Last fall, I talked about some of the reasons I loved my first few days of work at New Relic’s Portland engineering headquarters. Now that I’ve been here a little longer, I want to go into the leadership practices that have made my first months as a software engineering manager at New Relic such a rewarding experience.
You see, even before I was a data nerd, I was a leadership nerd. I consumed crazy amounts of leadership literature, from books and blogs to podcasts and webinars. But my previous jobs didn’t always offer fertile ground to plant the seeds of the awesome knowledge I’d collected. It seemed that many of my previous employers didn’t want to invest in long-term leadership development, focusing instead on knee-jerk fads that often made matters worse.
But in my first months at New Relic, I’ve seen at least five clear signs—some small, some more important—that New Relic really does care about engineering leadership and culture:
- Speedy meetings: I didn’t realize that Google Calendar had this option for “speedy meetings” until I came to New Relic. The simplicity of this concept is brilliant! Instead of scheduling regular 30-minute or 60-minute meetings that inevitably lead to scrambling as participants rush to back-to-back meetings, the speedy meetings flag in Google Calendar defaults to 25 or 50 minutes. The extra time helps the facilitators to set up AV equipment and/or clean up afterwards. And I rarely see anyone being kicked out of meeting rooms to make way for the next group.
- (Mostly) phone-less culture: Many New Relic workers don’t have desk phones or company-assigned cellphones. Surprised? I was too. The majority of our communication happens over instant messaging and email. We use video calls for talking with remote colleagues, a much better experience for these kinds of conversations. There are some exceptions to our phone-less culture in support and during on-call rotations, and employees can certainly get desk phones if they need them.
- Growth potential for engineers: New Relic is the first place I’ve worked where engineers love to be engineers forever. It’s my experience that, in many other environments, the only substantial way for engineers to grow their careers is to move into management or the business side. At New Relic, though, we measure our engineers against a well-defined promotion ladder inspired by a similar model developed at Rent the Runway. Our ladder has 17 impact levels across 5 primary titles (Engineer, Senior Engineer, Lead Engineer, Principal Engineer, and Lead Principal Engineer). We measure growth along four dimensions: productivity, collaboration, vision, and leadership. Tellingly, only one of the four growth dimensions is purely technical. The others boil down to how well an engineer works with others.
- Small teams: We have by far the smallest teams I have ever worked with. Many have just five team members, which helps us make decisions more quickly. The engineering manager is typically embedded within the team, so managers play a hybrid role of project manager, product manager, and people manager, facilitating decisions instead of dictating them. With control over most input parameters, teams are truly accountable for their own success.
- Hiring vision: When I got to New Relic my managers shared a key question we ask ourselves before deciding not to hire a candidate: “If one of our competitors were to hire the person that you just passed on, would you be upset?“ The idea is that if the answer is “yes,” maybe we shouldn’t let the candidate get away. If the answer is “no,” we’re probably making the right call. For me, this simple question helped bring clarity to difficult hiring decisions. I felt empowered not to compromise on passing on even strong candidates as we searched for the best possible fit.
If you’ve been looking for an engineering culture like this and believe you can contribute to our awesome engineering products, let us know. Maybe one day you could join our team for a delicious food-cart lunch in our gorgeous lunchroom overlooking downtown Portland?