Codazen’s Agile engineering teams are a big reason why we’ve had fast growth. We’re able to create brilliant products and services largely because our teams are capable of deploying complex projects. But it takes a cluster of engineering managers to masterfully conduct the ebb and flow of multiple engineering teams and the key is managing with empathy.

As engineers, we get into this profession because we like to solve problems. We like to put our headphones on and focus on the code. What we don’t realize is we need human connection. We need to connect in meetings, pair programming and white-boarding solutions.

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, Codazen has pivoted to working remotely. As engineering managers, we’ve adjusted our management style too but we’ve kept the heart of leading in a close-knit culture.

Steering the Ship with Mentorship

At the helm of our Enterprise Practice is Ruen Dineros. Dineros encompasses one of our leadership principles: leave your ego at the door. He creates opportunities to mutually lead and learn from his team.

As an engineering manager, he relies on a bottom-up approach to leadership. Ruen continuously searches for opportunities to mentor his engineers by encouraging them to use their own critical thinking skills to come up with solutions.

“It might take more work than just telling people what to do, but there is greater benefit resulting from the growth of that employee. It also helps with employee engagement,” says Ruen.

Codazen leadership inculcates a culture of learning from each other.

The company recently conducted an anonymous employee satisfaction survey to identify areas that could be improved. Instead of just thinking up improvements on their own and telling their teams to implement the changes, managers shared the anonymized survey responses with their teams and invited everyone to share ideas for actionable items to get the results they would like to see.

Results from the survey were encouraging for managers. We got good feedback such as, “managers are considerate and appreciative” and “culture fit is great and having the support of your coworkers and managers is a plus too!”

Encouraging feedback lets employees take an active role in creating solutions, as well as providing different options that would not have been as obvious to the managers. By including the team in the problem-solving, there’s a greater chance of success for implementing the needed changes.

This transparency is key to how we work. Codi Saad, Scrum Master, is an avid proponent of the open door management style. She makes sure every member of her team knows they can approach her about anything.

“I always strive to be transparent on decisions I'm making and the reason why. I also expect my team members to be transparent with me about what they are working on and how they feel,” says Codi. This creates the openness and trust that is the core of Codazen's culture.

Fun is another essential part of who we are. Codi keeps Funko Pop! figurines of her favorite TV show characters on her desk to help create a more relaxed work environment for her team.

“Having fun not only increases our team’s bond, but also leads to happier more productive team members. My only rule is they can't shoot me with Nerf guns,” she says.

CBB0AB5B-C5F6-4FC7-8A1C-123472CF432B_4_5005_c

Codi Saad’s desk at the Laguna Hills office. (Courtesy: Codazen.)

Managers understand that trying to get everyone moving in the same direction can be difficult. But it’s all worth it to watch their team members work collaboratively to tackle an issue and see the solution come to fruition. Even though Codi is considered a manager, she prefers to think of herself as her team’s cheerleader.

The open communication between employees and managers is evident in our weekly one-on-ones. These personalized meetings let engineers talk about how their work is going and if there’s anything that would help make it better.

It’s important to stay in touch with my team but it’s not all shop talk. I use these sessions to check in with them, not only about their work and growth, but how they’re doing. We’ve learned about each other’s backgrounds and hobbies and how we stay mentally fit at home. I know the team has jokingly called it “therapy”. If they know how appreciated they are and how we’re there for them, I'm good with that.

Nolan Emerson, Front End Engineer, says, “the latter half of those meetings usually devolve into talk about board games, videos games, Dungeons & Dragons and such. My manager is really friendly and wants to make sure everybody else is happy too.”

Emerson relies on Nollan Morrison, Digital Practice Lead, for his near encyclopedic knowledge of everything inside our codebase. According to Emerson:

Morrison is familiar with every component and page we've made across multiple sites over multiple years. It's pretty common for people to mention questions or issues in a chat or meeting and for him to pipe in with a fix or a suggestion of where we already ran into that issue before.

Codazen managers are not only dedicated to their work, but to their employees. Last year, when a project deadline forced the engineers to work during a holiday, Morrison brought in five flavors of homemade ice cream for everyone to keep their spirits up and show his appreciation.

Leading Remotely

Within a few days of the work-from-home notice, my team got up and running, but not without planning. Managing a quarantined team has meant proving we can do the work by working as a team.

Every morning we meet and I established an all-day video chat with my webcam at eye level. Anyone can jump on the chat and ask for help, talk through a problem or crowd-source their lunch options. I want my team to feel I’m with them.

Years of dressing up for Halloween left me with a great supply of costumes to show up on our daily video call. Whether it was Jack Sparrow or Spider-Man, I dressed as the characters (from the waist up). When the costumes ran out, the augmented reality potatoes and cats came in.

2DE3D8FA-55D1-4833-9FCE-EB4F0F0D3B1F
3107071A-A100-4B05-A09D-86468E6B92EC
6B8C136D-25CF-4F7E-A2E1-74C0105EEDB7

Photos courtesy of Josh Studley.

Before working from home, we worked next to each other. We liked to have fun. We would make boba tea runs, play DJ on the room speaker or shoot each other in nerf gun battles. Working from home felt like we missed fun.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know we’ll adapt. While I miss working next to my team, we proved we can work from home integrating empathy and learning with a little fun.

Codazen is hiring passionate engineering managers that can mentor and lead with empathy and fun. We expect leadership out of everyone, and this role is a parallel career path to being an individual contributor. If this sounds like a good fit for you, apply now.