Keeping Your Technical Skills as a Manager – Joan Gamell

Joan Gamell LinkedIn

Joan Gamell LinkedIn

Joan Gamell is a former Engineering Manager at Expedia, currently at LinkedIn. He was born and raised in a Spanish town near Barcelona. He was fascinated with the internet since the 90s and started building websites as a hobby around the 2000s. He got his degree in Computer Science from UPC University in 2009 and started working as as a full-stack software developer in several Spanish companies.

In 2012 he moved to Singapore to work in the banking sector, which he espaced from only after 9 months when he started working at Expedia Singapore in a startup-like team responsible for building a transactional and fully responsive travel website.

He moved to Expedia San Francisco on 2014 where he became engineering manager of – at first – small team of people responsible for implementing cross-sell features in the shopping path. He grew into the role as the team scaled from 4 to 16 distributed members in the next three years.

He recently left Expedia to join LinkedIn as an IC as he felt the itch of coding more, until the next swing of the pendulum.

Today’s show is sponsored by Telmate.

Contact Links:

Show Transcript:

[0:00] I’m good how are you interesting.

[0:03] I’m doing very well thank you so much for coming in.
Today we actually have Joan is actually coming into our office today it’s think it’s a nice treat when we have people sometimes to do shows people are remote but it’s always kind of a plus when you consider sit face-to-face that was one of my guest so thank you for coming in.

[0:20] Thank you for having me the views are amazing.

[0:22] Yeah I definitely put some pictures of the views on the website,
so I may go try to get a piece for that in the show note so I’ll show you instead of the view that some of our local guess definitely comment. For those of you can’t see I also definitely put our guests facing outwards so they can see The View.
Something we do here with people that were interviewing for positions we should make sure that we put them in the large conference room.
Facing out in the sort of the beautiful San Francisco Bay wind some over half the time.
Thank you very much to give me a little bit of background where do you want to school or did you go with it a CS degree would you go traditional or non-traditional and give me a little bit of highlights in my career.

[1:05] Sure yeah so I did go for the sea has a great I got my degree in in Barcelona UPC University and yeah that was like 5 years and then.
I started working at some local companies then I work at some Finance Madrid in Spain.
And then I am II The Champ to Singapore still in the finance sector for nine months until I could kind of keep it because let’s not enjoying it very much and then I found Expedia,
the company of State for wait until recently for almost five years I came here to San Francisco through Expedia,
and now I just recently moved to LinkedIn.

[1:53] Okay great great interesting and III I live in Singapore for about a year as well back in my early twenties so we can have a civil conversation about that one thing it was definitely hot.

[2:07] Definitely hot and humid every every day of the year.

[2:09] Correct correct so end at Expedia you actually you started out as an image of contributor and then moved into management their correct so tell me a little about that transition how did that happen.

[2:21] Well it was a small team or like 4 people.
So we were just starting from scratch to new Prada new project and project,
most so I was organically kind of stepping into more rules than just developments right so,
we have a role that Expedia called a TPM technical project manager so I was doing a bit of that and then my manager noticed that I was kind of enjoying doing more things than just,
Riding coat so he gave me the chance to to basically try management for a bit.
That was like a six months. Where I was putting a in what they call like a technical lead role and I got some direct couple of people and.
It it went from there.

[3:19] Okay great and the team then you’d be came in the manager there was about 4 so people you’re managing.

[3:26] At the beginning it was only two couple people that the team was four or five people by then I was only managing to and then when I officially became manager after we started.
Hiring antigen scale from 5 to at the beginning it was a.
And then after a year or so it scaled to 15 or 16 people so I ended up managing 12 direct reports on the rest of the people wear either reporting to my to my manager.
Or yeah is it good the rest word reporting to my manager.

[4:05] 12 direct reports gets to be a lot.

[4:07] Yes yes sir tonight so that we can talk more about that if you wanted that was one of the reasons why I recently made the change.

[4:16] And from reason and from there you went from Expedia over to LinkedIn K and tell me about your role now LinkedIn.

[4:26] So I basically went back to being an individual contributor I’m engineer at front engineer Out Of Tune where we take care of the advertisement.
To pain management software and I just started like a month ago.

[4:44] Okay and what were some of the Odyssey change companies were you looking to actively change companies and go back to an individual contributor out or was it just kind of happened sir titius.

[4:58] Yeah I was looking for something but whatever role it might be that allow me to quote more than what I.
Doing Alex videos a manager that could have been Tech later I see royal or even manager if I could get some assurance that I could be able to decode almost like 50% of the time.
That was my girl so I went for for disposition and what happens if.

[5:26] Okay great and towards the end of it at Expedia when you were the manager about what percentage of time where you coding if idle.

[5:33] So I would say hey not much maybe 20% Topsy attorney percent.

[5:40] Yeah but that was totally wrecked reports even managing to coat it all with must have been very challenging.

[5:46] Yeah it was I mean I felt quite overwhelmed at some point but.

[5:54] Yeah yeah I know I can definitely see that when you got promoted officially into into a management role was there any Management training or guidance or what kind of things that Expedia provided for that.

[6:06] There were some I think they could be proved honestly I was like it though that I had a couple off.
Matters both in in the company and outside the company for my could you know Richard for questions like how would you approach the situation because of course I was.
Kind of thrown in an and there was a bunch of stuff that I didn’t know of everything from.
The most simple stop like paperwork bureaucracy to you know how to manage a difficult conversations.

[6:40] How did you besides Dementors with there any resources that you exert a phone or just discovering internet or reading books.

[6:47] Yeah mostly looking for articles in the subject books that doesn’t reading a lot of books which also that connects to the fact that you’re not normally.
Through my weekends are my free time I would be calling.
Back then but then I couldn’t coat even on my weekends because I have to prove the manager I really I really wanted you to be to become a better manager I didn’t want to feel the team right so so I put a lot of effort into that.

[7:16] Okay great I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve tried to start doing his podcast and really trying to get the.
Taco and other people let them know that I think about it people ring your situation right they come whether it’s a computer science degree or anything like that they spend a lot of time.
Then they become a manager certain Dover night and the amount of resources available to help people is is limited.
And I think a lot of people out there who would stepped into mounted roles think themselves in some cases heard of like a fraud right I mean I don’t know what I’m doing.
Part of the reason to do the show is to help other people and by interviewing you know guests such as yourself to let them know that we’ve sort of almost all been in that boat.
I think that matters that come in and think they know everything I probably ones you want to void.
Anything during their 10 years of manager you might have done differently or any mistakes that stand out to you.

[8:11] Yeah I guess now with the hindsight that I could have done a lot differently I mean I made lots of mistakes I want to I want to think I didn’t make any like.
Horrible mistake but but certainly I did a bunch of them but again that’s I guess the only way you can.
What kind of learn so maybe the best way to deal with that is just make a lotta mistakes quickly malm 6.
London learn from them as quick as possible so that’s what I tried to do it but yeah and answering your question.
What I would have done differently but they resemble be less vocal,
discussions in the beginning when I became a manager I certainly think I was way too vocal which silence some maybe this dissenting opinion on how to approach a technical problem.
I thought to be one of them.

[9:10] In
What are the reasons that I kind of found you and wanted to bring you on the show was a blog post that I had read that you had written and its really from engineering.
Engineer to manager keeping your technical skills and I think it’s one of the common concerns that I hear one more, concerns I hear from a lot of Engineers that are thinking about becoming a manager.
Or our managers right most people.
That are suffering gineers gun to suffer engineering maybe they were hacking or coding at the really like sort of that.
Developing and seeing things going to production in there technologist at heart you know myself included so it’s I think it’s scary for some managers to go in or something then dinner to go into that manager.
Red I’m.
There’s a couple things in your article what are the things I want to talk about first though is why do you think it’s important cuz when the premise of your blog post what do you think it’s important for a manager to keep their technical skills.

[10:15] Yes oh so they say in the Indiana college I think basically comes down to being able to lead by example it’s a big one for me as in.
You know when when you’re in the technical discussion I’m not saying you should be vocal about your opinions.
You can show the team how you expect them to behave because you’re your tentacle so so you can can show them specifically in practical way how how you expect them to behave so that’s a big one.
And then also I think somehow Jennica managers can gain respect from their teams in a.
Is your way or maybe better way another know and also well as in my case.
Leave the door open to you as a manager to go back to icy roads in the future which actually worked out quite well for me.

[11:10] Was it a little bit of a wizard hard to go back from the manager and image of debris with your rusty and your skills at all.

[11:17] Yeah for sure even though I like I don’t want admitted that I think I think I was quite trusting some some aspects but after.
1 or 2 mods in the in the Java I hope to be hundred percent right now it’s only been one month I feel much better now.

[11:35] Yeah yeah good weight and how did you feel going into going back in today an individual contributor interview process.

[11:44] Oh yeah that was stuff I had to go back to physically to studying.
Toss a Conquering the questions which I haven’t touched in my.
7 years of professional experience but that’s what you have to do and there’s no way around it so yeah brush up on all those and review all these kind of problems and also behavioral questions which.
Not stupid but still some brush up there too.

[12:16] Yeah I think is a manager part of the paper questions Bennigan’s easier had to crack open they were just cracking the coding interview book again.

[12:22] Yeah exactly I think everyone has that book.

[12:25] Mr. is a few copies in the office I think definitely so you know one of the things.
You said that’s great that’s the important Source seminaries why it’s important you talk about making sure you have the trust of your team which I think is definitely important making sure you’re not the Dilbert manager.

[12:47] What are some tips then for helping managers to stay technical now that you’ve certainly that it’s important to keep those technical skills but with,
the workload that gets increasing that is non text related how do you how did you and then how do you recommend keeping those skills sharp.

[13:05] Well the first thing I would say is it’s it’s really tough to to just.
Your technical skills sharp as I said even if I try to do that now I went back into an icy role and I still feel the rusty so that’s it.
I think I most important thing is to know like to to put some some limitations on what am I going to.
Quote like I certainly within advice to to code some production features.
Any kind of important code for your team because then you can become to the bottleneck for all. So try to avoid that which means probably.
The best thing you can do is just to do some proof of Concepts and some experimental work that it’s not.
Critical for the team the project is not waiting for that or some side projects that you know when you’re on time or whatever it says that’s my first.
Humble advice I would say another important one I guess it’s how to organize your time that’s.
That’s it most complicated why nothing because says it manager.
We we get interrupted all the time right we have meetings we have other chat sessions people interrupt us when we’re going to the toilet,
so so that that was definitely the topless one for me so what I did was try to bundle up all my meetings in the morning.
Hi because I had a distributor team so we had people over in Europe so most of the meetings naturally were occurring in the morning so I try to leave at least two or three hours every afternoon.

[14:43] For you know coding or are looking at some technical issues or even cord reviews.
Because I didn’t even have time to to look into Corp reviews for my team so I tried to.
Turn those two or three hours every day but India and those two or three hours evaporated into maybe one everyday but but that’s a challenge right.
There’s more small there’s more small advice that I have it’s not that important so.

[15:13] And I think that the concept that you’re talking about which is the the.
Managing your your schedule like that I did it goes by because my lot of different words are there time boxing or calendar boxing and I think it’s one of the things that I.
Is important I think not just for managers but it’s something that’s from a time management standpoint skill but I try to help with my team’s here and definitely.
You know we talked about and you talk about the article the kind of the maker versus the manager calendar right and you don’t want to go into that a little bit as well.

[15:47] Yeah sure so so that’s a really famous article that I think many people have read so basically.
It just sandwiches between When what when you’re a make or what you want to have his blogs of uninterrupted.
I’m free to fuck us or to get into some people called flomo dry like you,
you’re really into that and you will enjoy what you’re doing and have all these mental structures build up in your in your brain you know these this program is going days with his help to cure this day tomorrow there I know that once you get interrupted,
basically it’s erased our mostly raised so then you take like 15 or 20 more minutes to reveal all his new brain So to avoid that the best,
physical feature to time for yourself so it’s about to make her scheduled that’s what the maker wants and the manager ones UPS.
Did the opposite opposite songs meeting lots of other conversations which basically contradict.
To make her schedule so as a manager I think we need to to give.
Makers schedule to our teams as in the chance to have any 30 times so what else to do,
was try to bundle the meetings not only for myself but for for the team,
hot in in blocks of time like around lunch or maybe early morning so then in between meetings they they had like a solid two or three hours to do this homework.

[17:20] And I think that’s one of things we’ve tried to do here.
Which is another common thing that some people try to do as we started out quiet time in the air.
We try to have quite as any of your nose and under nose if you can make it through a few hours to the people it’s it’s really a guidelines for trying not to schedule.
You’re going to have large car lot of conversations try to have them it in a breakout room or something on those lines right because you’re right the know you mentioned having all your meetings in the morning and that is where all the means together and that in itself can be rather exhausting.

[17:56] Oh yeah I was I think it was Tuesday for me it was a most exhausting day I had meetings from [8:30] until 12th,
back to back and then after that I just went for lunch and then sometimes I was not that productive afternoon because like I was drained of all day mental effort.

[18:17] Yep it’s on top of that you also mentioned being the coder versus The MENTOR for a little bit so why don’t you go into that.

[18:26] Sure so so what I’m trying to say that is that at least for me when when I’m looking at a problem.
Let’s let’s say in an exciting problem something I really want to solve as a cold air.
I’m surprised I’m just thinking of how can I solve a time can I write the best awkward in or how what library can I use for these what technology can I use when your manager,
do you have these the limo ride like you you’re still feel excited about these but you.
If you saw it yourself then you’re busy could taking that chance from somewhere someone else to to learn from doing that.
I need even more complicated if you actually know that you will finish the task that’s a in one day but if you give it to someone else it might take them 3 days right so.
I was so yeah I think I did that at the beginning when I should have been delegating or handing off some technical task I wasn’t doing it because I thought well I’m I will be much more what I was missing is that.
They were not learning anything right my team was not learning how to do those last day I was not benefiting them in any way.

[19:38] You have that what is that that the proverb is teaching a person to fish for Sea Ray and there was one quote that I think stood out that I really liked your article is as a manager you’re not building a product.
You’re building a team that knows how to build products.

[19:54] Yeah I actually have to give credit to my to my friend Lauren he was a,
my diff I tried attar of these are Auto Kelso so he suggested to change the previous sentence for for that one so all the credit to Lauren thanks Lauren but yeah I really like that quote to like an I need support on a thing like,
you really have.
You really need that mentality to to feel like you’re building teams you’re not building code anymore or products so you have to approach every decision that you take as a manager from that point of view.
What will be the best for the team what how can I improve their skills going forward so they can feel better products that this kind of thing.

[20:36] Church and you know so talk about that software scalable people are not how do you how do you enable other people to scale without being the bottleneck.

[20:46] Exactly yeah yeah exactly so it goes back to the same thing how how how can you measure the people to become better what they do it’s it’s again continuous Improvement.

[20:57] Another thing that you touched upon which I feel strongly about to a lot of new managers.
Don’t always understand that their words now carry more weight and you talk about the little bit about meetings and how that affects can happen correct.

[21:14] Sure like I was not aware of that at all I was surprised that I had no idea when when I found out so yeah someone told me some.
One of my direction open feedback session that have it a team one of the feedback for me what’s up yeah I was.
Shut up in meetings and let others talk or I was always trying to push my my ideas my ticket is my to know my favorite thing of it is.
What is Tosca so yeah but once I got that feedback well then everything makes sense made sense something.

[21:55] But first I think congratulations on having an open feedback session.
Getting feedback from your team members this is incredibly important and not only I think in that case did you have the ability to give your team have your team give you feedback but you actually made it made a change based upon my feedback.

[22:15] I want to think that I did yeah we should. Send.

[22:19] But I think the other thing you know this is really interesting code the you know it in the physics world are quantum mechanics rate of the observer effect right how why don’t you come to go into a little bit of what you talk about in your and you’re.

[22:35] Sure so actually this is not my original idea I just took it.

[22:45] It’s James at yes yes.

[22:48] He’s a VP of engineering at.
Instagram so I read his blog was and I and I was I felt I really don’t if I buy it so he he talks about.
When you’re a manager when you’re a director you need to give space to your team to basically figure things out on their own without your interference right so it’s.
Kind of order were talking about before but even more as in.
He he advocates for just Ledger team do whatever they they feel that they need to do without you even kind of monitoring them what you’re doing.
And then Indian if it goes well great if it doesn’t go so well.
Everyone will learn something from it just make sure that everyone gets the lesson everyone learns and that the failure is for reason.
I’m so sorry like that that approach and I and I definitely try to to follow it as much as I cute because it was a quite small team in comparison with what he was talking about but yeah I think.
It’s a great way to look at how to deal with how to manage themes.

[24:00] Yeah definitely and he also then talks about how just the fact of your being there or making a comment or two has no boxed in the potential solutions that regime could come up with.

[24:11] Yeah exactly so it is like you’re any anything that you say as a manager well basically put some kind of like a.
Virtualbox or or or barrier in in in your team spraying as an author this is the.
The most we can do or are the lowest or you know we were bonded by these limits that the manager is is talking about when actually that shouldn’t be true maybe someone else in the team has.
Much better idea than yourself and just because they are not the manager they might they might feel that well the manager knows best when it’s up for another case like I think.
Towards the end when I was not that the time zone and in the code anymore I enter in the code base I’m convinced.
All my team match better ideas on how to do how to improve Echo them myself.

[25:07] And I think that the higher you go in an organization the more impact and wait that the things you say have.
I had one of my old CEOs and this is a common projek ate him and he he would just trying to be involved with the engineers.
Should happen to go over and mention you know something to one of the engineers how is this feature coming or something just you try to make conversation and three days go by and I am wondering why what happened with this engineer and this other tasks.
You know the public is the CEO it mentioned directly to him how is it going you thought now that I was the most.
Important thing to do in some of you abandon all those other is other tasks for that time. And then I had to know educate my boss not to touch my team.
Going to try to go around then when I was at lunch or something.
Similar story I think that Goldman Sachs one of the the CEO of Goldman came to.
Have a trading floor and happen to say oh I love gold or something and then he wonders 3 weeks later why Goldman Sachs became so heavy and investing in gold it’s because it has spread like wildfire.
Are the seal like like the vesting and gold and I think that’s the other thing that’s really is that as a manager.
To really take to heart that the things you say now whether you Gemma you didn’t say believe it at first but whether you say now has this impact or not how’s this greater import so it’s the definitely I also like Senator how do I work in.

[26:38] You know straighteners cat somehow in this.

[26:40] I don’t remember exactly how he wants it it’s like the analogy that looking at your team is doing it like looking inside the box right side like killing the cottage District Schrodinger’s cat.

[26:54] It’s right so you know you talk a little bit then about it should have new managers you know how do you keep your technical skills.
And I think the one thing you pointed out earlier to is don’t become the bottleneck I don’t work on tickets are items that are going to be in in the way that’s going to be a blocker for release or something right work.
I think you mentioned in Bill process improvements or other things right.

[27:23] Proof-of-concept or experimental style for side projects anything that’s not.
Critical forward for the release right like otherwise you’ll find yourself like it happened to me like I didn’t go that often in in the entertain code days.
But when I did I was going to some important meeting with with my balls and others and suddenly they released failed and it was because of my marriage so.
And I’ll people didn’t know how to fix it though of course they they could have figured out but,
but they they needed me to to look into it too for a quick fix to fix forward to release so it so that was not ideal so then after talking to some people.
I realize that I was not the great use of of my time and I was basically blocking people and making them miserable which is the last thing I want.

[28:16] Did you ever get into the situation when you’re in the manager role where your technical discussion happened on your team and because you hadn’t been so into that code base it was an area that you were not for night.

[28:29] Offer for sure yeah all the time.

[28:30] Yeah and how do you how do you recommend dealing with that when you know the people that are potentially looking to you for your technical direction or solution when you should have been you know you didn’t do your homework kind of feeling a little bit.

[28:43] Yeah yeah yeah I feel like that all the time so what are what are used to do is going to take a step back and.
Of course I didn’t know the details of that didn’t have enough contacts to to take a decision then what I would what I would do is take us to back and and say okay ask.
People who are actually close to the problem like okay so can you explain to me and to everyone what options we have then we’ll go over the options.
And most of the time we both agree on something but if we didn’t.
Then we would try it out create a small proof-of-concept or experiment of whatever path we we wanted to take and then we just chose the the best one but basically comes down to trust in your team.
It comes down to other side I didn’t know the details but someone did so I had to I just have to trust that people.
Person on that you know that he or she knows what what he’s doing and I definitely did so everything work out quite well.

[29:51] And how do you and this is not necessary something that you might have direct experience with taking this a step further.
It’s one thing if you’re set up a front line manager right to try to keep your technical skills as you get promoted up through the chain and from manager to manager manager to director.
How do you any tips that you think that it’s for as they get further away from the code and as you did as your as your team grew larger and larger.
How do you what are the tips are there for people to is it go up to chain to keep technically.

[30:24] I’d say what I was trying to do is basically make yourself redundant.
As a manager or director basically with that that seems a bit conservative but I think that should be the goal as in.
Your team’s should be self-sufficient without you at that doesn’t mean that you are unavailable to the team of course you always have to be available you always have to be there for the team in Cabo for them and explain whatever needs explaining our take ownership when needed but.
When everything goes according to plan everything is smooth you shouldn’t be needed at all that everyone should know.
What’s expected from them everyone should should be empowered enough to take decisions and.
You know we are all grown-ups and we all have common sense so,
I would just say trust your people and and don’t try to you know I approve every decision or anything like that and then you have much more time for yourself to to keep your technical skills or do whatever you want.

[31:26] In any other service items that I didn’t bring up in the questions from your article or other things that you forgot to put in your article that you thought might have an important.

[31:37] As far as management goes I think what what what I just said like Empower your people.
And trust them that that’s one of the most important things as in don’t become like a micromanager kind of thing everyone hates that I guess everyone has heard of that I’ve I have felt that in my own skin so actually I was one of the things that.
Kind of push me towards a management role like I suffered some.
I want a horrible management back in back in my day and Anna and I thought for myself I think I can do better.
So you know hopefully I did better than that my old manager and and I helped my my team along the way become better developers I want thing I did.

[32:25] And I think that.
It’s one of the things I find trying to find a party too especially in your case when you your were an individual contributor became a manager.
And then went back into being an individual contributor I think you did that a different company because sometimes it’s hard to do that.
The company when you become a manager.

[32:46] Yeah a lot in Expedia case it was actually quite common I think that yeah it was like.
I know many people who wanted to management just to go back to I see after two or three years so yeah I’m in the same boat.

[33:05] Get support and support.

[33:06] Yeah for sure I like.

[33:08] Because I’d like to give people the opportunity to try management and if they step back that shouldn’t that should not be seen as a failure by any means.
You know you want to know and give him an opportunity to manage but you’ll see want to and I don’t want to even say fail gracefully but you want to say let me try this on that this this is what I want to do and if not well great you know I don’t want to lose a really good individual contributor.
How to get a bad manager.

[33:34] Yes. That was really come on at Expedia so he did was not look down upon going back into icy or anything like that and in my case.
I mean I still like management and I still like coating so I like both it just that.
When you’re in one roll you cannot effectively do the other so it.. Mentioning article that I think is charity.
Management planning something like that so I thought she was like I felt exactly like that so maybe after a couple years being and I see maybe I feel like going to meeting tonight.
I definitely think that’s a possibility so we’ll see.

[34:21] Teachers wide-open pray well that’s definitely great so we’ve been talking with Joan Gamell staff engineer at LinkedIn,
I do want to point out to for the listeners that some of the articles that we’ve mentioned today I will include in the show notes on the website simple leadership. Idaho so please feel free if you’re interested in Reading any of those,
to go in I’ll definitely have the links there at this point I want to thank you for coming in and person John to to the office here.

[34:51] Thanks for having it.

[34:51] Had a great conversation always interested in learning and he getting a few points of different people for managers and everyone involved in in Tekken leadership.

[35:00] Thank you so much it was a great time thank.

[35:02] Thank you.