1 on 1 with Engineering Leaders: CircleCI VP of Product Engineering Lena Reinhard


Codecademy for Business and our friends at Code Climate have been meeting with engineering leaders to talk about their career journeys, leadership tactics, and their advice for the next generation of engineers in an interview series, 1 on 1 with Engineering Leaders.

We’ve had conversations with Tara Ellis of Netflix, Brooks Swinnerton of GitHub, and Gergely Nemeth of Intuit. In this latest installment, Hillary Nussbaum of Code Climate speaks with Lena Reinhard, VP of Product Engineering at CircleCI.

Here on the Codecademy blog, Lena shares advice for those considering careers in engineering or engineering management. You can find more from this week’s interview on the Code Climate blog, where Lena shares her thoughts on leading through hyper growth, and Hollywood depictions of bad managers.

While Lena isn’t an engineer herself, she’s been in the developer tool space for six years and says, “I’ve always been fascinated by technology and how it’s shaping the world for people.”

Q: What advice do you have for people who might be considering a career in engineering?

Figure out if it’s for you and, if you want to give it a shot, try it! Finding role models and people who are like you and whose career paths you want to take inspiration from can be a really good thing, especially now that there’s a more diverse group of people than there used to be in the past.

I also think just staying curious and constantly learning is important. The industry is evolving really fast and that can be quite a lot to process sometimes. There’ve been a lot of critical movements over the last couple of years, especially around dev-ops and other cultural shifts. Stay curious and stay connected to the broader industry and to developments in the space. The other movement that’s of course been really big has been about increasing diversity and inclusion. Stay connected to these fundamental shifts in how the industry operates.

Finally, I’d say finding one’s own path is important. Especially for members of underrepresented groups, it can sometimes still be tricky to get into the industry or find a way to connect if you don’t have connections with people who are in it yet. But find a path that works for you and that also aligns with where you want to go in your career and the things that really interest you. With engineering, there is a lot that’s different from more traditional industries, and so it can be an opportunity for people to find their niche, or carve out their own niche.

Q: What advice do you have for engineers who are considering management one day? And are there any specific skills that they should be working on to prepare for managing people?

So there’s a few. I think one is definitely building relationships and being able to connect with people. I am probably more of an introvert than a really extroverted person, and I basically found out ways to be able to build those connections without having to do networking or some other thing that I really absolutely despise and that I’m just also not really good at. I think it’s important to understand people in general — what drives people, what motivates them, how they think. Motivating factors and incentives are really important to understand, so you know how to engage with people, how to help them work towards a task, help them understand context, those kinds of things.

Systems thinking and the ability to abstract are also important skills, especially for anyone who’s looking to move from an engineering background into management.

Project management fundamentals are always great, just because you’re ultimately going to be accountable for people delivering things and having business impact, and being able to manage through that is really helpful.

I also think leadership skills are important — just being able to rally people and set context and give direction. I also have found it really useful to be able to develop a relatively solid, although high level, understanding of a space or domain without having worked in it in depth. I also see those skills in more senior engineers, who are able to gather context and either form opinions or gather different opinions and try and understand the bigger picture and how it ties into a system. That’s really helpful. I think it can come from something as simple as just reading a lot and reading from varied contexts and different authors and on different subjects.

It’s a bit of a debate in our industry also, but I would suggest not focusing on being the most senior engineer as a way of getting promoted into a management role. Technical skills are really important, but especially for anyone who eventually moves into a role that’s more people-management focused, it usually becomes really difficult to stay up to date with technology. And so I’d say, of course keep honing the engineering skills, but focus on building out more core skills that relate to management roles in a broader sense.

For more about Lena’s career journey and leadership strategies, head over to the Code Climate blog.

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