Brian Wheeler

Brian Wheeler

Senior Director of Engineering at Braze

July 08, 2019

#mobile #product

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

Hello! I manage the Product Engineering teams at Braze. I started out as a software developer here and then transitioned to managing the Mobile team building SDKs that are deployed to hundreds of millions of devices. From there I went on to manage the broader Product Engineering organization. Right now we’ve got over 30 Product Engineers across several cross-functional teams building a massively scaled product that the world’s best brands use to engage with their users.

How was your transition from software development to management like?

It was challenging but gratifying. I started out managing engineers working several mobile platforms, none of which I was an expert in.

Those conditions lead to some things being easier and some things being harder than they’d be for people who do the more standard tech lead -> manager transition. Delegating was easier because I needed to; performance management was more difficult because of the lack of full context around certain work/stacks.

As time went by I got more comfortable with the technology and core management responsibilities and I found I enjoyed management because it is full of interesting challenges and at its core it’s about helping people.

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

My day-to-day is all about building a great team and helping them build effectively. Main priorities: facilitate people trying to get things done, ensure people are working towards the right goals/outcomes, grow the team (individually and numerically), ensure team satisfaction.

My customers are the people on my team and I’m motivated to help them in any way I can. I viscerally dislike seeing people get frustrated, blocked, or slowed down. I tremendously enjoy saving people’s time, helping them grow their responsibility and skill set, and creating environments where people can get things done. Working towards those positive outcomes keeps me motivated every day.

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

Learning to help engineers grow was challenging at first. I think it’s a lot of people’s intuition (including mine) to recommend people supplement their work with learnings, e-courses, meetups, side-projects, and things of that ilk. I’ve found anything that you don’t support with actual work the company needs to get done ends up being the first thing to get cut, so growth should be facilitated primarily if not exclusively by the things people are building day-to-day.

Also, all things performance management are always challenging to get right, across all ranges of performance. Having a calibration meeting amongst all managers has helped quite a bit to ensure consistency and fairness.

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

The biggest surprise so far is how dramatically process and incentives can affect morale and opinions. In my experience, people problems are 9 times out of 10 process problems in disguise.

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

Just listen to your people. If you hire well and practice servant leadership listening is roughly half the job.

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

For people considering management: go for it! I think people management provides great learning experiences, and even for folks who want to go back to IC work in the future, I think it builds a skill set that can be leveraged significantly in non-management work.

For new managers, I usually just shout an onslaught of common phrases on the topic of management: listen, empathize, managing isn’t about being nice or strict but fair, people are different - treat them differently, stay humble, have integrity, admit when you’re wrong (you don’t always have to be right)...etc.

I also just encourage people to always read all the things they can about management and then experiment and find what works and what doesn’t.

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

You can find blog posts about building Braze here https://www.braze.com/perspectives/tag/building-braze! You can find my LinkedIn here https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-wheeler-0758a38!