Moby, vice president of engineering for an established software company, looked around bemusedly. A meeting in not-his-usual conference room had taken him into “engineer country,” as he thought of it. He knew that he had engineers working for him, because his managers kept coming to him with updates on their progress and requests for this and that thing the engineers claimed would make them more efficient.
But, actually seeing real live engineers in the flesh was a whole different ballgame. “So this is where all my budget goes,” Moby thought as he looked around. Offices and cubbies with doors, open space, tables and chairs at various heights, whiteboards and smart displays, all intertwined amongst each other. And people, people everywhere. Sitting, standing, kneeling, conversing, staring at screens, arguing, typing and drawing and mousing furiously…Moby didn’t know what to make of it all. It seemed so random. “I get, now, why people say managing engineers is like herding cats,” he thought. “I can’t imagine getting all these people going in the same direction. Maybe I could dangle Nerf guns in their faces and lure them along?” He’d heard engineers liked Nerf guns. Although he didn’t see any lying around here.
New perspectives are everywhere
Suddenly, one of the knots of engineers lost a member. Who headed straight for Moby. With a big grin on their face and their hand out, as if in greeting. “Oh great, I have to talk with one of these creatures?” he thought. “That’s what I have managers for. Well, no getting out of it now.”
“Hi there, Moby, my name’s Logan. I’ll be your tour guide today,” the person said.
“Umm, hi there, Logan, nice to meet you. I’m Moby. Although I guess you know that,” Moby answered bemusedly. “How do you know who I am?”
“Oh, we all know you,” Logan answered. “And we appreciate everything you do for us.”
Moby felt taken aback. He didn’t do anything for them. Other than mostly approve all those random requests for random things. “You are most welcome,” he said graciously. “And, I gratefully accept your services as tour guide.”
“I know you’re super busy, so I won’t keep you long. What are you most curious about?”
Curiosity is key
“How do you turn all this chaos into software?” Moby blurted out. His face turned red with embarrassment. He was the vice president of engineering, for crying out loud. He should know this. Why had it never occurred to him to ask?
Logan laughed. “I am glad you asked. I can talk about this all day. Let me know a few minutes before you need to go and I’ll wrap up.”
Logan proceeded to lead Moby all over the engineering department. Logan was indeed a good tour guide, and he did have a lot to say. The more questions Logan answered, the more questions Moby had. He ignored his phone’s pings, and even turned it to silent mode when they started coming fast and furious. He was learning more about how his department worked today than he had learned in the six months he’d been on the job. Than he had bothered to learn, he admitted to himself.
Finally, after what seemed both hours and barely a few minutes, Moby held up his hands in the classic “time out” signal. “My brain is beyond full,” Moby informed Logan. “I still have so many questions. But, I need to process everything you’ve told me before I have room to consume any more answers.”
Opportunities come from unexpected directions
“Not a problem,” Logan said. “It’s a lot to take in all at once. You have good questions. I understand now why they gave you the job when your predecessor retired. We all wondered, what with you coming from marketing and all. That’s not a typical move. Everyone’s going to feel a lot better after I report back.”
“I thought the executive team was crazy, too,” Moby divulged to Logan. “I came to interview for the head of marketing position. That’s what I’ve always done. When they offered me the VP of Engineering position, I was flabbergasted. But, I needed the job, and I figured managing at that level was the same regardless of the division. And that’s how I’ve been treating it. You, though, have opened my eyes.”
“I am really impressed with how you all balance structure with flexibility. In my past roles, I never considered everything it takes to build the products I was marketing. So many moving parts! Now I understand why we can’t just ship whenever we want. I can’t understand how you keep track of it all.”
“It’s not always an easy task. And, we don’t always get it all right. But, overall, we do a pretty good job. Thank you for your compliment, and for your interest. Thank you also for proving a point I’ve been making since you took the job.”
Everyone intends to be helpful
Moby’s eyebrows rose in interest. “Oh? What point is that?”
“That you have been meaning to be helpful from the start. Some of the things you’ve asked for, we didn’t see the point. Some even slowed us down. But I kept saying you were doing your best to be helpful.”
“Yes, I always was. Am. Thank you for helping me do that a little better today.”
“You’re welcome! You’re also welcome to stop by anytime. The more we can help you do your job, the more you’ll be able to help us do ours.”
“No visitor’s pass required?” Moby asked with a chuckle.
“Not at all. You’re welcome anytime,” Logan reiterated.
Moby thanked Logan again and then headed back to his office. Pulling out his phone as he went, he noticed he’d missed the executive team meeting. Oops. “Not ‘oops,’” he thought. “I have so much to tell them now. And so much to do.” Moby overflowed with more energy than he had felt in a long time. He was starting to feel less like a manager and more like the leader he’d always wanted to be.