In our bi-weekly Q&As with some great software Engineering Leaders around the world, we are depicting leaders that are made, not born. Here's the story of Vevek!

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

Some of them will even share their most stressful moments with us, or how their academic background helped them become better engineers.

In today’s interview, we’re happy to share with you our conversation with Vevek Pandian, currently Engineering Manager at Sixt. Enjoy!

Could you tell us about yourself and your professional journey?

I am happy to say that I have more than 15 years experience in the field of Software Engineering! I have received my Bachelor’s Degree from Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, and I hold a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from the University of Texas, United States.

At the beginning of my journey (and it’s still the case!), I wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I could. And what better way to do so than to dive into the knowledge the academic world has to offer. While studying at BITS, Pilani, I designed a microcontroller-based pH Moisture Smart Sensor System for field-testing the agriculture conditions prevailing in India. Later, during my postgraduate studies at the University of Texas, I had the amazing opportunity to design and implement core workflow systems with automated user interface for Doctoral Fellowship programs. I was quite happy about this last project as I was awarded QInvest Fellowship in 2008.

After serving a one-year appointment as a Senior Research Assistant at ERA, Texas, I spent three years leading projects at Morningstar Incorporation in Chicago.  At that time, I was responsible for managing a multi-talented team composed of architects, developers, and designers. My goal was to find the best way to combine all these great talents to create the next generation of Morningstar Document Research products used by professionals in the investment industry.

When I made the decision to return to India, my home country, I had the chance to work in various companies and on various interesting projects! From a Middleware Platform pioneer (Pramati Technologies) to designing and engineering best-in-class mobile apps (Identiv). I worked in different positions for product and service-based companies in the design of high-performing, scalable, cloud-based software platforms.

Today, I am an Engineering Manager and I am excited to lead a great software engineering team here at Sixt. My team and I have a primary goal to build world-class products for next-generation mobility!

What made you decide to become an Engineering Manager?

I strongly believe in the motto “Great teams build great products”.

This perspective combined with my acquired technical and leadership skills, made me choose to become an Engineering Manager. Empowering teams is what I believe in. For me, one crucial job for Engineering Managers is to do all they can to provide their teams with the resources, autonomy, and guidance (when needed) for them to reach their best state and be a successful software engineering team. This is what I am proudly trying to achieve as an Engineering Manager.

What metrics have you found most useful for teams to measure their performance?

As an Engineering Manager, my responsibility is to set teams for success and do my best to keep them on the right track. Measuring performance and giving adequate feedback is required and certainly useful for everyone. As a manager, it also helps to mitigate risks by taking the needed actions before problems get out of control. This also applies to better understanding if individual software engineers need help or are nearing burnout.

I do measure Agile metrics aimed at Sprint deliveries. Some of the key Agile metrics include team velocity, lead time, burndown chart, and throughput. Engineering teams unlock their potential and help developers to be more productive by creating solutions to reduce bugs, accelerate development, increase security, lessen rework, and provide technical assets for product and business development.

Engineering metrics like PR control chart, time to code review, time to merge, commit to deploy and weekly PR throughput would be valuable Engineering metrics to measure performance.

These metrics aid the team for global or team outcomes and are not merely local or individual outcomes. I also believe that it is important to gauge the developers in your team to avoid too much multitasking and have a proper workload balance for entropy in the system.

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

1-on-1 meetings are very important to discuss privately with the team members about priorities, concerns, and professional development. I conduct 1:1s at least once every month, and this starts with scheduling the meeting and blocking calendar slots with the team.

I usually discuss developers priorities, short term and long term goals. Listening is crucial and it encourages your team member to talk more and share his/her perspectives. 1:1s need to be bidirectional and can’t be too rigid. It is good to start with casual talks, for example, hobbies outside work, favourite podcasts/books. I would add that it is essential to give feedback whenever it is required and not wait for the yearly feedback.

During 1:1s, it is healthy to point to areas of improvement and provide tools and guidance for the software engineers to improve. If you are managing junior developers, weekly 1:1s can help to gage and provide necessary feedback. As an Engineering Manager, we should all remind ourselves that it is our job to establish trust and bonding with the team by showing emotional intelligence (active listening, showing attention, asking questions, etc.).

How do you know if someone will be a good manager? Are there key indicators/skills?

Though most folks in the field of Software Engineering start their career as IC (Individual Contributor) there are a few who show promising signs to become a manager. A few key indicators are being strong in technical and management skills and showing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. All these provide the backbone that strengthens team building, productivity, morale, and much more. Strong communications skills and the ability to work with cross-functional teams would be another key indicator for a good manager.

"Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another." John C. Maxwell.

Good managers are focused on how they use their privileges and skills to make a difference in their teams and organisation. It is essential to focus on mentoring and developing other developers and combine all of them and their skills to achieve success!

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

Today's interview with Vevek reminds us that Engineering Mangers need to understand how they impact their software engineers and team(s) as a whole. Thank you Vevek for this great interview! 🙌

Liked what you read? Check our last two interviews with Swarup from Postman and Sergio from Delivery Hero.

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!