TeamSnappers Manager Highlight: Ayleesa Stirzel, Engineering Manager
They say people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. And if you ask any TeamSnapper what they love about their work, you’ll hear a common answer: “The people.” At TeamSnap we spend a ton of time connecting with our colleagues and want to shout out some of our awesome managers too. We’ve flipped the script on our #TeamSnappersTalk series to #TeamSnappersManagerHighlight to highlight what makes our managers unique and give you a snapshot of what working with Ayleesa, our Engineering Manager, is like.
What’s your TeamSnap story?
I knew TeamSnap was unlike any other company the moment I started interviewing. Our CTO, Shane, checked in with me regularly via text or email and there was never a moment where I felt like I was in the dark. At one point he asked me if there was anyone I’d be interested in interviewing with, something no previous company had offered.
The true selling point was the interview with my engineering team. Until that point, I had never left an interview feeling like I had known a group of people for much longer. We ended up going way over the scheduled time nerding out on things like Harry Potter and party parrot Slack emojis (we have a LOT!).
Today, my team continues to be one of the reasons I love working at TeamSnap. We all value transparency and being honest with one another. It’s a place where there’s no embarrassment for asking a question and everyone is treated with the same respect.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a path into management? What influenced you to make that choice?
I was always interested in leadership and chose a CIS degree program with a perfect mix of technical and leadership courses. As an engineer, I found a desire to make a positive impact beyond my immediate team. I began studying leaders and building working relationships with them, making note of the way they handled situations and decisions. In parallel, I got more involved in higher-level discussions and found myself naturally gravitating towards leadership.
What’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made as a leader? What did you take away from this?
I’ve learned that it’s okay to say “let me think on that” if someone asks for advice. Some problems are too gnarly to give quality advice on the fly.
Also, always put “DRAFT” on a doc unless it’s finished! It sends the message you’re still working on it and won’t send your coworkers into a panic.
What’s your approach when two or more engineers on your team disagree on how to move forward?
I often find that disagreements are unproductive because we get locked into a cycle of dialogue. It becomes distracting and therefore harder for each person to get their point across. For these situations, I use The 6 Thinking Hats approach. It’s based on the idea of parallel thinking, which allows both parties to see from the same perspective and collaborate rather than compete. Each person participates by throwing out ideas for both solutions and at the end, we evaluate the pros/cons of each one. If there isn’t an obvious winner, we bring it to a larger group for a vote.
How do you motivate your team, particularly when there’s a daunting problem to solve?
My first step is always to check in with my team to see how they’re feeling about the problem at hand. Was there a previous bad experience with this type of work? If so, what happened? It’s important to understand rather than make assumptions. From there I help make the problem less scary. Maybe it’s a matter of performing an initial spike or breaking down the work into a manageable scope. When it comes to motivating the team, you should never overlook opportunities to motivate individuals. Someone who is looking to grow their leadership skills may want to become the tech lead for the project. Changing your mindset to view challenging work as a growth opportunity is a great way to find excitement in anything you’re doing.
In what ways have you upgraded the skills and/or supported the career paths of your team?
Whenever someone expresses interest in growing their existing skills or learning new ones, we work together to make it happen. Growth should never be limited to a once-a-year discussion. Over the past 6 months, a few engineers were interested in expanding their knowledge past their immediate team. After learning about what their goals were, I helped get them on projects that challenged them in the right ways. As a result, those engineers have not only grown technically but now have the confidence to take on other projects in those and other areas.
What’s a team success that you’re most proud of? Why are you most proud of this?
This pandemic has made this past year a wild ride for all of us and I’m not just proud of one accomplishment but everything our engineering teams built, whether it was a new feature or orchestration and performance initiatives to improve our platform. We’ve proven as a company that we can turn any situation into a strength and that’s something to celebrate.
How are you learning and growing as a leader? Do you still keep your technical skills sharp?
My favorite TeamSnap benefit is the education allowance, which I recently used for an Educative membership. I’ll always be a back-end engineer at heart, but I’m excited to check out one of their React modules and expand my front-end knowledge.
I’m also a library geek and read at least one book per week. The books I select cover a variety of topics that help me learn and develop new perspectives. One of my recent favorites was Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance. Feedback from others is also critical to growing as a leader. You should be open to receiving it from others as much as you are willing to give it in return.
In an alternate universe, what type of role/job would you want to be?
I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and I truly believe that for me all roads lead back to technology. When I was 6, I started taking apart electronics to study how they worked. It’s what drew me to my first love of routing & switching. I think in an alternate universe I’d be a level designer for an indie game developer. My design skills are on par with MS Paint so I’d hope “alternate universe me” would be much more gifted in that area.
Do you also love working in sports and thrive in a fast-paced, fun environment? Check out our current openings at https://www.teamsnap.com/careers.
Allan Leung is with TeamSnap’s People Experience team as the Talent Acquisition Manager. When he’s not recruiting and helping TeamSnappers, you can find him getting his heart racing on a thrill ride, traveling, working out, dreaming up his next creative endeavor, and spending time with family and friends.