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1 on 1 with Engineering Leaders: GitHub Senior Engineering Manager Brooks Swinnerton

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

Last week we shared an interview with Tara Ellis, Manager, UI Engineering at Netflix. This week we’re sharing an interview with Brooks Swinnerton, Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub. Brooks shares his advice for those that are considering careers in engineering or engineering management below.

You can find even more from the interview with Brooks on the Code Climate blog, where Brooks shares his thoughts on hackathons and the most interesting engineering advice he ever received.

Q: What interested you about engineering when you were just starting out?

I think the ability to tinker and build something from scratch is really what drives me and the world of engineering. I find it just absolutely fascinating that you can take an amorphous idea that you have and turn it into a reality.

I find that the ability to create that is so fun and exciting — and frustrating at times. But it's kind of this murder mystery novel that you're constantly trying to get to the bottom of. And when you finally figure out how to make that thing work, it's a fantastic feeling.

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

Looking back on my time getting into engineering, things like hackathons were a really interesting and fascinating way to meet people under pressure and try and figure out how to build something. But those take up time. You do those on the weekend and not everyone has those opportunities.

But especially now, in this time of COVID, there are a lot more resources that are out in the open. And whether it's using something like Codecademy to familiarize yourself with a new programming language or watching YouTube videos, there are so many opportunities on the internet now to enter the world of engineering. I think just fully utilizing the power of YouTube and blogs and tools like Codecademy is really awesome.

Q: What advice do you have for engineers who are considering management one day?

If it's something that you know you want to try out, stepping into a technical leadership role is a really fantastic way to try it out. You can get a little bit more autonomy and more responsibility for a subset of your work. You'll build those organizational skills that may or may not be related to coding every day.

But the most impactful work that you can do before moving into engineering management, if that's what you're looking to do, is to influence others. That may be other teams — or that may be your peers. Try to influence in such a way that you're pushing the organization forward or pushing your team forward. That could be engineering practices, like the way that folks review code, or the technical direction of the company. Seek out those opportunities and take advantage of them.

Q: Once someone is sure they want to become a manager, are there any specific skills they can build to prepare while they’re in an IC role?

The thing that I've realized over time is that engineering management is a lot about communication. I think a lot about the game of telephone that I played in grade school where one person's communicating to another like this term or sentence or something like that. And by the end of it, it gets completely misconstrued from what the first person said.

I think a lot about that from the perspective of being an effective engineering manager. Being able to distill down the things that you're hearing from folks on your team — what areas you need to solve and what problems that we need to solve. And communicating that upwards, as well as communicating information from leadership, downwards to your team.

It's very easy to have a miscommunication of “this is the most important thing that we need to work on and here's why.” The role of an engineering manager, I think, is really effectively communicating changes. And that's probably the best thing to brush up on.

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

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1 on 1 with Engineering Leaders: GitHub Senior Engineering Manager Brooks Swinnerton
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