For our new series, 1:1 with Engineering Leaders, Code Climate and Codecademy for Business spoke to managers and VPs about their career journey, leadership strategies, and advice for the next generation of engineers. Below is an excerpt from our conversation with Gergely Nemeth, Group Engineering Manager at Intuit, who shared his thoughts on the role of a manager, and the challenges of joining a remote team. Edited for length and clarity.
For Gergely’s advice for early-career engineers, visit the Codecademy blog.
Tell us a bit about your current role and how you got there.
I just started a new role at Intuit, and I’m leading some parts of the Financial Data Platform on the experience side of things. For example, if you’re using Mint, TurboTax, or QuickBooks, I’m on the team that’s responsible for connecting your bank accounts or other financial institutions to those Intuit products.
Prior to joining Intuit, I worked at Uber, where I, too, was working on the design side of things. I built the design systems engineering team there, which works mostly on open source projects like Base Web or Styletron. Before that, I worked at a company called RisingStack, which I co-founded. That’s how I got into management.
Could you talk a bit more about your transition from individual contributor to manager? Did you always know that you wanted to be a manager or was it something that transpired?
I always wanted to give it a try, mostly because I really enjoy helping others grow, supporting them. The way I got into management was with RisingStack, the company I co-founded. We were looking for someone who would start managing the engineering team — I always wanted to try that role, so we agreed that I would take on that responsibility.
What do you believe is the role of a manager on an engineering team and how about the role of a leader? Is there a difference in your opinion?
In my opinion, leadership is a necessary management skill — it’s part of being a manager.
One of the most important things from a manager’s point of view is to make sure that the team has a vision, and knows why it exists in the first place, what it wants to achieve. The manager should provide clarity.
Then, the manager should help engineers on the team grow, making sure that they can progress in their careers. Another really important thing is to ensure that team members can build connections within the company, and make sure that they can work well with other business functions, whether it’s legal, finance, or design.
It’s also important for an EM to help build the company’s technical brand. Maybe it’s the open-source contributor in me that thinks this, but if engineers on the team can write a blog post, can contribute to open source, that will help grow the company’s tech brand and through that, it will make hiring a lot easier. It also gives back to the open-source projects that we rely on every day, so it’s also about being a good open-source citizen.
You said that you recently started a new role at Intuit — could you speak to your strategies for joining a new team and learning about its particular challenges?
It was definitely challenging, especially because of COVID and how I had to onboard through Zoom and Slack. I had never done this before. In this new virtual world of ours, lots of clues like body language are missing. Small things like this make onboarding in this new environment a lot more challenging.
The only way to make up for it is to make it a priority to meet with everyone more, especially in the first few weeks. In my first few weeks, I felt like I was in meetings all day, every day because the team I am responsible for is relatively large. Also, we have lots of stakeholders that I had to meet with too.
I had to make sure that I built that network that I previously talked about. It’s a lot of time investment in meetings, making sure you meet with everyone.
The way I structured my onboarding was that I wanted to make sure that I had a good working relationship with the team first. I think it’s super important that I do weekly 1 on 1s, especially when I join a new team. Through that, I get to know the person more and also the team, too. I started my 1 on 1s in a way that focused on the team’s challenges, both from a technical point of view, as well as from a process or communication point of view. That helped me onboard more quickly in the sense that I understood the problems each person faced a lot quicker than just trying to observe them.
At the same time, observation was really a key part, too. So in the first month, I made sure not to make any big decisions, just listening in meetings, understanding team dynamics, and learning the product itself.
After the fourth week was when I really started to grasp the entire scope of the team.
That’s actually a perfect segue into the next question — what do you think managers need to do differently when they’re managing a fully remote team? Are there any remote-specific strategies you used?
Yeah, I think there are a few things. First, it’s especially important these days to over-communicate to make sure everyone has the necessary context. There are no such things as hallway conversations anymore, or having team lunches together where we could discuss things related to work if needed. We have to make sure that everyone is aware of everything, even if it means over-communicating every once in a while.
Another challenging aspect during these times is that lots of team members have their family at home with them, or they don’t have the perfect work from home environment, myself included.
Because of this, it’s extremely important that teams and managers are accommodating — not everyone will be able to join all the meetings, and sometimes kids will show up in Zoom calls. And it’s perfectly fine, it’s a good opportunity to say hi. So to sum up, we should be as flexible and accommodating as possible.
Do you use metrics or data at all in your day to day, and if so, why?
We mostly focus on business-related outcome metrics. It gives us an understanding of whether we are moving the needle in the right direction. For example, making sure that the feature we are implementing moves us in the right direction from a customer point of view.
Intuit is a customer-obsessed company. For us, it’s really important that we are always working on the most important things for our customers. All of the metrics we are tracking for our team, are to make sure that the customer is successful in, for example, running their own small business, or reaching their personal financial goals.
Previously, I managed the developer velocity team at Uber. The reason I’m mentioning it is because I know that Code Climate is more similar to that from a metric point of view. We tracked a few metrics around how quickly a pull request gets reviewed, for example. This gives front-line managers a high-level overview of team health.
For more of Gergely’s advice for the next generation, visit the Codecademy blog.
Subscribe to our newsletter for more engineering intelligence.