Leaders are made, not born. It's also true for software Engineering Leaders across the world. This is what we believe we are depicting through our Q&As with some great engineering managers, directors, VPs and CTOs!

Their diverse professional and personal backgrounds point to the importance of self-reflection and perseverance. Each Engineering Leader has its own interpretation of what key factors can help you become a manager that leads with empathy, and inspires his team(s) of software engineers.

In today’s interview, we’re excited to share our conversation with Sergio Laranjeira, currently Director of Engineering at Delivery Hero. Enjoy!

Could you tell us about yourself and your professional journey?

Almost 15 years after graduating in Computer Graphics Engineering I started working as a freelancer. A couple of years later I started my own company, a web agency that together with 3 friends became my first startup experience. I was there for 5 years when I decided to quit Nqda to join Farfetch, a luxury fashion eCommerce marketplace that was only 4 years old back then! I joined as a Senior Engineer but rapidly moved to my first manager position. Here I was responsible for the frontend eCommerce teams and we were focused on creating scalable and performant frontend platforms.

After 3 years of leading and building these teams at Farfetch, I moved to Berlin to join Zalando. During my 2.5 years there I was leading several cross-functional teams, projects and people. The most impactful experiences there were leading a team at Zalando Media Solutions and launching new markets (Czech Republic and Ireland) from a tech perspective for the fashion store. From here I decided to leave the eCommerce world and take on a new challenge, joining the Fintech startup - N26. I started there by managing tech leads and engineering managers. My focus was on leading the platform domain at the time when the COVID-19 pandemic started, whilst continuing to focus on the challenges of continuously scaling, mature and develop the product. It was a tremendous learning experience! Recently I was offered the opportunity to join the DAX 30 company Delivery Hero.

I am now a Director of Engineering for the Global Contact Center and will focus on building an amazing service experience for our customers. I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with so many talented people that helped me to be the manager I am today!

What made you decide to become an Engineering Manager?

After founding a company and being my own boss for 7.5 years, joining a company was what I needed to be able to focus again on my software development skills. However, I found myself slowly and steadily going back to managing teams.

The companies I joined had exponential growth and naturally, the more senior software developers were invited to step up to become managers. That’s what happened with me and I believe with other senior software developers as well. Back then, my initial plan was to actually grow as an individual contributor; but once I started being in a leadership position in these companies, I noticed that I was happier, more motivated than ever. To be honest, I found myself to be more impactful than as an individual contributor. After a few months of experiencing it, and many lessons learned, I decided to continue with the management track; this has been now exclusively my path for the last 7 years!

What advice(s) would you give to a software engineer that is considering becoming an Engineering Manager?

First, make sure you want to do this for the right reasons. It’s no longer just about your individual contribution, it is also about how you can have the multiplier effect strategically and on other people's development.

My second advice is that being structured is key. Preparation and planning will help you a lot in the first stages of the role. Nowadays, you can find a huge number of talks, resources, books and stories on how people became Engineering Managers and what worked or didn’t work for them. Make sure you do this initial research about it and you will surely find strategies and behaviours that inspire you, and that you relate to.

Also, don’t forget - you will have your own style of leadership and that will be up to you and you only!

What is the hardest lesson you have learned as an Engineering Manager?

The hardest lessons I’ve learned have always been with big challenges, stressful times or during a high-level of uncertainty. Those are the moments, where Engineering Managers really need to step up and lead by example.

My hardest lesson learned was during a difficult and complex project that had to be delivered by one of my teams. After a few months working on it, we ran into the risk of not delivering the product. I had great personal relationships with all team members, however, here I needed to be able to push them towards delivery and hold them accountable. The hard part was that I was not able to separate my personal friendships with them from my duties as a manager, as their manager. Finding the right balance here was extremely hard for me. It still is sometimes, but this was the one that I’ve learned the most from.

In order to prevent a potential delay in product delivery, I work hard to decrease uncertainty and remove roadblocks, especially in projects that involve several teams to ensure that good ways of working are defined and collaboration takes place. This will avoid the lack of confidence and emotional pressure that teams have when running late on their delivery.

What is the role of an Engineering Manager?

The responsibilities of an Engineering Manager are different from company to company. Depending on the company, your role might be more technical, strategic, or focused on people management.

But there is one thing that has always been the same, no matter where I worked, and you can and should never run away from it: being accountable for your team's performance. Be it deliverables, customer impact, number of incidents, or any other defined KPI, you as their Engineering Manager are responsible and accountable to make the team successful. This will help you with all your decisions, on all your alignments, and all uncertain moments in which you are not sure what to do. Take full responsibility for all that has happened and don’t look for someone to blame when things don’t work out but to move forward. It is important to keep learning from every single situation. This is the main reason I believe the role of an Engineering Manager is one of the hardest because it’s mostly a lonely job and you can only have the feeling of success if your team is successful.

Tip: When the role is not clearly defined in the company you’re joining, take a one/two days offsite with all managers and discuss and agree what are the responsibilities of the Engineering Managers and communicate this very clearly to everyone in the company affected by it. We did this and it was definitely helpful for all Engineering Managers and all other functions that were working with them!

How do you structure 1:1 conversations and how often do you have them?

Weekly 1:1 of 30-45 minutes with my direct reports have been my way to start getting to know them better, create trust, but mostly to help every individual to grow.

These weekly conversations we have are focused on recognising their work, constant feedback and checking if there is any blocker on their personal growth. I also follow some standards like having a shared document with a weekly defined agenda and I document any action points triggered from these conversations. Development plans agreed between both parties and continuously reviewing them on these conversations is also an important part of 1:1s.

Recently I read the book “Measure what Matters'' by John Doerr and I highly recommend it. Chapter 15 talks about Continuous Performance Management, OKRs and CFRs. it is very inspiring and helpful when it comes to getting the most out of your 1:1s.

In this new blog series, we are aiming to share useful personal stories to inspire software engineers to take the leap to management. But also, as pointed out by some of our interviewees, the insights shared will be useful for other Engineering Leaders looking for new perspectives on all things related to software engineering workflows, software development, team management!

Thanks a lot Sergio for sharing about your background and what led you to become a manager of  managers! 🙌

About our Q&As with Engineering Leaders
Every two weeks we will be sharing a personal interview with some great Engineering Managers, Directors, VPs, and CTOs. We are lucky to have a vibrant and dynamic community and it would be a shame not to share these experiences and insights with the small but growing world of Software engineers and Engineering leaders!

If you’re looking to join our weekly intimate roundtables or if you’re interested in sharing your perspective on the topics we’re covering, click here and see you soon!