If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. It may be a cliche, but I can honestly say I love what I do.
For the past 20+ years, I’ve held a wide variety of executive engineering roles, culminating in my current role as the chief engineering officer at Boomi, the pioneer of cloud-based integration platform as a service (iPaaS) and now a category-leading global software as a service (SaaS) company.
So, what does a chief engineering officer actually do? The CEngO is accountable for executing on the company’s product vision and delivering measurable value to customers. To do that, we hire, mentor, and lead great teams that build, test, deliver, secure, maintain, and operate the systems that help meet – and ideally exceed – customers’ requirements.
How I plan my time
My responsibilities fall across a wide spectrum, but I try to block out chunks of time for the most important priorities. For example, I try to reserve 35-40 percent of my time for tactical operations, 30-35 percent dedicated to people, and 15-20 percent on innovation and strategic thinking.
Making time for my team
Since this role is about leading teams, I make sure to allow plenty of time for it. Each week, I spend at least 30 minutes with each of my direct reports one-on-one, and another hour with everyone together in our staff meetings with key stakeholders from other teams e.g., HR, CISO, procurement, etc.
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We have an all-hands monthly with Ask Me Anything sessions, but I also like to have skip-level online coffee chat sessions with team members. These are very informal meetings that give folks a chance to get to know me and vice versa. I also support our patents council along with our chief legal officer, and sponsor employee resource groups, including immigration as well as R&D DEI initiatives, which are key to our culture.
Tactical operational responsibilities
This is what most people think of as an engineering leader’s job. As part of Boomi’s executive leadership team, we spend two hours each week discussing key metrics, what’s important to the business, what’s going on in the market, and so forth. It’s critical we do this to keep the pulse on our tens of thousands of customers and ensure we’re bringing the best of Boomi to them.
I work closely with the chief innovation officer to review biweekly updates from each team. One of the things we use to focus these updates is the idea of “highlights and headlights.” Highlights are achievements you’re proud of and want to share with the team. Headlights are risks – those “deer in the headlights” moments that we do not want to be surprised by, so we help teams mitigate those risks or remove obstacles.
And then of course there’s the day-to-day work of running engineering for a big, innovative SaaS business. I need to pay attention to how the teams are doing on roadmap delivery, tech debt, defects, maintenance, service uptime, performance, cost, working with partners, and so on.
It’s easy to get caught up in the tactical work, so I make sure to reserve time for high-level plans and strategy. This means following tech news and blogs to stay abreast of the latest in technology trends, keeping an eye on market news, reading the latest analyst research, meeting ups with my peers in our private equity portfolio companies, and more.
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It’s important for me not just to be on top of the technology, but to understand where we’re taking the business in the future. This kind of thinking is what helped lead to Gartner positioning Boomi as a Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Integration Platform as a Service (EiPaaS) for eight consecutive years.
From engineer to executive
My background is in engineering, and I’m still a builder at heart. When I first started working in software development, I did consulting engagements for different industries at Fortune 100 companies, including at a large UK telecom vendor, a market-leading U.S. cereal maker, and even inside a nuclear power plant. Seeing the impact my work had on these mission-critical applications really piqued my interest.
I realized early on that there are only so many things you can learn in one role. Sometimes you need to make a sideways career move to broaden your experience. And sometimes that move will feel like a risk.
For instance, at one point in my career I was running an engineering team for a foundational technology for all of Oracle’s applications products. But I felt that I needed to learn more about business strategy to prepare myself for the next career level, so I took a big risk and left that stable management role to transfer into a new product strategy team as an individual contributor. I learned all the ropes as a newbie, and later led a small customer success/engineering team for a new integration product.
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That bet paid off over time by opening many doors. Oracle’s acquisition spree over the next few years gave me the opportunity to drive development strategy for thousands of engineers, accelerated my leadership experience, and gave me countless other learning opportunities. I ended up going back into an engineering leadership role to build a highly visible cloud DevOps team, which led to increasing responsibilities for cloud provisioning of all middleware products.
Looking back, it took time, but that one risk nudged my career towards executive leadership.
Ultimately, what makes an engineering leader successful is the ability to foster effective collaboration among not just engineers, but people across the business. To do that effectively, you need a broad base of experience and a deep empathy for what the rest of the business does.
The “translator” role is the most challenging aspect. It’s easy for other executives to view engineering as a bunch of techies and dismiss their ideas or requests as not sufficiently business-oriented. You will need to build trust in R&D across the executive team and help them develop an understanding of what R&D does.
On the other hand, you will also need to coach engineers to understand that we serve the business, and that we have limited budget and need to manage to capacity while remaining competitive, so not all technical projects will get funded.
This is the reality of software development across the industry. Any engineering executive leadership role helps translate between the folks who build stuff and the ones who build the business around that stuff, so that everyone is aligned towards the organization’s success.
Advice for emerging engineering leaders
If you’re thinking of getting into software engineering, here’s my advice: Just do it. It’s a high-demand career, and there is a continual lack of strong talent in the industry. You’ll find almost limitless opportunities once you get started. And there has never been a better time to do so, with many technological advancements that have lowered barriers to entry.
As you move into management, though, it’s important to remember that your job is no longer to code – it’s to satisfy customer requirements and meet business goals. When you’re an engineering leader, you no longer need to just build the best technical framework – you need to solve customer problems.
It’s a great field. If you enjoy problem-solving, there are lots of interesting problems to solve both as an engineer and as a leader. You will have many opportunities to drive your career. And you will truly make an important impact. Best of luck!
[ What is a ‘day in the life’ like in your role? If you’d like to participate in this series, reach out here! ]