2016 in Review

Let me just start with: Wow.

It’s been a huge year for all of us, full of changes and growth.

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Beginnings

At the beginning of the year, I was looking for a new job in software engineering management. My wife was 5 months pregnant, and I was trying to figure out how rapidly I needed to get a paycheck. I was very lucky to be able to sell some stock options from my last company to tide me over for six months and allow me to find the job I wanted rather than settling for the job I needed. That has not been my experience in the past, and I don’t count on it being the case in the future.

Finding a management job can be tough.

I had a couple of years of professional experience under my belt but I felt very, very green. I had built out an entire team of QA Analysts but had only managed one engineer. When I interviewed, my imposter syndrome often took over and chipped away at my confidence. In a world where there are jobs on every corner, this wouldn’t be so bad: screw up in one interview and do better on the one you have lined up for the next day! This philosophy works pretty well for engineers, but not so well for managers. The last time I looked for an engineering job, I found thousands of potential offerings; the hardest part was filtering them down to the companies and positions that seemed most relevant to my goals. Looking for a manager job was not as easy: on a given search, I would find a few hundred postings.

A number of those weren’t relevant – they were actually posting for a project, program, product manager. There were a lot looking for an experience level beyond me – Senior Manager, Director, VP. Of the remaining batch, more than half were looking for technical leads willing to do HR work. I know this works very well for many companies, but it’s not what I was looking for. This left a much smaller number of offerings, and over six months I pared those down to a scant dozen based on the following criteria.

  • Did the company have a good reputation…
    • with its employees?
    • with its customers?
    • as a software delivery company?
  • What was the experience makeup of the team?
    • Would I be seen as the technical lead, even if that wasn’t my role?
    • If there were engineers starting out, did they have technical mentorship available on the team or adjacent?

Feeding a company’s reputation were their blogs (personal and corporate), presentations at conferences, personal experience with the brand, news articles, and talking to folks in my professional network. I only got to know about the team’s makeup once I started interviewing with them, usually.

Some abbreviated thoughts on the job search:

  • I still can’t believe I only applied to 12 positions; I expected to be applying to dozens.1
  • I expected that I would find my next job through a referral but got an interview at Etsy with my cover letter and resume.
  • I spent a lot of time on my resume (about 3 working days) but was told by the hiring manager that the team had been confused about some things. My belief now is that resumes are about a candidate’s narrative: the arc is far more important than the details.
  • I’m glad that I used Trello to organize my job hunt; it saved me from a lot of e-mail searches and narrowed my focus.

    trello-template.png
    My Trello job hunt template. Reached out describes informational interviews / friends / friends of friends, whereas Applied describes actually being in that company’s system. If you’re unfamiliar with Trello, you can add cards to each of those lists like post-it notes, and move them from list to list as their state changes, and the card retains a history of its changes.

Last thoughts and fears

We welcomed my son into the world in April, and that has been an amazing experience. However, when I was looking for a job, I got to the point where I ran the very real risk of having to reschedule interviews due to his birth. Rational or not, that terrified me. Would a new father be seen as a risky hire? Would I be rejected solely for that? Ultimately, I thought about my own experience as a hiring manager and remembered that I would strongly prefer someone give me a heads up that they might have to reschedule than to reschedule day-of. My fears were completely unwarranted, and two companies I notified about the possible need to reschedule gave me very warm replies.

While I would not have wanted to work for a company that biased against candidates for something like the birth of a child, that would have been cold comfort when I really wanted to work at those companies for other reasons.

Fatherhood

Because I was still on the job hunt, I got to spend the first 7 weeks with my wife and baby. It was awesome, and I encourage anyone who is able to do so. Although I didn’t need to use it, I’m very privileged to live in a state (California) which offers 6 weeks of partially paid parental leave, and work in a city (San Francisco) that has raised that partial payment. I’m now significantly more privileged to work for a company that offers an amazing parental leave policy and hope that other companies follow Etsy’s lead.

Being a parent has been wonderful, and it has let me explore and build on some of my existing hobbies: photography and cooking.

Photography

I’ve learned a bit more about using a flash and Lightroom. It’s amazing how much Lightroom can transform some of my duller photos like these:

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(The grass is far more visible in the latter)

It does even more magic for my portraits like this one I took before learning how to use a flash.

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You too can take portraits despite very yellow lighting!

I’m not yet comfortable with publishing public photos of my son, sorry!

Cooking

I’ve shifted from active to passive time cooking, heavily utilizing electric pressure cooking (via my Instant Pot) and sous vide to balance family time with not starving.

Although it takes more planning, I’ve found some amazing results. Most recently, I tried out Adam Fields’ sous vide french toast which has a texture unlike any other I’ve had. It’s no longer bread, and it’s not quite a custard. It’s fantastic, and I love it, and my only active time was about 5 minutes (mixing the batter at the beginning and pan-frying the slices at the end).

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This is so, so good. Really, you should try it.

Check out Adam’s blog for the recipe.

With the Instant Pot, I make a variant of this shredded chicken verde whenever we run out. I try to make a batch of about 4 pounds, then portion it into foodsaver bags, ice bath them, and pop them in the freezer. When it’s taco night, I chuck the bag into sous vide at ~130F for 30 minutes or so which gives me time to quickly sautee a bell pepper and onion and heat up some tortillas. I’ve done this with all sorts of chicken pieces: boneless skinless breasts, bone-in thighs, entire chickens cut into pieces. If there are skin and bones, I’ll collect those afterwards and make a lovely chicken broth with them (or throw the carcass in the freezer for a bigger broth batch later). My broth is usually just:

  • The carcass of 1-2 chickens (about 3/4 of a 1 gallon ziplock)
  • 3 or 4 big carrots
  • 3 or 4 celery stalks
  • an onion, quartered
  • fill up the Instant Pot to about 6 quarts (if there’s no headroom, it won’t come up to pressure)

Set the Instant Pot to high pressure for 60-90 minutes, then let it do a slow release. I strain everything out and end up with a lovely broth that’s unsalted and can be used in other things or served in a bowl with tortellini, peas, and mushrooms. It’s also a great base for home-made baby food!

Professional development

When I started this particular job, I knew what I would not be bringing to the table:

  • Expertise of localization & translation,
  • Expertise of PHP,
  • Expertise of how Etsy does things, who has done things in the past, and who needs to be brought in to do things now.

Although I was still feeling a lot of imposter syndrome, these are the things I knew I would bring to my team from day one:

  • One on one chats involving listening and asking questions, withholding offered technical solutions and directives,
  • An eagerness to learn about localization challenges,
  • An eagerness to learn from the many teams that my teams work with and from whom we’ve taken over their projects’ maintenance,
  • Two questions that I ask myself with each decision:
    • Does this achieve the team’s (and Company’s) goals?
    • Does this achieve a report’s goals?

It’s a pretty small toolbox, but it took a lot of time and help to put together.

Wins and Challenges

I’ve been with my team for six months now, and I’ve already found some wins and discovered some challenges.

Wins

  • I can’t take credit for this one even remotely, but I have to call it out: I work with an amazing team of engineers, designers, product managers, and upper management. I had no part in assembling that team, but I believe that we all have the space we need to succeed (I certainly do), and this is a huge, huge win.
  • Each of my 3 teams is scrumming independently with a heavy emphasis on collaboration and communication, something that seemed to be missing when I first joined the team. When I started, we had 3 teams scrumming together and the development process didn’t seem to be working for anyone. We’re constantly iterating, but we seem to be at a real happy place. My minor part here has been to facilitate the scrum process and allow for a lot of flexibility.
  • I have real work/life balance. I get to see my family every day (a little in the morning, a little more in the evening) and there aren’t surprise “I’ll be home late tonight” events. I haven’t always had this level of predictability but it’s really important. I very rarely take work home with me in an effort to encourage my team to act accordingly.

Challenges

  • 2017 brings much needed growth, but that growth brings management challenges. My team will expand to 11 and ensuring that I have time for each of them is a challenge; not just for weekly 1-1s, but for ongoing performance review (Are they seeking promotion? Are they ready? How do they get from here to there?) and other professional goals.
  • Traveling is a challenge for me. My office is a tiny satellite compared to the home office, and building and maintaining relationships with folks in the home office is critical to my team’s success. It’s not easy for my family to join me, so that means a week away from them. I really enjoy traveling, and spending time with my New York colleagues, and nobody is holding a gun to my head to make the trips, so this is really just a specific case of work/life balance.
  • I still have so much to learn! About localization, about being a better manager, and about being a better father and spouse.

Plans for 2017

  1. Delegate aggressively. I’ve started doing this with my scrum facilitation but really need to do more of this in other areas. I need to buy back the time necessary to help my team succeed.
  2. Travel only when it’s needed. That definition is a bit hand-wavy, but it’s a start.
  3. I think that I’m on the right path for learning, but it takes continually renewed efforts. To that end:
    1.  I’m excited to host more localization meetups in the future, hopefully with more special guests from other companies. I organized one at Etsy last month which was fantastic! I learned a few new things from my team, as well as problems in other parts of the industry (cliff’s notes: they are the same as ours).
    2. I continue to actively participate in the Rands Leadership slack; it’s been an amazing 19 months so far and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings in terms of new perspectives, help with tricky problems, and loads of industry camaraderie.
    3. I’ll continue to use my parental leave that Etsy so generously granted me. Every time I take a week with my son, I remember two things:
      1. Things are different than last time, and old habits have been replaced with new ones! (He now crawls across the room in a few seconds instead of merely rolling over!)
      2. My team at work can get on without me for this brief blip in history. This time is important.

So, with those ~2200 words, I wish you all a very happy new year and hope that 2017 will be as fulfilling for you as I hope it will be for me!


Footnotes

1: I want to be explicitly clear that my selection criteria should not be construed as “The companies I selected to apply to are better than the companies I did not select,” as the number of companies I did not apply to number in the thousands. I could write an entire separate post about my process during the job hunt, but it comes down to the mirror of a resume screen: a company’s job posting must be visible, and their reputation must be positive (neutral was insufficient), and retrieving all of that information must be available quickly and easily. Return to article

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