Mentoring VP Engineering folks
I’m embarking on a new journey, in which I want to make my fellow VP Eng lives easier. If I can spare you of a mistake or two I’ve made, what’s there to lose? :)
I’ve spent the past 5 weeks trying out this career path, and wanted to share my learnings. I’ll start with my motivation for this type of career, and then explain what I already see to be working well and have plenty of demand. Feeling very open about this, I believe there is room for a lot of players in this field!
‘Growth’ in the personal sense
Parting ways with Snyk has left a big void in my waking hours. No more busy Slack chats, meetings, plans and goals. But this sudden ‘silence’ was just what I needed to realize what motivated me during the amazing ride with Snyk, and what I want to take with me going forward. At the ‘farewell zoom’ with the team I chose 3 personal truths I wanted people to think about. One of those truths is my deep belief that people are on a never-ending journey of self realization and personal growth. For those who spent most of their waking hours honing their professional persona, ‘work’ offers the ripest opportunity for personal growth. There is still a lot to do to normalize the expectation that people come to work in order to grow. Everyone benefits immensely when this expectation is ‘on the table’ at all times. It is not coming at the expense of the company you work for, quite the opposite.
Seeing people grow and become professionals was the most rewarding part of my role as a manager. It was even easier to see, as I began to understand what drives me away from Snyk. The company is doing great, and filled with amazing human beings who are doing an amazing job. But my reach into individual people’s growth trajectory is getting smaller and smaller, and I miss the times when this used to occupy me more. So, this aspect must play a big role in what I choose to do next!
Who wants to learn from my mistakes?
I am also aware of the experience I gained taking the team to 150 people across all of R&D in 5 years. I had a few opportunities to consult with Engineering leaders who were years ahead of me during my time at Snyk, and I found two things:
- They had so much to tell me and save me from repeating their mistakes.
- I had almost no idea what to ask them!
I strongly feel I’m onto something here. Combining my desire to help people fulfill their potential with my experience in scaling an Engineering org — where can this take me?
Mentorship as a full time job
I decide to give it a go! Knowing what to aim for is key — I want people to feel like I’m propelling them forward in their challenges. But I also have concerns. We’re Engineers, we know things can go wrong, right?
- What if all I have to give is telling stories about Snyk, which would be nice to hear, but won’t be helpful?
- What if I find out that I’m not as driven by helping people solve their problems, as I am driven by solving what I consider to be ‘my’ problems?
- What if no one pays for my time?
I tell myself what I often tell others when I see them being afraid to take the first step — ‘there’s only one way to find out’. I advertise my intent among friends and colleagues. Before long, people jump at the opportunity to take me on my offer, and don’t flinch when I say that this is my job now, and it will cost them :)
So what do I actually do?
Having spoken to a couple dozens of people, I can identify the following needs where I can put a high price on my time. This helps me be accountable to delivering the highest value I believe I can deliver. In other words, I first need to honestly believe I’d buy what I’m selling, and only then try to convince others.
- Scaling Engineering organizations. Engineering leaders tackling growth challenges often seek a compelling vision — what would the org look like when we are twice as big as we are today? I can help sharpen this vision, and then turn it into a plan — what gaps exist today, what alternatives are out there to bridge these gaps, and what are the implications of these alternatives. From the early ‘the CTO is wondering if now is the time for a VP Eng on the team’ to the later ‘we’re 100 people, great at X, not so much at Y; how do we get to 250 without breaking X, while fixing Y?’.
- Hiring. A major part of the mechanics of scaling an org, this is a true test to the strength of an organization. Everyone competes over the same prize — the talent that exists in the market. Your hiring strategy plays a role in your employer brand, so there’s a lot to win by doing it right. Local or remote? Hire externally vs move internally? Once you have a plan in place, how to you measure its efficiency and efficacy? I can pair with you on these important questions and set the right process in motion through your org.
- Managing upwards and sideways. An Engineering organization doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Having the right processes with Product, Customer Success, Marketing and Sales is key for your success. How do you become the most effective team player in the most impactful team of your company — the executive team? Keeping your peers accountable and expecting them to keep you accountable is the name of the game. I can help you define how the Engineering org succeeds for the sake of the company, what it needs from its peers, and how everyone wins together.
- Mentoring. Your day to day is filled with interactions with people. What challenges are you facing on the personal level, how can you make the most out of each situation, and get your organization to its peak ability faster? How are you growing as the Engineering leader of this org, and are you making the most out of your opportunity within the company, for the benefit of the company? I can support you in the ongoing challenges you are facing, helping you make the most out of them — every challenge is a growth opportunity.
Everything above revolves around my definition of a VP Engineering role. I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that no two companies have the same set of expectations of this role, but at the same time, the core challenges people are facing, and the respective solutions, are all very transferrable from one role to another.
So if you believe you can benefit from a chat, the first coffee is on me! Hit me up and I’d love to see how I can help.