What new engineering leads and new parents have in common

Mar 6, 2017
5 minutes read

Two of the biggest changes in my life over the last year in work and personal life were moving from being an engineering more into a management/leadership role and having a child 5 months ago with my girlfriend.

When reflecting about both changes I could see similarities between how my move into management and our child impacted me and my girlfriend in different ways. Especially how we perceive our own productivity and what that means for our own personal happiness.

Moving from engineering to management/leadership can be really hard, it definitely was for me. It took me quite a while so it was interesting to see the same patterns come up when my girlfriend started to be a stay-at-home mom.

My issues when going from engineering to management

While the leadership part of moving into management was a large hurdle and deserves its own post in the future, I want to focus on how I started to perceive my own productivity and how that made me super unhappy for a long time.

I had a really hard time adjusting to the manager schedule as it is vastly different from the maker schedule, sitting down and coding for hours.

Over time at Codeship I did a lot of marketing, sales and product work and less and less engineering. For a long time this felt unproductive because often I was just supporting somebody elses goal, like making a specific sale, helping with content or giving feedback on product strategy. While I think (and hope) that helped those specific people to get their stuff done, I didn’t feel like I was shipping anything myself.

So sometimes I would just build something because I wanted to feel like I was shipping. This wasn’t particularly productive for me though and frustrated the engineering team.

Now I see similar patterns happening to my girlfriend over the last months. A young child is obviously a ton of work. Often it’s not just about doing specific things, but just being there with the child, holding her when she is sleeping, because she needs a body to sleep on. This means you’re just sitting there and can’t really do anything directly as it would wake her up. At the end of the day this often felt frustrating to my girlfriend because she didn’t feel like she got anything done that day, her list of things to do at home or in the garden grew longer, when in fact she was there for the child the whole day.

When you’re in those situations you need to adjust what you perceive as being productive work. You need to see the unblocking of a colleague and watching TV with your sleeping child as a task that was also shipped. Of course this should never be an excuse for getting less stuff done than you can or want to. Just that you need to be realistic what impact you can and should have on your team or your family and connecting your own personal happiness to that and not a past measurement of success or impact.

And often while those optimisations seem small, e.g. 30 minutes here, an hour there of more productive time for your team, that time adds up very quickly.

What helped me to get over it

  • Read Manager and Maker schedule. This is definitely required reading for anyone who moves into any kind of leadership role. You need to understand how your day possibly changes and how you can keep a good balance between meetings and your own productive work.
  • Make sure you set aside times regularly where you can fully focus on specific tasks for hours and everyone knows you should only be interrupted when necessary. Put this in your calendar as well so it’s really blocked off.
  • Have regular small coding side projects that are non-critical to the company (if it’s critical have somebody else do it) so you can keep a close to coding and tech, while not disrupting the core of your company. Better internal tooling, tools for other parts of the company or similar things could be something to pick up.
  • Make sure information about blockers your team has reaches you async. E.g. Something I like to do is have an async Standup in Slack where people add blockers and tasks. Once you’re up and see somebody is blocked you can ping them so they reach out whenever they want/need to so you can unblock them which feels great in the morning.
  • Make sure you’re well organised (thanks to Laura Frank for bringing this up). When you’re working as an engineer its typically somebody elses job to make sure all the tasks are in the system, priority is clear and you can pick up and start your work. As a manager you are the person prioritising and need to manage those short times in between anything else. Make sure you’re well organised, for example by reading my recent post about that

But most importantly have regular 1/1s with your team where you ask them for feedback and how you can improve. At Serverless I did a 11 with everyone every week for 15 minutes talking strictly about tasks they have been and will be working on. Every 3 weeks we di a deep dive 11 to talk about how happy they are and anything they want to talk about. They will either tell you things that could be better (which means you can improve) or they tell you that they are actually happy, feel productive and focused.

Your job as their manager is making sure they know where everything is heading and getting everything out of the way that blocks them. If they tell you thats where they are, congrats you’re doing a good job. This feedback loop helped keep me focused and happy.

Be open and share your struggle to adjust to this with your team and your managers. They will understand and be able to help you.

Thanks to Laura Frank for her thoughts and feedback. She recently was promoted to Director of Engineering at Codeship and is amazing! And of course thanks for review from my Girlfriend Theresa as well.

Back to posts