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(2019 - 9 of 10) How to Keep Up Your Technical Skills Without Annoying Your Teams

5d5a6bf8c3a2bae2c5e4d972921cf33d?s=47 Calibrate
September 27, 2019

(2019 - 9 of 10) How to Keep Up Your Technical Skills Without Annoying Your Teams

Calibrate 2019 (9 of 10) -

“How to Keep Up Your Technical Skills Without Annoying Your Teams“ - Kathleen Vignos, Twitter, Director, Platform Engineering

According to a study by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald of 35,000 randomly selected employees and workplaces, competent bosses are “easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.” It’s a catch-22: our teams want technically competent managers, but they also often want managers to keep their hands off of their code. With the rapid pace of change in software development, how can we as managers stay technically current when our jobs demand that we move further and further away from the code the higher we go? And what if some of us just miss programming? I’ll share creative strategies for developing and maintaining technical skills—some through the act of managing itself. We’ll cover: understanding the systems you manage, automating management tasks, working on side projects and keeping up with trends.

About Kathleen:

Kathleen Vignos is a Director in Platform Engineering at Twitter, where she heads Twitter’s public cloud strategy and core infrastructure automation teams. She also leads Twitter’s internal engineering manager training program. Previously, she was Director of Engineering at Wired where she built the team that scaled the website to 1 billion page views a year. Over 20+ years she’s worked at two startups (one of which she founded), taught business software programming at the university level, won a hackathon, and developed dozens of websites. She regularly coaches engineering managers and female engineers on confidence and leadership. She serves on the Ambassador’s Council for local San Francisco non-profit, New Door Ventures.

About Calibrate:

Calibrate was a conference for new engineering leaders hosted by seasoned engineering leaders. Organized and hosted by Sharethrough, it was conducted yearly in September, from 2015-2019 in San Francisco, California.



September 27, 2019


  1. Keeping up your technical skills as a manager Without annoying

    your team(s) Kathleen Vignos | @kathleencodes @calibratesf
  2. None
  3. 2014

  4. 2015

  5. 2016

  6. Who cares?

  7. None
  8. The benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily

    the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction. – Study by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald “ “
  9. React.js REST API, AWS Jenkins, Puppet Fundamental Shifts (2012-2016)

  10. Kubernetes AWS, GCP GraphQL, ML Fundamental Shifts (2016-2019)

  11. Problems with 
 hands-on Leadership 
 priorities Changes in 

    tech trends • Lack of maker time • Risk blocking team • Credibility • Loss of team autonomy • Lack of prior knowledge • Strategic focus • Soft skills development • Industry moves fast • Too many options • Want guaranteed ROI • Competing priorities Why it’s hard for managers
  12. Choose growth Avoid becoming irrelevant

  13. None
  14. None
  15. Get creative with time • Daily or weekly calendar “maker”

    slots vs. • Monthly or quarterly technical learning goals
  16. Idea blitzkrieg .

  17. Understand the systems and people you manage • Read all

    design docs • Code review (non blocking) • Set up the dev environment, 
 build, deploy, prototype • Pair program, fix bugs • Encourage team brown bags 
 and code walkthroughs • Remove/delete dead code 1
  18. Automate management tasks • Set up system dashboards, metrics •

    Write scripts (Python, Google 
 App Scripts) • Build chrome extensions 
 (ex: custom recruiting emails) • Bots (Slack, Alexa skills, IFTTT) • Build interview code challenge pipelines • Third-party software integrations (ex: Jira/Tableau) 2
  19. Work on side projects • Give a conference talk or

 bag about a side project • Participate in hackathons 
 (company or outside) • Contribute to open source • Build a new interview code challenge: grade it, solve it • Volunteer at code camps and 
 meet ups • Tutor your kids, niece, friends’ kids 3
  20. Keep up with trends • Attend conferences, workshops • Take

    a class (set a goal, 
 tell someone) • Books, tech blogs, podcasts • Tool demos from third 
 party providers • Slack channels (Rands #architecture, #tech-chat) 4
  21. Customize your career path • Move from specialist to generalist

    • Take on a project or team in a new 
 technical domain • Consider the IC/manager pendulum • Take a learning sabbatical • Alternate between startups 
 and large companies • Try reciprocal mentoring relationships 5
  22. None
  23. None
  24. Taking care of 
 your future .

  25. However, the engineering director is responsible for their organization’s overall

 technical competence guiding and growing that competence in the whole team as necessary via training and hiring. They should have a strong technical background 
 and spend some of their time researching new technologies and staying abreast of trends 
 in the tech industry. They will be expected to help debug and triage critical systems, and should understand the systems they oversee well enough to perform code reviews and help research problems as needed. They should contribute to the architecture and design efforts primarily by serving as the technically-savvy voice that asks business and product questions of the engineers on their teams, ensuring that the code we are writing matches the product and business needs and can scale appropriately as those needs grow. – Rent the Runway engineering ladder Invest in career growth
  26. Preferred qualifications: Master’s degree in Computer Science or a relevant

    field; Experience developing high-growth, consumer/user-centric technology platforms; Strong engineering leadership and ability to attract top talent, motivate people, instill accountability and get best out of the team; Ability to contribute to architecture/design discussions and make sound technical decisions; Ability to set and drive the “big picture” strategy while also having the capability to provide detailed technical guidance to the team, enabling them to execute more effectively and deliver products on time and within budget. – Google Job Description, Director, Engineering, Chrome Web Platform Qualify for career opportunities
  27. • Design a distributed key/value store • What’s the search

    complexity of… • Data structures • Implement an algorithm using MapReduce • UNIX internals • When’s the last time you pushed to github? – Google engineering manager questions as posted on Maintain interview skills
  28. Stay relevant • to benefit your company • to improve

    engineer job satisfaction • to invest in your future
  29. What will you 
 learn next? .

  30. Thanks! @kathleencodes | | @calibratesf Slides: Github: