Over the past couple months, Codecademy for Business and our friends at Code Climate have been meeting each week with an engineering leader to talk about their career journey, leadership tactics and advice for the next generation of engineers. This week, we hear from Smruti Patel, an Engineering Manager at Stripe.
Here on the Codecademy blog, Smruti shares advice for those considering careers in engineering or engineering management. For more from the interview with Smruti, head over to the Code Climate blog.
Q: What interested you about engineering when you were just starting out?
I was always interested in STEM. Math and Science were my strengths, even back in school growing up, and so it made logical sense for me to pick Computer Science and Computer Engineering as the things I specialized in.
I would say that problem solving was also always something that I was curious and excited about. So engineering fit well in all of that. It’s a personality trait for me.
Q: What advice do you have for people who might be considering a career in engineering?
I think it depends a lot on where you are on the planet. I think it’s hard for a lot of people, given the lack of support that they might need — at the family level, at the social level, and at the financial level. So, acknowledging privilege is important and, consequently, so is humility, curiosity, and self awareness. Basically, none of us are perfect, we all have room to grow and improve. So, if you’re considering something in engineering, I’d say be humble, be curious — and be okay with failing.
For someone starting out, I would tell them what I would tell my younger self, which is that it’s okay to fail. I was too worried about failure for the longest time. I’d only take on things that I knew I was good at and things I could excel at. But I think a few failures early on, trying more risky things up front, is what I would probably try to get my younger self to do. Don’t be too comfortable. Push yourself.
The extrinsic part is more around how you communicate what you’re thinking. Especially in the changing times, a lot of weight is put on how well you present your ideas, how methodical you are in your approach, and how willing you are to go the last mile. So, I would say clarity in thinking and communication also takes engineers a long way.
Q: What advice do you have for engineers who are considering management one day?
To me it comes down to three things. For one, it’s all about the people you manage: the people you work with, your partners, peers, and stakeholders; the people you report to; and your managers or leaders. Managing up down and across becomes super crucial. Build relationships, foster trust with the people you work with, and then provide ongoing feedback to your peers, or even the leaders.
The second thing that comes to mind is systems thinking. I was introduced to a book called Thinking in Systems, by Donella Meadows. It’s a framework for how you think about things, which is that nothing is broken or awesome in isolation. Being able to understand that interconnectedness goes a long way.
Finally, as a manager, you’ve got to be able to deal with ambiguity, living with constraints, and you need to be adaptable and flexible. Personally, I’ve felt that no given day in management is like business as usual. Either you’ve got a key business product which has suddenly found a catastrophic bug a couple of days from release, or you’ve got a really angry customer you need to jump on a call with and say, “It’s okay, we’ll figure it out,” or some other teammate’s received life-altering news, and you need to be there to support them. In that way, being a manager can be very humbling and very rewarding. So, one thing I tell people who are thinking about this space is, you’ve got to be able to deal with that ambiguity, and then adapt.
For more about Smruti’s career journey and leadership strategies, head over to the Code Climate blog.