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Hello! What's your background and what do you do?

I work currently as an Engineering Manager at Mark43. For some context, Mark43 makes the world’s most powerful public safety platform. The Mark43 mission is to empower communities and their governments with new technologies that improve the safety and quality of life for all.

Currently, I manage a product development team of around 12 in our CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) division at Mark43. Our current tech stack is React + Redux + TypeScript along with Java. We are also exploring mobility first solutions.

I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Computer Science. Over the last decade, I have progressed from being a SDET to FrontEnd Engineer to Full-stack Engineer to Tech Lead to EM. Currently, Mark43 is 300+ employees strong and I have worked in many different industries along with company headcount sizes from 25-10,000+

I also am an Engineering Leadership Coach & Mentor with some of the leading platforms such as MentorCruise, Plato and BestPracticer. I currently advise 2 pre-seed startups and am a Volunteer Board Member for 2 non-profits.

How was your transition from software development to management like?

For me specifically, engineering leadership and more so the management track has always been of interest. My journey has always had leadership aspects along with staying organized, having engaging conversations and closely collaborating with many disciplines in an organization or in a community setting. I like talking to people, strategic thinking and more importantly mentorship, giving back.

While I do not discredit the IC leadership track as one can still practice all of this, I really like the management aspect for many reasons. For one, I would be totally okay spending half or more time engaging with conversations and meetings rather than being heads down. I very well understand where my interests lie, which is being an enabler first and then a creator rather than being a creator/ maker 100%. I have a strong interest in customer-centric product development and being a manager helps me be in constant communication with product, design and biz dev teams. I really enjoy aspiring and inspiring upcoming engineering talent and having deep 1:1 conversations. I believe in empathy and people-first approach vs implementation-first approach.

It was actually a bit easy for me to digest that as a manager, I would not be able to have as much technical output ever as being an IC. That being said, I still miss coding and would probably get back to it in some form or the other when I have downtime/ an opportunity in one of my projects.

What does your day-to-day work look like, and what motivates you to do it every day?

My current role is around leading product development initiatives within our dispatch division. I have 7 direct reports currently and lead a team of 12 overall from the engineering side. My team is responsible for building solutions to assist dispatchers and first responders from law enforcement agencies around the world.

An average day in my current role would be a mix of maker time and manager time. As much as I would like to limit the amount of meetings and time spent, there are many of them which have immense value from an operational standpoint. Given the new normal of remote culture, having sprint planning meetings, sprint review meetings, retrospectives, weekly check-ins, 1:1s is key. So around 50-75% of my day is spent in meetings. We do have a no-meeting Tuesday rule which I try my best to stick to.

The other (roughly) half of my day is spent in various action items that I keep myself accountable to. It could range from unblocking the team or an individual, it could be writing a tech plan/ rollout strategy, it could be PR reviews for the work going out or it could be organizing the discussions from the various meetings that took place so I can align myself better. I do plan to continue coding in some aspects too but I am still figuring out the best mechanism to make that happen without being a bottleneck to the team and without compromising my managerial commitments.

What motivates me most to do this everyday is being able to work with, communicate and collaborate with amazing people over the entire organization throughout the day. This can range from thinking on a problem to finding a solution to being available to support a direct report when they need help.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?

One of the key challenges/ issues that I face are the times when I cannot help in a situation or an individual due to organizational or industry hardship. One such situation would be around a time when you need to make tough decisions around org restructuring based on financial hardships and downsizing. It is heartbreaking to connect with folks to let them know about a potential impact on them and their role considering the hard work they have put in. Especially when you build trust and a great working relationship with your reports, peers and teammates - sharing anything not so positive requires emotional strength.

As much as you would like to keep everyone happy, motivated and committed, at times there are goodbyes whether personal or professional which are tough to process. Building relationships and maintaining trust is hard so any factor that could potentially impact that equation is not the best moment being in a managerial position.

What has been the biggest surprise so far? Something you didn't expect?

The biggest surprise would be the importance of doing 1:1s. I often see 1:1s being treated as status updates or having a non-fixed cadence. I made a point early on as an EM - to not miss a single 1:1 and schedule routine 1:1s with all of my direct reports.

I am so glad that I follow this practice and keep myself accountable to it. The importance of having a fixed slot can do wonders. Even if as a manager you feel you have nothing to talk about, there are always lingering things on your report’s mind and giving them this dedicated time is a huge step in building trust. It shows you are genuinely invested and interested in what they have to say.

What's the best advice you've received about being a manager?

The best advice that I have received is that you need to be authentic. While you could feel overwhelmed or emotionally drained at times or be facing imposter syndrome, just being transparent and practicing the value of openness can go a long way.

What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?

I ask developers to evaluate their motivation for the switch against some suggestive signals. Speaking of key signals, one key signal is, are you able to compromise on the technical output that you will end up with as an engineering manager versus a strong engineering IC, actually? If you are coding 60 to 70% of your time currently, let's say it's going to reduce to zero to 30% of the time. The other thing that I would say is you should be okay with spending 50 to 75% of your time in meetings and tackling action items. Actually, I know for a fact that if a company is in a hiring mode or if there is a performance review season, as I said, or if there is just any ad hoc conflict that comes up, or there's just mentorship with your one-on-ones or direct reports, there's so much especially now with the remote culture and distributed teams. There is so much that is meeting-based for an engineering manager role that will simply continue to exist.

Another signal to highlight is you should be okay with the definition of success becoming more abstract. What I mean by that is, as an engineer and an individual contributor, there were days where my code would pass, I would complete the feature, the build is great, a dopamine boost at the end of the day and I would say, "Wow, it's a productive day." So, I could see clear output as an engineer when I completed this, I rolled this out, or the feature was live, actually.

Lastly, another signal is, “are you okay with the mindset of being a creator versus an enabler” As an engineer, an individual contributor, you have dedicated time to implement stuff and actually get kind of just working at the fundamental code level. So, you are creating things actually, while as an engineering manager, you are more of enabling the creators to do their role.

Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?

  1. I would love to connect with folks on Linkedin and help them in any way I can https://www.linkedin.com/in/anandsafi

  2. Also, all my written articles, published interviews, podcast appearances and mentorship is at: https://www.linktr.ee/anandsafi

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