Office Hours: I led engineering teams at Sonder and was a founding engineer at Uber Eats and Uber Freight. I'm Padmini Pyapali.Featured
Hi everyone!I’m Padmini Pyapali. Most recently, I worked as a software engineering manager at Sonder, managing multiple teams of impact-driven, growth-hungry engineers and managers. At Sonder, I went from managing one team to managing four teams in one year, not because the company grew and needed more leaders, but because I asked, and created a path for myself.My proudest career moments were at Uber, where I was the first female mobile engineer. I worked on three major product lines: Uber’s main ride-sharing product, Uber Eats, and Uber Freight. I also had the privilege of being a founding engineer on both Uber Eats and Uber Freight. I learned a lot and built lasting friendships. While working at Uber, I started investing in mental and physical health in order to cope with stress. Mindfulness helped usher in a period of self-discovery and forgiveness, which led to more growth and success.Other companies I worked at include Smash.gg and Zynga, both gaming companies, and Netapp, a data storage company.I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) from UC Berkeley in 2010.I left the bay area and my job in February 2020 to take time off and travel with my partner. Obviously, our year didn’t all go as planned, but we’ve still found a way to enjoy it! During my time off, I’ve taken up writing, and have written about various topics including sharing feedback, managing mental bandwidth, and managing time scarcity. You can access my writing here: https://smallbigideas.substack.com/.Ask me anything about career progression as an engineer and engineering manager, transitioning from IC to management, growing and leading engineering teams, managing high performers, managing low performers, managing managers, working at growth stage companies, asking for more responsibility, leading as an introvert, building trust within your team, giving and receiving feedback, getting into online writing and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @ipadmini!Elphas – please ask @ipadmini your questions before Friday, October 23rd. @ipadmini may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites!
Hi @ipadmini - great to connect here :) I would love to get your advice on leading as an introvert. What tactics have you used and found helpful in putting yourself out there and drawing boundaries while still empowering and inspiring your team?
Great question, thank you for asking!A few notes on introverts:- We tend to notice and process more than extroverts. Extroverted folks feel more comfortable communicating in a group because they can more easily focus on their message. Introverts on the other hand notice more of what's happening around them - the expressions on peoples' faces, what's on the slide, and what's going through their own minds. We get tired around others more easily, because our brains are working harder when we're around them.How this manifests for me at work:- When I'm put on the spot during meetings (like if someone asks me a question), I give a cached response without really thinking it through, or just ask if I can respond later. I have trouble thinking things through when I'm put on the spot because of my busy-bee mind.- In a group discussion or open brainstorm, I notice when others want to speak, so I tend to wait till everyone else is done before offering my input. Open, unstructured brainstorms do not support introverts. Introverts are listeners, and sometimes in the process of waiting for everyone else to speak, they will never get to contribute.Here are ways I've worked with my introversion to better lead and participate. The good thing is -- these changes are better for the overall team in general!:As a meeting participant: 1. Always ask for a meeting goal and agenda for every meeting I'm invited to. Ask for pre-reading materials. 2. Diligently think about the meeting goals and look through pre-reading materials before the meeting, and add my notes in writing (laptop or paper) 3. Use my notes in the meeting to bring up my points, so I don't have to rely on quick thinking while 10 pairs of eyes are on me. Benefits: Now everyone knows what the meeting goals are and why they're there.As the meeting owner: 1. Notes (PowerPoint or google doc) on what to cover during the meeting, either displayed for the whole group to see or written down in front of me. 2. Over-preparation. I've already read through my own notes and formed opinions. Benefits: The meeting lead is prepared with notes and with the goal in mind. The meeting will be shorter and more efficient.How to run brainstorms to support introverts: 1. Quiet time to allow everyone to brainstorm individually. 2. Ask each person to share what they've come up with one after another. Benefits: You avoid the effects of priming (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priming_(psychology)) -- where one person shares an idea, and others agree with it or come up with similar ideas because they've been primed with the original idea.Other tips: - Ask folks to communicate with you in writing. Ask them to create tasks and assign them to you. - Clue your teammates into how you work. I usually say "If I don't prepare for a meeting, you'll get 50%. If I do prepare, and have my notes, you'll get 100%."Here's a great resource on introversion: Quiet by Susan Cain (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004J4WNL2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1)
Wow, @ipadmini - this is so, so great :) Really loved your insights here and will definitely put much of this into practice!
Thanks for your time @ipadmini - very impressive background. Can you please share your advice on building trust with your team?
I have some quick tips on this one:- Transparency: I created a presentation for my team which I called "So...what is it that you do here?" (office space reference), that highlighted exactly what my responsibilities were as a manager. What came as a slight surprise to me was that none of the engineers on my team really knew. After I shared my goals and motivations, I received much more empathy and trust from them.- Give Regular Feedback: I was proactive about giving my team members feedback and highlighting how I would support them. I created a format for them to share feedback with each other, which increased their trust in each other (https://smallbigideas.substack.com/p/open-feedback-circle-a69601ea5dfd). Receiving feedback may be intimidating for them, but they will also feel seen if it is delivered regularly, and in the right way.- Ask for feedback and follow-through: I ask for feedback regularly and follow through shortly after. "Thanks for the feedback, this is what I'm doing with it." This was a great way to get more feedback and to show them that I take what they say seriously.
Hi @ipadmini and thanks for your time! Just signed up for your newsletter. :) Would love to hear more about how you went from IC to management, as I'm interested in doing the same. Specifically, how did you go about asking and creating your plan for yourself?
Of course! And thank you for the support!My transition to management was interesting. I was a tech lead on Uber Freight and we were missing a manager. A couple of my peers nominated me for the position, and I accepted! I was honored and loved the job, but felt a bit like I got into it too early. I wanted to learn more in the IC realm, so I applied for a full stack engineer role at a startup to try it out. After going through that for three months, I was positive I wanted to transition back into management, and never looked back!As a manager, you'll need to know the following at any point in time:1) How are the engineers on my team performing? Are they meeting expectations or below? In what ways are they below? What are the action items?2) Which projects are we shipping and when? Which projects are in the planning phase, which projects are in the building phase, which projects are in the launching phase?3) Who do we need to hire? At what stage are we in the hiring process?4) Are folks on my team feeling motivated? What's missing for them? What do I need to be paying attention to?With that context, the following steps on how to transitiong should make more sense:- Talk to your manager, and make them aware of your goals to become a manager. You'll need their support because they're aware of all the opportunities avialalbe on your team.- Start learning about the project management on your team - what's working? how can it improve? Ask to run sprint planning meetings so you can experience what it's like to manage timelines and tasks.- Successfully lead a several projects. When you're a manager, you'll need to give engineers feedback on how they're doing, and how to get projects shipped successfully. The best way to know how to advise, is if you've been through it! Take your time on this step.- Interview regularly. As your manager if you can shadow their manager interviews so you understand what culture signals to look for and how to convince candidates to join your company and team. Participate in sell calls.- Be proactive about identifying motivation or productivity issues on your team and brainstorm with your manager on how to fix them. As a manager you'll be thinking about this piece a lot!Hope this helps!
Hi! Do you think that coding experience is essential for engineering managers? My organization does a lot of work with startups to help them bring more womxn into their leadership teams, and engineering manager is the most common role our partners struggle with. Do you have any advice or strategies for hiring managers to connect with more womxn who will thrive in the engineering manager role?
hi @ipadmini! A bit outside of the things you wanted to give feedback on in the first place, but I am a bit in need of more technical advice currently. I am developing my MVP, which is an AR pocket projector enabling wearable and screen free remote interactions, and I am struggling a bit with the software side, as I think it needs to be built on a custom Android. So my questions is, where can I find a mentor to help me untangle and simplify things software-side at this point?
Thanks for doing the AMA, Padmini! Excited to learn from you :) 1) Given that you had no prior experience with trucking, how did you learn about the industry as you built out Uber Freight? 2) Where do you think companies like Uber Freight and Convoy are innovating on using tech that traditional freight brokerage companies like CH Robinson don't have? Does that lower the costs of running a brokerage operation? 3) What were the best sources for recruiting great engineers for your team? 4) What were the most surprising things you learned about the trucking industry?
I would love to hear your thoughts (as a professional software engineer) on the best ways to find a CTO to partner with. From the business side, this always seems to be some unsolvable maze where you may stumble onto someone who has the technical skills + is interested. I would love to hear any advice you have on this.
Good question --- this is definitely a hard one! I'd first decide on the profile you want - they need to care about your company's mission, they should want to grow with the company, and they need to have a set of technical skills in order to help build out the product and hire other engineers. Then I'd reach out to folks on social networks asking for referrals on who you could reach out to that satisfy your criteria. I'd browse LinkedIn, identify mutual connections, and ask them to introduce you. I'd try to break into tech-focused groups to network and gain access to more folks. A lot of technical leaders hang out in Rands leadership slack (https://randsinrepose.com/welcome-to-rands-leadership-slack/).When reaching out, show your passion for your product, and demonstrate that you have a clear vision for it. Research the person you're reaching out to as much as possible and highlight the specific reasons as to why you think they'd be a fit. I think everyone's always open to better opportunities, they just may not be doing the leg work to find those better opportunities, especially if they're already happily employed. You can help them by figuring that out.Start with a coffee or 30 minute chat. Ideally, you're meeting in person, but obviously that's difficult right now 😅. Tell them you want to get to know them and stay connected, even if working together doesn't work out.If you aren't able to find someone with the exact experience level you're looking for, broaden your search to folks who may not have the prior experience, but show tremendous growth -- maybe you can identify high-growth candidates based on speed to promotion (though not 100% reliable), or the clarity with which they talk about their jobs, their goals, themselves. Folks who've also worked for a diverse set of companies could be interesting -- they've worked at small startups, on different teams, different products, and also at much bigger companies. As an example, you could perhaps reach out to an Engineering Manager at a growth-stage startup to be your CTO. Maybe they've never been a CTO before, but they certainly know how to manage teams, and they've seen teams grow. It'll be harder for them to ignore an offer to interview as a CTO than someone who's already a CTO.One really clever reach-out I've gotten was from a CEO who sent a video of himself browsing my linkedin profile and blog posts while talking about the parts he liked. It definitely caught my attention, and showed me he did some research!
How wonderful to have someone with your background doing an Office Hours!Thanks so much for taking the time.My questions are ..(1) about software engineers who are low performers. In your mind, what classifies them as low performers? How can these people improve their chances to become high performers? Specifically, what type of actions must they take to become high performers within their role and/or community. Is it purely raw talent from a young age that is dividing these two groups?(2) [You don't have to answer this question since there are many different answers to this question] ... Everyone speaks of mentorship but in the software engineering world it is harder to come by unless you are lucky to surround yourself with talented individuals who are willing to collaborate with you.If you are not within this lucky small group of people, how would you go about asking software engineers to mentor you, on your projects?Thanks!
You're so welcome! It's really an honor.(1) There are three main things I look for when evaluating performance, these are in the order of importance I place on them:1. Growth potential: Can they take feedback and implement it? Do they care about improving? Are they able to guide me as their manager on how I can best support them so they can improve and grow?2. Impact on team morale: Is their performance demotivating to the team? Do they have a positive or negative impact on the team's morale and performance? Do they care about their other teammates' success, or just their own?3. Contribution: How much impact are they producing? Are they reliable? Do they produce good work?A "low performer," is someone who is unable to grow, has a negative impact on team morale, and doesn't contribute to the team's mission.If a low performer is able to ask for feeback, receive feedback and take action on it, they can improve their performance. I believe any one can improve their performance. It's not a matter of raw talent, but in lots of cases, it's a matter of the support you get in your growth. If your manager believes in you, and gives you feedback, and helps you implement it, your performance will improve.A high performer grows and adapts, has a positive impact on team morale and competence, and contributes direclty through their work or through mentorship of others. (2) Identify folks you want mentorship from, maybe they work at your company, or maybe you found them on LinkedIn. Share your specific goals and asks, and how you think you could help them. Assuming good mentors are getting a flood of messages daily (plus all the social media and news distractions), you want to break it down for them as much as possible. "Here's what I'm looking for. Here's how I think you can help me." I received a message like this recently "Hi Padmini, I read your post about paraphrasing. I was wondering how you accomplish the goals of paraphasing via email. I've tried to do it, but I usually don't get a response." -- Very direct and actionable!I'd also recommend joining mentorship communities like Plato (http://platohq.com/). Lots of engineering leaders on the platform and offer 1:1 mentorship that you can sign up for.
What's your thoughts on a start-up CTO profile? Ninja engineer or a people's leader? Its so hard to find both in one profile, especially in niche industries.. I hear divided opinions on whether CTO should do the early coding or focus on leadership from start. With CTO's salary being a quite a big cost to the company, can I afford to choose someone who would not make use of his coding skillset but focus on optimising the teams, culture, output?
Great question. It depends on the size of the startup.If you're in the process of building your initial MVP, you'll want a CTO who can ship code. This CTO should be heavily invested in the company's mission, understand what high code quality means, understand future scalability issues, and have the potential (evidenced by previous experience) to grow into a people manager. You should to be prepared to find another CTO if they are unable to scale into a people manager once the company gets bigger.If your company already has a few strong engineers, your CTO should ideally have hiring and managing experience. They should be your partner in figuring out what the teams will look like 6 months, 1 year, 2 years down the line. They should know how to mentor engineers and convert ICs into leaders.In either case, you'll want someone who believes in the company and is skilled enough to persuade other skilled engineers to work with them. "Here's the impact we can produce. Here's what we can build together, and here's how I can help you grow at this company."
Thx for doing AMA and kudos to you for taking some time off to honor other parts of your life besides work! On another note, I'm look'g for a tech CoFounder so let me know when you're ready to jump back in, haha. Sorry - had to ask. What advice would you give to a non-tech Founder of a deep tech concept who's not currently located in SV (altho I was born in Berkeley!)? Multiple Accelerators said they're in when I find a tech co-founder but also told me "whatever you do- don't outsource the technology". I'm in Houston where there isn't a huge hotbed of technical talent. Thx again, Jo