My Quest to be a Better Leader

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Leading Engineers

Engineering Leadership (or management – some engineers are not fans of the term “manager”) is not easy as some people think. Leadership is hard enough, the complexity of people then add to that the complexity of engineers. There’s not a lot of books on the specific subject so it’s not surprisingly that I still hear top executives saying that one just needs be technically proficient/architect, sure – architect of teams/people maybe but not just of systems/code. That’s where the challenges of engineering leadership comes in, one is expected to be both good at systems/engineering and people. Those two could mean different worlds.

Long topic but I wanted to share what I hope to follow and achieve. These are taken mostly from Google’s Proxy Oxygen (Google’s Quest for a Better Boss), books, articles I have read on the subject (you can catch some at my GoodReads account) and experience from peers, friends and my own.

These are “big” topics on their own, (obviously thousands of books have been written on leadership), my goal is to simply to share in case it helps and for others to remind me should I forget to walk the talk.

Also, though useful in most cases, it could vary depending on what stage your company/team is in. If you are just starting up, you need more coding + pitch/sales/marketing power more than maybe engineering leadership.

There is no timeline to get these right (if even possible at all), it’s a lifelong process and better have a target than nothing at all.

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.
  • Learn more about coaching and apply (and be more organized, templates etc)

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.
  • Give them tools to enable them to do their best
  • Demand the very best, help if possible, otherwise find other options, if all is exhausted cut losses
  • Trust them to do their best
  • Emphasize results, not time spent
  • Delegate that which is not your strength

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition
  • Treat them well
  • Know what makes them tick (money, power, status, popularity, greater good)
  • Appreciate individuality
  • Do the hard work of knowing but also ask what motivates them

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.
  • Shield the team from distraction
  • Manage external expectations

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
  • Understanding is the goal, communication is just a tool
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

6. Help your employees with career development 

  • Mentor when you can, refer to someone if outside your expertise
  • Training time on regular work week hours (internal + external expertise)

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy.
  • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.
  • Team vision, Core values
  • Where does each one fit in the team (roles)
  • To be the best, know the best (who are our competitors)
  • When saying no to roadmap/tasks, support it by giving costs

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work.
  • Learn their code base – invest time on this
  • Good architecture – “With good architecture, debugging is a breeze because bugs will be where they should be.” – David May
9. Integrity
  • Just, fair, transparent
  • Do not commit without consulting them
  • Admit mistakes
  • Give people proper credit
  • Confront problems, not people

10. Advocate Quality

  • Test, Test, Test
  • Code review
  • Simplify, Simplify
  • Continuous integration
  • Cannot commit if builds are failing
  • 5 whys – incident report always
  • Do not build something you cannot measure
  • Have a Devil’s advocate, 10th person on architecture decisions

11. Innovation

  • Advocate design thinking – emphatize, define, ideate, prototype, test
  • Safe environment to learn from instead of fear failures and move on

Hack Cafe Idea

I believe in startup communities. Idealistic, some may say but I like to think that I never stopped believing in doing small (or big) things to make the world a better place and startups contribute a lot.

And one way to help build those communities is having a space to encourage it.
Sharing one idea I’ve been thinking (and hoping) can be implemented in Manila and Philippines (my home country) in general. I’m sure I’m not the only one but sharing nevertheless and if someone beats me to it all the better.

A coffee place where generating great ideas/work comes first before great (or even just good coffee).

Disclaimer: I do not claim any intellectual property on this (and in fact this is brought upon by different ideas from friends and people I’ve met). I hope that by sharing this, it becomes real (or if it’s already real I can help market/support it)

Venture Capital 101 – Google Hangout with Dr. Clint Korver

Had a great opportunity to talk to and discuss about Venture Capital investing with Dr. Clint Korver – Co-founder and Partner of Ulu Ventures, serial entrepreneur earlier today.

Venture Capital is not everybody’s game and there’s not a lot of information about there and even more know, the number of VC firms struggle to stay afloat, you can almost imagine that some will keep their trade secrets. Client and Kauffman Fellows are one of the few (if not the only) who goes out of their way to share on this topic.

This is part of VC101 (NovoEd) class where Clint was one of the mentors (along side others from Kaufman Fellows Academy)

Learned a great deal in the very limited minutes (not to mention Google Hangouts technical issues) and most of all got a lot of my questions answered. Including:

  • How involved are VCs with valuation vs seeking expertise outside the firm
  • How VC on a high level come up with exit multiples
  • How to become a VC (straight from a VC)

Sharing here (in two parts due to some technical issues)

Aside from Engineering & Leadership, I hope to learn more and share about building and funding things of great value and it might take time but as they say seek your path and this is one of mine.

Thanks Clint for sharing your time and knowledge, hopefully soon I could pay back the honor or pay it forward.

Philippines Startup Report

Thanks to the nice folks rappler.com I’ve had the chance of watching online what’s happening (or has happened) in Geeks on a Beach – a brand new conference for everyone who is passionate about startups, technology, design, and making the world a better place that was held yesterday in Boracay Island, Philippines (the best beach/island in the world – though I might have a slight bias since I was born 2 hours away from those islands).

rappler online video coverage here

Although from a global perspective, the startup scene here is average (needs more entrepreneurs, needs more information, more funding) with my interest in this subject (with my goal to be an angel investor) and having the privilege to know some social entrepreneurs in the country I would say that these are exciting times for the startup and enterpreneurship in the Philippines.

Stay tuned!

Oh and I just learned too that Ms. Philippines won title of Ms World 2013 (Megan Young)! Hurray for the Philippines…