HomeCoder To LeaderManaging people is very different from managing projects – Archana Kamath, Senior Engineering Manager at Digital Ocean
Managing people is very different from managing projects – Archana Kamath, Senior Engineering Manager at Digital Ocean
June 29, 2020
Hello! What’s your background and what do you do?
My name is Archana Kamath and I am a Senior Engineering Manager, leading the Software Network Engineering group at DigitalOcean. I have been with Digital Ocean since March 2018. I currently manage three software engineering teams consisting of 30 engineers working on core SDN features and services like Virtual Private Cloud, Load Balancers, Cloud Firewalls, DNS & Domains, IP Address Management, Floating IP, Hypervisor Networking(using OVS), MPLS, Cloud Gateways and so on.
Prior to joining DigitalOcean, I was with Cisco for around 10 years, working on Software Networking features for the Nexus line of switches and routers. I completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Communications in India and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from PennState.
Networking has been my life! Starting with ASIC design for Network on Chips during my Masters, to software engineering for Physical Switches and Routers, and more recently Networking in the Virtualization, Hypervisor Networking and SDN space, it’s been a long interesting journey where I got to learn the evolution of the Network.
I was also One of the founding members and Global Chair for Women In Science and Engineering (WISE), an employee resource organization driving the diversity initiative at Cisco. WISE was committed to helping women in all roles and levels move towards their career and personal goals.
How was your transition from software development to management like?
My transition to management was fairly organic. I started off as an IC, moved to a feature lead managing a project end to end, and then eventually taking on the people management aspect along with the technical management. I have always been a very hands on programmer and the biggest challenge for me while moving to management was letting go of programming on a day to day basis. My style has always been collaborative, so the people management part was not a hard transition.
The core of management is caring for your teams and your people. You do that while helping the team solve interesting challenges and collaborating cross functionally to get things moving. From a “do-er”, you transition to being an enabler. Your success and satisfaction as a manager is tied to the success of your teams.
What does your day-to-day work look like, and what motivates you to do it every day?
My day to day has evolved over time as I have moved between different levels of management, each with a different scope, starting from managing Engineers directly to managing Managers and Architects.
Just prior to my first role as a people manager, I was the Tech/Feature Lead for the team. I did a fair amount of coding during that transition time, while I was coaching one of the Engineers in the team to take on the role of the Tech Lead in my stead. One of the main things I realized during that time was that, as a manager, I was the voice of the team, and I will not be able to do that effectively till I am able to delegate some of the technical responsibilities to the right folks in the team. This was also an excellent opportunity for them to grow into a new leadership role as well, and my success was measured by how effectively I can empower my teams.
My day to day as a direct manager involved working 1:1 with all my team members to make sure they are happy, motivated and growing in their careers following a path of their choosing; handle complex cross functional dependencies with peer managers to ensure on time deliverables; constantly work with product managers to ensure customer satisfaction for the products my teams supported; manage multiple product and cross functional asks coming in to drive effective, high performing teams. The same concept follows you when you transition from managing Engineers directly to managing Managers. Your success depends on how well you can empower your managers to take care of their teams. Delegation is key here as well.
My current day to day involves driving the direction for Networking Software at DigitalOcean as a whole to align with our business priorities. Doing that in a way that aligns with the team mission and motivates people to innovate everyday and bring in their best is what I focus the most on. My days are fluid, involving working with my Architects and Managers to set short, medium and long term goals for the teams, working with the Executive team to ensure I create transparency around the challenges that the teams are working through, ensure that I am able to translate business asks into buildable pieces for the teams, work cross functionally with my peers so that we are working towards one common goal, work with customers and product managers to understand product needs and tie that back into the roadmap and so on.
In my short two years here, DigitalOcean has provided the most dynamic and rewarding opportunities for me personally to work on. I started at DO managing the team responsible for Hypervisor Networking and IP Address Management. From there, my role expanded to take on DO’s Virtual Private Cloud offering as well, which went to General Availability just recently on April 28th! A team of 10 has built what is usually handled by multiple large teams at bigger cloud provider companies, so it was an intensely proud moment for me and my team. Beginning of this year, my role expanded to manage the entirety of DO’s software networking stack. So over time, the multiple opportunities for me to grow both professionally and personally is what has kept me motivated.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges I faced early on was delegation. It is very easy to fall into the habit of trying to do everything yourself when your role expands. I quickly realized that was not scalable and for me to be able to represent my team well, I needed to trust and delegate. That is probably the most valuable advice I would give to any new manager – Build your team to be able to trust and delegate.
Another key aspect of management that I had to learn was how to tie in the business goals to your team goals. It sounded easy technically, but can be challenging. Tying what motivates individual team members to what adds value to the business is one of the challenges I get to solve day to day even today. This is very fluid and is very dependent on individual engineers and what motivates them. There is no single easy formula to figure this problem out and that makes it an interesting problem to solve.
What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?
Be empathetic – Managing people is very different from managing projects. As a manager, you will have to balance both. One may be easier for you than the other, recognizing what that is and actively working on it is important.
Accountability is important – One of my managers I respect the most supported the concept of Radical Candor, which is something I practice to a certain degree as well. It is described as being the sweet spot between extreme aggressiveness and ruinous empathy. It is about building strong relationships with your employees by helping them see where they shine and what they need to work on to get them to the next level. You do this by genuinely keeping the employees best interests at heart. (I highly recommend the book to any new manager)
Trust and delegate – This ties into my point above of trust. Trust is always a two way street and to build the most effective teams, a manager needs to be able to trust their teams and delegate where needed.
Be fluid and nimble, no one size fits all – I feel a good manager is always nimble and ready to work in a dynamic fast paced environment with equally dynamic people. You need to be agile and constantly innovate to keep up with the pace of Cloud Networking. Which makes it one of the most challenging and rewarding areas to be working in for me personally.
Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?