Office Hours: I coach managers and was previously a VP Engineering. I'm Lara Hogan.Featured

Hi Everyone!I’m an author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry. I’m the author of the bestselling book Resilient Management, which I wrote to help those out there who are responsible for supporting their coworkers. Before founding my coaching and training company Wherewithall, I was the VP Engineering at Kickstarter and an Engineering Director at Etsy.Ask me anything about engineering leadership, managing teams, publishing a book, being a coach, or something else!
Thanks so much for joining us this week, Lara! Lara may not have time to answer all your questions before Friday, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
What is the one thing that you see most managers struggle with, and what can they do to do better? Thanks Lara!
One thing most managers struggle with is feeling like they're making improvement and progress as a manager. (Improvement and progress is a core human need at work!) The trickiest part about this for managers is, what our brains crave is *socially visible* progress—meaning, we really feel like we're improving when our progress can be spotted by others. But so much of managers' work is behind closed doors—that's the role!! And there is SUCH a long lead time between when we do or say a thing as a manager, and when we see the effects of that thing—which makes it even harder to feel like we're improving or feeling success in our role. So I recommend that managers find a solid, trustworthy small crew of folks that they can share stuff with. Maybe it's their cross-functional leads. Maybe it's a friend outside of work. Maybe it's their boss! But find 3-4 people with whom you can share challenges you're facing, problems you're working on, etc.—and keep them updated over time with how things develop. And ask them to help you remember to take a minute and celebrate when you see some progress; sometimes what it takes is someone saying, hey, wait a minute! I know how much this thing kept you up at night! And now it's done?!?! Let's have a donut! :D
Thank you so much! I can definitely see this happening, so thanks for the advice!
I have so many questions for you: 1) Are there moments now that you wish you were a VPE at a company? 2) How do you make sure that you're growing now? 3) What will you be optimizing for in 2020?
SUCH GOOD QUESTIONS, KUAN! (Per usual!!)1) Nope! :D While I certainly loved aspects of being a VPE, the parts that I loved most are still things I get to do as a coach and trainer. Namely: supporting emerging leaders and managers, and helping to give folks responsible for other humans some extra love, care, and a foundation for growth. In this new role I've carved out for myself, I get to do ALL of those things, all of the time.2) So far, I've found it impossible to _not_ grow in this new role. Haha! There are so many aspects to my work that I'm relatively new to; I took a bunch of coach training courses, and I've been taking lots of facilitation training now too. It feels like it'll forever be a journey of learning the ropes of running my own business, and being an effective facilitator and coach.3) (GREAT QUESTION, you know how much I love this question!!!) In 2020, I'll be optimizing for proactive decision-making. Years 1 and 2 of the business were all very reactive: what kinds of work do people need me to do most? I traveled all over, and offered many new kinds of services, all in response to what folks asked for. In 2020, I'm going to be proactively making more decisions about where I'm going to be, and when, and what kinds of work I want to experiment with more.
Thank you for joining us, I love your book. For someone looking to get a seat at the table, what questions would you recommend asking during the hiring process to evaluate a head of engineering or vp of engineering position?
EXCELLENT question. I would prioritize getting to know your future peer in product (head of/VP of product) super duper well, since this will be one of the most important relationships you'll have in that role. That means more than just a one-hour interview slot; make sure you take enough time to really know how they work, what their challenges are, what's working well and what isn't in Product and Engineering. (Design is of course important to know about too, but in my experience, the relationship between head of product and head of eng can go really well, or really poorly, and it'll significantly affect the outcomes of the role.)I would also prioritize knowing in advance what KIND of VPE role you're looking for, so that you can ask questions of the company to see if they've got the kinds of challenges you want to work on. For example: maybe in a VPE role you really want to help scale an eng team, or lead the way through a huge migration or be a chief architect, or something else (in my case, I wanted to build a culture of eng management somewhere). Because the VPE role is so widely varied and defined, you'll probably meet with a lot of companies who are working on problems that are important, but not exactly what personally you want to tackle (maybe you've done it before, or maybe those problems aren't as interesting to you). I asked lots of questions like "what's the #1 thing you want the person in this role to tackle?" and "what's something that should NOT be changed because it's working so well right now?" to suss out exactly what kinds of problems they were focusing on, and wanted help with from their VPE hire.
Hi Lara, thanks for contributing your time.... Greatly appreciated. As a CEO and founder how do you best identify your inner circle? At one of my previous companies, a key player abruptly left and it upset the apple cart. It kind of changed the culture of the company. At the first sign of difficulty ahead, he bailed. Thanks again! ❤️✌🏼
Oof, that sounds tough! Could you add more detail about what you mean by "inner circle"? Just want to make sure I'm exactly answering your question! :)
This may not exactly be what you meant, but I'll give it a shot just in case! :) I identify my inner circle by thinking about what skills or experiences I value in those around me, like the people I lean on (or would want to lean on). Things like being an excellent coach or gut-checker, or having some political savvy, or giving really good feedback. I developed this Manager Voltron bingo card to help with this brainstorming exercise: taking a look at which spots are empty, I'll see who I need to add to my inner circle to help balance out those things :)
Hi! No specific question. I just wanted to say I love your work!
That's so kind!!! Thank you so much.
Thanks for being here, I love your book and recommend it to every manager I know or anyone considering management!
Thank you SO MUCH! This makes my day!
Hi Lara, Thank you very much for being awesome and helping out Females :)Can you share about the privilege that VP of Engineer can have? Or more precisely What kind of decision can those people make for team and company growth?Thank you very much!!
VPEs can have a TON of privilege and power. (I've seen this go really well, and really sideways!) VPE roles are super different across companies. Camille Fournier covers a bunch of the different kinds of responsibilities they might have in her book the Managers Path:
Welcome Lara! You're quite well known here in the NYC community - my coworkers (Flatiron School) have mentioned your name a few times wrt management tips 🤗Do you believe that to move up in your career, you have to start taking on management roles? And when do you think somebody is ready to start managing? Thanks!
Thanks for the kind words! :DNo, I _don't_ believe that in order to move up in your career, you have to start taking on management roles. However, this is tremendously company-specific. Some companies ONLY have a path forward that involves management, but some companies split the career path in to two: one for individual contributors (ICs), and one for managers. Like Meetup: think somebody is ready to start managing when they're earnestly ready to grow a few new skills: delivering feedback effectively, coaching, getting comfortable making hard tradeoffs, and creating clarity out of ambiguity—stuff like that. This stuff can ALSO be done as an individual contributor—in fact, all of the extraordinary senior ICs I know have honed these skills! But I think these skills are important to call out as important to get good at as someone starts to think about becoming a manager :)
Hi Lara! Thanks so much for answering our questions. I have a few questions:- What advice would you offer to a 20 year old?- Female engineering managers seem far and few between. Why do you think that is? - How do you manage your hiring to ensure you have a diverse team?Thank you again :)
Ooh, great questions!I'd offer a 20 year old the advice to not worry too much about knowing exactly what you want to be when you grow up. The tech industry is ever-changing, which means that the roles that exist today didn't exist 5, 10, 20 years ago—it would have been impossible for me to envision the path my career has taken when I was 20, because many of these roles—and companies—didn't exist then! :)Hmm, I actually see proportionally more eng managers who are not men than eng managers who are men in the companies I work at, compared to how many not-men engineers exist within those same companies. I think this is because "glue work" ( is considered traditionally feminine work, and people who are good at it are often pushed into management roles. Which is a huge bummer. Glue work is incredibly important work, and I wish that it was valued more by everybody—especially in eng orgs' career ladders.So much has been written about the topic of hiring to have a diverse team! I'm far from an expert on it. I'd recommend checking out a few of these resources:****