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: Sergio, Swarup, Vevek, Will, Glenn, Prashant, Sarah and many more!

In today’s interview, we’re happy to be sharing with all of you our conversation with Phillipa Rodney currently Engineering Manger at Zego. Enjoy! 💃🕺‌

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional journey?

I have worked within the Software Engineering & Technology sector for the last 6 years and before this I went to university to study Electrical & Electronic Engineering. Over those 4 years, I covered a range of topics including advanced circuits and systems analysis, telecommunications, power electronics, embedded systems and some of my absolute favourite modules which were designing, programming and building various control systems.

It’s no surprise that after completing my master’s degree, I started my first role as a software engineer with the Ministry of Defence. I stayed in the Cyber Security & Defence sector for 4 years before changing roles and moving into my first management position as a Software Delivery Manager for a flower subscription company.

Today I am an Engineering Manager at Zego, working closely with engineers, product managers and engineering managers whilst leading the business' platform teams.‌‌

What made you decide to become an Engineering Manager?

At the start of my career, I was determined to follow the traditional Software Engineering career path offered by my employer at the time, I had it all planned out. I was going to continue as a software engineer then become a senior application architect and then... after a few high-impact projects I would naturally move into management (or so I thought). ‌‌

Throughout the early stages of my career, I unknowingly navigated roles that heavily relied on my strengths, my technical skills, and my emotional intelligence. I have always cared about helping others unlock their potential and creating a solution that changes people’s lives. These values are quite important to me so when I began to look for roles that aligned with my strengths and interests, it was very clear that Engineering Management was the next step for me. ‌‌

I love to help others to believe in themselves. As an Engineering Manager, I have seen the difference I have been able to make.‌‌

What was the transition like from being an IC to managing one team? And then the transition to managing multiple teams?

After 4 years in the software engineering space as an individual contributor, I actually transitioned into managing a company's engineering department. Now although this engineering department had 1 team, the transition was a significant one for me. I went from the bubble of writing code or focusing on one engineering project to managing the day-to-day of the engineering department, managing stakeholders expectations, coordinating product roadmaps and releases, managing and hiring engineers, and defining the software delivery process for the business. ‌‌

The transition to managing multiple teams has been the hardest transition so far. When you are managing multiple teams you need to be disciplined, organised and creative. It is a lot harder to manage your time and your responsibilities when you have a lot of moving parts integrating with your engineering teams.‌‌

What are some personal habits that contributed to your success?

My insane ability to bounce back contributes to my success for sure. Whatever setback or disappointment I come against, it just makes me more determined to succeed. I think this habit or personality trait of mine means I go on to achieve more than I would have done otherwise! ‌‌

I have an improver mentality, which means I always look for ways to do something better. I tend not to accept the way things are done, I prefer to see how I can make things more effective which has made me a well-organised person. Everything has a place both in my work and personal life. My organisation means I am able to be as effective as possible in the things that I do, but it also means I’m a bit of a stationery enthusiast (to put it lightly!). ‌‌

You name it, I’ve got it...sticky notes, washi tape, journals, stencils, accessories, to-do list books, and so many pens! And yes, I do use them all.‌‌

What is the role of an Engineering Manager?

Engineering Management is 100% about the engineers.

The first things to come to mind are:
1. Identifying their coaching and mentoring needs
2. Establishing a collaborative inclusive culture
3. Providing the tools needed to accelerate their growth
4. Supporting the general wellbeing of engineers
5. Hiring, interviewing and recruitment‌‌

And finally, I think the most important part of the role is to be an enabler. Engineering Managers set individuals and teams up for success. ‌‌

What is the hardest lesson you have learned as an engineering manager?

Oh my goodness, it has to be time management!‌‌ And this ties in quite nicely to prioritising your schedule or anything else you’re working on.

I like to put a lot of my energy into the people management aspect of my EM role, so I try to ensure I have plenty of time to prepare for 1:1s, follow-up conversations, or anything related to the individuals. ‌‌

I’ll be honest with you, this can be difficult when you have other initiatives to focus on, so it is really important to find the balance and manage your time correctly. From my experiences so far, I have learned that this balance is key to your success as an Engineering Manager. You never want people management or more so, your engineers and teams to be affected by poor time management and poor task prioritisation. ‌‌

As an Engineering Manager, how do you help your team members grow as individuals and together as a team?

When I see software engineers that are fully immersed in a happy state of focus aka in the zone, it is very satisfying.  ‌‌

I do love a cheeky bit of Delivery Management so I tend to have a look at how things are going in terms of product delivery. How is the sprint going? How are we progressing as a team? What’s blocking us and how do we resolve this, etc. ‌‌

Getting the teams to assess their own progress and understand their patterns and behaviours  is a great way to encourage growth. From my experience, morale and relationships definitely come to fruition when teams are aligned. ‌‌

In a previous role, someone referred to me as the Master of Flow, meaning I spent a lot of my time adjusting processes and tasks to help the engineers get into a routine of feeling accomplished and happy. I like that.‌‌

One of the most important and impactful interactions I have with engineers is the 1:1 session. A 1:1 is my chance to really find out more. I use my 1:1 sessions to hear more about what is happening with their personal and professional lives. As enablers of growth, Engineering Managers should spend a lot of their time providing a safe space for engineers to relay their ideas and ask questions.‌‌

In my 1:1 sessions I am interested in finding out:  what they enjoy, what really makes them tick, what their values are,  what they want to work on, what they are unsure or worried about, and of course - how I can support them. ‌‌

I believe that nothing grows in the comfort zone. ‌‌

I find ways to provide engineers with challenges and new opportunities in line with their personal and professional interests. ‌‌

When it comes to the teams, I think it is important to use valuable sessions such as retrospectives, mid-sprint reviews, team health checks, and anything that encourages honesty within a safe space to find out how the teams are really doing.

By providing psychological safety we are able to encourage teams to raise concerns and suggestions as well as encouraging engineering teams to celebrate even the smallest wins with each other. Encouraging feedback and kudos is another way of supporting growth within engineering teams, when teams feel appreciated by their peers (and manager) they are more likely to collaborate, enjoy the role and ultimately care more about the teams approach to technical solutions. ‌‌

I also like to encourage my teams to be autonomous and feel empowered when it comes to making decisions. Being able to ask questions and make mistakes is an important part of an individual's growth but also really important for the team dynamic. High-performing teams thrive on failing fast, learning from mistakes, and feeling supported by their peers. So championing this type of environment is another way I help engineering teams grow! ‌‌

If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?

Manager in Shorts by Gal Zellermayer is such an easy read, it was actually the first book I decided to read when I transitioned into Engineering Management and it hasn’t left my side! This book places a lot of emphasis on putting people first, preferring culture over process which is why I would highly recommend it. It has a bunch of great anecdotes as well as some of the exercises you can put into practice every day. ‌‌

What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?

Be honest: It is completely fine to make mistakes or admit that you aren’t sure how to start something. It’s better to pick up a new task with lots of enthusiasm and ask for help instead of pretending you know what you’re doing. This is not the best way to learn.‌‌

People: Straight away, get to know your line reports and flex your leadership style(s) according to the individual's needs. Build strong relationships with your peers, Engineering Managers help each other grow and are such a strong support network!

‌‌Back to Basics: Focus on getting the basics right and be protective of your time. Reflect on your priorities and focus your efforts on the tasks that matter.‌‌

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I’m mainly available on LinkedIn, that is the easiest way for people to reach out for a chat. I have a Medium account too, with a lot of great ideas in my drafts folder… I should really set a schedule for publishing some new material!‌

About our Q&As with Engineering Leaders
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 growing world of Software Engineers and Engineering leaders! Every two weeks we will be sharing a personal interview with some great Engineering Managers, Directors, VPs, and CTOs.

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. See you soon!