Leaders are made, not born. This is what we believe we are depicting through our interviews with some great Engineering Managers, Directors, VPs and CTOs: Sergio, Swarup, Vevek, Will, Glenn, Prashant, Sarah, Phillipa, Jeremy and many more!

In today’s interview, we’re excited to share with you the conversation we had with Karthikeyan Annamalai, Founding Engineer at TrusTrace. Thanks Karthik! 😁

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

I fell in love with computers in 6th grade when my father, who had never touched a computer before, wanted me to spend my summer learning how to program it! Other than lab sessions, I mostly played Super Mario and Dave, the DOS games. Programming and experimenting stuff ignited a deep curiosity within me; I regularly questioned how this machine was able to understand “randomly” typed text.

My professional career started in an automobile company called Pricol. This was in 2008 just after completing a Diploma in Electronics and Communication. As an embedded programmer, I worked mostly with C programming. But after a year, and in the midst of the global financial crisis, I decided to pursue an undergraduate program in Computer Science!

After graduating and working in various companies, I joined Owler, a start-up based out of Coimbatore, India. Owler was a fast-growing startup, allowing me to push my boundaries. I was nourished by a bunch of very smart and empathetic leaders there. They helped me become a product engineer, and stay humble in the process.

I do want to mention a few people who had a massive influence on my personal growth. Product Owner - Marcus ; Technical Architect - Karthik Jayaraman ; My peer engineer - Amirutha!

Currently, I am an Engineering Manager at TrusTrace. I came across TrusTrace via a casual LinkedIn conversation. I joined the company as the first employee / Lead Engineer. The past three and half years have been quite a journey. Product thinking helped me to scale the product as well as the team gradually. Playing an active role in hiring the brightest minds to join our mission makes me proud. I have been able to contribute to the autonomous yet accountable engineering culture.

Leaders evolve through the challenges thrown at them. I guess that's how I evolved. And I couldn’t be more proud of my current team.

What made you decide to become an Engineering Manager?

During a 1:1, the founder of the company I am working at challenged me to try a few additional roles; I didn't really understand his plans back then. Eventually, after accepting the mission to gradually transition the team to a high-growth team, I had to delegate, create a psychologically safe environment, and of course, be the culture champion. The leadership team gave me all the freedom to experiment and learn from it. I ensured by all means to create the best environment possible for our engineers. Watching them grow gave me the necessary adrenaline for my current marathon and enabled me to move from an individual contributor to an EM!

As an Engineering Manager, how do you delegate effectively?

Based on the problem at hand, one can distinguish if it needs an immediate individual decision or a moderate collaborative decision. When I make an individual decision I put the business requirements first, those are usually decisions with a short-term impact. If it is a long-term and high-impact decision we make it  as a team.

I advocate HubSpot Founder/CTO Dharmesh's principle - Transparency != Democracy. All of us can voice our opinions but we must agree that a ship should sail in one direction to progress.

What is the most effective way of giving a team the autonomy to execute while ensuring that your OKRs are met?

There is no one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter here. But team autonomy should be an integral part of any engineering team's growth; with varying degrees of autonomy. We can make sure that we have enough blend of people there to neutralize the risk. As a leader, we must ensure they fail fast. Making early mistakes and learning from them is critical to any high-performing team.  

As discussed in one of our round table discussions with other tech leaders, we should, of course, also have a safety-net framework to prevent people from pushing the big red button on the go.

What metrics have you found most useful to measure the performance of your teams?

We try to hire the best possible software engineers! Therefore, I focus on the soft metrics like team moral and how well the individual engineers can contribute to the value system. Like the Atlassian team, we also do not encourage "brilliant jerks"!

If we can keep these soft metrics in shape, the rest of the key business metrics will fall in place eventually. You do not want to create an environment of pure engineering, you want to make it as human as possible - this is beneficial both for our organisations and societies.

About our conversations with Engineering Leaders
We are lucky to have a vibrant community and it would be a shame not to share these experiences and insights with the growing world of Software Engineers and Engineering leaders.

So 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!