Rei Colina

Rei Colina

Head of Engineering and R&D at letzNav

May 13, 2019

#data-analytics #distributed-teams #startup

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

I'm the Head of Engineering and R&D at letzNav (https://www.letznav.com), a growing startup where our product lines facilitate application adoption, employee onboarding, and data analytics. Imagine having the equivalent to a GPS tool that guides you through the tasks that you need to perform on a daily basis at work! I'm extremely fortunate to oversee the development, quality, and delivery of such a powerful tool, as well as to get to work with an incredibly talented team of engineers.

I've also worked at Hootsuite, Ping Identity and The Active Network, which gave me great insights on scaling systems like Social Media Management, Identity Management, and Payment Processing, and created an open source billing system for Telecom called Billycom Web (https://github.com/reicolina/billycom-web)

How was your transition from software development to management like?

I've always had a strong passion for technology while helping teams to grow and work cohesively, so when I was a Senior Developer, I was encouraged by my managers to become a team lead and soon after, to go into management.

During the transition, I was afraid of losing touch with technology by going into management, and in fact, that was at risk for a few months as the role and organization didn't value cohesive growth of leadership and technical skills. In my own experience, teams like when their leaders get their hands dirty, especially in a startup environment, guiding them on how to strengthen the areas where improvement is needed. I've always made it a priority to stay up to date with technology trends so I can help mediate technical discussions and stay close to the source code by helping out with unit tests, reading out pull requests, etc. The key is to find the sweet spot where I stay close to the technology and architecture at hand, without interfering with the team's flow. Maintaining that balance is hard, and the best way to achieve, in my experience, is to really listen to what your team has to say in terms of their own technical needs. Sometimes those needs involve yourself backing away from coding, and that's totally OK.

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

We currently have distributed teams across different time zones, so recurrent conference calls are key to maintain alignment and to make sure that goals are clear. I've organized my days in a way so mornings are focused on syncs with leads, and designers, one-on-ones, and ad hoc meetings where technical advice is required. The rest of the day is mostly dedicated to research, business development (partnerships) and recruiting.

Being the technical voice, within a non-technical audience is a big part of my job. These manifest during meetings with Sales, Customer Success, and Investors, where I help prioritize goals and make business decisions where technical context is needed.

In terms of motivation, no matter what product you work on, customers should always be your north star. Thinking about how to make users lives easier and translating that into the technical aspects of our day-to-day work is absolutely fascinating, and seeing your team rowing together towards that vision is incredibly inspiring.

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

Impostor Syndrome is real and it can drag you back if you don’t have the tools to cope with it. This is basically the feeling of doubt of your own accomplishments despite external evidence of your competence, and it tends to manifest itself shortly after a promotion or starting a new job.

My simplest and most effective advice is to set yourself with short term goals, which puts you in a position where you can have small, regular wins. Don't try to achieve everything at the same time, especially when you enter into a new role. Set a personal roadmap that allows you to systematically achieve those goals, and stick to it with the fluidity to make course corrections along the way.

Impostor Syndrome is normal and it happens to more people than you may think. It is also a great indicator that you care about your career, the success of your organization and the people that you lead, so I see it as a strength.

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

Managing people is difficult. When I started in management, having a technical background, I convinced myself to apply an “algorithmic” approach to solve problems related to people. I was dead wrong! Every single mind is different, and you need to make sure you invest as much time as possible to understand and listen to your teams, collectively and as individuals, especially your direct reports.

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

An inspiring learning for me came from a conversation with a Sr. Director at Facebook (through a mentorship program) who told me something that I will never forget: "Your role as a manager is to help fill the gaps, and if that gap is coding, architecting, filling spreadsheets, etc, then so be it, just give yourself a timeline to fill that gap and teach your team to fulfill those needs on their own, then move to the next gap, until your team becomes self-sufficient". That, I would say, is the holy grail of management!

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

Never do it for power or money, that's a misconception. Find someone in management that you look up to, and start a mentorship relationship so you can get advice, insights, and support. Ask as many questions as you can, and be open to failure. Once you make the switch it is going to feel uncomfortable at the beginning, that's absolutely normal. Don't forget: if you are too comfortable, then you are not growing!

Here are a few topics to read up on that will help you to start in the right direction:

  • Time management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Influence without authority
  • Performance management

And two of the books that helped me a lot when I started:

  • Leading Snowflakes by Oren Ellenbogen
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

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

You can reach out to me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/reicolina/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/rei_colina) or GitHub (https://github.com/reicolina).