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Episode 5: More responsibility, less control and how the first team changes with Anita Singh


    Anita is an engineering leader who is passionate about building mobile apps and empowering teams to build quality software that delights users.

    After spending a couple of years working for bigger public tech companies, Anita has since worked at startups in both Silicon Valley and Berlin, where she has scaled teams, culture, processes and software from the ground up. She enjoys coaching engineering managers and staff engineers in her current role and hopes to continue on this path.

    Links and Mentions


    Patrick Kua: Welcome to the Managing Managers podcast. I’m your host, Patrick Kua, founder of the Tech Lead Academy and curator of the newsletter for leaders in tech, Level Up. In this podcast, I’m chatting with senior engineering managers, directors, VPs of engineering and others who have walked the path of managing other managers, where we will uncover some great stories and lessons learnt.

    Let’s get started.

    Patrick Kua: Hi I’m really excited to have Anita join us on this episode today. Anita is an engineering leader who’s passionate about building mobile apps and empowering teams to build quality software that delights users. After spending a couple of years working for bigger public tech companies Anita has since worked at startups in both Silicon Valley and Berlin where she has scaled teams, culture, processes and software from the ground up. She enjoys coaching engineering managers and staff engineers in her current role and hopes to continue on this path. Welcome Anita to the podcast. 

    Anita Singh: Thank you so much for having me. Really excited to be here.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. You’ve got some really interesting experiences and backgrounds. So why don’t you help us understand your leadership journey and how you ended up in the role that you’re currently in.

    Anita Singh: My leadership journey actually started with a mobile lead role or a tech lead role. I think this was end of 2017, beginning 2018, where I was responsible for both the Android and iOS apps at this small startup and so this is where I launched into more the technical leadership side of things, like making sure we’re building a scalable app, architecture decisions, technical alignment, stakeholder management, release management. All these kind of fun, fun things, also around technical project management. We then decided to move to Berlin and so when I moved here, I had a chance to rethink what kind of roles I wanted to apply for and I decided to apply for senior Android roles because at the time Kotlin had just become the official language of Android development and I really wanted to get deep into that and master that. When you’re a Tech Lead you have a lot of responsibility that isn’t just coding or diving into the code so much, as you can maybe as a proper IC. So I decided to do that and joined Blinkist as a senior Android developer and had a really great time there. And a year in, I started feeling the itch of, okay, I think I’ve gotten this. I’ve  scratched this itch of getting deep into Kotlin, I’m maybe ready again, to try some type of leadership role and my manager started this conversation of, “Do you want to go down the staff role or do you want to go down the engineering management role?”

    Anita Singh: And I started doing my research. I read books. I watched talks. And I decided that I really wanted to try the engineeringing manager route. I was really excited by figuring out how to have high performing teams, helping people grow their careers and just also the human aspect of it. I let my manager know and he started delegating some things to me like hiring, started using me as sparring partner and then eventually he actually did the switch – the swing from engineer manager to IC. So he went back to being an engineer and a position opened up. So they opened an internal hiring process because of course it’s like a role change rather than a traditional promotion. I applied and got the role and that’s how my journey in engineering management began. I felt very supported because I had this manager and also I had done research. I had worked with a leadership coach and so on so forth. A couple years later I got the opportunity to manage managers at Gorillas, which was going through this hypergrowth time. This was like pandemic time 2021.

    Patrick Kua: Maybe for the listeners, do you want to describe what Gorillas is?

    Anita Singh: Yes, my bad. It’s a grocery delivery company. Essentially you can have your essential needs delivered in minutes. I was one of the first 10 engineers there. I again started to be more hands on. But the idea was as the company grew, I would go back into management and this is where, when it kept growing again, a manager of manager position opened up. A similar story. I applied. I  was really thrown into the deep end this time as you usually are in hypergrowth companies right? My transition to the engineering manager was so supported. Very calm and there was a proper transition period. Here, it was a bit chaotic right, as it tends to be. And actually that’s where the talk for the LeadDev on managing managers came from from that experience of being totally surprised of this experience. Around five and a half months ago I joined Freenow, as the director of engineering. So again managing managers. In not a hypergrowth scenario. In a more stable environment. And more on the backend side and working with more senior managers. So yeah, it’s been really fun so far.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. And with more experience and lessons learned under your belt in your new role as well, I’m sure. 

    Anita Singh: Yeah, yeah, although still early. But yes, already. 

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, we’ll definitely come back to the talk that you were talking about because I think you’ve got some really interesting insights there.

    But let’s talk about your current role then. So FREENOW. Do you want to just give us quick overview as to what they do? And what your scope of your role is, like who do you manage, and what department or teams do you manage?

    Anita Singh: So Freenow is essentially a super mobility app. It helps you get where you want to go. And helps cities thrive. I manage 4 teams here. I’m sorry, 4 engineering managers, who have 4 teams, one team each. The scope is the marketplace. So essentially sits between demand and supply. So responsible for allocating the right drivers and having the right pricing and incentives to make sure we stimulate supply to meet the current marketplace conditions. So, it’s super interesting. It’s the backbone of the business. Really important for profitability and so on so forth. So it’s a lot of responsibility in that sense. But in terms of people it is reduced responsibility than what I had before, so it’s a nice balance. So overall it’s 20 engineers.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. And then who are some of the peers that you work with and maybe other people across the business?

    Anita Singh: So peers? I guess I’m part of this broader organisation supply automation and marketplace. So I have my fellow manager of managers there. Around 3 of them. Then there’s broader peers as well outside. Which is around again 2 or 3 of the people and then there’s, of course, my product counterpart, design and then also outside of product and tech, there’s ops and the marketplace performance team. So these are my main peers I would say.

    Patrick Kua: Great. And who do you currently report to? 

    Anita Singh: The VP of engineering.

    Patrick Kua: Got it. Excellent. I think it’s a really fascinating mix. You’ve got a few peers with similar scope and then you’ve also got ops and it sounds like in that industry, there’s probably quite a lot of ops.

    Anita Singh: Yes. Yes, exactly.

    Patrick Kua: How do you end up spending your time if you think about an average week versus your teams and the rest of the business? What does that look like?

    Anita Singh: That’s a great question. I guess because I’m still a bit in the onboarding phase. It’s probably going to look different as I get deeper. But I would say around half my time goes into marketplace topics. So our leadership round and my product counterpart and design. Then maybe like other 20% with my peers and around the rest towards ops. Although I have to say I do rely on my product counterpart a lot for that.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, amazing. And I mean you just talked to actually about onboarding and it is relatively new in that area. What has your experience been like as a manager of managers onboarding? Was there structure in place? Were you thrown into it and work it out? How has that been for you?

    Anita Singh: So my manager actually had this nice 30, 60, 90 day plan. On my first day that we went over. So that really helped in knowing what I need to accomplish in my first three months which is, I think, quite crucial. But also had to be realistic right? Because a lot of the decisions you make right now or the path that you take, you probably see the impact of that way later. It’s probably not going to see some of that in the probation six month period so my manager really helped set those expectations. And then I did onboarding sessions with each of my 4 engineering managers. To learn about the systems in tech. Also, and then I did skip levels with everyone. Just intro coffee, so that was very eye-opening as always. I think the first few months was really just building relationships. 

    Patrick Kua: What are some approaches that you’re using to build relationships with people?

    Anita Singh: Ah, that’s a great question as well. In the beginning really, it’s just having those first calls. And then following up. You see these concerns that are being brought up. Or ideas. Making sure I write them down. Or then keep that conversation going. I either say, “Hey, that was a great idea. I followed up on this. What do you think?” And from there I started the first few experiments I wanted to try out. So I think just keeping that loop going and then figuring out the ritual ways I stay connected with people as well. You know, skip levels. Knowledge sharing sessions that I’m part of. Or demos. Or all hands. Or stakeholder reviews. Like putting those initial rituals in place that either weren’t there or changing them or leveraging the ones that are there.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. Yeah, it sounds like you’ve got some good cadence of structure of these different, as you mentioned, rituals. It sounds like your calendar is probably quite full. 

    Anita Singh: Yes. Unfortunately, yes.

    Patrick Kua: Which I think is the case for people who end up with more scope. How do you carve out time for your thinking and work in that role?

    Anita Singh: I took the tip from Lena Reinhardt. She has this really great talk on building strategy. And I have blocks. I have at least Wednesday afternoons fully blocked for strategy time and it’s anyway meetings free time at work. So I try to really enforce that as much as I can with my direct reports. So that’s a good 3 hours a week that I intend to spend on thinking and strategy. But of course sometimes it doesn’t work that way. 

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, it’s great that you’ve got that blocker. 

    Anita Singh: Yeah.

    Patrick Kua: In terms of what you talked about with strategy time. I think there’s the temptation that if you have that time, it’s easy to whittle it away with email and other little tasks. What’s your tips or tricks for keeping to what you describe as strategic work and what does that look like for you?

    Anita Singh: Yeah, I try to definitely minimise Slack. I put the status saying I’m just going to be very delayed in responding, after 5 or the next day. Closing email. I spend this time to just read. I’m still onboarding. There’s so many terms I hear every day. I’m like, what does that acronym or what does the service do exactly? I keep notes of this through the day and then I spend this time first looking into that. Learning about it all. Figuring all the questions I need to ask to learn more because I’ve never been an engineer at Freenow. I don’t have that ability yet to just dive in and figure it out. So I have to really rely on people for that. From there, write down my thoughts. I have a document that I’m working on. The strategy. So I just keep adding to it. Although the next step right now is to do a workshop with some ICs and engineering managers. I haven’t done that yet. These are just my playground and my thoughts.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Excellent! A fantastic approach and I can see just having that time to think and focus on those high-level topics is really key. It’s good that you’ve got your process around that. You mentioned earlier a little bit about experiments. Can you give us an example about what’s an experiment that you’re running? What scope does it involve? How are you running it?

    Anita Singh: Yeah. So I took on this team from my manager who had a much bigger scope. He has a lot of different teams. So it’s very much still in the forming stage. I basically set some engineering manager rounds every week. Also around with product, design and data. So just setting up what meeting or aligning with them looks like, what’s the format of this, and iterating over that. Initially, there was a little bit of resistance of like, “Why do we need these meetings?” or the format. But it took some iterations. Now we’re in a better place. So for example, just introducing those was the first small experiment. And then also introducing this shared space. This engineering shared space. When I joined backend people would have the backend sharing and frontend would have these chapters. There wasn’t so much knowledge sharing between the different functions. So just setting that up also had a little bit of resistance to that because they were like, “Oh, we already have these.” I also didn’t want to be the person who just comes and introduces meetings. So I framed everything as an experiment. We’ll try once. If people hated it people don’t need to do it again? Once we tried it a couple of times, people seemed to like it or at least tolerate it. So those were, I think, starting with rituals was what just the first thing I did. 

    Patrick Kua: Good. Excellent. So I mean one theme that I’m hearing is one of your roles is connecting those silos. 

    Anita Singh: Yes, exactly.

    Patrick Kua: It sounds like that’s something that happens quite a lot which is teams work in their own space but actually, that cross-pollination is not happening organically and you’ve experimented to create some serendipitous connections around that or maybe more opportunity for those connections.

    Anita Singh: Exactly. There were silos between the cross-functional team. Silos between product, data and engineering. Also silos between the different functions. So at the beginning I was like, yeah, let’s start at least talking more and be more of a team. That feeling of being a team. I think, for me, felt like the place to start.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Amazing! Alright. In your current scope, do you lead any areas where you don’t have any experience of that technology or area and how do you manage that if you don’t really know that area?

    Anita Singh: So this is the first time I think I’ve stepped outside of the mobile world a bit. So all 4 of the teams are backend heavy teams. So they’re backend. Maybe some web. But there’s no mobile. Although we do work closely with mobile teams. But that’s not my scope and so it’s still Kotlin though. So I didn’t go that far. 

    Patrick Kua: Hooray

    Anita Singh: That was pretty challenging because I was a backend engineer for the first year of my career and I haven’t done it for like a decade. The way my coping strategy, or how I’ve been dealing with this is just being really honest. I’m asking all the stupid questions. And then also just again, like I said, doing my research like writing those terms down. Looking it up. Trying to read more about it. Like Kafka. Watching a talk on it. So at least I know what’s happening on a high-level right? If I start learning everything hands on right now I’m not going to catch up to the amazing engineers we already have. It’s also not my job anymore. It’s important I think I have enough of a high level understanding and that’s something I had to be okay with because I like to jump into rabbit holes. I have a tendency to do that. And lose a lot of time and had to really stop that habit.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. Okay. Yeah I mean good self-awareness. I think that’s a big key here. 

    Anita Singh: Yeah

    Patrick Kua: I mean it sounds like the team’s got enough places to talk about the other technical areas and it’s not part of your scope. But you’re getting involved to understand maybe when to ask questions and which meetings that you need to be part of.

    Anita Singh: Yeah, absolutely. This is also the first time, like I said, that I’ve never been an engineer at Freenow. In my previous jobs I usually had some (experience), since I did the swing a bunch between manager and engineer. Like at some point I built something. So this is the first time I haven’t done that and so I had to rethink how I approached things. Because I realised I had a certain confidence in my past roles because I did that, that I did not have in this role when I joined. This is where my manager helped a lot because he said if I was looking for a backend tech expert, then this would not be the role. That’s not your job and as mentioned just doing the best I can.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Excellent. Let’s maybe go back in history a little bit to when you first transitioned into your first time managing other managers in a crazy hypergrowth company. What was that experience like? It felt like you were just thrown into it, with not really a lot of support. What was that experience for you like?

    Anita Singh: Yeah. I naively thought, okay, I manage ICs, I’m just going to manage managers. Management is management. I’ve already done the hard work and I was in for a surprise because it’s quite a different role. Yes, there are some of the things that you learned previously. Like the basics of management is still there. But now you’re no longer responsible for just individuals in a team. You’re responsible for managers and their direct reports. So you are now leading with indirection like a lot of people. And so I had to learn to gain trust not with just my direct reports but also direct reports of my direct reports. So that was like one of the things that hit me first, that I just somehow didn’t… it wasn’t at the top of my mind when I first started. I realised this is actually bigger, or it’s more responsibility with less control. 

    Patrick Kua: Yup.

    Anita Singh: Because sometimes you think when I go up the manager chain I will have more power or whatever. I’m a director. I will direct things. I will make all these decisions. And actually if you’re in any kind of servant leadership thing, you have a lot more responsibility but you’re not doing the actual work. You’re not in the teams. You’re not where the decisions are being made. So you have a lot more responsibility but you don’t have as much control because you’re just not in the teams. It’s a lot of influencing and very rarely, you’re just making a decision. You probably shouldn’t make decisions that are not in consultation with people but I just noticed this misconception that once you go to the next step you’re not so much a middle manager anymore. You’re no longer just implementing decisions of higher ups. Yeah I didn’t find that to be the case.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, absolutely. I love the phrase that you said which is, “You have more responsibility and less control,” which is surprising for a lot of people. Can you think of an example of where that really came to light for you.

    Anita Singh: Yes. Almost immediately. I have to say because when I transitioned to this role I had a first time engineering manager step into a team that I was leading earlier. So I built some of the tech there. He had a lot of responsibility. He was quite swamped and so sometimes when there were questions coming up there, I would just jump in to answer them. As support because I just remembered and also selfishly I wanted to keep a little bit in touch. And he immediately in our 1-1 was like, “Hey. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a reason you don’t trust me to deal with this?” I was like, “No. Not at all. I thought I was being helpful.” I immediately learned then and there that okay, what I think might be helpful, is not actually helpful. I’m actually getting in the way of him learning. Instead of enabling him, I’m taking away opportunities from him. So immediately learned to be really mindful about that. I’m no longer the person responsible for them and that I have to let that go.

    Patrick Kua: That’s a really great example. And yeah, I think it’s the not realising it as that effect. I think it kind of touches upon one of the points you raised in your talk as well. Which was about being aware of power dynamics. What do you mean by that and can you tell a story about that?

    Anita Singh: So this is actually a pet peeve of mine since I was a junior engineer. Because I think our industry, at least I hear this word “flat hierarchy” a lot. I think unless everyone’s paid exactly the same and they have the exact same title I don’t believe that’s true. If people are paid differently and they have different titles, there is a power dynamic in place. Like the CTO and the juniors are not going to have the same power in an organisation. No matter how much we want to pretend that’s the case. So I think if you’re, I don’t know, a CTO and you really believe it’s a flat hierarchy and you go about your day pretending like you’re one of the engineers, you might unintentionally leave a trail of destruction behind you. 

    Patrick Kua: Ha ha. I love the term. 

    Anita Singh: For example, like sending a skip level with no context. That person might think that they’re getting fired and in your mind, you just thought it’s a coffee. This is one mistake I made when I was reviewing RFCs. I would sometimes ask questions, like have you considered doing it in XYZ way and I would notice the comment gets immediately resolved and they’ve pushed up that thing that I asked about. I was like, “Oh no. I was just curious. I actually don’t know if that’s the best way. I definitely do not know better than any of the engineers.” I think they just assume this person must know better or it’s the boss’s boss, so I’m just gonna do it. So I stopped. Or you have to be really careful if you’re making a suggestion or asking a question that it’s really out of curiosity or something. That it’s not prescriptive. All of these lessons learned.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, no. I mean it’s huge. As you say even in places that describe themselves as a flat hierarchy, there’s still things like titles or experience, or who knows who, of where there is always some level of power dynamics going on. What are some of your personal strategies of trying to counterbalance that? Like if you’re trying to work with people through skips or whatever? What do you do personally to try to counteract power balance?

    Anita Singh: That’s a great question. I think just being mindful. Well first of all, interact with them setting the context a bit so it doesn’t come across from out of the blue or they’re in trouble something like that. 

    Patrick Kua: Yeah. What have I done?

    Anita Singh: Exactly. Exactly. And just really going towards asking questions and understanding them rather than… and listening. Really listening. Rather than me giving opinions. Following the right communication channels. Not skipping it. Like not skipping my manager and going to an IC to give them feedback or something like that. Or my peers direct reports. Like really following the communication channels because then that also can erode trust or be confusing. So I would say these are some of the strategies I’m using.

    Patrick Kua: Love it. Great! Thank you. That’s really helpful. Moving on to a different topic that you talked about in your talk which was this idea about a first team. So can you explain to the listeners what is this first team idea? And what is it that you have to do when you’re managing other managers?

    Anita Singh: So I learned about this first team idea I think from a blog post from Jason Wong. This is even before I became an engineering manager and it’s this idea that your first team is, or the team that you prioritise first at least, is your peers. And the team that you have with your peers. This helps you move the company forward and if you prioritise these relationships, you can actually help best support your team. Because typically when you’re a manager, you’re like, I’m going to just focus on my team. On my direct reports. It’s easy to ignore what’s happening out there, but at some point they’re going to get blocked on some other team and this is where these relationships then come into play. You’re here to help the business succeed and it’s very very difficult to do that in a silo in your one team. I used this as an EM from the beginning which I think really helped from day one. It really helped me transition into the role and be effective. I thought, of course, I’m going to do the same thing as a manager of managers but I didn’t realise my peers had drastically changed. I was used to only engineering managers, product and design. But now I also had touchpoints with HR, finance, ops, marketing. All of these other disciplines I just hadn’t worked so closely with before. And legal. Yes. So that was one of my lessons. To proactively revisit what your first team looks like when you change your role.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah. It sounds your first team gets much much larger with more scope. 

    Anita Singh: Exactly. Yes.

    Patrick Kua: It’s not just your engineering peers. It sounds like there’s pretty much every other department in the company as you start to expand your scope.

    Anita Singh: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s crucial to figure out where to spend the energy as well.

    Patrick Kua: As a manager of managers this first team concept, it sounds like you’ve embedded it, but I can imagine there’s some engineering managers who don’t, so what do you do to help encourage or influence people to think about the first team being different than just their normal team that they’re working with day to day.

    Anita Singh: I mean to be honest I just send that blog post. 

    Patrick Kua: Ha ha. Introducing it first.

    Anita Singh: I still remember it. Like I have a link. Exactly a link. And then I share my experience there and push them. I guess I’ve been lucky, I 

    I didn’t see a lot of resistance towards this concept. But of course I have seen engineering managers do sometimes fall into that pattern. Of their team. And protecting their team. Then reminding them, OK, we only win together. It’s really important that you invest in relationships with your peers and extend your influence and that will actually really help them also get to where they want to be. Because they want to grow and be more senior as well.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Excellent! One of the other points that you covered was this idea about middle management. And maybe not everyone wants to do middle management work. So what are some examples for you that come up with middle management?

    Anita Singh: Yeah I think the quintessential example is that leadership has made a decision. You’re the one who needs to communicate that and convince them of it. And then you know you get the feedback and then you channel it up. Or reporting. Reporting between different levels. Sideways. Upwards. All directions. This kind of skill actually just increases as you go into managing managers. You have to communicate even in more directions. And you’re also not always in a decision making seat and you still have to do this. 

    You know communication of a decision maybe that you didn’t make. I think there’s this misconception that once you’re a director, it’s less middle management work. But it’s just that the layers change. Now you’re doing it between like the VP level or the CTO and the rest of the org versus just your one team and your manager. I think it’s part of the job and I think if this is the motivation, and you want to be a CTO or whatever, you might be in for a surprise.

    Patrick Kua: I’m sure a lot of people get surprised when they find themselves in those roles for sure. Has it got any easier over time or what are some strategies for doing some of that middle management work that you found work for you better?

    Anita Singh: I guess just getting used to it. I would say figuring out reporting cadence becomes more and more important because you want to provide transparency to the rest of the organisation of What you’re doing. For example, we have a weekly all hands in the company and we use that as a forum sometimes to show the work that we’re doing so you know the entire company could see that. Then we have an internal all-hands which is everyone working in the Marketplace including some mobile teams. So they know, they have transparency of what’s going on. Then I know my product manager has to fill in a bunch of sheets. So I guess that’s another level of reporting and same here with my manager. I have a peer leadership meeting with my manager and that’s another part where we report. I guess there’s a bunch of reporting.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing.

    Anita Singh: It’s a good thing in the end. In the beginning I was, “Wow, this is a lot.” But this is where you can catch things, like hey, my team is actually about to work on that. In big organisations sometimes you don’t know that maybe someone is already working on a problem that you’re working on. So I see the use of it now but I know early on my career, this is something I would complain about. 

    Patrick Kua: Yeah. More work.

    Anita Singh: Exactly. But now I’m, okay, this makes some sense.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Yeah so I want to connect a couple of things that you said together. Which I heard one was one about the managing sideways. So when you think about that your role managing managers can you think of examples of where you’re deliberately communicating sideways and what’s that cadence or how do you currently do that? What’s an example of what you do?

    Anita Singh: I have 2 peers with whom I work closely. There’s a lot of touch points with their work. So just making sure we align. We also give each other feedback of how it’s going. For example, maybe an engineering manager in my peers’ organisation is just confused by some of the work that we’re doing. It’s overlapping. So making sure we have these kind of conversations. As mentioned we have that weekly (meeting) with the peer group. So this comes up there. But I also have 1 on 1 touch points as well. We’re also trying now this thing by including the product managers because we realise some of the misalignments are, like we can’t solve everything in engineering. But again we also don’t want to pull them in every time but now we’ve we try to pull them in when necessary.

    Patrick Kua: Okay, great. Excellent. So it sounds like you have a forum where you’re connecting with your peers that’s separate from the all hands. 

    Anita Singh: Yes, oh yes, yes.

    Patrick Kua: Because you have this touch points across your organisation because of the work dependencies. 

    Anita Singh: Exactly exactly.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Excellent. In terms of non-peers, in terms of outside of engineering and product, what do you do deliberately there to manage outwards?

    Anita Singh: So this is something I’m currently working on. Or onboarding onto at Freenow. Previously at the previous company we had this bit of a domain model. For example, the Head of Ops was also part of our leadership team. And that really helped. This is something I’m trying to figure out here because like I said Product is doing a lot of this communication right.

    Patrick Kua: Great.

    Anita Singh: Which is nice. I have less work. but I also want to get more involved there. So I’m trying to figure out the best cadence there. Something I’m working on right now.

    Patrick Kua: Okay, great, excellent. So you’ve done a couple of roles where you’ve been managing managers and you’ve had that contrast. What do you think are some new skills that people need to build when they’re transitioning into this role of managing managers?

    Anita Singh: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say probably the first thing is leading through indirection. You’re not going to have a lot of touch points with all of the engineers and your organisation. So how do you make sure you have some? Not too frequent. Not too infrequent. And making sure they feel comfortable to come to you and approach you and talk to you. In worst case, in case, they’re escalations and things like that, I really try to be the person that they can come to if needed. Of course their engineering managers are their first person to go to. And again not stepping (over) that line either. How do you influence without being their manager is I think the first thing I had no idea how to do in the beginning. As mentioned in setting these different rituals or touch points. I guess I figured out a style of doing that. The other thing I would say is you’re also being watched. I remember when I changed the title from engineering manager to director or whatever, I could already feel that eyes were on me. 

    Patrick Kua: The gravity.

    Anita Singh: Exactly. I had to really pick my words carefully. My actions carefully. I mean anyway, everyone should anyway be doing that but it’s just like it has so much more power now. It has so many more repercussions now. So being really intentional about that. So again, like really writing down things. Practising it. At least in the beginning, I used to do that. Now I kind of stopped. I guess I maybe gained more experience but at least at the beginning I was really… I spent an amount of time on that because I knew it’s important and I wanted to use my power for good. That’s my motivation. That I finally have a seat at the table and want to impact positive change. So learning. Just being mindful of that. It was a whole new ball game I would say.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Yeah I mean one new activity that’s definitely new is the manager and you have to assess how they’re doing versus an IC where maybe you have that background. What is your heuristic for knowing if a manager is doing a good job?

    Anita Singh: Ah that’s a great question. So I think there’s different indicators. For example, we use Officevibe which is a tool where you weekly get feedback. Different questions are asked and you give a rating. And so you can aggregate that over time and see how your team is essentially feeling. So that gives a little bit of indication. It’s an engagement tool or ongoing engagement survey of how the teams are doing. We’re also right now starting to introduce delivery tech metrics. Although I would say that’s not… I definitely wouldn’t use that for performance. It’s more that teams use that as a self-help tool.. Like is the manager looking into what’s in their toolset to help improve their team?

    Are they aware of that? And then. The feelings. Not feelings. The feedback I get through skip levels is also why that’s important and also are they actually hitting the goals that they set out to do? The business metrics. Are they hitting the business metrics? Are they delivering to what they’ve committed to? So I think it’s different. Different pillars of engineering manager performance. 

    Patrick Kua: Got it. So you can’t really boil it down to one thing. But there’s a number of signals that you can look at to see if they’re keeping that balance around these different dimensions and in place.

    Anita Singh: Yeah, absolutely.

    Patrick Kua: OK. Excellent. In your role, it can be kind of lonely. There’s like one of you. You do have some peers but you’ve got lots of stuff going on. What do you have in place for a support network for yourself?

    Anita Singh: Yeah I would saw peers inside and outside of work. I think outside of work is also especially important because it just helps to talk to someone who doesn’t have any context. You can also be more yourself. And of course friends and family. Although you don’t want to use them as a therapist. It will impact your relationships. And then one thing I like to do is keep the receipts. So essentially keep the written feedback that I have. So I like to get feedback on an ongoing basis. You know, of course both constructive and things I’m doing well because there will be a time when I make mistakes. I’m always making mistakes. So when this happens and I’m maybe not feeling great I have the receipts of, okay, I’m doing okay. I’ve done some things fine. This might just be a setback and this is what I’ve learned from this and yeah, just a really great way of reflecting and improving.

    Patrick Kua: Amazing. Sounds like you’ve got a good broad varied support network which is very useful in that role, I can imagine.

    Anita Singh: Oh yeah. It’s definitely lonely compared to when I was a senior engineer.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah. Yeah. In terms of final advice, what would you give as like a tip for somebody who is maybe thinking about stepping into this role in the future?

    Anita Singh: Just like stepping into any new role, you’re definitely going to make mistakes. That’s going to be part of it and it’s going to feel worse than it probably ever has because you’re impacting more people. I would say to anyone stepping into this role, give yourself grace. I mean obviously try to limit making mistakes as much as you can, but it’s going to happen and it’s really important to figure out your support system. When this happens and consistency is key. I think it’s easy to make that first mistake and then give up and say, I don’t know. Coding is nice. I know how code works. It’s easy. I remember going through that feeling of should I just go back there. But consistency. Keep trying. I mean if you actually like what you’re doing, just keep at it. You will learn. You’re gonna acquire all these new skills with time. It’s just going to take time and hard work and so just just keep at it and you will get there.

    Patrick Kua: Love it. A really useful tip and that assurance I think people could use more of. You will make mistakes but you will also learn from it. Absolutely. 

    Anita Singh: Exactly.

    Patrick Kua: Well thank you very much for your time. Where can people find out more about you or reach out to you?

    Anita Singh: I’m on Twitter although I haven’t tweeted much this past year I would say. At anitas3791 or feel free to find me on Linkedin.

    Patrick Kua: Great. Wonderful! Well thank you very much for sharing your stories, practical tips. I loved hearing about your experience and thank you very much for being a guest on the podcast.

    Anita Singh: Thank you so much for having me.

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