November 29, 2022
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Life at Cleo

My First Month as an Engineering Manager

Stu joined Cleo 6 weeks ago – he’s basically part of the furniture now! He tells us what he’s been up to since joining.

First month at Cleo..? Completed it!

As I step into my second month as an Engineering Manager at Cleo, I’d love to share with you my journey so far and what is in store for the future.

Ermmm…what’s an EM?

The role of Engineering Manager, or “EM'' for short, varies from company to company. For Cleo, an EM is a people leader that sits within the Engineering department and oversees several squads. 

During my first week my time was spent attending Cleo’s business-level onboarding. Ranging from learning about the product to what makes Cleo’s culture, each session was run by various members of the business, providing their own perspectives. This helped me to build some solid foundations and I was able to start exploring what the EM role means to Cleo.

To help explain what EMs do, it's best to start with what Software Engineers do. At risk of oversimplifying things, our Engineers continuously enhance the product, improving its performance and ensuring the various parts connect seamlessly into a rich and pleasing user journey. EMs conduct a very similar role but with a slight variance to the formula. They too look to improve the performance of disparate parts, promoting a growth mindset and adapting the strategy based upon the feedback being received.

It’s not the software that we pour our efforts into though - it’s the Squads, the Engineers the Squads are composed of and the processes they follow. Whereas our Engineers are focused on the welfare of the software, EMs concerns lie with the welfare of our people. 

Think of us as Peopleware Engineers.

Meeting People

One of Cleo’s core values is Bring Good Vibes; bringing our whole selves to work and looking for opportunities to help one another. I’ve found that by spending time meeting people (both remotely and face-to-face in the London office) I’ve been able to put my best foot forward and get to know what motivates the people around me. From here I can start to understand how my role slots into people’s respective worlds and identify potential collaborations.

As an EM, I see it that the Engineers I lead both provide and receive a service from the various stakeholders within the business. I therefore wear the hat of a sudo Customer Service Manager, ensuring that the services being exchanged between Engineering and accompanying departments are happening effectively. Meeting people and building relationships is not just a perk of my role - I see it as a necessity.

121s

I give a little more of my time to some people than others - my direct reports. I’m fortunate enough to oversee two squads; Sea Otters and Shire. Across these two squads we have people with a broad range of experience, from several global locations and varying walks of life. I’ve been catching up with each of them on a weekly basis to hear their own respective stories, sharing my own and starting to identify potential ways that I can help with their career progression.

Interviewing

We’re actively growing as a business and therefore it was no surprise that by the end of my second week I was already interviewing for some of our open roles. With my own Cleo interview experience still fresh in my mind from 3 months prior, it gave me a unique perspective of being able to empathise with the candidates whilst sharing my own experiences with Cleo from interview through to onboarding. 

This feels like the perfect time for a shameless plug to take a look at some of our Engineering roles at Cleo

Sprint Ceremonies

Another  core value at Cleo is Learn At Speed. When it comes to joining a new Engineering department, there’s no better way to learn at speed than immersing yourself in the squad’s Scrum ceremonies. Sitting in on each squad’s ceremonies has given me the chance to see how they operate, observe the rapport between its members and formulate educated opinions rather than busting in with a “let’s change this as it’s how I’ve always done it” mentality.

Delivery Data & Metrics

At  Cleo we use data extensively to continuously learn about customers and the impact we’re having upon them. This doesn’t just stop at monitoring applications and measuring click-through rates though. Using our software delivery tool (Jira), grass-roots surveys and good old fashion conversation, we are constantly assessing the delivery performance and wellbeing of our engineering squads. On a regular basis, myself and my fellow EMs get together and look for trends in the data that appear to be causing blockers to delivery or undesirable vibes amongst squads. From here, we have the autonomy to Make It Happen by proposing process improvements and trying to optimise the engineering experience at Cleo.

What’s been the biggest surprise so far?

I’ve worked for many companies that have tried to align themselves with agile principles. 

One aspect that I’m proud to say that we at Cleo excel at is the concept of cross-functional teams. Prior to Cleo, I’ve been content with a cross-functional team consisting of some developers, some testers and a product manager. 90% of the time this set-up has worked perfectly but every once in a while, these teams have had blindspots that have hindered delivery – some examples include: 

“What’s this new user interface going to look like? Ah….we best book in some time with the Design Team”.

“I hear what you’re saying, but what data is backing this decision to proceed with Feature A over Feature B?”

“We shipped Widget X last week. Who in Product Analytics do I need to speak with to see if it's having the desired outcome?”

These inter-departmental dependencies end up slowing delivery down and often result in undesirable 11th hour conversations. 

At Cleo, as you’d expect, each squad contains highly competent, engaged Engineers and a visionary Product Manager. We go several steps further though, amplifying our squads’ effectiveness by accompanying our Engineers and Product Managers with Copywriters, Designers, Product Analysts, and Researchers - all embedded within the same squad that constitute of around ten truly cross-functional members. 

The symbiotic relationship between each role enables our squads to be refreshingly autonomous; planning, designing, building, and validating software within very small feedback loops. 

Due to this make-up of squads, I’ve already observed several squads plan, release and either prove or disprove their hypotheses in short spaces of time. Having only been with the company for 5 weeks, this has left me pleasantly surprised and incredibly excited for what we’re capable of achieving in the future. 

What does the future have in store?

The job of an EM at Cleo is ever-evolving. Myself and my fellow EMs are therefore constantly evaluating what we want to get out of the role and more importantly, how we can make ourselves as effective as possible in leading our Engineers. 

Amongst other things, over the coming months we are planning to:

  • Build upon our Engineering Progression Framework. The existing progression framework has done an excellent job of guiding our engineers to date. However, as Cleo continues to grow and evolve, we want to ensure that the clarity and opportunities for personal development grow with the frameworks.
  • Hiring, hiring, hiring! Have I mentioned yet that Cleo is growing? In addition to the hunt for more awesome Backend and Frontend engineers, we’re also looking for another Engineering Manager to join us and a Director of Engineering to help us get from good to great! 
  • Enhancing the Engineering Manager's role profile.They say that “cobbler’s children have no shoes” and it stands true here. Historically the roles, responsibilities and progression framework for our Engineers have been a priority to define…and rightfully so! As Cleo continues to grow however, we want to ensure us Engineering Managers have as much guidance and clarity possible to support our teams and grow ourselves.

If you think that the EM role sounds like something you’d enjoy, please get in touch with Annie, our Head of Talent, at annie@meetcleo.com.

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