team.
But I don’t really have any comparison points probably the first 6 months that I was in that job so a lot of it was reading a lot of books leadership books and as much as I could get my hands on in a lot of self learning.
And then eventually I had formal training.

[9:49] Well that opened up at IBM and you know through that I met other folks and had raised more resources and connections.

Christian Mccarrick:
[9:57] I think that’s a very common thing where a lot of new managers especially as they come up through the engineering ranks they can put into a role without having a lot of support that you mention even IBM at such a big company had the support.

[10:10] Wasn’t necessarily available for you you know previous to you starting or even right at the same time that you started.

Shivani Sharma:
[10:16] That’s right that’s right and and what was unique to my position was that because we were a start-up,
within the Stray gantic organization we were still kind of functioning on her own and so there you know,
I still felt like a startup in the still small office so it’s not like I had a big campus where I had access and you people in other parts of the IBM organization,
so if you know I didn’t feel comfortable and going on the IBM intranet and going to the mentorship website and just reaching out to,
some random person that was in New York City that was an executive director for some guidance like I just don’t even know how to go about that.

Christian Mccarrick:
[10:54] I think a lot of new engineering manager to sort of feel a little bit isolated right I think it is the right word and thinking that maybe they’re they’re going through this and then they get in the loop.

[11:06] They might be afraid to ask for guidance and assistance hoping that. Maybe makes them look weak or something.

Shivani Sharma:
[11:12] That’s right that’s right.

Christian Mccarrick:
[11:14] Have you see that there’s a stigma at that and is it different at larger companies or smaller companies like just asking for help might be seen as weakness.

Shivani Sharma:
[11:21] I felt in in some company environments it does there definitely is a feeling of I don’t know if I can show my weakness it’s more like I can handle this I got this.
I would say my current role at slack I.
I’ve had a tremendous amount of support and you know been able to bounce ideas off of other managers here.
Peter even though a lot of the managers that slackens had,
I’ve had training and have been managers elsewhere we still we still did a internal training again just to make sure that our management style aligns with our company’s values and that that we were leaving,
with these values in mind and after that training I actually organized a a management cohort of a subset of you know 628,
people that we met regularly for the first year that I was here and we met every three to four weeks and you know it wasn’t super formal that it wasn’t like a book club or anything that’s a that’s a lot of pressure to complete,
instead we did articles or maybe we just brought certain scenarios that we were working through and you know you had your peers to.
To draw on their experiences and we did a lot of coaching and pure coaching in that in that cohort group.
And that works really well and I actually you know today I actually did a a coffee walk and talk with the one of the folks that was in that cohort and we going to be hadn’t connected and about,
three or four months and so we were actually just talking about that today since nice to catch up.

Christian Mccarrick:
[12:49] Wow that’s a really great idea and I think one that maybe,
people are listening to the show would benefit from from trying to get started in the room company any tips for for someone looking to maybe start something like that it said of a peer support group.
For other managers in a company.

Shivani Sharma:
[13:06] Yeah absolutely I would say.
UniFirst see what what the interest is I’m sure other managers are looking for any kind of support they can where they can bounce ideas especially folks that have company context and I would I would suggest.
First starting out with maybe meeting every 3 weeks for a quarter so that there’s an end date cuz when something is never ending then there’s as you know.
Because then it’s kind of awkward if you’re like oh no I think you know I don’t want to do this anymore so I think having stopping points and just asking people to commit for a quarter and then recommit for another quarter in and doing that quarter-by-quarter works really well.
I’m in digestible pieces I think it’s important to also have straw little bit of structure to the meeting so whether it’s.
In 5 minutes where you do intros and get to know one another and you know having.
Guidelines as a reminder that just ask ask what and how questions not.
Accusatory questions like you know ask questions based on curiosity.
And we usually try to cover two scenarios about 20 minutes each so and then usually a 10-minute wrap-up of the the folks that have put forth their scenarios and just share what.
What cases they were able to take away from from the discussion and what they’re going to try so usually. That works well.

Christian Mccarrick:
[14:30] Sure and did you have someone really should have come with a a scenario question preparation for that it did alternator had that work.

Shivani Sharma:
[14:38] Absolutely yeah it wasn’t formal so new people came with questions and scenarios and.
We we work through them people shared different experiences from when they’ve tried things generate generally it’s been.
You neither pointing them to materials or you know maybe more effective ways to brainstorm because their team isn’t able to to bring storm without people shooting down other people’s idea so you know.
Even these things like how do I officially run my team and have discussions,
and it rains from how how do how do people conduct their one-on-ones and your do they do anything differently with,
with intern one-on-ones and she know what what kind of a ramp up plan have yellow put together in the past for new hires and,
you know a lot of you know a lot of folks shared.
Some of the things that they put together whether it’s onboarding documentation or brainstorming Frameworks and there’s a lot of really good cross cross communication there and ensuring materials.

Christian Mccarrick:
[15:44] Excellent I think that’s it that’s it that’s a really in a tremendous idea that I hope some of the people listen to the show with actually you know taken and try to implement it goes without saying I think that this is is assumed to be a very safe space and environment in confidential pranks.

Shivani Sharma:
[15:58] Yes confidential safe space and.
You know we even had one manager you know come and talk about some sense of stuff that they weren’t sure about what to do with the underperforming employee and so you know we made sure to give guidance on.
Like how do you put together a performance Improvement plan or how do you talk to somebody about it if they.
As familiar with giving you no constructive feedback and you know there’s lots of things that you can learn from your peers.
That doesn’t necessarily have to be formal training but can drop them other people’s experiences.

Christian Mccarrick:
[16:34] Absolutely and I think one of the focuses of the show today that we were talking about with you is really about that transitioning from the individual.
To contribute to engineering manager and said of the trials and tribulations but also the resources that you have available to you and what that sort of transition looks like.
And one of the things that and in your keynote at at a Plato event that you did recently was you you’d really talk about that going into management is not necessarily a promotion but a career change.
Red so what can you explain that a little bit to to me in for the listeners.

Shivani Sharma:
[17:11] Yeah so it’s it’s a different skill set,
I mean the challenges might be are not necessarily easier or harder as an engineer versus a manager I like to think of it as engineer as a responsible for lines of code and making that work efficiently as a system,
and I see engineering managers as as having groups of people and trying to get them to work.
Efficiently as a system and having a good quality product and the output but really it’s the people part and did the key difference is that code will if it’s not buggy it’ll do the same thing over and over again,
consistently but humans don’t exactly work like that and so you know you can rehearse,
any kind of in a constructive feedback conversation you can plan for all these things but you may not always.
The conversations don’t always go exactly as planned and so are there are different types of challenges there it’s it’s ever-changing.
Nocera’s of the same no conversation is the same no matter how experienced you get and.
Yeah I mean I just I think that.
As a as a leader you have to focus on the people you have to focus on the empowerment and support and.
Really building that trust and transparency so that that people can trust what you’re saying and know that their leader has her back and is an advocate for the work that they’re doing.

[18:42] And also steering them in the right direction right are they are they working on the things that are the company’s focus and the goals and so really,
being that communication from from the top down and also sideways laterally across other departments and making sure everything is aligned.

Christian Mccarrick:
[19:00] Exactly it sits and that’s a good point I think that as as new managers it’s not.
Just about focusing on the project you have in front of you or the specific team you’re on but really starting to.

[19:12] Focus on managing note sideways and up as well right managing out words and up it would you put them so much bigger part of your roll.

Shivani Sharma:
[19:21] Right and in part of that is also connecting those larger initiatives and and connecting that with the the worth of these Engineers are doing so they feel that connection to this greater goal,
and how to have a feeling of belonging at the work that they’re doing is important and that’s that’s where you maintain that too.
That driving that self motivation and that’s when you empower the people on your team to know even though no one asked me to I’m going to go fix that bug.
Because I know it’s going to make a better experience for that customer and you know when when you highlight those things as a manager may be added a team All Hands where your kind of chocolate like hey we tackled you know X number of bugs this quarter.
In these the specific areas and we have reduced the number of ticket volumes coming in on zendesk.
Jennifer this functional area that used to be number one in terms of ticket volume so things like that and even like synthesized in the information of the of the work.
That folks are doing even though they know they’ve done it it’s important to call that out because then they know that people are noticing the work that they’re doing.

Christian Mccarrick:
[20:25] Yes and I take me to the port in part of the motivation really for people to understand that how the little work that they do is actually does time to pay big picture which is a certainly one of the.
The Hallmarks of having people feel engaged and continue to be motivated for the work they’re doing alright.

Shivani Sharma:
[20:41] Yes absolutely we have this interesting thing at slack we have a slack Channel called 1% Improvement and when when.
When folks see other folks making these little little improvements that are not necessarily part of a big product roadmap or anything or any large effort like that they,
they self call each other out in that channel and so it’s just like this whole Channel just piping in,
all the little things that people are doing and we like to talk about that as like compound interest so all these little things are going to just add up over time and and really going to make a profound difference on the future of our company,
especially after a year or two years and all these improvements that we make.

Christian Mccarrick:
[21:21] Absolutely I think that’s another that’s another really good instead of tidbit to take away for some people having some process.
For people to be ignored for the little things they do and as you mentioned.
That could add up how to make a big difference whether it’s in performance whether it’s in revenue or or any other initiative that the company is trying to to improve.

[21:43] What are the things that you’ve mentioned a couple times here about mentoring you mentioned to get a mentor as soon as possible and just in general would it would your thoughts on on mentorship and and why is that why is it so important.

Shivani Sharma:
[21:57] Mentorship is really important because.

[22:00] It’s sometimes nice to have a neutral person’s perspective and in an objective perspective on.
Maybe something that you’re working through sometimes you know if a if a situation is particularly frustrating.
I know that I can definitely get into an emotional Loop and and you know take some time to get out of that and process it and for me it helps to have someone objectively look at,
the fattening of the things the information that I’m sharing and and to,
kind of mirror that back to me and you know for me to realize like oh wow that’s totally unreasonable or.
Oh I should care about that thing like you’re right maybe I’m not paying as much attention to something and they also call out things that maybe I wouldn’t have emphasized before but I think it’s important.
It’s definitely helpful to have a sounding board and to get another perspective.

Christian Mccarrick:
[22:55] And in the past I think you have you had good Mentos yourself is that what you mentioned.

Shivani Sharma:
[23:01] Yes I have.

Christian Mccarrick:
[23:03] And how did you find you know how did you find the measure of unit for you personally how did you find yours in and how would you recommend someone out there you know finding someone that can be their Mentor moving forward.

Shivani Sharma:
[23:14] Yeah that’s a good point.
I would say some of my mentors it are folks that I have worked with in the past maybe not in my direct line of of management chain so.
You know I can still put my best foot forward for my manager and you know like I definitely share things that I learned with my manager so you know I’m definitely open with with them but it’s nice to also first work things out and have resources to.
Without always you know talking to your manager about all the things that you need help with.
So I have a folks that I get Mentor mentorship within the company and generally those are folks that I’ve also connected with on a human level and there are.
I have other through my network as well from Glenda conferences and you know folks that I have become social with from from.
This industry they’ve also connected with connected me with people based on the loom,
the passion that I have for the Engineering Management to craft and so I’ve been connected with folks I always take the opportunity to get coffee with new people and just buy organically doing that as I’ve made some,
the human connections with people and have really built a friendship.
And it’s not really like hey will you be my mentor I first get to know people and you know and then I understand some of the expense of had and.
Based on what the.
The thing I need mentoring on I will talk to different people about because of the background or you know something that maybe we have sparked from conversations we’ve had in the past so.

[24:57] I think it takes.
Putting yourself out there to meet me people that are experts in your industry and in your community to to start to make those connections in the mentoring comes as a.
As a fall on to that.

Christian Mccarrick:
[25:12] Sure sure it’s probably not recommend going up to a stranger in an event and saying hey can you buy me a mentor.

Shivani Sharma:
[25:18] Exactly,
exactly it doesn’t quite work that way it’s a lot of pressure also and I feel like these these things can be a little bit more organic and and I think different people have have different things to offer so you know I talked to.

[25:32] Different people about different scenarios just based on their expertise and their anecdotes right because then it’s it’s a little bit more connected that way.

Christian Mccarrick:
[25:40] Sure I mean I think that makes sense right you but you can have almost multiple mentors in different areas whether its leadership or whether its leadership in a specific area or technical I think it’s just right really finding a person that matches you personality-wise and the skill you’re trying to improve.
Answer the valving to that roll.

Shivani Sharma:
[25:57] Absolutely and an as an engineering leader I also interface with you know our head up recording and I interface with our product like my product manager counterpart or maybe our design manager,
you know I have friends that are in these disciplines as well outside of outside of my work and you know sometimes I’ll talk to them to understand.
To be able to understand these other disciplines perspectives on things and I also like to connect with I like to connect with people in different functional roles so that I can.
I can better collaborate with people that might think differently than I do.

Christian Mccarrick:
[26:31] Sure absolutely which is I think a key point with the mentorship and the holding the DNA initiatives and everything else.

[26:38] Is the disparate ideas and coming together is actually really helpful for solving problems and and you’re not kind of really growing a product in a company.

[26:48] One of the things to as a on the mentor topic not only you know have you had menteurs I know that you you are a mentor.
Is she on this this.
Product and Company that’s helping out Plato tell me a little about why you think it’s important and why you kind of give back to it to help other you know aspiring engineering leaders.

Shivani Sharma:
[27:09] Yes absolutely so I first met the CEO of Play-Doh.
Last year sometime at the end of last year in 2016 and this was first with just the idea of.
Engineering leadership and Gino do you think that there’s enough resources out there and and we were just kind of jamming and over coffee about about engineering leadership and.
And then he told me about the idea of having.
Cranium Network where where folks can get match based on actual anecdotes and stories of what the problem someone’s having and then also anecdotes and stories based on what a mentor has dealt with.
And so yeah I thought I thought the the way they were thinking about it and how they can have these high-value matches and also taking care of the logistics.
Of of actually scheduling and planning these things and taking the headache out of that by having it.
Done through a bot within Slack.
I said why not if I just have to show up and 30 minutes and I have this spot that automatically takes care of all these things for me and also gives me a brief 24 hours beforehand so I can just be prepped on the,
the type of problems I was having which is probably solar to something that I have written about then.
You know why not try it out and I’ve been doing I’ve been apart of the beta since.
May I was one of the first 12 mentors we I think there’s over 100 mentors now in the community and.

[28:46] It’s all the conversations even though it’s been with different people that I’ve never met before because of the common ground with the with the matching of the problem and the problem that I have dealt with in the past it’s made for really high value conversations and.
At the Play-Doh events I I’ve actually the last one a couple weeks ago at one of the women.
I meant or last month came came running right up to me during during the social time and you know was,
chatted some more and she was like I’m so like happy to meet you in person and like you really connect with with people when you have some commonality and.
You really help someone for me I enjoy helping people that’s why I became a manager to begin with I don’t care about the spotlight it’s more about how can I level up the people around me and how can I level up other injury managers to and and.
Teach folks the things that I’ve learned along the way because there is no manual everything every scenario is different every company is different and you know a lot of it.
Comes by earning those merit badges by going through it yourself and.
Yasser for me if I can help make some of that easier because I I definitely did not have something on a network like Play-Doh around when I first transition so you know I don’t want to be a part of something like this.

Christian Mccarrick:
[30:07] Yeah I know neither did I I think I in full disclosure on the mentoring on the Plato Network as well.
That’s right you should I mean I should have connected and I have you on this podcast after meeting you at the plate of events.
But have you felt that doing these mentorships for you is actually helped you in a become a better manager.

Shivani Sharma:
[30:28] Yes absolutely for for some of the for some of the.
Pairings for some of the mentoring sessions that I’ve been matched up for.
You know we’ll have the actual problem that folks have asked me about or have written ahead of time but sometimes we might have an extra 10-15 minutes and then we start talking about other things and start jamming on other,
other problems or sharing some experiences on a particular topic and for me it’s also.
Hi I got a sense of what resonates with other people in their situations and so for me it gives me another data point.
On another perspective in another company.
In another scenario using may be similar Frameworks or similar process to use and you know and talking about the pros and cons of of some of those approaches and so for me it’s it’s either.
Validating or give me another data point of either a pro or con for some of the experiences that I’ve already had in my scenario,
so I’m always learning as a mentor as well and you know also explaining something to someone else means you really have to understand it yourself and kind of process and synthesize that stuff.

Christian Mccarrick:
[31:43] They’re great I mean I agree with you too I think it definitely helps.
To be in some of those situations and helps help me over the years to grow as an engineering leader and I wish I had some of this this early so I think one of the first takeaways here really.

[31:56] 4 people listening is really go try to find a mentor if you’re an existing engineering manager not only do mentors help.
Got to scale up Beyond where you are today but also if you have the ability to kind of give back and try to Mentor not on your team’s what you should be doing but also kind of maybe Reach Out.
And take on a mentor role for other people outside because it I think it certainly will help you grow as an engineering manager right.

[32:23] What are the things to is.
You talk about new managers and the role being different and it’s really about focusing on humans and not on code what.
What do you think is the most important thing that the new manager should focus on as they as they enter into into this role right.

Shivani Sharma:
[32:42] Yeah I think the most important thing as you step into a role is full I’ve seen a lot of.
Blood of numenera step into a management role based on their company has grown very quickly that’s like oh my God my startup got funding.
I just hired a bunch of Engineers,
and now there are going to 1015 engineers and it’s just like me as a count as a technical co-founder and and the CEO who’s you know the Visionary for for this and.

[33:15] And suddenly you have to you have to manage this and so a lot of folks step into this more out of necessity for the organization versus them actually even wanting to.
To be a people manager or even knowing what the full capacity.
Of that role means and especially when to do it well and I think it’s important that when you do step into that role the reason why.
You shouldn’t spend as much time in the code base is is that as a manager.
You’re in a position of authority and so if if you’re going to make a technical change in the code no one is going to question you and that doesn’t empower the engineer’s to share alternative approaches.
Or even you know question the approach that you’re putting for.
And really your job as entering manager is to empower the team and have them have the skills to make those decisions and carry out the execution at while just making sure they know that they’re achieving the company’s goals.
And so it comes with having people in your team that you trust that have good technical Direction so it helps to have a technical leader.
And to guide those technical decisions but that shouldn’t be you.
You should focus on the team Dynamic he should focus on the vision and strategy and kind of like where where does this team need to be in in 12 to 18 months where does the code Basin to be in 12 to 18 months and you can’t really.

[34:55] Can’t really focus on the current code that needs to be implemented and be looking out a year a year and a half out and doing the strategy planning.
And it does take time out of your schedule and it’s hard to do both and another thing is that you’re going to be meetings more you’re going to be in one on ones with the people on your team.
If there is a critical bug that needs to get fixed and it’s your responsibility and because you’ve been still having your hand of the code base and no one else knows how to do it then you’re also holding things up so it’s important.
Take what the people that are available to do the work,
so that you can they can focus on their wrong and then you can focus on on the strategy the process is making sure the team knows what the direction is and making sure that they’re empowered to do the work.

Christian Mccarrick:
[35:44] And you do mention one-on-ones and of course they’re very critical what you think the focus of a new managers one and one should be with their with their new direct reports.

Shivani Sharma:
[35:55] As a new manager it’s important to understand what motivates people on your team and to understand what their career goals are.
What what and understand what their strengths and areas of improvement are.
That way you can understand you know if if you need to have a subset of your team working on a project.
You can you can use people’s strengths to to help one another so you know if someone’s really good technically but then tends to go down a rabbit hole and,
not necessarily deliver stuff on time if they’re not overseeing you know but then you have another engineer on your team that is always on top of everything has a really good high-level holistic view things and is a very good communicator on status of the work,
maybe pair them together on the next projects that they’re they’re complimenting one another so it’s important to know these differences between the engineers and.
And you need to kind of have a custom approach to each person you can’t use the same management approach for across everyone because.
Everyone is as a special snowflake they’re all unique in their own ways and they have few no different desires and wants and things that they want to achieve in life and.
Your job is to to coach them and to identify areas of improvement and how they can get there.

Christian Mccarrick:
[37:18] Yeah great another thing I think that comes into play is the difference between management of time.

[37:26] There’s the whole maker versus manager schedule concept how do you think it’s important that from a mindset perspective than a manager now has to change how they think about managing their time as a manager instead of as a coder.

Shivani Sharma:
[37:40] Yeah so.

[37:43] Time is never enough as a manager so I mean there are things that you need to do and you know maybe it’s.
You know running some documentation on a new process that you want to roll out or you know writing a an announcement for you know.
Writing a blurb for some kind of announcement that you want to do for the company or.
There’s all these things that you know that you need to do as a manager and it’s important to.

[38:17] Cheap time throughout the day.
Because there’s a lot of like follow-up items that you might have from different meetings and from one-on-ones with people that you need to do so what I like to do to manage my time is.
Two.

[38:31] To have baby 15-minute breaks in between my meetings I try not to have more than an hour hour-and-a-half of back-to-back meetings I try to have a break every one and a half to two hours and.
Would that I’m able to catch up on things and maybe respond to any urgent requests or you know be able to prioritize anything that comes in and respond to things so that I’m not I’m not Mia.
You know a whole day because I’ve just been in meetings so I think it’s important to break up those chunks and spread them out so that you actually have time throughout the day to respond and.
Give guidance you know whether it’s two cross-functional people to a product manager or designer or even two Engineers on the teams that are like hey this critical bug came in.
Do I work on this is an important off or do I continue on that critical feature that were trying to get out the door.
I’m so kind of that balance so I try to I try to have frequent breaks throughout the day where I’m available to answer and respond to things like that.

Christian Mccarrick:
[39:31] Chirp and one of the things that comes up to is what if you step into or someone steps into a new manager role.
90 days 6 months in maybe it’s not the right for them both of them the right questions the new managers that ask themselves to see whether or not you know this is right for them or maybe they’re better off being in DeVille to contributor at this point in time.

Shivani Sharma:
[39:55] Yes so generally it can be that whether they’re finding satisfaction out of the.
So as an engineer you have the satisfaction of deploying your code and having that instant gratification and so you might get that endorphin rush from you know heading to pull in and getting that coat out there to the world and knowing that.
Tens of thousands or millions of people using your.
The code that you wrote and using that as an engineering manager it’s hard to judge or output and.
So if if if mentoring people and you know making sure that were executing projects,
efficiently and on time and communicating well is not getting me satisfaction and you’re just finding yourself,
wanting to tackle those technical challenges and problems and actually be coating that is okay it is okay and,
you know even at companies that I’ve worked at it has not been.
Looking down upon its is not been looked at as a demotion to decide hey you know what does management thing is not for me I did it as an interim manager because we needed someone right away.
You know now that we’ve we can probably hire for someone now.
I’m going to sit down when that person starts and I think it’s totally okay to go back and forth and you know it depends on.
The team in the scenario and where you’re at and I know some people that go back and forth between individual contributor and management throughout their career.

Christian Mccarrick:
[41:32] Sure and I think that’s important right to be able to have a way that they can go back and forth to see if it’s not right for them you don’t want to lose somebody just because they’ve been promoted and and now you’ve lost a manager and a coder and and you have to start over again.

Shivani Sharma:
[41:45] Right and it’s important to keep in mind it’s it’s not a promotion it’s a lateral move it’s a different different chain of a career path so.

Christian Mccarrick:
[41:56] Like going from a product and back or something.

Shivani Sharma:
[41:59] Exactly exactly.

Christian Mccarrick:
[42:01] What are the things to that and you mentioned a little bit before about diversity and inclusion who what do you think or some of the important things that.
Both companies and on the lower level individual manners can do to support you no more diversity inclusion in their companies in there and their teams.

Shivani Sharma:
[42:20] Yes that’s a really good question so there’s a number of.
Actual things you can do on so there is an article out there I’m I’m trying to remember where I saw it but it came out a few years ago and it did a study on.
Just even the way that you write your job descriptions can affect what types of people apply to your to your listing.
And the general signs for diversity for getting more divers pipeliners of candidates is you know whether that’s women are underrepresented minorities as is to have less things in the requirement.
Bucket and so you know instead of having 15 to 20 bullet points of all these requirements that you have for the candidate that you’re looking for and maybe having.

Christian Mccarrick:
[43:09] Turn painted it.

Shivani Sharma:
[43:11] Yeah the Unicorn candidate that that’s somehow can magically do it all instead having maybe three or four really hard requirements and then having.
Having other things as you know optional or bonus,
bonus type things that you’re looking for because at every company you know people have different experiences people use different Technologies and so while they may not have use the exact technology they might have done something similar and if they.
Has really good learning capabilities than it really doesn’t matter and if someone can just pick up a new technology that’s that’s similar.
I need to use the same you know process and.
Same problem solving then it’s okay and so the study what the study said was that generally women and underrepresented minorities.
They tend to apply two positions where they feel like they have I think 90%.
They feel like they satisfy 90% of the requirements or some high number like that I might I might not be recalling it correctly but generally men apply to position positions once they see that day.
They can’t they qualify for 50% of the required bullets so there’s a there’s a big difference there and so.
Definitely having shorter shorter job descriptions makes that more accessible to people the other thing that we do that I’ve done in practice is.
Having a take-home coding exercise so people have different people have different.

[44:48] Life schedules and situations and so you know designing a coding exercise that might take like an hour or two to do and instead giving folks a week to do that.
So that they can do it whenever they have time you know you don’t know if someone’s working two jobs or you know have or is a single parent answers all these different scenarios that that come into play and so if you give people more flexibility.
That also helps to keep people in the pipeline as you progressed through the different stages.
We we tend to do that instead of a a whiteboarding exercise.
Cuz wakeboarding in front of someone can be intimidating and not everyone is good at that and so we wanted to see well why don’t we design a codec or size of someone doing something that they would do.
Final project here so it’s super applicable to the exact work you’ll be doing here and actually gives us a better signal than to talk about.
Theoretical things that they may or may not have learned.
And also you know not everyone comes from a traditional Computer Science Background but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t good programmers because a lot of people are are really good and are self-taught well.
And what see the other thing you can do is for the coding exercises we we make it a blind grading process.
So the recruiter will will just have like a wreck ID to the Cody exercise at submitted and to that zip file and we rotate the the zip files amongst a group of engineers’ that are trained to grade.

[46:25] These exercises and we have a rubric that calls out a scoring of wonderful for each of the categories and,
what it means to have a one out of four or what it means to have a Florida for for each of the things that we’ve called out so we have an explosive like straightforward rubric that these engineers,
go through an Engrade.
And I know they don’t see the resume they don’t know the education they don’t know anything it’s just it’s just a wreck ID and a file of code.

Christian Mccarrick:
[46:54] I can keep out there unconscious by us from making any decisions right yeah.

Shivani Sharma:
[46:58] Exactly yeah so it’s like oh this person went to Stanford oh this yeah sure I’m sure they know what they’re doing and you kind of film.

Christian Mccarrick:
[47:05] One thing.

Shivani Sharma:
[47:06] Exactly exactly and so it gives a more objective approach to the the code exercise grading so that’s another thing that we do.

Christian Mccarrick:
[47:14] And I was talking to someone else recently as well and they mentioned that.
You making sure that you you still consider candidates coming out of some of these non-traditional sources like the hackbright academy and everything else that.

[47:26] Non-traditional backgrounds in education and everything else you know tend to potentially go through these the these types of boot camps.

Shivani Sharma:
[47:35] Yeah absolutely we actually have several hackbright candidates here or I guess now there they’ve been here season dungeoneers now they’ve been here for a couple years and they’ve really done a great job and part of that is I mean the Kodiak sir size if you can.
If you pass the coding exercise we know you’re technically capable and after that it’s the same person interview where were.
Evaluating your teamwork skills and you know some of the soft skills as well communication and all the other things that are also important to be a good engineer.
So yeah that we’ve got hot grip pack right folks and also helps to have.
Hot support other organizations as well we also look at.
Our intern classes while we think of our interns as our future pipeline of candidates and we try to go to schools that you know.

[48:31] Berkeley black colleges we definitely go out to Atlanta and go to a number of the school’s out there and we even look in our own backyard here in the Bay Area there is Mills College in Oakland,
there’s also Monterey Bay Cal State University and.
And those are right here in our backyard and have a pipeline of of of of students looking for opportunity and looking to a lot of them being the first first folks in their families going to college.

Christian Mccarrick:
[48:59] Yeah well fantastic I mean all good all good ways I think to help with you know helping out the diversity inclusion in getting in are pipelines for for for these these careers so that that’s great advice.

Shivani Sharma:
[49:11] Yeah if I may add one more thing about that is with with the one that with the colleges that are here look on the Bay Area I have been attending the.

[49:22] I’ve been attending the fall campus they have a computer science intern Fair where they were all the interns come back from their summer internships and,
do presentations on on what they’ve done at Amazon or apple and like they’ve all had amazing internships and.
For me what I do is I I am I’m in contact with the the head of that that program he’s he’s change the programs at the computer science and.
In three years program and you know giving industry feedback like what is going to.
What is going to prepare these students for what they’re actually going to be interviewed and evaluated on and so there’s a little bit of Industry involvement with the with the actual programs here so that they have a better signal on how they can prepare the students.

Christian Mccarrick:
[50:12] Don’t fantastic right I mean that that is really good and and shorting it to three years I think certainly helped certain to do Jewels right to to become.
You put that as well instead of having to take with us more time away from work or ditional student loans everything I think all those things help.

[50:27] So what are the things to that to get into I was like to ask different guest on the show what are some of the resources you would recommend to new or even existing engineering managers books blogs you know anything that kind of pops out for you that is important as helped you.
Or that you think is definitely great resource.

Shivani Sharma:
[50:44] Yes so a couple resources come to mind there’s an article that Google published about a study that they did is called to Google’s Project Aristotle and it talks about.
What makes a team successful.
And you might think it’s whether or something you know it’s a group of extroverted or introverted or can be based on IQ but it really comes down to,
mutual respect and Trust on the team with conversational turn-taking and that there’s a term for this called psychological safety.
And this is important for folks who aren’t familiar and maybe can’t articulate why certain teams work well and why other teams don’t so it’s important for you as a as a new manager to.
Understand that yourself but then also equip your team to understand.
Like hey you should probably sell facilitate amongst one another when you’re having technical discussions you know they’re not as formal but making sure your.
Hearing from everyone in the room that everyone feels comfortable so that conversational turn-taking piece that’s a great article and it was very eye-opening for me when I first read it.
And everyone on my team that I’m sure this will have has really you know it’s been a opening for them as well another book that I’ve used as a framework for some folks of my team also,
that. It is is a book called difficult conversations and this this book.
Kind of breaks down something that is generally not having difficult conversations but you know being conflict-averse.

[52:18] This is this is something that we do we just have this Primal reaction of of fear and anxiety and emotions when when having to confront something that we don’t want to.
And so this kind of breaks it down into how can I have a constructive conversation with someone and when you break it down into a framework then.
You know engineer’s are equipped with okay I’ll do this process and then this stuff and the stuff is kind of makes it more systematic and so it makes it more approachable.
And and then you’ll still have folks practice with that framework and also prepare with that framework and so I thought that was really great resources and a book that I’ve also.
Had the the team read as well another another couple books a few other couple books that I also enjoyed our people wear.
And tribal leadership and it’s just kind of understanding people as an organization for both of those books and.
Really understanding that you know when projects fail when companies fail it’s not not necessarily the technology all the time or you know the market in a lot of it comes down to the team and the people.
Because when when teams are highly successful you’ll,
you’ll see that even if they filled it a certain product they’ll still stay together and they’ll build something else and that’s why you see a lot of people who are serial entrepreneurs are there working with the same people over and over again because they found the team and that’s probably the most difficult thing.

[53:48] To have that and then have.

Christian Mccarrick:
[53:51] That’s where the things I think of you see you sometimes tend to look for like they’ll fund the team even over an idea sometimes.

Shivani Sharma:
[53:56] Exactly exactly it’s it’s about the team.

Christian Mccarrick:
[54:00] Any kind of last last minute advice for any dependents out there that you kind of want to impart.

Shivani Sharma:
[54:08] Yes I think one advice I would give is.

[54:13] I based on my years of management so far and even folks that are VP of engineering and CTO that I’ve I’ve met you know we’re all in learning mode and.
I feel like ending the leadership is a craft that is.
It’s continuous learning and I think I will always be a student of learning and so don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
I think as long as you’re you’re looking and weird and you know doing a retrospective on on the different scenarios that may have not gone the way that you thought.
But taking that understanding what you can do better next time and you know when your first line manager there’s certain type of scenario that you go through and,
you know you’ll probably,
find those easier but then when you become a senior manager or director or VP of engineering you continue to have different challenges that each level and so the learning doesn’t stop and you’re going to continue to make mistakes it’s not like.
You’re going to get to a point where like you’ve learned everything so you know I think don’t be afraid to make mistakes it’s a continuous learning.

Christian Mccarrick:
[55:17] And I know for myself just experience II I constantly try to learn and read an enduring else I can do to help myself improve because then obviously that that falls down to help.
Mine on myself but helps my managers and then and then their direct reports and it really just helps the entire ecosystem if everyone can I get written up together.

Shivani Sharma:
[55:35] That’s right.

Christian Mccarrick:
[55:37] Any what’s the best way for a put this in the show notes for people links and whatnot but for people who might not get there what is the best way for people to reach out to you or contact you Twitter email blog post excetera.

Shivani Sharma:
[55:49] Yeah probably the best way to reach out to me is through Twitter and my handle is Shivani Sharma 29.

Christian Mccarrick:
[55:58] Perfect well Shivani thank you very much for taking your time this afternoon and or time is all very valuable I appreciate especially those who are.
Such as yourself really trying to give back to the to the community of large I know a lot of this is really on her own time and you know we’re doing it because it’s something we’re all passionate about and and I really appreciate you.
You doing this and helping the people and help me with some of the listeners on the show have gotten some very good piece of information from the conversation with you today.

Shivani Sharma:
[56:26] Thank you Christian thank you for having me this is something that I’m very passionate about so I’m happy to be here and spend the time.

Christian Mccarrick:
[56:32] Have a great day.

Shivani Sharma:
[56:33] You to

 

 

 

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