software engineering

My Manager README

Last May, I read about writing a Manager README and thought it was brilliant. It took the implicit and difficult task of learning how to work with someone and made it explicit. It also was a great opportunity to reflect on my own processes and compare with how others work.

So, I took a few notes off the bat and then promptly backlogged it to be completed later.

And now, about nine months later, I finished the first version of my Personal README. It very much reads as a Manager README, but being a manager is a narrow part of my life, so I imagine this document evolving to be a more general way of helping others deal with me.

It’s now linked as a Page in the site navigation, but the first version is also reproduced below.

Personal README

Updated February 18, 2019

Humans are messy and hard to deal with. We also have tough learning curves and poor onboarding experiences. This document is my attempt to ease the experience if you unfortunately have to work with me. Hopefully it will be a useful guide to making me as helpful to you as possible. Although it is primarily for my professional life as a Software Engineering Manager, it generally reflects my attitude towards life and may be useful in other sphere as well.

I love all written documentation but meeting notes in particular. Meetings should have an agenda, an assigned notetaker, and action items at the end. Afterwards, meeting notes should get shared. I’m happy to go off-agenda to talk about important things, but this structure ensures that something useful happens and is made useful.

I believe in hiring good people and letting them do their thing with my fullest support. As such, if you come to me to make a decision, I often will defer back to you. Although I’m comfortable making decisions if necessary, you probably know more than me about the task at hand, so I will offer my opinion, context, and support. I didn’t have any mentors and primarily learned through doing and failing, so I’m okay with non-catastrophic failure.

I am a real stickler for systems and processes. I use Asana to track everything in my personal and professional life because I am forgetful. I have all sorts of routines and written procedures for doing things. I believe in keeping things orderly, whether they are physical (my desk), mental (I meditate), or virtual (my inbox). However, systems are created for people, so they only work if they are useful. As such, I’m always tweaking and figuring out how to better incorporate edge cases.

My philosophy towards mentoring (and managing) is that I work for you. I can’t tell you what your goals are, but I will try to help you to get there. I am a big believer in having goals and a plan. We shouldn’t feel stuck to particular goals, but life is more meaningful with time spent creating a purpose.

I expect everyone to always know what they are doing and why on both a short-term (daily) and long-term (years?) scale. We do daily standups somewhat for each other but mostly for ourselves to organize and concretely state what we have already and want to accomplish. If you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, I’m always happy to discuss, and perhaps the outcome will be a new project to figure out what or why we should do something.

I talk a lot. I overshare about my personal life, ask a lot of questions, work through problems aloud, and laugh often. I love meeting and getting to know new people.

I wear many hats in my current role, so please don’t be afraid to poke me to chat at any time, especially if you think we might disagree on something. I am used to context-switching, and I don’t believe in stupid questions. Most problems are caused by poor communication, so it’s never too soon to have a discussion. As a backstop, I have regular 1:1 meetings with everyone so we never get too far out of touch.

I try not to work nights and weekends but will do it if stuff needs to get done. I usually don’t check my email but will respond to texts and phone calls.

My only full-time work experience is as a co-founder at Zanbato, so I really don’t know how other organizations work. As such, I have many blindspots and am always open to ideas about how to do things differently. The best thing I can do is learn, so I try not to get too prickly when I receive feedback and genuinely value the opportunity to improve.

I try to be a good example for what I preach and believe in getting in the trenches. A culture is what we all create together, and it would be disingenuous for me to behave any differently. Of course, call me out if you don’t think I’m abiding by that.

I bias towards action. I’m down for iterating and learning the hard way. I also think it’s kind of fun and exciting to roll the dice and see what happens.

I am not very visual, so I don’t draw well and have no sense of visual taste. This is problematic because most people are better at processing visual things. By default, I avoid drawing pictures and offering opinions, but I’m always willing to try.

I enjoy levity in all parts of my life. If I make a joke in the middle of a serious discussion, I promise I’m still taking it seriously: that’s just me. I also try to incorporate delight into everyday things just to keep things interesting.

Finally, this document is a work-in-progress! I strongly believe that “you will never know less than you do right now” and hope that this document reflects continued improvement on my part. I also will likely refactor it many, many times.


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