I’m a Software Engineering Manager — Here’s My Best Advice for Being a Positive Leader in Tech

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Janani SriGuha. Photo courtesy of Squarespace.

Janani SriGuha. Photo courtesy of Squarespace.

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Sometimes, the most important steps we take toward growing our careers come from moments when we are challenged. For instance, take Janani SriGuha, a Software Engineering Manager at Squarespace, who recalls a moment in her professional journey when she was managing a large team at a previous company. 

Despite having just successfully delivered on a major project, SriGuha remembers being told that she wasn’t “technical enough.” “Being the most senior woman in a technical role at that company, I felt like I needed to prove that I am technical, and that women can be in senior individual contributor (IC) positions as well as managers,” she tells us. This resulted in her transitioning from a managerial role back into an IC role — a career move that she ended up reevaluating. 

“I realized that I didn’t actually take into account what I wanted to do, and, instead, decided on what I thought I should do based largely on others' perception of me and to prove a point — both of which aren’t great reasons to make a career transition,” SriGuha says. With this newfound clarity, SriGuha ended up returning to a management position with valuable new insight, including the importance of:

  1. Focusing on excelling at your strengths while being “good enough” at the other aspects of your role. “For example, I’ve found that putting effort into an area that I’m great at (instead of an area that I’m okay at) can set me apart — which is a much better ROI,” says SriGuha.

  2. Not carrying the responsibility to prove that a woman can do something. “I now know that I don’t need to prove myself when making a career decision,” SriGuha states. “Instead, I choose a path because I want to do it — and am good at it. Personally, I love being a manager and am focused on being the best manager I can be. It also helps to remember Tanya Reilly’s statement from ‘Being Glue’: ‘getting promoted is diversity work. Being visibly successful is the most powerful diversity work she (any URM) can do.’”

  3. Joining a company that values women. As SriGuha puts it, “whenever someone I know is looking at a new career opportunity, I encourage them to ensure that the company has women in managerial and leadership positions.”

In fact, this last point is one of the many reasons SriGuha joined Squarespace a little over two years ago. “It’s been amazing working with so many smart engineers and managers who are women,” she says. And now, as a Software Engineering Manager at Squarespace, SriGuha utilizes everything she has learned during her journey to be a positive and supportive leader to the company. 

“My leadership style is a balance of being collaborative and direct, while being able to provide clarity to my team and ensuring stability,” shares SriGuha. “I do this by working to understand what the stakeholder requirements are and by creating a productive and stress-free work environment by listening to everyone on the team to figure out how best to support them as we work to accomplish our goals.” And, SriGuha’s leadership skills continue to shine even when managing during tough situations or times of crisis.

Read on for more of her best advice and tips for women leaders, especially those in the tech space…

First, let’s start by discussing your management journey at Squarespace. How has your role evolved since you joined Squarespace?

When I started at Squarespace, I was managing a team of six. Over the course of two years, I now manage three teams, overseeing about 20 engineers.

When I was managing a single team, I used to spend a lot of time brainstorming with the team to build our vision and strategy, as well as working on execution. As my role has expanded, I’ve broadened my scope and find myself splitting my time between high-level direction, hiring, and unblocking my team’s projects. 

What has helped me scale as my scope of responsibility has increased is the trust that I have in my teams. Things that I used to jump in and figure out on my own, I now discuss with the managers on the team before handing it off to them to dig into and solve. I’ve found that coaching and delegating are extremely important skills to develop — you don’t want to tell someone what they should be doing; instead, ask the right questions to help empower them to get there on their own.  

How do you make sure your direct reports feel well-supported in their lives both in and out of the office? And how does Squarespace support you?

I care a lot about the wellbeing of everyone on my team, and one of the ways I demonstrate it is by encouraging my team to make use of their PTO. I will even nudge members of my team to take time off if I see that they have not utilized any PTO in a given quarter. It’s important that we all disconnect and make time for things in our life outside of work, even if that something is simply to rest

Additionally, as an organization, Squarespace is by far the most parent-friendly company I’ve seen. New parents are well supported not just through our generous paid parental leave, but also through the company culture, benefits, and perks. I feel strongly that each parent’s individual needs are met and that the company and leadership fully support us. I’ve experienced instances where teams happily reevaluate meeting times in order to meet the needs of school drop offs and pickups, sick kids, closed daycare, and more.

Finally, can you share your top management advice?

  1. It’s important to ensure that you want to be a manager for the right reasons. You shouldn’t become a manager just because you like the coaching and mentoring aspects of being a manager, you should also enjoy solving the complex intersection of people and technical challenges that make up a major part of the role. 

  2. As one of my mentors told me when I was a new manager, the most important job of a manager is to hire and build the right team. I can see the impact being actively involved has had on building out teams, and I would highly recommend that managers think of hiring as an important part of their job, rather than something that takes time away from doing their job. 

  3. And, if you want to be a strong technical manager, it’s important to have sufficient technical experience. Identify opportunities for you to establish adequate experience and become confident in your abilities before progressing. Also, cultivate a team with ICs who are experts themselves with complimentary skills and who can help develop strategies to support the daily work. I'm constantly learning new technologies and innovative technical architecture and solutions from the people who I manage.

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