Ankita Kulkarni

Transcript from Friday March 10th, 2023

Carl Vitullo: I'm Carl Vitullo, I am here with Ankita Kulkarni she is a engineering manager, senior developer content creator and educator currently developing a course for people who are interested in the management track, and how to decide whether being a manager is something that they want. [00:00:17]

Being laid off as a bittersweet opportunity

Carl Vitullo: Ankita. How are you? [00:00:19]

Ankita Kulkarni: I'm great. I guess a bit about me I've been working in the industry, tech industry for more than 10 years now, it feels like a very long time. I initially started as a developer, transitioned into leadership and I'm at the intersection of both where I would love, I call myself a leader at times, I called myself a developer at times and things like that. Last year, an opportunity came up because of the, the layoffs. [00:00:48]

It was a bittersweet situation where I'm like, I really wanted to, I love teaching. I already have a course, I'm enjoying this. I love teaching people and helping them level up in their engineering careers. So I was like, this is something I'm really excited and passionate for. So I decided to go full-time being an educator. [00:01:04]

So that is really exciting. And yeah, like you mentioned, working on a program just to help developers to transition into leadership. And help ease that transition a little bit. [00:01:17]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I, I did a similar transition. I, I spent about a year and a half as an engineering manager, and yeah, when we spoke in prep, you mentioned having to hit the ground running. I think it's really great for you to give back what you learned and really try and spread that knowledge. [00:01:32]

Building databases at IBM and doing freelance web dev on the side

Carl Vitullo: If you could talk a bit about your background, how did you get your first job? [00:01:36]

Ankita Kulkarni: I decided to go get my internship done as part of graduating from school. It was just a co-op program and I interned at IBM for 16 months. It was kind of cool actually. I learned a lot about you know, just like the release cycles of databases. [00:01:54]

That's where I started. And then I worked on Java XML, but for IBM, which was kind of cool. So like, contributed a lot to the core java stuff, which is really awesome, and like how the parsers work and things like that. [00:02:09]

I quickly learned that I wanna be a web developer because I love seeing things and, just designing and developing websites in general. As I decided to run my own company and help local businesses build apps and I was like, I love my job, you know, after my day job. [00:02:26]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, that's fun. So while you were working at IBM on databases, which is, wow, what a first job experience. I feel like that's thrown pretty deep in the, in the trenches. [00:02:37]

Ankita Kulkarni: I would say like I was interested in web development since pretty much high school. I really, and that's why I decided to take computer science and go learn at a school and things like that. But I would say, during my day job, I would do databases and then I wanted to still like learn web development and apply things professionally and like learn and build on really cool apps and, and actually do some good as well. [00:03:00]

So I started doing contracts on the side, which kind of was a really happy side effect was I paid off my tuition before graduating, which was kind of cool. Yeah. But was also a lot of really long hours after work and things like that. So [00:03:13]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Wow. I've thought about doing some freelance on the side before, while I had a full-time job, but man, even just the context switching involved with keeping multiple code bases in your head at once. I, I, anytime I've started trying to do that, I found it just prohibitively difficult. So, major kudos for making that work. [00:03:31]

New appreciation for coworkers after freelancing

Ankita Kulkarni: For sure. Yeah. I think the, the number one thing I learned from that experience was that empathy for all the different roles and all the different hats that you have to kind of wear being a freelancer, right? But also managing two different jobs and multitasking is not that great. It'll burn you out. So kinda, I feel like at the time I was like, I'm so excited. I'm passionate about web development. I have to do this. [00:03:57]

So it was more fun for me and it did not feel like work at all. It was definitely something that I built, which was like empathy. Like empathy for all the roles and different hats and things like that. Cuz when I went full-time with IBM, Suddenly there were so many roles that, and I was like, whoa, I appreciate you so much. [00:04:15]

You have no idea of being a freelancer cuz you are doing so many things that I did not realize as a developer. And I guess that help build that mindset too, right? Like how is a system built? And how things work end to end. Because I had to do the, a lot of that as a freelancer. [00:04:31]

Carl Vitullo: For sure, so you mean talking about having the support of other developers taking different chunks of work away from your responsibility? [00:04:40]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, that, and also like the fact that you had as a freelancer, you also had to do marketing and copywriting and like, supporting and promoting work and things like that too. Project management and all those things. And when you take up a job full-time, there are already pros. People are already working there, so it's like, "oh, I don't have to do all these things." [00:05:03]

As a developer, my job would be to maintain the systems, write code, collaborate with other developers, and I can always ask other people what to do about project management and things like that, which is kind of cool. [00:05:16]

Carl Vitullo: Okay, so we've been talking about your first job. Your you said 16 month internship at IBM [00:05:21]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yep [00:05:22]

Carl Vitullo: working on databases. Definitely a very different environment from web development. [00:05:26]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yep. A hundred percent. Yeah. But then that's when you know what you're more passionate about. When you work on things that you, it's really great for as a first job, right? You learn so much about how software works and how at that scale, how, what are the consequences of your changes and like how do you collaborate and like really write good documentation because there was support and things like that. [00:05:51]

So just like you learn so much there, but also you learn this was great for 16 months, but I would love to get into web development as I graduate or on the side. [00:06:03]

Carl Vitullo: Absolutely. Yeah, I think database development is such a very distinct niche from anywhere else in software. What you said about, you know, the impact of your changes. If I, as a web developer ship a change that breaks something like, oh no, I have to fix it, run it through CI, three minutes later it's shipped, it's done. But if a database ships a bug, like the release cycle on that is just so long that it's an entirely different world of development. [00:06:29]

Ankita Kulkarni: A hundred percent. And I think that's when you really have to take a step back and you really learn how to really review your changes and make sure everything is good. You learn the importance of testing and like writing test cases too. And no code will get deployed until everything has been tested like 10 different times by different people as having a separate testing QA team and things like that too. [00:06:54]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. [00:06:56]

Getting her first management opportunity

Carl Vitullo: When you were a senior engineer getting your first management opportunity what were you doing there and how did the conversation start of, "do you wanna be a manager?" [00:07:06]

Ankita Kulkarni: Mm-hmm. . Yeah, for sure. So I was a solution architect working at a consulting firm here in Toronto. So I was pretty much leading a lot of different projects and like architecting them and things like that because the position just sort of like opened up when their, the company wasn't doing so well at the time, so there was like, there were layoffs and like people were leaving and things like that. [00:07:30]

So there was some, there's someone that needed to step in to help developers grow. And I sort of like started taking that position. So it wasn't like the idea, here you are promoted, congratulations, and now you can start doing the, doing a job, right? It was more so like, okay, like I need to really step up and really understand management and leadership and things like that and how. [00:07:54]

That would work and how that's different from developers. So for that, like I really, you know, hired a coach and I found mentors and really, I really did not take it lightly because I know that it's really important to grow developers and just like maintaining the technical excellence of things too, which really helped. [00:08:15]

Leadership vs management

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. You mentioning leadership and management, I've heard from a couple of people about sort of the distinction there. Like being a good leader is an entirely different set of skills from being a good manager in many cases. So what sort, what size company was this that you were working at when you first started managing? [00:08:32]

Ankita Kulkarni: They were about close to 300 people, so not that big, but the projects were really for big clients, so the impact was huge. Right? So, not having a leader is really, I, you know, was really necessary there. [00:08:46]

But I would say like one thing you touched upon, which was like management and leadership, right? And I think something I wanted to add there was and this is something I'm really passionate about, so you're gonna hear me hear from me a little [00:08:59]

Carl Vitullo: Pop off, please! [00:09:00]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah. So I really believe in like, oh, you need to stop being a boss, you should start being a leader, right? And I think the word "boss" kind of comes from there, I think a boss like really commands you to do things right? [00:09:10]

But a leader is honestly like there to help guide that change, help you navigate the change. Instead of telling you what to do, they are asking you questions and coaching you and things like that, which is like really significant and important, right? So, I think that's the distinguish, I would say like the huge distinction between like management and leadership is that as a leader you wanna drive that change so that even if you're gone, that change is still getting applied and being worked on. Whereas if you're just doing management, then you can just, you know, have a project and assign people to it and like they become resources and not like actual people working on it. So there's a lot involved there essentially. [00:09:51]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I think that's a good framing of the difference. I'm trying to think about a good metaphor for this. I'm imagining like, medieval times, like a battlefield, leader versus a manager. Somebody leading the charge from the front of the lines versus somebody like sitting away in the back and like, shouting over a megaphone, " go, go." [00:10:08]

Ankita Kulkarni: I never thought about it like that, but yes, exactly. And there's also this image too, where just like a leader is just gonna create more leaders, right? Because they're enabling that change versus a boss is always going to have dependencies on them. And you all know how dependencies work, in software. It also applies here. [00:10:28]

Carl Vitullo: I think that's actually a really apt metaphor. Managing dependencies as a developer is such a huge part of our job and such a struggle. It's hard, and it doesn't get any easier when the dependencies are people. [00:10:38]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It's just like, I think software is still easy, right? Like you have to handle dependencies, you can review the code changes and figure out if there are some issues over there , right? [00:10:50]

But like, for management of people, it's like completely different. People are complex. We are complex human beings. So it's not easy for you to just manage anyone, right? I think you need to really drive that change and they need to really be motivated to do it, to enable that. Yeah. [00:11:07]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I think motivated is a good word to use there. A lot of management wants to treat people as fungible, as interchangeable. They're different cogs in a machine and if one cog wears out, you just replace it with another one. But I think people's expertise and motivation is really different and really something really challenging to manage. [00:11:28]

Intrinsic motivation and finding a team that supports your goals

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. I guess like if you assess like what their goals are, what they wanna work on, and then figure out what the goals of the org, right? And again, it's like a venn diagram. It has to be, because if those are not, then they're just two circles working on their own. But like, you need to figure out what people are motivated by, what are they interested in, how they want to grow. [00:11:47]

Because as developers we love trying new things. We love, you know, playing with new technology and things like that. So that opportunity should always be there for us to grow our brand and grow our skills. And that is something that we need to enable, right? [00:12:01]

That's not something I can tell anyone, hey, you need to be motivated about this thing. Intrinsic motivation is what I was talking about. [00:12:08]

Carl Vitullo: Intrinsic motivation is one of my favorite phrases. It's so important. [00:12:12]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, exactly. If I tell you what to do, you're not gonna do it. If I ask you questions and make you think for how you should be doing those things to help you progress in your career and how that benefits to the wider org, right? And our vision for the company, then you're going to position things differently and you're gonna think about it a little bit more. [00:12:31]

And we can work out like what that, what that Venn diagram is. (Laughter) [00:12:36]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. And like you said about Venn diagram, if they don't overlap, if the orgs goals and your personal goals don't overlap, then maybe that's not a good job for you. Maybe that's not the right role. [00:12:46]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, exactly. And I, and maybe, and yeah, that's a really good point too, I have been in positions, plus also I've seen other developers being in that position too. Like if that doesn't overlap, then I think you should probably find a team, or ask your manager to help you find a team, to figure out where it overlaps, right? Because otherwise it's just gonna you are never gonna find that intrinsic motivation that we just talked about. [00:13:09]

You are just gonna treat a job as a job, which is totally cool too, right? Like if that's what you want to do and that's what your priorities are. But like, I think in order for you to grow in your career, I think it will be important for you to be passionate about it as well. [00:13:22]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I definitely agree. It's very hard to keep your energy level high if you aren't genuinely interested in the work you're doing. And if your energy isn't high, like you said, absolutely nothing wrong with just treating it like a job. You go in, you know, you go to the code mines, you put some text in a file and you go home and you don't think about it past that. [00:13:41]

Nothing wrong with that, but I think that for, for those who are very motivated to improve and better themselves and do meaningful work, I think keeping the energy high and keeping something that you are genuinely intrinsically motivated about is really crucial. [00:13:57]

Ankita Kulkarni: Mm-hmm. A hundred percent. Yeah, I think it's really important to figure that out. [00:14:01]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. [00:14:03]

Developer to Leader program

Carl Vitullo: So you've been working on courses. Can you talk about your current course and what you've done in the past? [00:14:11]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. My current, I would say, like, program, cuz it's like more than a course at this point, but like the current program is called Developer to Leader. And the idea is that doesn't matter where you are in terms of your journey as a leader, if you have no experience or you do have experience. [00:14:28]

Right. And I think my, my course will help you give you that transformation that you need to become a leader. So I have like different sort of modules planned out to help you build a solid foundation. And again, we talked about like difference between a leader and a boss, but also staying true to engineering and figuring out, okay, what does technical excellence for your team look like, and things like that too. [00:14:51]

And I would say this program will really help you with that. And it's more than that too. It also helps with giving you that additional accountability. So I really wanted to design a community that really helps you become better as a leader, as a person in general. [00:15:05]

So in the community I have like lots of different fun activities such as lightweight cohorts , and hotseats, which are like recorded one-on-one conversations to help you become better as a leader. Cuz I genuinely believe, whenever anyone tries to do things on their own… being a developer or leader doesn't matter. As a person, I think it becomes very hard… you are still gonna struggle, right? So why not talk to other people who are on the same path as you, and really help with that. [00:15:30]

I've been working on that and the wait list is open right now. But I'm just like really asking for feedback from my newsletter and, sharing updates and all the cool things I'm working on. [00:15:41]

So if you're interested, yeah. [00:15:44]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I put a link in the chat, and there will be a link in the description for the, when we publish this as well. [00:15:50]

How do you recognize a good leader?

Carl Vitullo: I see a question in the chat that I think is good to get to. How do you recognize a good leader? [00:15:54]

Do you any intuitions there, anything you think is helpful for people? [00:15:59]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. I think early on, and this is a pattern that I've noticed, a lot of developers that want to lead more, they are really passionate about mentoring and helping others grow, right? So I would say if you really want that leadership experience, start looking for opportunities to help others grow. [00:16:16]

If you have experience, which you could probably do at wherever you are at, try to figure out who else needs your help and try to help mentor them. But in terms of figuring out if they are a good leader or not. I think it just takes time and hard work and consistency and a lot of experience too, wherein you have to like learn from the mistakes you made, instead of asking people to do things, just like ask them questions, get curious about where they're at in their career and really like, drive change for them is what I would say is probably like the gist of it too. [00:16:50]

I'm gonna use an analogy: like a duck. Like you can see like everything is smooth and nothing is going on, but then underneath the water it's just like, they're swimming, right? Similar thing with leader too, you are going to see that the team members are really happier. They know what they're looking for, they have proper goals set up. So a good leader would naturally have a lot of these things set up already. Good systems in place. Even if a leader is gone, there's not a lot of dependencies. [00:17:19]

People are also leveling up in their careers and are not stagnant. So they're not at the same level even a year from now or two years from now, depending where you are, which company you are at, right? [00:17:30]

All these signs would tell you like, Hey, like is this is this someone good leader or not? Because people should be genuinely happy and excited for the work that they're doing as well. [00:17:42]

Teams as a group of individuals

Carl Vitullo: That reminds me of something that I have always believed pretty strongly about management and software teams, I guess really teams in general. They're all made up of individuals. Any team is a group of people figuring out how to most effectively work together. [00:17:59]

The same way that you can't build an Olympic team by just picking the best individual players. The most important factor is not individual skill. It's so important that the members trust each other and understand what each other are good at, and I think that that's, I think this is restating something that you've just said. [00:18:21]

I think good leaders, good managers are able to identify those things. They have that radar to say, " ah, I see you and this person , maybe you'll have friction with each other because of your communication styles." And identify those issues and help build a system where that team is able to collaborate effectively. [00:18:40]

Ankita Kulkarni: A hundred percent. You need to keep a pulse on things as a leader, right? Trusting your gut and intuition is very important as well. So for example, like you just said, if two people are not getting along and you can see some signs, don't hesitate to approach them and just ask them, right? [00:18:58]

Like, "Hey, I noticed something there. Is there something you wanna talk about or is there something I can help?" I would also say that's a good leader too, you're not just assuming and changing things around based on projects because you saw something. Getting curious and really understanding. [00:19:12]

And like you said too, like figuring out who works well together, what projects and goals they have, and like how you can maybe even shuffle things around a little bit. But all this adds up to, which is something I talk about as well a lot, is like, what's a high performing team? [00:19:29]

Right? Like you said, like high performing team doesn't mean that there are a bunch of high performers in one team, who are crushing tickets and like, they have crazy velocity of like, and the way they're shipping things, right? It's not like that at all. It's kind of like, They work well together. If they fail, they fail together. They figure out how we can iterate now that we have failed. [00:19:53]

So like, fail fast, iterate quickly, giving feedback to each other, and always making the team better, right? Because as a team, you need to figure out if you're at a, you wanna get to B, if you do go out at it on your own, you're not going together, right? Like, you need to really figure out, let's go together and let's brainstorm. This is not working, let's tweak this, and things like that. So again, like you will also notice that a good leader would help establish those practices, right? [00:20:23]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, and what were you saying before about leaders keeping a pulse on things and understanding and reaching out to members to identify problems maybe before they happen, [00:20:33]

Psychological safety in software teams

Carl Vitullo: are you familiar with the term psychological safety? [00:20:35]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yep. I've written a blog post on it because I'm so passionate about it. (Laughter) [00:20:41]

Yeah, I think psychological safety is very important because, as a leader, you set the tone, right, for your team. The way you act in meetings, the way you are, sets the tone for the rest of your team. So it's really important that you walk the walk, right. And talk the talk. [00:20:58]

Just to make sure that your team knows that it's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to, you know, do certain things and they can always ask you questions, if they need help, if something is going on personally, they can always come to you for help as well. Or they don't have to talk to you about personal stuff, but like, they can give you a heads up and like, if they need time off. All these things add to making a team really psychologically safe and asks the psychological safety of the team because it's important that as a leader, people feel like they can make mistakes. [00:21:32]

Because think about it, how many bugs we run into, how many unexpected things we run into as a developer. If the manager is not able to understand that, then they're gonna have a hard time in software in general because it's important for us to collaborate together and like, yeah, ship things collaboratively. [00:21:50]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. I think a commonly given piece of advice for managers and leaders is to like, remember the human, and be able to, I don't know, work with people when they are in, maybe in a point of struggle. Maybe somebody's output is dipped. They were a high performer six months ago, and now they've, they're really, they're struggling. [00:22:10]

They're not getting tickets closed or whatever. And I think a naive management approach might be to come in and say, "Hey, what's going on? What's wrong? Why aren't you doing this? Work faster?" [00:22:20]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah. [00:22:20]

Carl Vitullo: Maybe what that person needs is not the stick. You know, not getting like a whapped like, "Hey, faster go, go, go." [00:22:28]

But maybe, you know, their life has changed. Maybe a parent got sick, they need to care for someone. They are going through a relationship struggle. They are, in a position where they don't have as much available brain space. If a third of your spare brain cycles are occupied by some major personal event, then of course you're not as effective at work. [00:22:51]

And you know, maybe the fix there isn't even anything that a manager has influence over other than just like, "Hey, take a breather, take care of yourself. Come back when you're ready." [00:23:01]

Having empathy as a leader

Ankita Kulkarni: Exactly. Like I totally resonate with this. Like, I think it's important to be thoughtful in your approach as a manager, right? It happened in the past like many times where people have personal stuff, so I, I did as well. [00:23:14]

And I think what's important here is… again, like, like you said, "okay, work faster. I don't care what's going on at home. Like this is work. You get paid for this." Like, that attitude is so bad. Like it's toxic, right? We don't want those managers at all, or we don't wanna train people to be those managers at all. Instead, I think you have a project that you wanna deliver, right? So as a manager, you are responsible for it. So if you push that person to work harder, they're going to burn out. They're probably gonna take a few days off and you're not gonna deliver your project. [00:23:48]

Instead, if you're empathetic and thoughtful and if you're curious about you know, what's going on in their life or things like that, right? I think it's really, you don't, you don't have to get personal, right? But you can just ask them, "Hey, I've noticed that you've been a bit off." Is there something going on or would you like to take some time off? Offer a few solutions too. [00:24:09]

And this happened like in my past position, like someone was a high performer, was crushing tickets, always had things under control. Suddenly their performance dipped. And I was really curious. I was like, are they okay? Like, is everything okay personally because your personal stuff does impact work because we are humans, right? Like we talked about. And they were like, yes, something is, I don't know how you could tell that something was going on. And I'm like, take the day off. It doesn't matter. We'll keep working on things, what's important is that you take care of yourself and your mental health, right? And next day they took the day off. Next day they came back and they were back to their usual groove. [00:24:48]

I'm honestly surprised because a day off can be so important, and then you have that support. They told me that after, " thank you for giving me that psychological safety in the team, that I could take the time off because I felt like I couldn't because of the project delivery." [00:25:04]

We were able to get our project done, and it was okay. Everything was fine toward the end. So it's just like, what's important is to really be mindful and thoughtful in your approach. [00:25:14]

You're dealing with people, it's not just software, oh, there's a bug, let's fix it. Right? There is a situation here. Let's talk to them, figure out if they're okay. And then based on that, your strategy is always gonna be different. [00:25:26]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. I think what you said about this team member thanking you for giving them the psychological safety to take a day for themselves. I really think that a manager, a leader approaching someone who has had their performance dip or something like that, and just genuinely approaching them curiously about like, Hey, what's going on? How are you doing? [00:25:48]

Even if they don't wanna talk about it. Like, okay, sure, there are personal and professional boundaries. Like maybe I don't want to talk to my manager about like a sick grandparent or something like that. But just giving space for them to have these personal experiences that are disconnected from work and saying, yes, I acknowledge that this job is not the only thing in your world. [00:26:09]

I think that can really go a long way to just, you know, okay, maybe one day off is not, doesn't fix all their problems. It doesn't fix their life, but it sends a signal that they are supported, they are, they have a friend and I think sometimes that's all you need. [00:26:24]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yep. Exactly. And like even if you think about like outside of work, right? If you're going through something personal, you're always gonna talk to a friend or a family member, right? Someone who, you know, would have your back and would support you regardless. And I think that's important here as well, to have your manager's support. [00:26:41]

And I think in that case, you're always going to grow and you're going to make the team better. And you're probably also maybe going to be more loyal too because you, to the work that you're doing, cuz you are supported, you're happier, right? Because that's what we want sometimes. [00:26:56]

Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah. Loyalty is a two-way street. If a company, if a manager demonstrates meaningful commitment to an employee in a time of need, I think the inverse is much more likely to be true. [00:27:06]

Like if there is an urgent deadline, I think it's much easier for people to say, yes, cool. I understand the situation, I have to put everything else on pause and go, go, go. But if you just expect that, if that's the default assumption that everyone will drop everything at a moment's notice, then that starts feeling not so good. [00:27:25]

Serving those you lead

Ankita Kulkarni: Exactly. Yeah. And personally for me, because I've had that technical background, right? I don't mind getting my hands dirty anytime in need. And I'm like, how can I help? Do you need me to do anything? Because like at that point, my focus is also probably the project, right? That the team needs more help and asking them that, they're like, yes, can you please help us with this, this, and this? [00:27:47]

And I'm like, done. That's taken off your plates and I'm gonna take care of that. Right? So again, like that also helps and helps build trust too because they know that Oh yeah. We can always ask her to help us. With, with whatever work we need. Or it doesn't even have to be code. It can be process oriented. It could be code reviews, it could be anything else, or like you're blocked by something small. Anything that you can help again, like how can I help is always like a really good approach in most scenarios. [00:28:15]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. So that's feels like it touches on the idea of like servant leadership, where a leader's role is to serve the people that they are in charge of. [00:28:25]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, totally. The term servant I think probably has maybe a negative connotation, I don't know. But just like servant leadership in general, like what it talks about that, Hey, I'm here for you. [00:28:37]

Whatever you need, let me know. I'm going to help you. And again, the attitude is also more so like, let's help each other. Right. Let's collaborate, let's have fun working together. And less about like, when is it gonna be done? Gimme updates, like all the freaking time, right? It's just not, not great. [00:28:54]

Carl Vitullo: Right. If you're all in this together, you're all trying to ship the same project, which you know you understand is a shared goal because that foundation has been laid over the professional relationship then yeah, absolutely. [00:29:06]

Spotting burnout as a leader

Carl Vitullo: So as a manager, have there been times where you recognized that someone on your team, somebody in your company, maybe not one of your direct reports, was at risk of burnout? [00:29:16]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. Like it happened a few times. It also happened with me personally too, it's good to keep a pulse on things for yourself too, because your mental health is also important and as, as equally as your teams, right? So make sure you do that. [00:29:29]

I have noticed when someone is considered a high performer and they feel like they need to do everything and they really crush tickets, like they're really working all the time and I think. In that case, I definitely approach it. [00:29:45]

I know you're passionate about it, but I definitely believe in sustainable pace, so I really don't want them to burn out. But even letting them know that is really important because they think for some reason they have to do this thing, because they're the most senior most member, or they have the most experience in that specific team or whatever might be the reason. [00:30:06]

But I think like, it's important that just letting them know that they can take time off they can maintain that work-life balance, whatever that is for them. Maintain that sustainable pace. I also don't hesitate to tell people, especially senior members of the team, that their actions also have an impact on more junior folks who are looking up to them as well. [00:30:27]

Setting the tone on a team

Ankita Kulkarni: Because they're setting the tone too, and that changes the culture significantly. So if they think that the senior most member is working 80 hours a week, then they think in order to get promoted, they also need to work 80 hours a week. [00:30:40]

That's the job of a manager, to make sure that they know that they're setting the tone for the rest of the team and something that they should not do as much. It's fine. Obviously, we all get our, like, oh my God, I'm so excited for this feature, and things like that. [00:30:54]

But it's also good to openly talk about it. I know the question was burnout, but I think it's also like important that all this adds up, that they know the expectations are not for them to work 80 hours a week. [00:31:06]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. I think that that is maybe not directly burnout, but I think that, it's a major contributor to it, you know? It, it does set the tone. Like you said, if people see that the influential high-performing people are overworking themselves, then yeah, then that's, that appears to be behavior that's rewarded. [00:31:24]

That's something that I've definitely tried to be cognizant of in my career. I've been a manager, I've been a tech lead, I've been just like a very senior engineer on a team. And I personally, I have ADHD, I am neuro divergent, whatever I. I enjoy unstructured time. [00:31:42]

I don't do nine to five very well. I like following whatever thread my brain is on and, you know, do that, chase it down, go somewhere else. And so, especially through the covid time, through its pandemic and work from home, I personally found that it was really beneficial for me to just work a loose schedule. [00:31:58]

Like if I wanna take three hours and do a home errand in the afternoon, I'll make that up on the back end. I'll work, I'll pick up, work up at six and work until nine or something like that. [00:32:08]

But the flip side of that is, that works great for me. Nobody on my team, nobody in Slack knows that I took a three hour break in the afternoon. [00:32:15]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yep. [00:32:17]

Carl Vitullo: So if I'm pushing commits at 10, 11 at night, that looks like I am, you know, working 80 hours a week when that's not the case. That can be a challenging balance. [00:32:27]

Proactively setting team norms

Ankita Kulkarni: Hundred percent in, in fact, it did happen a couple times in the past with my teams. And what we did was we created a team norms document. Team norms are kind of like, again, like just something that the team does that we are just documenting it and letting everyone know. And it's like a healthy discussion. [00:32:44]

So for example, Carl, you know, he loves unstructured time, so expect that just because Carl is working after 11 doesn't mean that Carl is crunching, I don't know, whatever hours, right? It doesn't mean that's how Carl works. And letting people know that certainly gives them context. [00:33:00]

Right? And I, and team norms, I, there's an exercise for that, which I love to do whenever I join a new team, or more so like when I, when the team is new, cuz I think it really just like triggers so many discussions, right? Like, oh yeah, I'm not like that at all. I love my morning time. Oh I love my evening time. [00:33:18]

And I'm like, yes, that's totally cool. Like as long as like you are doing it, it's just amazing. Like, doesn't matter when you do it, but again, it depends company to company as well. But so you could totally be in a culture where it's only purely nine to five. And I think you have to kinda assess that too for yourself, right? [00:33:36]

Like what's the culture like? And like, then accordingly adjust. [00:33:39]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, most definitely. Yeah, those sorts of meta conversations, talking about how we work rather than just talking about the work itself, I think those are so crucially important, especially for a leader, to be facilitating. And I think that that's one of the very difficult parts of maintaining a high performance team over a long period of time. [00:34:03]

You know, cuz like you said, you, you join a new team, you sort of have some of these conversations. They're good icebreakers, they're good, like get to know your questions for people on a team. [00:34:11]

Ankita Kulkarni: Mm-hmm. [00:34:12]

Carl Vitullo: But then, you know, six months later, people change, people's preferences, interests, expertise, evolves. And if there isn't an external event, like a new manager, you know, a major team reorganization, then I think it's hard for those conversations to surface naturally. [00:34:30]

I wanted to give voice to that sort of idea of talking about your own preferences, comparing notes with other people and just sort of getting to know them better and how they think about their work, I think is one of the hallmarks of a high performing team over the long run. [00:34:49]

Prioritizing your own growth as a leader

Ankita Kulkarni: Hundred percent. And I think that one thing I wanna touch upon that you just mentioned, like as developers, right? We are very good. Like we wanna get good at React. We are going to become the best React developers, and we have this timeframe in our head, or I decided, right? I wanna be, become the best that I can be. [00:35:06]

As manager, you don't focus on react, you focus on all these things, right? Like, yeah, it's definitely good to play around with all these technologies, right? But like, as a leader, what you should be doing is, for example, if there's a React code base, after six months, we're still gonna work on it, we're still gonna improve it. [00:35:24]

We're always gonna keep brainstorming different ways via code reviews and all these different things. But as a manager, make sure that you're doing the same, you are investing time in becoming better. Talk to other leaders in the company. How are they doing things? [00:35:38]

What is something that has worked really well? Book coffee chats. Your learning and growth doesn't stop the minute you become a leader or a manager. It still needs to keep going, it's just that what you do changes, right? So instead of, you know, building React projects, you are basically looking at what processes can I create? What can I automate? How, what are others doing that's working really well? I have this specific challenge, before trying to solve it on my own, figure out who else has done it in that same company more likely, so that you have that context here, right? And I think that also helps a lot because your learning shouldn't stop right then and there. [00:36:16]

So otherwise things are going to get stale. I've seen that newer leaders can fall into this trap wherein they feel like their growth is dictated by the code they push, and it's the opposite. It's like, it's like, wow, new leaders should look at the code that your team pushes and you build all the systems and the infrastructure for your team to function like a well oiled machine, right? So that's what's important. [00:36:42]

The value of informal chats

Carl Vitullo: I think you bringing up coffee chats, I think just going for informal, you know, informal… I want to use the term meetings, they are meetings, but they're not, they're like this semi-formal, they're in this liminal space of not-quite-work. [00:36:58]

I think that that is where some of the most powerful communication happens in a company, is where it's not formally structured. It's not in an office, in a obviously professional capacity, but just like going for a walk around the block with someone, walking to the nearest coffee shop in a, like a very limited, like one-on-one or, a small group setting. [00:37:19]

I think that's where so much of the most potent like team building and sharing of context and sharing of background and figuring out how to do work well. I think that's where a lot of that happens and I think that that's a under acknowledged dimension of work that especially among the individual contributors. [00:37:40]

Ankita Kulkarni: Hundred percent. I think that even as an IC, an individual contributor, if you wanna learn something from someone, like figure out how they're doing it, like just pick their brain on things, book a coffee chat with them, ask them, get to know them a little bit. Right? And you are going to learn so much more as an IC because of that, right? [00:37:59]

And you're going to build better relations and communication is also going to get better because of that too. So, yeah, like, I think it's really underrated, but something that we should all do more of. [00:38:09]

I feel like even this conversation wouldn't have happened, you know, like I just like, oh, I need to message Carl cuz I really loved previous Office Hour events in the community. And I was like, this is so cool. I'd love to be a part of it. And conversations will flow naturally and you get to know people, which is really cool because what's the point of just working, for me at least, it's like let's make it more fun, right? And I think as you get to know people, you will make it more fun. [00:38:35]

Carl Vitullo: Definitely. Yeah. And there's, there have been a number of times in my career where, you know, I've spent weeks trying to figure out why this is broken, or why aren't we prioritizing this? I think this part is so obviously bad. Why, how could it have possibly gotten into this state? [00:38:50]

And then I go for like a 15 minute walk and talk with somebody who's been there six months or a year longer than I have. And just in that space where you can talk maybe a little more honestly because you're in a different, you're in a change of space, you don't have to worry about like, is somebody go gonna overhear or you know, you can just speak very honestly about it. [00:39:10]

And I think sometimes that that's where you learn context about the work you're doing. Like why is this work happening? Why isn't this other work that I think is important happening? And I think that sort of contextual information, even if you're just an individual contributor, even if you don't have, you know, responsibility over prioritizing or anything, [00:39:34]

I have always found that that is gaining more understanding there has really helped me, even if I don't agree with the priorities, understanding the logic of why they are that has always been very helpful for me. [00:39:48]

Soft skills in your career

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, a hundred percent. I completely agree with you there, and I feel like. A lot of, like, a lot of us, even like when I did, I did as well, like when I was growing too as a developer, that you think that you are a good developer or you want to be a great developer just by the code you write. [00:40:05]

In a company's context, it's not just the code you write. It's also like all these other soft skills and like, how you collaborate well together, how do you give feedback, how do you receive feedback? Like all these things. And like even in code reviews, how do you review code and like ask questions and again, like drive that change, right? [00:40:26]

Versus like, make statements and be rude about it. Like all these things also add up to how great of a developer you are and not just the code you write, because that's just part of it, right? So I think it's really important for a lot of developers to think about that too. That, and something that often doesn't get talked about. That it's not just code, it's also people. So remember that. [00:40:50]

How to get a taste of the management track

Carl Vitullo: Definitely. Yeah, that feels like a pretty decent segue into… I think we've touched on this a little bit, but I think that could be a good jumping off point into a conversation about how do you decide if you want to move into management. So, you are a senior engineer, you're pretty accomplished in your career, and you're looking at the staff role and the engineering manager role. [00:41:13]

What do you think are some good questions that a person can ask themselves to help them decide what track they wanna follow? [00:41:21]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. I think that very early on, I think you should start mentoring folks, start doing that just to understand like, mentoring should be, should happen regardless as you grow a senior, right? But like, you can assess if you know, do you get more happiness and fulfillment through via the growth of others? Or do you get fulfillment and happiness by just your growth, like directly the code that you write, the work that you do? [00:41:48]

And that distinction is really important. Cuz if you enjoy building systems and like driving change through others and like seeing other people grow, then I think maybe you should look into stepping into maybe like a leadership, like leading a project. [00:42:05]

Role or something like that, like a team lead or a tech lead. But not even that, but just like a project lead, right? Like for a short period of time, see how it, how you can do it and like assess if like that's something you like doing. And if you did, then you can figure out, okay, maybe like what about if a bigger project, right? [00:42:23]

And the more you do that, like slowly and steadily, you're going to understand if leadership is for you or not. And at that point you, you'll decide that, nope, I still love writing code, I still want like 50% of my time spent on code or like 80% of, or 60% of my time, whatever can, it can be different from different companies, but like majority of my time spent on code and an architecture versus people and maybe 20% on code. [00:42:52]

If you feel like what brings you joy, and if you're not sure, then again try out these positions. But if you are sure, then maybe try out start walking down the leadership path. And if not, then walking down maybe the IC path further and seeing how you can grow there. [00:43:08]

I would say don't just wait to get to senior or staff or whatever to figure out if you should go to management. Start, you know, getting curious, right? Very early on, like, this is something I wanna do. Maybe I should lead a small thing like project, then I should lead a team. [00:43:23]

Or if then opportunity comes up, maybe you can shadow your manager for a little bit too, just to figure out if this is something you really wanna do, right? And if not completely okay. In fact, if you go to become a manager and a year later you decide you don't wanna do it completely, okay? There's no shame in that. [00:43:41]

And I think that's really important to acknowledge that too, because. You know, it's, I feel like maybe you miscode then go back to code, do that for a year. You again, miss people and do wanna do more planning and roadmap and all that fun stuff. Then do leadership again. Like it's totally okay to go back and forth. [00:43:58]

And the beauty of it is that we can do that right. Versus like, it's not a huge career change. It's definitely a different skill set that you need to develop. [00:44:09]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. I think that makes a lot of sense. In my career, I've found that I've oscillated back and forth between, I feel like I've always been a leader on a team, maybe not a manager. I'm not always setting priorities or have formal authority over decisions or anything like that. But I think what you said about starting from mentorship, And seeing if that sort of people aspect is something you get joy from. I think that's really powerful and accurate. [00:44:39]

You know, so much of management really comes down to something similar to mentorship. As a manager maybe you won't always be the most technical. If somebody's blocked by a technical bug, maybe they can't always come to you to become unblocked. I think mentorship can be a good way of practicing those soft skills, like you mentioned of understanding someone, where are they coming from, what are their experiences, you know, where do they want to grow, where do they need to grow? [00:45:05]

Ankita Kulkarni: Mm-hmm. a hundred percent. Yeah. And I guess like take baby steps to figure out if this is what you wanna do, right? Like you said too. And I think it's, it starts with mentoring for sure. Cuz I think you start interacting in, you're not responsible for their progress, but you are invested in it. [00:45:23]

And that gives you that taste initially of leadership, which is kind of cool. [00:45:28]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, you're not responsible, but you're invested. I like that. [00:45:32]

Ankita Kulkarni: Mm-hmm. ,oh my God, we have so many quotes from this conversation. We should create a Shopify store with different t-shirts. [00:45:43]

Carl Vitullo: We gotta get the merch going. It's where the real money's at, [00:45:47]

Ankita Kulkarni: yeah, yeah, for sure. I think this is the educator, entrepreneur, business person, brain in me. [00:45:53]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah. You got the indie hustler mindset. Always thinking about what's, what's next. [00:45:57]

Ankita Kulkarni: yeah, yeah. Exactly. [00:46:00]

Carl Vitullo: We're coming up on an hour here. Yeah. Any, anything you want to close out with? So I know you've run a, a newsletter, you have done a number of courses, you're working on this program. [00:46:10]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, I would say like the best way, if you have any questions, I'm in the community, but also on Twitter at kulkarniankita9 as well. But I also run a front end and leadership newsletter as well, so if you're interested in leveling up in your career, whether it be engineering, leadership, or software engineering, just like go to my website and sign up for either of those. And yeah, if you have any questions, please never hesitate to reach out. And if you are interested in becoming a leader, then sign up for the wait list. [00:46:45]

Carl Vitullo: Excellent. Yeah. I'll drop some of these links in the chat here and they'll be in the description when they get this gets published. [00:46:52]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. [00:46:54]

Carl Vitullo: Well, Ankita, thanks so much for coming out. This was, this was really great. [00:46:57]

Ankita Kulkarni: Yeah, for sure. No, thank you so much for having me. I also gonna add that if you if you want like a mind map, like just like a roadmap to becoming a leader, right? There's a link to that that I've sent you Carl as well. If you can share that too, that would be awesome. [00:47:09]

Cuz again, like people who understand what are the responsibilities of a leader and looking at that, you'll be like, oh my goodness, this is too much, or yeah, this is kind of cool. This is interesting. Then yeah, check that out too, cuz we have a lot of front end roadmaps and this mind map would be helpful if folks are interested. Yeah. [00:47:27]

But yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is so much fun. [00:47:30]

Carl Vitullo: Yeah, it was very fun to talk shop about management, leadership. [00:47:33]

Thanks so much everyone for sticking with us through this hour and keep an eye on our upcoming events. Next week we're gonna be talking with Sunil Pai about Refactors and the difficulties there. [00:47:45]

It should be a good conversation. Cool. All right. Thanks so much. Talk to you later. [00:47:49]

Ankita Kulkarni: Bye!