Life as an Engineering Manager

The purpose of article series ‘Life as a…’ is to capture and share what it’s really like to be working within the profession and sector. We feature, showcase and share knowledge, expert views and wisdom. Authentic. Insightful.

Here, Sally Goble, Senior Engineering Manager at Accurx shares their take.

In approx. 30 words and plain English, what do you do?

Sally: I help create an environment where software engineers can be happy and work to their full potential! Which in turn means we ship more and better products to our customers, faster.

What’s your background, what has been your career journey so far leading you to where you are right now?

Sally: My career journey has been very very winding. I started out with a degree in Theoretical Physics, followed by a postgraduate diploma in Theatre Studies. Then some years working in the theatre industry as a lighting and sound engineer. Having become disillusioned with long hours and terrible pay in the theatre, I moved, completely by chance, into print production of magazines just at the time when technology – and Apple Macintosh computers – were being used to revolutionise the publishing industry. I helped companies understand the new technologies they were using and embrace the Internet. From there it was a hop to digital publishing and a career in tech. I started at the Guardian working in the digital team as a tester/QA and now after a few companies and changes, I’m an Engineering Manager.

What do you like most about your job?

Sally: Truly, I love that every day – sometimes every hour – is completely different. I love that I have lots of autonomy to make an impact, I love that my job is a mixture of strategic thinking and putting out burning fires! But most of all I love helping software engineers have a great experience at work. I have had some great managers – but I’ve also had some really terrible ones – and I know the impact that having a great (or terrible) manager can have on your working life and your sanity. I strive to be one of the good ones for the people I manage.

What has been your career highlight so far?

Sally: Probably setting up an apprenticeship scheme when I worked at a previous company. I lobbied for it, partnered with a great apprenticeship provider, and interviewed many many candidates for four places on a software engineer apprenticeship scheme. All four successful candidates were from completely different backgrounds and walks of life – two of them were mums who were returning to work after having kids – and the other two had successful careers in different industries. Now all four of them are successful software engineers. They did all of the hard work, I just gave them an opportunity to change their lives. I couldn’t be more proud of them!

What are 3 key things you consider when choosing an employer?

Sally: Oh gosh! Interesting question!

1. For me, a company has to have a mission that I can get behind – I’ve learned that the hard way. It’s fantastic working for a company you really believe in.

2. There has to be a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Not just in a little bit of small print at the bottom of the job ad, but in reality. Before I even apply for a job I’ll look at the company website or at LinkedIn, at the company page, click on the list of people who work there – and if it’s all white men, I’m not even going to bother. I wish we had more age diversity in the tech industry as well as the obvious other diversity characteristics.

3. I have to know that I’m going to be trusted to do my job. There’s nothing more demoralising and frustrating than being employed to do a job and then someone more senior than you thinking that they know better than you and just telling you what to do.

What 3 top tips would you give someone to ensure that their skills and knowledge remain top notch?

Sally: I guess it depends on what field you are in. I read blogs, articles, sometimes books by other engineering leaders, and go to conferences. I also have a network of peers doing similar roles elsewhere who I meet up with regularly to talk through problems and get insights from them about the problems they are facing – and we try to collectively solve them. Most importantly I’d say that the way I learn most is by taking the time to reflect on my (many) mistakes. I make sure I take time to get feedback from others that I work with. Try to listen, be willing to admit you are wrong and commit to making yourself better. I don’t always manage it, but I try.

Written by