Empathy with Gabriel Chang

Name: Gabriel Chang
Role:  Director of Software Engineering
Company: Wonder Workshop
SNYAM cohort: 02- San Francisco 2017

What do you miss most about being an Individual Contributor?

Originally I missed the sense of accomplishment in creating something tangible. It took some time to take on the sense of reward from the accomplishments of the team. Now I mostly miss the ability to sit down and focus on one task and get it done really well.

As a leader, what do you need most from your team? From your peers? From your own manager?

From my team:
Honest feedback. I believe strongly in my team’s abilities, and they have a lot of room to work as they see best. The tradeoff to a high level of autonomy, is that issues are hard to spot early from the management layer unless someone speaks up.

From my peers:
Open communication. Sometimes our peer organizations want to perfect their work before opening it up for critique, but that really slows down the development pipeline. Likewise, we need to give our peers clear visibility into our progress.

From my manager:
Clear, focused direction. I’m always given way too many ideas to explore, and while I’m generally pretty good at weeding out the salient ones, it helps to have a clear single “northstar metric” to base our team’s performance on.

Why do folks resist moving into management?

If a team is managed well, and things are going smoothly, individual contributors can focus on their work, and the role of the manager isn’t immediately apparent. On the other hand, poor management can appear out of touch, or besieged by other teams or external forces. It’s often difficult to see the value of great management from below, and more often than not it appears either uninspiring or miserable, except for the perks of status.

Getting better at managing has caused me to also get better at:

Empathy. While my target is to get the best performance out of my team, I can’t do that unless I can get a good understanding of why they are distracted, and that’s often from things outside of the office.

How do you leave work at work? What practical actions do you take to set these boundaries?

I’ve never been able to leave work at work. I’m a strong believer of doing what you love. I’ve personally found it much easier with a toddler. I make sure I get home to spend some time with the family, it’s a joy and not a chore, and there’s time for work, if necessary, later in the evening.

If anything, I think it’s making sure that there are things and people you love outside of work.

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