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Technically Human

Why management is just as much a learned skill as software development

Amanda Sabreah & David Kyle Choe
May 31, 2021

Technically Human Episode 3 - Why Engineering Management is Learned Skill ft. Amanda Sabreah, Founder & CEO of Staat

David Choe: Okay. Awesome. Well, we have a very special episode this week. Actually, I have a couple of interesting developments. Well, first is we actually decided to name this ongoing content series. We're going to be calling it Technically Human. I'm sure you guys have seen by the intro and you know, the new branding and stuff.

So hopefully that's fun and exciting for everybody. It was a fun process for us as well. And not only that we have a very special guest this week. We have Amanda Sabreah who is the CEO and founder of Staat. So Amanda loved for you to introduce yourself and then we can dive right in. Yeah, hi everybody.

Amanda Sabreah: My name is Amanda Sabreah. I'm the founder of Staat. This is the second company that I founded. And I am former product and marketing in the agency world. And at larger companies like Coca-Cola. Cool.

So yeah, one has been listening and following along, you know, obviously, we're both the co-founders of Staat.

We all have a third one as well. Paul who's our CTO. He's doing his coding work right now, so we don't want to bother him. But today we want, to actually bring you guys into kind of the process and some of the most interesting things that we've. Uncovered while building Staat. And a lot of the build-out of Staat was really talking to our customers, our future customers, which are engineering and product managers.

So this week we wanted to kind of tell you, tell you guys what we found to be most interesting or, you know, not well, not what we thought it would be. So, Amanda, I'd love for you to get us going, kick us off here. Sure.

So I would say the most surprising thing that I've learned about engineering management is that.

When I was in the swing of things, I always thought that me doing each project a little bit differently and managing it a little bit differently was because I was non-technical. And so I was like, okay, maybe I feel like I know what I'm doing, but maybe I don't. And I think. It was surprising to hear, I think every single engineering manager that we've talked to, which is probably a little bit over a hundred or so now everybody's doing it a little bit differently.

And so you have these like agile manifestos and, you know, scrum Kanban, you know, all of these different sorts of high overarching. Processes if you will, but everybody's doing it differently within those processes. And so it's really interesting to just get a tab on, you know, what's right. What's not right.

It's just really unique to the pro to the project.

David Choe: And yeah, I think that's a really interesting point because, you know, it's like, When we talk about development, we often talk about the languages. We always say, what language are you fluent in? And it's interesting because one news trend when developers transition from an individual contributor code all day to manager, their language has to change.

You know, you speak a completely new language. You're now speaking language of business, which is Which gets further complicated when you add on top of it, like processes like agile or force-fitting agile into waterfall culture, like whatever we've seen. Right. So what, what, what do you think like is the result of people having to basically figure it out, figure it out every time they are doing something new, like what's, what's the implications of that?

Or what have we seen so far?

Amanda Sabreah: I mean, I think the implications are it's, it's really, it's hard to get an and improve, a result that you want. Right. And so I think people nowadays are really focused on performance and improving efficiency and, you know, can we get faster velocity and all of this? And. In theory.

Yes. All of that's nice. Right. But each project is a little bit different. And so it's really hard to sort of getting a baseline, even as an engineering manager of how am I going to improve the performance of my team. And so that's been, you know, an interesting result of just everybody doing it differently and.

Sort of trying to find their own process or their own language to live by.

David Choe: Yeah. It's so interesting too. Be in this world because like, you know, at the end of the day, it's like, I think it's something of a spectrum. Like there's a lot of standardization in the development world. Like people do things a certain way.

Code is written a certain way, but at the same time, it's pretty flexible. People figure things out. And that's very true of management as well. Like I was on Twitter the other day falling. I'm sure you follow him. He's an engineering manager at Netflix, Ryan Burgess Burgess, but he was saying like he had a video.

I was like, should engineering managers code and his answer was no. And like, that's pretty, I would say sensitive topic, right? Because his whole point was you can't have one foot in the door and one foot out the door you have to be completely focused. And, you know, that goes back to like having to figure it out.

And for me, what I've noticed is like, This lack of S quote-unquote standardization, which I think is pretty, it's a good thing. It allows for innovation, allows people to figure it out. It allows cultures to develop and stuff, but at the same time, what I've noticed is how much of the friction in engineering management is so much of a people problem versus a technology problem.

And I think technology has something to do with it, which is why we're building Staat, obviously. But at the end of the day, it's like what I'm seeing, you know, I had a. I had like an hour-long Twitter conversation with this, with this, with this one lady who's a, who used to be a developer. She's now a consultant.

She was just going telling me basically like, wow, I had such a. Bad experience with my managers in my previous jobs. Like they just didn't know what to do, or they didn't know what they were doing, or they had their own motives. It had nothing to do with me. And you hear this kind of thing over and over again.

It's like why? You know, I think that's something I want to talk about. Why is there such a lack of training for managers? Like, to me, I like the way I see it as like people like I was looking at the stats the other day. I think it was something like close to 40,000 people who went to coding Bootcamp in 2019.

What and the other, then I started to look up, what do engineering managers do? There's no engineering manager, Bootcamp. There's not even any numbers around how many people actually take it. So seriously, like it's, it's so serious that I'm going to invest money in it. Or I'm going to take six months of my career.

I'm going to pause my career for six months to do it. Like, like to me, it's, it's almost that much of a skill, but why isn't it seen that in that way? in the industry?.

Amanda Sabreah: Well, I think, you know, again, back to the standardization, maybe now we're getting off into like what's tangible. Right. And people management is one of the hardest skills to master and it's very it's not very tangible, right?

It's like, you know, you don't really know if you're a great people manager. I mean, you know unless someone is singing your praises. And so. I think that middle and then middle management all around is just, it's not seen as. You know I'm going to say sexy, even though I hate that word, but a lot of times things that we think are sexy is what gets invested into.

Right. And so development developers they, they are almost like the new athletes. Right. But I kind of view managers as. Well, these are the coaches of the athletes, right? And then the directors are the the GM's and then, you know, VPs, et cetera, et cetera. So I'm right along with you is that, you know, coaches have to spend years, you know, coaching teams in order to get better and become a great coach, but the best coaches out there, they find their own system.

They create their own system. They, they learn how to work with people in their own way. They learn how to work with a lot of different people. And so. Sort of, I'm going to go to basketball here, but like Phil Jackson, right? One of the greatest coaches of all time Greg Popovich, they all sort of. You know, they found their steeze, if you will, as a manager, right.

Coach manager, and then brought, and I think it's interesting because with them, they're great people managers, but they're also great strategists. And I think that's another thing that maybe goes unseen. And the engineering management world is engineering managers have to be just as much strategists.

As they do people managers, and I think that gets lost. And sometimes underappreciated.

David Choe: Yeah. That's so true. And it's like, that's truly a skill and you really can't like, you know, you really can't just, I think the issue is it's, it's like. The work of management. I think people assume it's inherent or innate to most people like, because, because the practice of management seems obvious, like, do one-on-ones take care of your people, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Like everyone, everyone can list off the actions, but there's a lot more to actually enabling that in an organization because. The truth is you're right. Middle management is unsexy because you're stuck between layers of politics, bureaucracy, and decision-making. And that's the work like I remember at my last job, my, my manager was fantastic at my last job.

He was so good at like, doing that, like, and he was, you know, having basically the work is, do I care enough about this person to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation up and down the organization so that this person can succeed? Right. Right, right. And that takes the job of a strategist. When do I talk to whom?

How do I talk to whom? Know like all of these types of things, it's like so much timing it's so a lot of it's just, you know, I don't want to say softer work, but it is much more you know, it requires a lot of empathy. It requires a lot of self-awareness, you know,

Amanda Sabreah: And I think that's a great point that you make around.

Like, self-awareness, it, it requires a lot of awareness all around, right? Self-awareness people awareness project awareness, if you will stakeholder awareness, customer awareness. And like you said, a lot of people name off the obvious things, but there's so much else to it. And you know, me, like I have this saying is if you can't find a way to.

Care about a person that you don't know yet. Like if you don't know how to have a conversation and find a reason to care about them, you shouldn't be a manager, you shouldn't be a leader. You have to, you have to care enough. And I think a lot of people say, show empathy. You should be, you know, empathetic and vulnerable.

And I think that takes work right. That takes work. That's a muscle that you have to. To work on is I can't just walk to you and then have empathy for you and vulnerability for you. I don't know you, right. I have to work to find something that I care about in you. And so again, that's back to the self-awareness, but that's also back to training, right?

I think a lot of that gets missed on a lot of people. I can tell you, you know, what have empathy for everyone that you hire, you know, on your Staat team. But that doesn't mean you're going to do it. That doesn't even mean, you know, how to do it. So I think that that, that is a muscle within itself. So again, back to the awareness that you bring up a great a great top up it now, which could be a whole nother, a whole nother show, but self-awareness project awareness.

People awareness,  it all counts? It all goes into management.

David Choe: Yeah. And like, I think it's so interesting because, you know, we obviously have, we have an amazing customer advisory board full of empathetic, awesome engineering managers, and, you know, we obviously want, want to speak to them. We've been speaking to them about potential topics.

They want to talk about some of it's so much of it as like one-on-one how to give feedback, like why our top engineering managers, the things that they want to talk about. These w you know, one-on-one interpersonal things is because that is, that is the hardest part of the job. Right. But I think the biggest question, at least for me, is like, You know, jumping into these new roles or if I were to, you know, if I could even give any advice, it would be, are you assuming you're good at this?

Right. I think it's like, it's all about a posture. And you know, I don't think anybody would assume, like if you're learning a new language, like if you're learning, I dunno, Python or SQL or something for the first time, you would never assume you're good at it. Right. You know, and I think it's taking that same posture of if I'm new to management or if I'm new to management on this team or at this size of company or whatever, I think it's taking that posture.

Like obviously you have, you know, most people have a lot of competence, but at the same time, I think there's a level of awareness, but also humility that is required to do the job of people management, which that is probably the hardest thing to teach, right. Where even to get across. Absolutely. Yeah, no, I think that's, I think this is a great topic that we should probably, you know, keep unpacking.

For the episodes definitely would love to anything else stand out to you?

Amanda Sabreah: No, I think, I think, I mean, in terms of advice leaving advice and I would say, you know, posturing is a great one. I would also give advice to. The people around managers, right? Cause like you said, it's, it's, you shouldn't, we can't assume that someone's going to be a good manager because they were good at the skill of the person that they're managing.

It's, it's a completely different skill. It's a completely different muscle. It makes it easier for me to be aware of what you're going through because we have a skill in common, but that does not make me a good manager. And so I think that. You know, we have to prepare our managers a little bit more.

We've got a tool them a little bit better. We've got to get the training to them a little bit more. And then on the flip side towards developers, it's like, you know, or, or direct reports I should say. And not, and not just developers. It's like, everybody knows what it feels like to have a horrible manager.

Right. Everybody does. But it's like sometimes. If you could have empathy back to your manager. And I know that sometimes that feels hard to do because you feel like they may be attacking you or you know, they may be playing against you, but a lot of times it's just because they don't know they don't have someone in their ear.

That's saying actually you should handle this in a different way. So that would be my two things is, you know, Having empathy both ways, but then also just not assuming, not assuming that you're a good manager because you know, you're good at the skill of the person you're managing.

David Choe: That's great. I think it's you bring up such an interesting point because it's like an inaction from the standpoint of an individual contributor probably just means that the product won't be built as fast.

Right. That's the effect of inaction on an IC. The effect of inaction from a manager feels way worse, right? Like the implications are much broader. It feels like they don't care. They're actively, you know, holding you back in your career and stuff like that. And so I think that's something also to think about is just like the Effect size of, you know, the, the types of roles that these people take on that our customers are in.

So I think that like empathy back is a really interesting idea.

Amanda Sabreah: Yeah, sure. And I think, I think you're right. I also would say that, you know, an inaction of of an IC it can have. Longer sort of horizontal effects. It can have vertical effects or whatever. I think the inaction of a manager feels so personal, right?

It feels so personal because you're the one at the end of the day that has to recommend me to move forward in my career. Right. And so I think that, you know, going down this, down this road, even with us unpacking this, talking about it, more, pulling more people into the conversation, it's only going to help because at the end of the day, you know, we should be helping people achieve their life's work.

You know, that's my whole big thing. And as a manager, that's a big responsibility of the job. And so. I love this conversation. I love this topic. So yes, I'm happy to unpack it more and more.

That's a great point that there's there's a general sense from most managers. It's like, it's kind of scary to ask the questions because you implicitly suggest that you don't know what you're doing, but I think that actually is the job.

Right, right, right, right. And I even, I even wrote a post. I don't know if it published yet or not. And I w it's just about how to, how you can show up and create your own vision as a manager. And a lot of it is centered around, like, just simply ask the question. Like, if you don't know, just simply ask it creates a two-way trust.

It helps your team be able to learn how to ask questions back to you. But I think a lot of people, like you said, that they're scared to ask because it implies, they don't know when sometimes asking is the most powerful thing.

David Choe: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. No, this has been great. How lovely to have you on as our very special guest.

We'll have you on plenty more. So thank you all listeners for tuning in. Please let us know in the comments or hit us up at hello@staat.co. If you have any suggestions for future episodes or questions you want to ask us, we are super open. You can also catch us in our DMS on Twitter or LinkedIn @AmandaSabreah @davidkylechoe across those platforms.

So thank y'all hope you enjoyed it. This was fun for us. Peace.

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