Ask A Tech Manager

We had a really interesting joint CloudAustin/Austin DevOps meeting this week – a tech manager panel!  Ask them anything!  We had 92 people attend and we had to herd them all out of the building with sticks at the end because everyone had so many questions that even at two hours it was still going strong.

My takeaways:

  • Understanding managers’ viewpoint and goals is critical to an individual engineer when looking to get hired or promoted or whatever.
  • Managers want you to be successful – you being successful vs you not being successful (and/or leaving or being let go) is a huge win for them in all ways.
  • Looking for a job?
    • Your resume should be tuned to a job and either through its top section or a cover letter tell a story. Hiring managers get 100-200 applications/resumes per job. They don’t expect you to have everything on the job application – “50% is fine” was the consensus. But they’re doing a first cut before they talk to you, and a lot of people spam resumes, so if your resume doesn’t clearly say why you, add something that does.
    • For a Cloud Engineer position, for example, there’s a big difference between a random UNIX admin resume and a random UNIX admin resume that says “I’m excited about cloud and working towards an AWS certification on the side and really want to find a new job I can do cloud in.” The first one is discarded without comment, the second one can move ahead if they’re willing for people to learn – and given the “50%” thing, they are generally willing for people to lean, if those people are willing to learn!
  • Interviewing for a job?
    • Everyone hates every different interviewing tactic (see Hiring is Broken, and we have the Ultimate Fix) – individual interviews, panel interviews. whiteboard design, online coding, takehome projects, poring over your resume, checking your github, looking at your social meda/blog/whatever. But in the end hiring managers are just trying a handful of things to see if they can figure out if you know what you need to know to do the job.
    • They can’t just take your word for it – their reputation is on the line when they bring people in, and you reflect on them. They want to understand if you’ll be successful. Recruiting, hiring, onboarding cost a lot of money so they can only take so much of a risk – they’re not real particular what the form “proof you can do the job” takes, they’re just fishing for something.
  • Performance issues?
    • If you’re having some outside problem, talk to your manager. People we work with are a cross-section of just plain people, and we expect every medical, psychological, marital, criminal, etc. issue to show up at some point.
    • Communicate. Again, it’s in their best interest you succeed. No one “wants to get rid of you.”
    • Unreasonable demands?  Communicate.  Lots of technical staff work long hours or do the wrong things because they don’t “manage up” well and communicate.  “Hey, with this change I have way too much to get done in 40-50 hours, this is what I think my priority list is, this is what will fall off, what can we do about it?” Bosses don’t know what you’re doing every minute of the day and can’t read your mind. I’ve personally worked with engineers burning themselves out while their same-team colleagues aren’t because they aren’t managing themselves – though they think it’s outside forces bullying them.
  • How to get ahead?
    • Understand the options.  What are career paths there?  How do raises and promotions work? What are the cycles, pools, etc – you can only work the system if you understand the system. Managers are happy to explain.
    • Communicate.  No one knows if you want to move into management or not, or feel like you’re due a promotion or not, if you don’t talk about it with them over time. You have to take charge of your own development – companies want to help you develop but a manager has N reports and a lot of things to worry about, they aren’t going to drive it for you.
    • Listen.  What is needed to get to that Lead Engineer position?  “Slingin’ code” and “being here for 3 years” are, I guarantee, not much of that list of requirements. Usually things like leadership, image, communication, and exposure have a role. Read “How To Win Friends And Influence People” and stuff if you need to. “I just grind code by myself all day” is fine but there’s a max level to which you will rise doing so.

Anyway, thanks to all the managers that participated and all the attendees that grilled them!  I hope it helped people understand better how to guide their own careers.

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