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Pat Kua on Different Flavors of Tech Leadership

Lead Time Chats: Season 3, Episode 5 Takeaways

November 17, 2021

In this episode of Lead Time Chats, Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering at Range, chats with Pat Kua, seasoned engineering leaders and founder of Tech Lead Academy, about the different flavors of tech leadership.

Pat and Jean discuss:

  • Different archetypes of tech leadership, including engineering managers, staff engineers, tech leads, and senior ICs.
  • The importance of influence without authority
  • The implicit values that your company incentivizes, that may or may not be aligned with stated values
  • Applying systems thinking from technical systems to people and teams

Additional Resources:

Takeaways from Pat

Look at the system to change behavior

“As an individual contributor on a team, you add a lot of value through writing code, building features, but if you want to have that long lasting change, you kind of have to understand what's driving people within that organization and system.

That's where for me, the systems-thinking perspective comes in. It's very hard to change a person if they see their role as a certain function within an organization. You have to think about, what's going to incentivize them to want to adopt new ways of working or change behavior.”

Manage the team environment, not people

“I go back to Grace Hopper, who talks about, you don't manage people, you lead people and manage things. The thing for engineering managers to focus on is managing the system. What does that mean for engineering managers? It's not the people. There's line management, but you don't have to literally tell them what they're doing that day, like you're working with brilliant people.

The system is the team environment which they work in. How do people know what's most important as a team? How do they know how to help each other? And a lot of people don't understand that that is kind of a key part for engineering managers to focus on — improving that system to help sort of team flow.

That's a trap that I see quite a lot, in that people see engineering management as, I manage the people on my team versus the environment in which they work”

Create a visual model to build your systems-thinking muscle

“I often just encourage people to create a visual model of like, what are these connections? It's often just very useful to sort of say, okay, these things affect each other, these have these results, and you end up building a web of interesting interconnection.

And just simply through that process of externalizing model, I think people start to see things that are maybe connected together that they didn't realize were very connected. I think one of the issues that we have for the Western education system at least is we tend to break everything up into tiny parts, cause and effect, we affect input, we should affect output as a result. And so it's a very unusual way because we're not really encouraged to think about seeing a web of interconnected elements.”

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About Lead Time Chats

Listen in on unscripted conversations between Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering at Range and engineering leadership coach, and engineering leaders and other influential folks in tech.

Lead Time Chats is brought to you by Range. Range helps hybrid teams check-in asynchronously about what matters most. Know what's happening through status updates that pull from tools like Github and JIRA without scheduling yet another meeting.

Checking-in with Range creates more focus time for heads-down work, all while feeling a deeper sense of connection and belonging with your team. To learn more about Range, you can check it out here.

Season 3 Episodes

» Episode 1: Jen Kim on how startups can hire better

» Episode 2: Kate Heddleston on managing burnout on your team

» Episode 3: Jessie Duan on the Chief of Staff to CTO role

» Episode 4: Dan Na on pushing through friction

Season 2 Episodes

» Episode 1: Camille Fournier on making boring plans

» Episode 2: Tess Rinearson on early career engineering managers

» Episode 3: Kim Scott on building for systemic justice

» Episode 4: Sumeet Arora on moving on from a big company

» Episode 5: Rachael Stedman on IC manager work

» Episode 6: Chris Bee on Behaviors of Effective Eng Leaders

» Episode 7: Lynne Tye on the Engineering Hiring Landscape

» Episode 8: Beau Lebens on Distributed Team Meetups

» Episode 9: Indrajit Khare on Getting Acquired by Google

» Episode 10: Jack Danger on Technical Debt

» Episode 11: Sarah Milstein on Successful Remote and Hybrid Teams

Season 1 Episodes

» Episode 1: Will Larson on the path of the senior engineer

» Episode 2: Duretti Hirpa on mentoring junior and mid-level engineers

» Episode 3: Cate Huston on working with an external coach

» Episode 4: Juan Pablo Buriticá on common eng manager mistakes

» Episode 5: Gergely Orosz on the decision to go into management

» Episode 6: Lara Hogan on leading effectively in a pandemic

» Episode 7: Kaya Thomas on common early career engineer challenges

» Episode 8: Uma Chingunde on starting a VPE role in a pandemic

» Episode 9: Katie Wilde on supporting your team's mental health

» Episode 10: Akhil Gupta on navigating uncertainty in new roles

» Episode 11: Harper Reed on giving everyone a voice in team meetings

» Episode 12: Marc Hedlund on sponsorship

S3 E5: Pat Kua on Different Flavors of Tech Leadership
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