December 13, 2022
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Life at Cleo

A day in the life of Fell

Ever wondered what a Tech Lead at Cleo does? Fell explains how he spends his time.

What is this?

In my role as a tech lead and SE5 engineer (referred to as Staff Engineer in some places) at Cleo, I have a lot of different responsibilities. I think of myself as falling within the Tech Lead archtype described by Will Larson, and find that “Tech Lead” is a useful shorthand for what I do, but I want to go into a bit more detail than that.

I’d like to try and give some additional transparency to how I spend my time, and to give people an insight into how we work as a company and how I work as an individual. I’ve decided to do that by showing how I split up the time I have in a day, and talking about how I plan that time.

This is an average!

⚠️ I carefully organise when things are to make the most of my time; A lot of my 1:1 meetings with the devs in my teams are on Fridays, so I can wrap up the week and hear context as to how people were feeling throughout. What I’m showing here is approximately an average over two weeks, condensed down to a single day ⚠️

How do I spend my time?

I use Google Calendar to track my meetings, and I use labels to allow Time Insights to work.

Here are my labels. I find them to be a really useful tool for assessing how I spend my time over the course of a week.

Squad meetings

These are the standard ceremonies that are needed to keep an agile team running. In my team we have 2 week long sprints, with each sprint having a kickoff and a retrospective. We have squad standups every day, but they don’t always run for the 15 minute slot they’re in the calendar. Just before them I have a catchup with the Product Manager and Product Analyst on my team, to make sure we’re all sure what the team’s trying to achieve and whether there’s any blockers; this meeting often gets skipped in favour of adhoc async updates.

After standup we have a regular slot for a dev huddle: This is to allow for conversations where devs need to get alignment without disrupting everyone else in our cross functional teams.

Cross-squad meetings

These are pretty self-explanatory: Meetings between multiple teams, or squads. Often I attend these meetings either as a subject matter expert, like for the Lending meeting shown here; I’m the only developer who comes to these meetings, and I’m expected to represent the needs of engineering, as well as to provide context for technical challenges and highlight opportunities. I’m not a core part of the makeup of this meeting, but I’m there to ensure any “Could we do X” questions have all the context they need.

Other examples of meetings like these are when I have meetings with the tech leads of other squads to make sure we’re aligned on new features that affect both of our areas of the application.

1:1s

I have regular catchups with a variety of people: I try to meet all the developers in the teams I lead at least once every two weeks. Alongside this I have regular slots with my manager, the Head of Engineering, and some of my peers in the SE5 role for mutual advice and support. I really enjoy learning what experiences people are having, and sharing some of my own.

Coding

Not all of my booked in focus time is for coding; sometimes it’s for reading/writing blogposts and documentation, but a lot of the reason I carve out a chunk of time in my diary is when I’ve got a specific piece of work I want to get done by a particular point in time to take it off my teams’ plate, or because I’m trying to drive out the wrinkles in a complicated technical implementation.

I spend a majority of my time as a multiplier at Cleo, ensuring that the right people have the right context at the right time, but it’s vital for my ability to remain a good representative of the engineers on my teams (as well as for my own joy and productivity) that I continue to contribute to delivery within my squads.

External meetings

Similar to cross squad meetings, I’m sometimes called on to represent either my team or engineering at Cleo in general to external partners, whether that’s a call with a solutions engineer for a new partner we’re considering working with to provide a service for our users, or on a call with our bank partner to help them understand the intricacies of the products they’re helping us to offer.

Extra time?

What do I do in time that isn’t booked? I’ll do little pieces of coding that fit in-between other work, or I’ll handle my emails or slack: I love to answers peoples questions on slack and I find it’s a good medium for some lighthearted chit-chat (a coworker recently let me know I’ve added an average of 2.31 emojis per month to slack since I started in mid 2019, to give you an idea). I am particularly fond of one of me pulling a comically unhappy face.

I try to be available for ad-hoc questions, but as often as I answer them myself, I find myself suggesting a better person to ask the question to, or someone who knows better than me. If I see an ad-hoc question coming up enough, I like to make a note to write some documentation about the thing being asked about.

In addition to this: I’m a human being. I leave my desk, get some water or some coffee, that sort of thing. I’m not at my desk every minute of every day, I use speedy meetings to give me some breathing room, and I’m a firm proponent of good asynchronous communication to support this. For this reason, my lunchtime is booked as out of office time: it automatically declines meetings booked during it, and asks people to message me if they really can’t find a better time.

So why did you write this?

I found myself fielding two interesting questions, which seemed somewhat contradictory: Questions from people I mentor, asking how I found time for all the things I do, and questions from people who rely on the outputs of my work, asking when I might be able to find time to focus on what they need. I decided to show how I work, and what I focus on, so that I could be transparent in my working: My calendar at work is accessible to everyone, but that felt incomplete without an explanation of what those meetings are to me, and why I feel they’re a useful (and enjoyable) part of my job at Cleo!

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