What makes a good Engineering Manager?

I was asked this question recently and and since answering, I’ve come away and thought about it in more detail. Here is where I ended up…

A good Engineering Manager creates an environment where their team can do amazing things whilst delivering great software.

OK, so how do you do that?

Well, you need to provide what Engineers need to be truly fulfilled in their roles. To me, this consists of five things:

1) Purpose

We need to know the reason we are required…and indeed that we are actually required. This is not just about our specific role but the bigger picture too, everyone ought to understand and be bought into what we, as a company, are trying to achieve.

2) Control  / ownership

People care far more about things they own and can control then things that they can’t. If you can’t control something, you aren’t really responsible for it succeeding (or failing!), so why bother?

This is why autonomy is so important. Show Engineers what problems need solving and let them take ownership and work out how to solve them.

3) Appreciation

I once read that all anyone wants is to be appreciated and this is so true. If you feel appreciated, you’ll be eager to do more for someone. If you don’t, well, why bother?

4) To be themselves

So you may have purpose, control over what you do and feel appreciated but if you can’t be yourself, is it worth it? No one wants to spend all day putting on a front, what a waste of energy! Energy that could be used to do your job even better!

5) To work with great people

However diverse a team is, a great team will all get on (most of the time!) and celebrate each others’ differences.

They will also support each other. Engineers need to know that they can ask for help and not be judged. We also need to know that if we make a mistake, the finger of blame won’t be pointed; making someone feel bad for their mistakes helps no one.

In summary, a good Engineering Manager builds a team who know what they need to do and why they need to do it but they let the team decide how they will do it. They will encourage a team that supports each other and that appreciates people for who they are.

People don’t buy what you do…

…they buy why you do it.

That’s what Simon Sinek argues in his powerful TED talk and it’s hard to disagree.

I witnessed this firsthand when on our Easter break at Croyde Bay (a beautiful part of the world that I recommend visiting, by the way).

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Down by the beach, in a surf shop we met a lady who was running her own small jewellery business.

There’s nothing remarkable about someone making and selling jewellery; granted. However, this lady was making exquisite pieces of jewellery from pieces of glass and pottery that had all been sourced from Croyde beach.

Now, people love Croyde. They just do. You come away wishing you could take a part of it with you and that is why this lady was doing what she was doing. She wanted to make it possible to take a piece of the place you love away with you, in the form of a beautiful piece of jewellery.

Like many others, we were in.

We bought why she was doing it and my wife left with a very pretty  green “sea glass” ring.

If you’d like a piece of Croyde, check out Croyde Sea Glass on Etsy or Instagram.

What I did on my Charitable Cause Leave – Stuart

At Ormsby Street, we have a charitable leave policy whereby each person can take up to two days leave to spend time on a charitable cause. Here is how Stuart recently spent some of his…

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Elvis Presley. The King. He left this world over 38 years ago (or did he?) and yet he’s still bringing people together with his music today. My mum was a big Elvis fan and she passed this down to my brothers and me.

Another thing close to my heart is the charity Bloodwise. Since my dear mum passed away from Lymphoma in 2007, I’ve looked for opportunities to raise money for the charity wherever I can. So when I saw an Elvis evening raising money for the charity back in 2009, I had to get involved!

Every two years, the lovely Val Eckett organises the Elvis night in the village hall in Cookham to raise money for Bloodwise. It’s a fantastic evening that raises a couple of thousand pounds for the charity whilst at the same time being an extremely fun event.

Elvis impersonator singing

Scott Elvis working the crowds

To be honest, it’s Val and her family that do all the hard work but I create and print the posters and used my charitable leave to take the afternoon to help get everything across to the hall and set the place up for the 130 odd people (including my friends and  me) that would be arriving in the evening.

Needless to say, this year’s event was another success. I drank far too much (it was all for charity!) and lost on the raffle (again) but had great fun in the process.

And now I have to take my daughter to a cross country race in Perivale with blistered feet and a rather muzzy head.

But I’m still smiling.

A year in – Engineering

After just over a year as Head of Engineering at Ormsby Street, I thought it time to take stock.

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The past year has flown by at a rapid rate of knots and I wanted to reflect on it and look back at how things have evolved. In the past year…

  • …we’ve gone from an office with one person in it to two, to three and now to a team of eleven. There is no desk space left!
  • …we’ve gone from not having anything, to a releasing a product in 3 months. Not only that but we’re set up so that we can deploy changes several times a day (let alone a week) with confidence that we haven’t broken anything.
  • …we’ve nearly completed development on an Italian version of our product for a major bank and have also started on a US release.
  • …we’ve presented how our product can help small businesses at The Next Web Boost.
  • …we’ve been showcased as start-up of the year by The Guardian.

We’ve gone from nothing to a lot in very little time.

And what about my role?

They say that discomfort is a sign of growth and my role has certainly taken me out of my comfort zone. I’ve progressed from being an experienced hands-on developer, to heading up the Engineering side of a small business. My role at Ormsby Street not only covers guiding the team to ensure that the product gets delivered, but I also manage the flow of Engineering work, line manage people and I’m the team’s ScrumMaster (something that in itself can be a full time role).

Having a many-faceted role like this (and not really being hands-on anymore) has taken some getting used to. Sometimes a morning will go by and I’ll wonder what I’ve done…I haven’t written any code! It is still taking some getting used to that a large part of my role is actually helping others achieve. Having said that, this is a very fulfilling role, albeit in a different way.

So, how has the last year been in three words? Fast, furious and fun.

Here’s to another year of success with an amazing group of people!

Burns Night: A haiku for CreditHQ!

Scots around the world, are today gathering together to celebrate Burns Night with poetry recitals and suppers often consisting of (delicious?!) haggis, neeps and tattiescranachan, and traditionally washed down with ‘uisge beatha’ (the water of life-  aka whisky!).

Robert Burns (1759-1796), is widely recognised as the national poet of Scotland, and these celebrations of his work and life began as far back as the late 1700s – with suppers laid on by his friends to celebrate the anniversary of his death. After his death, he became recognised as a cultural icon of Scotland and a figurehead of liberalism and socialism, and his poetry has long stood the test of time.

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And to join in with the poetic nature of today, Stuart, our head of engineering has composed this fine ditty 🙂

CreditHaiku

“Should I trade with them?
And will I get paid on time?
CreditHQ can help you!”
(Stuart Dawson)
www.credithq.co.uk 

If, like us, you’re in London and are looking where to go for a wee dram this evening, or fancy tucking in to some haggis; here are a few suggestions: http://www.barchick.com/where-to-go-on-burns-night/ and http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/attractions/where-to-celebrate-burns-night-in-london-9980806.html

Happy Burns Night!

Follow The Leader…But Why?

trust2It’s been said that a leader doesn’t need followers. When you’re starting up a company though, you ain’t going to get far without convincing people to follow you.

At the beginning of 2014, Ormsby Street’s MD did just that. He approached five previous employees, all in secure jobs and got all five to join his start up venture.

I know why I said yes but I was intrigued by what it was that convinced the others, so I asked them. I was soon seeing some common responses, and from this I derived a core set of values that you could say define a good leader, or at least someone you would follow.

Trust

It’s common sense that people are unlikely to follow someone they don’t trust. Further than this though, when a leader trusts their team to get the job done without telling them how to do it, great results can be expected.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” George Patton.

Honesty and Openness

There’s some magic in truth and honesty and openness.” Frank Ocean.

Not everyone mentioned this value, and not all leaders are 100% honest and open but having seen this attitude in a company from the outset, I can see the difference it makes. Everyone is secure in the fact that they are on the same page as everyone else and this makes for a nicely aligned attitude across the team. They also don’t need to worry about nasty surprises!

Respect

Everyone who joined the team has respect for Martin and this has been earned over time working for him. As the old adage goes, to earn respect, you have to give it and this goes hand in hand with the point about telling people what to do but respecting them enough to let them decide how to do it.

Belief/Passion

If the MD of a company doesn’t believe in what they are doing, why would anyone else? We were lucky enough to see someone who clearly believes in what they are doing and that it will work. This kind of belief is infectious and exciting. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something that they can get excited and be passionate about?

From another angle, there is a lot to be said about being believed in. The fact that someone believes enough in you to ask you to join them in something they have a lot invested in is a big compliment.

Culture

Not so much a value but a way of doing things. I read a great article a while back about the importance of culture in a company and I couldn’t agree more with it. For me, above most things this was a very important factor when deciding to take the leap to Ormsby Street. I’d seen the culture of where I’d worked before and I knew that I could be a part of recreating that.

At the end of the day, who wants to spend the best part of every week in an environment where they can’t stand the culture?

Coffee

Bean to cup or the deal’s off.

So there you have it, that’s why we followed the leader.