9 Daily Habits of a Successful Engineering Leader

March 31, 2023

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, you don’t suddenly wake up in a new role. Obviously, there is a certain day in your timeline when you are assigned to it, but usually, the transformation takes place smoothly and gradually. You begin to fulfill your senior duties little by little until someone decides that you are finally ready and makes it official. I’ve always realized that being a senior is a huge responsibility; hence there will be less mercy for mistakes. Again, when you seamlessly develop in this direction, it goes well without any unpleasant surprises.

Overall, the tech titles, specifically divisions into middles, seniors, and juniors, are rather vague and conditional. Probably the most exciting thing about career growth is when you come face to face with a new, large, and complex project, and your superior goes: “That’s it, you’re in charge now, go for it.” The thrill of it motivates you to try everything by your own hands and make decisions that benefit not only yourself but other people as well. Some of the new tasks used to rattle me, and I doubted and questioned my abilities many times. Nevertheless, I approached the unknown in small and unhurried steps. In this matter, fear needs to be tamed.

I truly believe that everything can be learned and there are no hopeless people; it’s just that some need more time to comprehend something. Basically, the sky is the limit if you are passionate. Nevertheless, crucial qualities and skills do not come out of the blue; you either have to copy someone’s behavior or try to figure it out yourself by trial and error, moving towards the ideal option. Consistency goes a long way on a path to seniority, as does adherence to certain rituals and patterns typical for your position.


1. Time Management and Balance

Regarding time management in a senior position, it all goes back to an increased degree of responsibility. And, accordingly, here comes the understanding that all your efforts are aimed at keeping the customers satisfied as much as possible. If you are junior or middle, you can shut down your laptop at 6 PM and walk away without a twinge of conscience. Whereas in my shoes, it is necessary to follow through whatever it takes. Also, you must have a clear idea of what deadlines you meet and which you don’t and be transparent about it.

Customers tend to highly appreciate instant replies. Therefore, as a senior, I equipped my phone with all the essential apps to be in touch, even while at a supermarket. I don’t mean to say that work has become 24/7; however, sometimes it gets pretty close to it. Being on your toes the majority of the time, sooner or later makes you decide what balance is for you: where exactly you draw the line between work and personal issues and maintain good relations with customers and teammates. By the way, the latter can sometimes do something after hours and count on your help. And if you are always there when they need you — this will never be taken for granted.


2. Planning

My traditional workday begins as follows: I open my laptop in the morning and start viewing messages accumulated overnight. Working in a global tech company implies you have your clients and colleagues scattered in over 10 locations around the world, and all the processes must work nicely regardless of the time zones and cultural contrasts. I have urgent communication channels and secondary ones, such as a mailbox. After reading, reacting to, and replying to messages and memos, I proceed to my calendar and learn the schedule for the day. Before joining meetings, there is always something to refresh, prepare arguments or answers for, read and memorize or remind me of.

Afterward, I join morning syncs where we discuss who does what and when the tasks are due. The rest of the day is dedicated to the project activity itself — from various incoming requests to descriptions of some processes and documentation.


3. Strategic Processes and Activities

One of my main responsibilities is developing a strategy for the entire project. That is, what we will write and how, what we will deploy it on, what infrastructure will look like, what we need, and what we don’t need. In terms of project activities, in general, everything is simple and predictable, but sometimes there are some unplanned activities, such as pre-sales or, for example, a request: “Talk to these guys at 1 AM because they are in Australia”. Things just need to be done.

Plus, there are activities aimed at developing the company’s processes. That is, some process documentation has to be designed in tight cooperation with CTO. Together, we come up with ideas to standardize it all and implement it in other teams — thus, we make sure no one resorts to shooting in the sky along the way. When a new project comes in, we have a ready-made template and provide clear-cut guidance on what should be done and how.


4. Prioritizing and Saying “no”

I have many tasks and responsibilities: developing some solutions in advance, preparing proposals, monitoring implementation, constant contact with the team, controlling who is doing what, at what stage, when it will be completed, and what our next steps are. In addition, I work closely with the customers: what we use and why, how effective and productive it will be, and how much money we will spend on it in the end. Sometimes I have to evaluate the convenience of solutions from the end user’s viewpoint. And, of course, managerial tasks are ceaselessly raining on me. Obviously, I can’t be in all places at once.

Without prioritization and the ability to say “no,” one will probably feel like a hamster in a wheel, let alone declined performance quality. Prioritizing means keeping your mind cool and structured. When receiving an invitation to a meeting, it is worth analyzing whether your presence would be valuable and selected time slot would bear fruit. But you just cannot say “nope,” and decline the invitation without explanation. Respectful interaction with your teammates is, above all, taking the time to support your decision with rationale.


5. Rest and Reset

You might find yourself find in a situation where you are deeply immersed in a big important task that does not work. And even after you have tried everything, it just does not look good enough to you. In that case, I prefer to cut myself some slack and let it go for a while. Sometimes, a good sleep works miracles for me: a nighttime rest streamlines and organizes information, and when morning comes, I usually have several fresh ideas on how to handle the task. So, instead of torturing myself for hours, I wake up and get everything sorted in five minutes. For a perfectionist, having something going off the plan is annoying. However, subconsciousness often produces resolutions that cannot emerge under pressure or stress.

For me, a mind reboot necessarily requires some kind of change of scenery. It may not be lying on a beach in the tropics. Chopping wood somewhere in the country would be a perfect reset for me — there has to be a change between mental and physical activity. Going to the mountains for at least a couple of days can be refreshing for the brain and pleasantly exhausting for the body. I often returned so physically tired that I needed nothing but a comfortable armchair and a laptop to return to normal. In an office-based mode, my company provided me with an array of communities where I could play table tennis or just have a coffee break watching someone doing it for me. Now, as I work from home, I tend to join my favorite communities online and entertain myself when I need to recuperate.


6. Education and Self-growth

I’m currently preparing for Azure and Amazon certifications. Education in the tech domain is a mandatory ongoing process because you can fall far behind in a dynamic environment. From my point of view, I should do more than that; it is just that you have to somehow coordinate your learning with useful activities that bring profit to the company. The technological and informational dimensions are fast-paced, and we must choose at least one area and advance in a given direction.

For me, self-education takes place in many forms and is rather a natural process similar to consuming sunlight or water. Knowledge always comes with hunger to it. I want a stake, and after I sink my teeth into it — there comes a feeling of fulfillment. I crave my dish, and then I then relish it. Gaining knowledge is something that should not be postponed.

In my opinion, learning on your own is boring, and when there is some kind of competition, it becomes a little more fun. Running alone is almost meditative, and when someone runs behind or in front of you, especially with a stick, then somehow motivation gets stronger. My company organized structured courses, where they check my homework every week. This is exactly what I need.


7. Removing Distractions

Scrolling newsfeed uncontrollably takes a big chunk of time. There are a lot of dramatic events and calamities happening around the globe we need to be aware of. However, when consuming information almost mechanically, we do not have time to analyze it and give it the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, we just absorb it as it is. Such a distraction paired with reduced motivation will inevitably lead to being out of focus and decreased efficiency. Having exciting tasks that keep you up at night does not let procrastination get the better of you.


8. Making Time for Your Team

Superb performance requires much more than a mere understanding of responsibilities; there has to be unity of hearts and minds. Devoting a couple of hours to my team would be simply not enough; therefore, my entire working day belongs to them. My primary duty is to maintain a very close connection with my people, and systematic teambuilding activities play a huge role in establishing a trustful and safe environment. Besides scheduled meetings, syncs, and brainstorming sessions, a large number of issues are resolved during informal gatherings.

For me, a team implies friendship and partnership. It does not mean that you can hire a team of buddies just to hang out together and forget about the job. I believe it is essential to have like-minded people on a team, the ones you find interesting outside of work. Teamwork makes the dream work, and these are not empty words: when everyone sincerely enjoys each other’s company and anticipates the next working day, it’s priceless. Shared values and a common mindset are the glue that helps sustain morale and keep the team together even in the most turbulent times.


9. Enjoying Your Work

The most important thing is to love what you do. For me, the most interesting and enjoyable part of my job is to see complete and beautiful solutions, which are effective and workable, the ones that make you feel proud. In other words, a sense of accomplishment is what makes me happy.  Especially it pertains to complicated tasks that I hesitated to get down to for a while or lacked belief in my abilities and successful execution. The feeling of fulfillment charges your inner battery and inspires you to take on even more responsibility and challenge yourself.

Given that my team is far more than just colleagues, each fuels my interest in work. In remote and hybrid work models, there are many ways to build bonds with human beings and find touch points. You can exchange memes in chats or have a good laugh at various situations happening during the day. Closeness comes in many forms, and it is essential in any manifestation. We all come from different backgrounds and upbringings and make different life choices. Being on the same page in fundamental matters is like the first handshake that paves the way to solid relationships. That’s exactly what the people-first stance is for me, and it is the only right way to go.


This article was previously published on Hackernoon.

Andrey Komarov
Senior Software Architect (Solution)
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