Management and the Hypergrowth Startup with Andrew Miller (2/3)

Welcome to episode 166 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of an interview with Andrew Miller, discussing Andrew’s journey into management of a pre-sales engineering team and move to a building a technical marketing team at a startup in hypergrowth mode.

Original Recording Date: 02-10-2022

Andrew Miller is a Principal Technologist within the Office of the CTO at Pure Storage. Follow him on Twitter here. Catch part 1 of our interview with Andrew in Episode 165.

Topics – Experience in Management, Advice for the Aspiring Manager, Remote Teams, Rubrik and Hypergrowth, Stress and Burnout

2:39 – Experience in Management

  • You don’t realize how hard a role is until you have done it.
  • Andrew had a partner SE that he got along with really well who would sometimes wander in conversations before getting to the point.
    • Andrew later realized this was about conveying bad news the right way. Some people need to be led into it carefully based on how they are doing, whereas others prefer the direct approach (just come right out and say it). These are learned patterns.
  • Andrew’s sister was a textbook editor in China for a while. Writing styles there are quite different and almost like multiple similar passes at proving the same point.
  • Wandering into management was interesting. He was at a partner for a number of years and head hunted away to Varrow (which grew from 30 to 150 employees) as an early SE.
    • The team had grown so much and did not want to lose talented SEs. In this case the company asked Andrew and a peer to act as managing SEs where half the team would roll up to each. They still worked with some of the high touch customers also.
    • Andrew’s peer eventually left, and he managed the whole team, becoming the first SE Manager at Varrow. At the time he was looking for new challenges.
    • The management role is a gratifying, fascinating psychological role that gives you the ability to build people up over time. It can be interesting to build a team.
    • He had a team of many who used to be his peers and needed to transition to people manager.
    • Andrew allowed his direct reports flexibility for when they would do 1-1 (weekly or every 2 weeks), but they still needed to do the 1-1s.
    • Someone recommended a manager basics podcast series to Andrew, and Andrew started listening.
      • Some of the recommendations from the podcasts were things Andrew had stumbled into and knew worked.
      • For 1-1s specifically, Andrew had a former boss who only called him when there was a problem. Andrew decided to have a good relationship with his people so that not every call was a fear of bad news.
      • A 1-1 for Andrew consists of things he wants to tell his employee, things he wants them to tell him, and news of anything high profile to get ahead of problems.
      • The cadence of communication was important.
      • Note that manager tools is a podcast we have referred to many times on the show.
    • So much of this is about caring about people.
    • Don Jones mentioned in Episode 137 and Episode 138 that leadership is a different job.
    • Andrew recommends reading What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.
      • Even if you don’t read the book, there so much in the phrase.
      • Think about the things that got you to where you are today as an individual contributor, for example. Maybe it’s attention to detail or knowing all the details. Those same skills might make you a micromanager as a leader.
      • As a manager, politics is not a dirty word. If there are people there is politics. You can be politically aware without playing politics and manage up (to your leadership chain, advocating for your team) and manage down (to your reports) well.
        • Not managing up well can do your team a disservice.
      • This is the idea of developing relationships / personal capital that you have time to develop now that you’re in the role.
      • When your team needs something you have the resources to help accomplish it (the personal capital). You have been put in a position to build up the capital and need to seize that opportunity.
  • Sometimes when hiring a people leader there is the concept of build versus buy. What skills would an employer pay for compared to those they would allow a person to develop?
    • Andrew says he would like someone with hard skills relatable to what the group to be managed does, but he would rather hire someone with initiative, with the emotional intelligence, who gets along with people. That person can then learn the hard skills.
    • If you’re interviewing for a manager role, what skills might be non-negotiable (things they need to buy)? These may not be spelled out in the job description. Think about how you want to present your skills so that someone will take a chance on you.

15:04 – Advice for the Aspiring Manager

  • There must be enough motivation (that goes outside yourself). Make sure to count the cost around whether this is a career step up and know you hold the careers of others in your hands.
  • It needs to be about more than "I just want the next step in my career."
  • It’s possible going into management may be the only role you see in front of you even though it isn’t what you want. Taking that path can end up burning some professional bridges.
    • Nick is reminded of Ethan Banks’ story from Episode 42. Ethan thought he wanted to be a manager and hated it.
    • Before his interview with Rubrik, Andrew spoke to Ethan Banks to get a sense of what Chris Wahl might be like (Andrew’s future boss).

17:20 – Remote Teams

  • Andrew’s management experience has only been with remote teams. The last time he went to an office every day was 2008.
  • There must be a regular communication cadence. Sometimes you need to go above and beyond (video calls instead of regular phone calls, etc.).
  • In some of these roles business travel is expected. Andrew has hired people who have had experience with it and some without it. He advises us to think about being able to juggle travel as a skill. If you have never done it before, you don’t really know how your body will react, how it will impact your family, etc.
    • If someone is not confident you can figure it out they may be reluctant to take a chance on you.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of 1-1s with reports.
  • Try to tease out someone’s self motivation during the interview process.
    • In pre-sales often times the output is well defined based on metrics (but not always).
    • In other roles the outcomes are not as clear, and defining expected output is harder.
    • Andrew shares a story of having a direct report set their own goals for success and then agreeing they would be the measurements. The person, however, struggled to meet their own goals.
  • It feels like before COVID / during COVID remote work is an expected job skill.
    • If you’re not able to work from home with good audio and video setup, it can be a hindrance. Put some time into resolving that (which may require some investment but can be small).
  • If there is a HQ (headquarters), there seems to be a HQ center of gravity.
    • For example, pre-sales folks often times work in the field and from home a lot of the time.
    • When the role is at HQ, if you’re remote you are the person on the conference call with more people in the room. You start to lose what is going on a bit.
    • Think about possibly compensating for this through regular trips to HQ.
    • This is a real fear of missing out. To some extent this is about emotional intelligence that may be lost through being remote.
      • For example, when we say John White or Andrew Miller, what is the emotion you experience?
      • You remember how you felt about a person you worked with even if you didn’t remember what they did specifically.
      • If the emotional response to the person on the other end is not positive, you can send some positive energy their way (through repetition). Think about how people perceive you.
  • For every negative interaction you need to have 8-10 positive interactions. We remember negative things more strongly. Be aware of this as you interact with people.

26:11 – Rubrik and Hypergrowth

  • The patterns managing technical marketing personnel at Rubrik were slightly different than those of managing technical pre-sales folks.
  • The SEs who worked for Andrew were a bit easier to get going.
  • Andrew was the first hire in technical marketing at Rubrik. He was hired to be part technical evangelist and part engineer, speaking at many events.
    • Andrew was also hired to build out a team. He hired 12 people during a 2-year period when the company went from 200 to about 1300 people.
    • It was a different level of management. He was generally focused on people who could bring in technical skills, public speaking, and writing. Some reports to Andrew required more help to develop than others.
    • It was a stretch of a role. Some of it may have been a result of being at a hypergrowth startup.
  • Andrew had been on the customer side for 7 years and on the partner side for 8 years at this point. Note that Varrow eventually became Sirius Computer Solutions.
    • Before Rubrik Andrew had taken some time off and began doing some networking when he returned.
    • There were opportunities at partners and some at EMC as well as the Rubrik role.
    • He looked back to the growth of Varrow and remembered how much he learned during that compressed period (if you can survive).
    • If a company is growing fast enough over time, it becomes a different company.
    • Andrew had not been on the vendor side of things before but was getting contacted about technical marketing roles. He tells us that technical marketing can mean different things based on whether it reports into product management, engineering, or marketing within an organization.
    • At this time, Rubrik was in the beginning of hypergrowth. Andrew thought about whether he would regret not taking the job and was really interested in seeing part of the industry.
    • At the end of 2 years it felt more like 5, but he learned so much.
      • Scott Lowe shared in Episode 153 why he prefers a startup environment.

31:50 – Stress and Burnout

  • Time zones stink and so did the pace. He was spending a lot of time in Palo Alto despite living on the east coast.
  • Andrew was enjoying this, and he was able to meet so many different people.
  • Rubrik was a high concentration of very capable people. Getting to see how so many aspects of it worked was exciting.
    • You start to see some of the dynamics of how a software vendor works.
  • Andrew realize he was starting to wander close to burnout.
    • Am I pushing hard enough, do I care enough, can I outwork the pace, and do I care enough about my team?
    • Andrew has huge respect for people who have longevity at startups.
  • Andrew really needed to pause and consider what he wanted to do next.
    • While it was an awesome period, his kids (twin boys) were growing up more.
    • He was fortunate enough to have career options.
    • Andrew wanted to pull back to something that would enable him to run pretty hard but not too fast (slow down a little bit).
    • Sometimes Andrew pushed hard enough, the only thing he knew to do was to take a pause (no way to dial it back).
  • John says it is interesting that there are multiple stressors here – time zones, travel, having 12 direct reports, etc. You may be able to handle some of them but not all of them.
  • Andrew interviewed around 100 people during this period.
    • When he worked at the partners it was hard to find talent. When working at Rubrik there were so many talented people who wanted to get into the company that there had to be a way to filter down the interviews.
    • You become keenly aware of how important networking is. Remediating hiring risk can be done by looking at a person’s network.
    • For fast growing companies, it isn’t just about the resume. It’s about building a strong network that can be leveraged for opportunities.
    • Nick mentioned the energy one can get from networking with people inside and outside the company or through attending conferences and its capability to make up for a lack of sleep.
    • There’s also new employee syndrome. For the first two or three months you’re in burst mode. You start to be a known quantity.
      • When your company is growing that fast, it’s like every quarter it is a new company. You’re essentially needing to be in that high energy burst mode all the time.
    • Paying specific attention to political waters is yet another stressor per John. Handling multiple stressors continuously like this absolutely could lead someone to burnout.

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