How to Become a True Engineering Leader? (Live Plato Event)


Plato PanelFour Engineering Managers from Facebook, Kabam, Clever, and Medium shared their tips on becoming a great Engineering Leader during the Plato event hosted on May 15, 2017 in San Francisco.

This event was sponsored by Plato.  Plato matches tech managers to highly experienced engineering leaders to help resolve their challenging management situations. Find out more and sign-up to me mentored at

Show Notes:


YouTube Video of the event

Medium Article based on the panel discussion

Due to this being a live recorded event, the transcript quality is not very good.

Read Full Transcript

[0:00] Music.

[0:14] The time for speakers so diverse degrees DC.
Thank you so much Steam for coming tonight she is a consultant named Siri and she was when you got to know her she was an engineering manager at Major.
You also work at Google.
And now we recently decided to work as a consultant so the second speaker tonight is a nickel pendant.
Thank you so much honey kills were coming to Nikki has always work in early-stage startup.
You have said that you got into engineering manager management by accident almost.
Because you used to company you worked and needed some structure and you were the default choice.
We don’t really believe it when we look at your Mentor at cold so we’re very happy to have you as a mentor at Play-Doh.

[1:16] So does her speaker tonight is that I know about how to become an Allegiant to make leader is Richard son.
Richardson has always worked in the gaming industry your today senior engineering and.
Manager at Kabam and you will soon a go and join Facebook as an engineering manager on the ace Paces social VR team.
So well, welcome Richard on how to become a legitimate leader tonight is Yi Quan.
Hi G I didn’t see you during the cocktail happy to see you.
Olympic track record he is now a senior engineering manager at Facebook supporting 60 & Moore Engineers before that you did a PhD at Google Facebook.
An oracle research so despite is very impressive that you shared about.
Your difficulty to manage some people who had more engineering experience than you.
And a how to become a legitimate leader was hard in such a situation so thank you very much for coming tonight.

[2:34] Under two shows a night all week I’m here.
First I want to ask welcome everyone appreciate you coming aboard audience participation time again how many people are here are new engineering managers with less than 2 years of experience to raise your hand how many lesson to experience so we can cuddle,
on the panel can get a sense of how we’re going to gauge you know how we talk to her.
Anyone you know director VP level above to first off why is leadership in Port.
I’ll start off with a quote by by Peter Drucker management is doing things right leadership is doing the right things. I think it’s been a lot of news lately about companies Behaving Badly both in Silicon Valley and outside of Silicon Valley United.
Sitting battery or no examples even is even just as bad for employees I’m creating cultures were poor behavior is considered accepted and my opinion is that in general are industry at least in the past,
I has not had a good track record of producing great leaders right we’ve had great people that have been Visionaries but from the top down it hasn’t really been a priority for Silicon Valley,
how to produce and focus on engineering leadership and management and not type of cultures and values.
With strong leadership you also tend to without strong leadership you also tend to ignore some of the more meteor topics and pointed topics today that we’re facing such as gender equality ageism sexism procedure leaders and excetera I think good leader should.
I could tackle these items and I think that’s what’s more important again finally wrapping up this intro with another quote by Peter Drucker.

[4:10] Is that with the rise of a knowledge worker when is that manage people the task is to leave.
Write the first question that instead of have for the panel here today is just what is your definition of leadership if you’re define leadership know what characteristics would you use to define a leader.

[4:29] So for me to good leader is someone that people want to follow which is pretty obvious but someone asked me this once and I started listing things like good communication.
You know they make the team look good but I think it’s really.
Someone people want to follow and whether that’s to another company or within the company someone who makes you better at what you do in some way.

[4:53] So I would add that one of the rules of the leader is to.
Guide people towards a common goal that they share.

[5:07] XO a couple things for me I to find leadership slightly different than management.
Car banners that leaders there can be leaders on our team who are not managers something I had sort of thought of the last year when I’m talking my team is it occurred to me so.
Are around Engineers right and here’s a very opinionated people.
I want to complain about something that they don’t see that’s wrong but I noticed over time is in a liter engine.
Leader engineering maybe complain but then he practice I’ll solving problem right that’s what’s been something I’ve been like working on it like guys excellent.
Okay you know this is the worst that’s about right they called everything already so I kind of a great all of them I think.
I’m a big fan of John Maxwell Maxwell I’m going to slide up you know what he said what is leader is basically der is all you plus you know volume floor leader is the influencer.
So some people.
How about other people guy. Of people that’s all you fluids that’s all I have to be manager you know everyone about this later we don’t have to be leader at work we can be there at home.
I’m y’all were Social Circle you know I don’t have.

[6:35] But you can keep the Nike so you’re not going to want to put you in Spotify and every single time we’re going to see the movie the office I think and in some cases Silicon Valley we’ve seen the bumbling idiot of a boss in a manager right.
None of us I think it’s part of you.
There’s a difference in you mentioned it review what’s there’s a difference between leader and manager right so and then your words little bit what is the difference that you say see between a manager and a leader.

[7:04] Yeah I didn’t see that I agree I agree so yeah so the difference between leader and the manager I think I can.
So there are people who are leaders one of the managers there managers for another leaders and their leaders.
They are people who post leaders and managers and there are people who meet all of them I think they’re completely different so many doors got the things.
Do the right thing at things right and leaders got the right thing I think I said do what you said so.

[7:43] You know any animal day you know I think that you might have in your leaders is it more like a what and then manager said how.
You know leader control the direction.
The ghost by the managers control that the speed you know the best velocity you know how to get the Earth.
So that’s that’s the general on the highway but I think anyone else in the tunnel they had I lost track of the question.
Just a little bit different ways you know you brought it up what’s the what in your mind is a difference between a manager and a leader song a little bit and crib from the book I read what high output management would you buy this famous dude until I get to quit a lot.
Play pointed out that the output of an individual contributor is whatever they’re building for the output of a manager is the collective elpenor team.
Search you for like a liter leader just telling you like solving problems and beating thought but your manager and the people that you’re managing.
Hey your Spear of influence can potentially be greater right what one point of difference that is if you are in a position.
You’re a leader but not a manager then the big difference to me would be that managers have position Authority.
So they can speak from the position of authority and they can use that and how they influence their team while if you’re a leader without being a manager that you need to know how to guide people have in front of people without depending on position.

[9:15] I think I’ll stand you.
So one of the things you that you really talked about and I was going to bring up to is there is that difference between you can be a leader without being a manager and being a manager about being a leader.
Examples in companies inspection Silicon Valley you see is a product matter right they are one of the people that a lot of cases have this lot of responsibility.
You don’t work with them but they don’t have that the direct management ability to get things done so I think a lot of product measures of unsung heroes.
Everything is so give me any examples you have of people in the industry or outside of energy would you would say our leaders right without having that Authority. Having that type exactly.
You’re not the boss but they can be leader examples you can think of anyone.

[10:06] And when the audience any examples of what you would find as Leaders providing leadership and aren’t in any sort of specific position of authority now or storical.

[10:17] The voice of the team.
Problems sometimes.

[10:35] Yeah so those people that are actually you know starting to your taking that influence they don’t the managing but they’re they’re trying to make something happen even though that have the authority yes Russell.

[10:47] Very early engineer’s yep and then in in history this two examples right you can think of Gandhi Martin Luther King or these are also kind of external examples of people are here really that better leaders but would never really heard of Authority or power.
So the question asked you guys is how many of you in the audience have ever taken a course growing up or gotten the coach or anything for sports.
Or music or piano teacher or anything raise your hand.
Almost how many here have actually done the same thing for leadership decent amount.
But I think a lot of times they are are you know,
a lot of people come from CS degree to go for years that some people get Masters and then it may be coding bootcamps but then you get thrown to management and its overnight.
Give me a manager and there’s there’s no that concept of that soap for each of you or how did you best prepare for going from that road from Individual contributor to manager what did you always do what did you do to help guide you on that path.
Change everything I started off with just a few drag reports and medium have this.
Title called group lead and it was explicitly Mentor Advocate coach role and so in some ways My Philosophy around management is very much Mentor manage Mentor Advocate coach rather than like,
supertech lead type because I I came from that roll and like a lot of the people who I initially managed as a group leader.

[12:22] Chino they came to me every week and our one-on-ones and I didn’t mean I didn’t work on their teams I didn’t know what was you know what.
What they were doing in so it’s very much.
Weber coaching relationship from Individual contributor to manager.
So my personal truck was more like we were in early startup and hiring more people I guess you’re managing them now.
So thought that was not great I don’t advise that but now when I talk to you for the report to me one of the things I recommend is going back to the point about Neato vs manager if you are in a position.
I could not in the position of being a manager think about how you can leave this team whether it is true specific projects or.
Taking one specific Challenge and use the fact that you don’t have position that already but still can influence people who really level up on your management skills because I want to just depend on that.
A quick question to and then I’ll go back to the swim how many here.
Followed your path of you become a manager just certified to fall like you know if you picked up the milk the Short Straw,
and you’re only being a team now versus you really this is I want to be an engineer manager I want to take that career paths or the parallel path change right I’m going to hear decided they just they just suddenly fell into the role and start managing people,
yeah good how many set you know what in high school I want to be an engineer manager.

[13:57] If you don’t mind shows in the park ranger but what was some of the things that you helped you go through that that that transition.
Hey you should tell use Play-Doh back sent but I was really lucky I had a great mentor Mentor as a manager many years ago in life.
2003 when I was working because hearts and like I hold on it like I’d still refer to him all the time right.
But he showed me all these things I never considered before that and he became my sort of Baseline. The model so later on I wasn’t and.
With me to project as an individual contributor and after that there’s going to be another party coming up and I was like well.
I can do better than that guy probably.
So I like I don’t even know right but I I thought I could based on this model that I had from my previous Mentor so I went up sheepishly to my seat you and said hey I want to try to be the same as British accent is terrible.
He said I think you’re ready.
Okay because it made me like really really conscious of everything I didn’t know were brought that everything I’ve done just like well actually as a as a manager as leader is really important what you don’t know and Brace that.
And then and then cannot don’t worry about the things that you do no really cuz you have to have called as you do know it and then spend energy figure out what you don’t know about the new job that’s kind of how I approached it and it’s sort of work out for me.

[15:31] You knew your first manager job was also add Facebook pretty good manager training should have coaching processing Place nothing.
Oh yes so helpful history about it myself so I became manager because my manager wants me to become manager.
I said I don’t know what it looks like to be manager and the manager said that it’s okay just no no worries just keep doing what you have been doing.
Apparently he lied so I changed everything that I had to do.
As data you know.
The person you know there’s no that I play we just out of a lot of people you know just to provide service to other people the only thing that is not ashamed of I do for other people.
Animation that kind of the trainings or wait we have out of Facebook yes we will have a lot of things but you know that winnings is only bring you to the.
Should I try this at all but it never follows after that so that’s why I think that’s the you know you know. Oh you know what kind of fool work here it’s really going to help pretty sure that the Gap I’m a strong believer Play-Doh to.
That’s my pitch I noticed that in your in your past you were in the Peace Corps is that.

[17:02] Oh no I wasn’t a penalty involved in the activities related to keep cars but I was not eligible to be the good carbs.

[17:16] And you thinking that volunteering can actually whether it’s Peace Corps or the food bank or anything you think that can help with with.
Leadership and growth because there’s no.
Nobody have to listen to you you have to really use your influence right give you a gas example so.
When I was involved in that his cops so I was at 1850 I didn’t have any income.
I was that research assistants shape of you okay so you’ll know what I’m talking about like.
And I was married somebody was a big deal to me and I met this guy who was the Peace Court return these cops volunteers for the first time and then he showed me this great idea of how to how much is cops the volunteers.
Anaheim key influence to me you know he was the leader.
And I after that conversation I was duet with helping them to feel this keep peace corpse of all free for 3 years.
Even though I made a big deal to me genius wants to use me pass the mic down.
You’ve recently branched out into doing consulting and coaching for the enduring manager yourself what is 1,
the new manager approaches you what is one of the first things that you assess with them was one of the first things you try to work with them on to take that first step to know to improving.

[18:50] So for me one of the most difficult things and transitioning to management was changing my mindset of like my own sense of productivity.
And I remember waking up one morning and seeing my entire calendar just fully booked with meetings and I and I have,
two kids at home so like this was not an easy feat but I opened up like for pull requests delete like 200 lines of code to so I could feel like.
A little bit better about my day and so I think one of the main things I want to work with you engineering manager is is.
Really getting them through that my mindset shift because I think if.
They can really get on a good trajectory where there is they are basing their own productivity and impact on their team and not their own work or their individual work that could make a huge positive impact on your other direct reports.
Not just stand but you know going forward to.

[19:47] And Richard you worked in both some smaller companies and some of the larger ones what would have you seen some of the differences between leadership Effectiveness and style between each of eating penis smaller and larger.

[20:01] It’s a little tough one because I’m about to go to like the biggest cup ever been to be calling soon I’ll look for you will hang out.
So I mean the chicken because really strange to the strongest Hearts like bothering people and then getting smaller and smaller company with a co-founder of like 5 to 10 people.
And then and then up to Cabana now Facebook and I don’t even know what to do but.

[20:25] I think the reason why I kind of suck but she said that you guys were in the first place is because I view management and Leadership is ultimately a function of your relationship with the people.
And you just it’s just way more I’ll say easier but it’s also easier and harder as you get to the smaller Realms because.
Become intimately familiar with every what everyone’s doing day today right and know everything.
That’s really really really hard.
Larger than your view becomes a smaller percentage of the pyrite and then and I larger part job becomes interacting with other managers and other.
Points responsibility so you can get a picture how you fit in the puzzling sing anymore.
That’s kind of what I can take about my head but audience participation questions here and it’s only first order so the first one is when I left.
There’s no good answer right answers how do you manage mediocre employees who don’t want to fire.
And I have a specific answer this but I want to see how these guys take it but you just answer this pass it over to the account this to your right to your right.

[21:38] How do you manage mediocre employees that you don’t want to fire.

[21:44] It’s very important to set the right expectations and make sure that your alignment expectations with your employees.
They should be very clear to them whether or not they’re performing at the expected level or the need Improvement.
And it is in this case if you’re talking about like video persons that they’re not rock stars but they’re still performing at expectations that’s good and then you can talk about how do you go to from from Reading expectation to be on.
But if there are point where they need Improvement and it’s very important to make sure that you clearly talk about what are the specific areas did they need to improve on.
And work with them to develop an action plan that allows them to improve on those and get from needs Improvement to actually meeting expectations at 11.
I kind of disagree so I think I think okay so the pattern is the how do you manage mediocre in value so you do not want to fire I think the ways to manage yourself.
I think that there is no there is no team with a player in the big player there is either a team up here.
Right if you keep this mediocre player on your team everyone will become mediocre you videos of the what do you want that you are mediocre manager.
I think you have you have to you’ll have the fair.
I think you have to have to manage it yourself that’s was in my purse back to the previous making mistakes in the making the tough decisions right get it up information and and sometimes you have to make those decisions and sometimes it is let him go or not.

[23:17] So I’m looking forward to disagreeing about the smiley because.
I’m looking forward to having this problem cousin your Facebook you have it in your purse hiring advantages right so huge part of management management also is cost benefit analysis.

[23:30] Sure he can do that and soon still alive which I’m really excited when you’re running a small company in San Francisco where he’s hiring people for like twice when I can pay.
Well you’re you’re you’re cutting me changes right so you really have to think about what you’re what you’re training.
So you like well this guy.