How to fire a Software Engineer

By far the hardest thing you will do as a manager is fire someone.  But you will need to do it.  There is no way around it.  If you want to be a manager, this is just part of the job.

I’ve discovered there are right and wrong ways to execute this.  I’m hoping some of the tips below help make the best of this difficult situation.

Continue reading “How to fire a Software Engineer”

10 Ways to use Confluence for Improved Communication

 

In Part 1 of this series, titled “How I converted my entire company over to Confluence, and lived happily ever after”, I described how I converted my entire company over to using Confluence, and saw huge gains in communication.  This was meant to be more of a general how-to article on migrating your company over to a new tool, rather than provide any info on the tool itself.

In this article, I’d like to go into more depth on how we’re actually using Confluence in my company.  I’ll also list the plugins that we are currently using.

Continue reading “10 Ways to use Confluence for Improved Communication”

How I converted my entire company over to Confluence, and lived happily ever after

 

Note:  I am not endorsing or advertising any specific tool in this article.  It’s merely meant to share my tips from rolling out a new tool across a company.

I couldn’t believe it.

On my first day on the job I asked “so, where’s the wiki?”  The answer was this horribly outdated wiki system which shall remain unnamed.  The most recent article in it was a couple months old.

After just coming from a company that was tool happy (see this article for just a small subset of monitoring tools alone), I was shocked that this promising startup was so clueless when it came to their intranet and communication systems.  I was used to using tools from Atlassian like Confluence, Jira, and HipChat.

Continue reading “How I converted my entire company over to Confluence, and lived happily ever after”

Promote Yourself

PromoteLike most, I first started in the software industry as an engineer.  I was taught growing up that hard work in the end will be rewarded.  My strong work ethic as an engineer resulted in me quickly being promoted up from individual contributor to team lead, manager, and then eventually director.

Then I noticed a big change.

When you are an individual contributor, you are often recognized by your peers and management for your contributions.  You are asked to complete a specific task or project, and the results are usually demonstrable and easily recognizable.

As you move up into management everything changes.

When you move into management, there are fewer people above you to recognize your contributions.  Oftentimes, your manager doesn’t understand the technical contributions you are making to the team, because they are non-technical.

Also, the role of a manager is much fuzzier.  How can you quantify if you were successful at motivating or mentoring your team?

When I first moved into a management position, I thought it was most important to focus on managing down.  My primary responsibility is to get my team to execute, right?

Well, that is only PART of the role.  The other part of the manager’s job is to clearly communicate up (your boss) and across (your peers) your personal accomplishments as well as those of your team.

You have to become a salesman!  This is not easy to do, especially for those of us introverted engineers.

You need to get out of your comfort zone!  Instead of spending your whole day with the team, force yourself to walk around the office and meet one new person a week.  Tell them what you do and what your team is working on.  What your challenges are.  See if there is any way you can help these people that you run into.  Are any of the projects or initiatives that your team is involved in relevant to this person?

When your team hits a big milestone, be sure to communicate it out to the organization.  Are the other dev teams aware?  How about the rest of the product group?  Promote your team to the organization.  Be proud of their accomplishments.  This is not slimy or devious.  This is basic business communication.

You need to do this, there is no choice.  If you don’t do it, no one else will.  The reputation of your team will suffer for it.  Your reputation as a leader will suffer.

And you can’t just promote your team, you need to promote yourself as well.  No one else will be an advocate for you, except you!

Some people do the above naturally.  I’d bet that most engineering managers don’t.  I know I don’t.  I’m still not good at doing the above.  However, I’ve seen other managers excel at this and reap the benefits.

Check out a book on this entire topic here:

How to have a successful 1-on-1 with your boss

1on1Ah, the dreaded weekly 1-on-1!  Do you get nervous leading up to your 1-on-1 with your boss?  Are you sometimes caught off guard or feel unprepared during the discussion?  Do you ever feel like the time isn’t valuable?

Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years to ensure a successful 1-on-1 with your boss:

Before the meeting

  • Be prepared.  This meeting is regularly scheduled, and it’s important.  You have it every week so you know what it’s going to be like.  There is no reason to not be prepared for this meeting.
  • Give them a heads up.  If there is a specific topic you want to cover, give your boss a heads up a day or so beforehand.  This will give them time to think about it, rather than catching them off guard in the meeting.
  • Review the past week.  Spend 10 minutes reviewing what happened in your group over the past week.  I typically write down a bulleted list because my memory is bad.  Were there any production issues?  Be prepared to answer questions regarding any event that may have made its way to your boss via other channels.
  • No surprises.  Don’t wait for your 1-on-1 to let your boss know of any big or urgent news.  See this post for tips on managing production issues.

During the meeting

  • Be on time.  Your boss’s time is valuable, don’t disrespect them by being late.
  • Let them lead.  Even though you’ve come prepared with a list of topics and questions, let your boss lead the discussion.  Remember, people have their own agendas and interests.  If your boss doesn’t have any topics to cover then you can move on to your agenda.
  • Raise Issues.  It’s important that your boss hears about issues going on within your team from you first.  It demonstrates that you are the leader of your team and have things under control.  However, as mentioned above, you should be constantly in communication with your boss of any news on your team.  Use the 1-on-1 time to raise up project risks or other concerns, vs. news.
  • Listen.  Pay close attention to the body language and questions that your boss asks.  What is he/she really interested in?  Do they want a status update, or just brainstorm and bounce ideas off of you?  Let them lead and run with it, but find ways to weave in the questions you need answered.  If that doesn’t work, try to move onto your questions/issues after half way through.
  • Take Notes.  I find that I need to take notes in my 1-on-1 to ensure I don’t drop anything.  I usually bring a notebook to take notes vs a computer, as it demonstrates that you are focused on the meeting, and not distracted by email/chat/etc.
  • Learn their style.  You can learn so much from a person by observing their behavior in these 1-on-1 settings.  You should start to see a pattern emerge over a few weeks on what your boss likes to cover in these meetings.  If they are a seasoned manager they will be effective, but that won’t always be the case.  Use the ‘heads up’ before the meeting to ensure the topics you want addressed are covered.  Don’t wait for your boss to discuss your career goals, or potential growth opportunities, bring it up here.

After the meeting

  • Take Notes.  If you didn’t do so in the meeting, immediately afterwards jot down some notes from the meeting.  Pay attention to the topics that they raised.
  • Take Action.  Were there action items?  If so, make sure there is some progress on them by next week’s meeting!

Hopefully you find some of the tips above to be useful.  I’d love to hear other tactics that people employ to ensure they have a successful 1-on-1!

 

Firedrill! What to do when your production system goes down

There’s no worse feeling than when your production system goes down.  The business relies on your system’s availability.  Something happened, a bug, bad code push, a customer inserted crazy data, or whatever.

Now everyone is looking at you to fix it.  You are completely dependent upon your team, operations and engineering to come together, diagnose, address root cause, and deploy a fix ASAP.

Your ass is on the line and you are pretty much helpless.

What can you do to help?

Here are my tips:

  • Make sure you have the right people on the scene.  Have at least 1 engineer and ops person on the issue together.  Open a dedicated skype room or google hangout where information can flow freely.
  • Quickly assess the severity of the service degradation.
  • Notify your management chain, product team, and various other relevant internal stakeholders ASAP.  Be honest.
  • Provide cover for the team diagnosing the issue.  Limit distractions.
  • Get out of the way.  Your job is to ensure the right people are on the issue, and the org is up to date on the status.
  • Once the issue is identified and a patch is deployed, communicate out to the org what happened.
  • Afterwards, gather the team together and hold a quick post mortem to find out what went wrong.  Some key questions:
    • What services were affected?
    • What actually happened?
    • What is the root cause?
    • How can this be prevented in the future?  Is additional logging, instrumentation needed to diagnose the issue more quickly in the future?
  • Thanks the team for their teamwork, and quick resolve.
  • Send out a service incident report to the company that is transparent.  Describe the information gathered from the post mortem and explain it in simple terms.  Remember, the rest of the company wants to know that you have things under control, and you are taking the necessary steps to ensure it won’t happen again.  Most people understand that things go wrong and people make mistakes.

What other steps do you take?