Interview with Mikhail, R&D Team Lead

9 min read

In our third edition of dxSpotlight, we welcome R&D team lead Mikhail, a successful professional at Devexperts.

In this conversation, he shares with us his experience managing people in the company and shows us the difference a supporting leader can make on a team.

We know what you do but what do you tell your relatives when they ask?

I would say that my job is all about people and managing their talent. I help ensure the success of my team, both as a group towards our strategic goals as well as looking out for them as individuals looking for their success and happiness. All of this while keeping in mind our duties towards our stakeholders and maintaining technical excellence throughout our work.

What leadership style do you believe you have adopted?

As a manager, you need to adapt your style to whatever situation you may have gotten yourself or your team into. If you are leaning 100% into one particular style, you leave yourself open to not being able to fully execute on a huge amount of manager problems that are likely to come your way. Thus, it’s a combination of boss/peer/support roughly in 20/40/40 splits.

How many project teams and projects do you manage currently and how do you meet deadlines with so many tasks? What are your hacks for proper time-management?

The number is always changing from 2 up to 4 teams. Concerning deadlines, all the credit in the world goes to my teammates, they are the ones who do the heavy lifting, so oftentimes you just need to make sure everybody on the team understands what/why/how/when which empowers them with decision-making rights. Then, I simply get out of the way of really smart people.

Some people may be very skilled in a specific area but don’t possess the qualities to manage a team. How do you balance the two roles – being a tech guy and being a good manager?

Honestly, I stopped trying long ago! You have to be one-of-a-kind to do both. For everyone else, I mean us, mere mortals, it means understanding what you could/should bring to the table. Sometimes you’re expected to write code – which is good, it’s natural to most managers who emerged from technical positions. As a manager, it’s important to realize that “success” is not measured by the number of lines of code they push, but rather by the overall success of the whole team, aligning with company goals and helping each individual you work with to be a better professional.

Concerning specific qualities, there’s a lot of them. Set aside being smart and technical savviness, I think it’s being an ultimate team player. Meaning, you can and are willing to do whatever your team needs you to do. Caring about people you work with and going the extra mile for them. 

Default to the “yes” mindset, getting things done, proactivity and curiosity, following through, goodwill in communications, constant learning, taking ownership and responsibility.

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Mikhail states his definition of success on work as a manager

How did you come to this understanding? 

Firstly, I always try to self-evaluate and make sure that I understand if and when I’ve made mistakes. I think about what I could have done differently and how I would like to improve the situation in the future. 

Secondly, I finished several awesome courses online. I received a lot of knowledge there and hands-on experience on how to use this knowledge in a working environment. 

Thirdly, I follow several blogs of people with very interesting views on management. Some of them are: 

  • CTO Craft
  • Software Lead Weekly
  • Level Up By Patrick Kua
  • Lethain
  • Martin Fowler’s Blog

We all know that constructive feedback is important. How do you personally approach delivering constructive feedback to your team? 

When delivering negative feedback, it’s very important to first start with some positives – otherwise, people may feel as though they are being treated unfairly. They might say something like, “When I do good, it’s taken for granted and I don’t even get a pat on the back. Only when I do bad, am I confronted about it.” This creates unbalanced dynamics. Instead, I try to always praise the people I work with, especially when they work towards personal development goals. 

Furthermore, I don’t like to rush negative feedback. I like to think about decisions I made and especially the words that I say. People usually understand that they’ve made a mistake on their own and don’t need additional criticism. Instead, we should understand how we can help people improve in the future. This engages them and ensures that they won’t make the same mistakes again. 

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Mikhail’s insights on how he approaches constructive feedback to his team

You’re currently mentoring a new team lead and helping him adapt to this new project. Tell us why mentorship is important and why you decided to become one? 

With the rapid growth of our company, we need new leaders who want to help us reach new goals. So it was the next natural step to reproduce predictable results in volumes of the next magnitude of order. For our team in particular it was also an opportunity to acquire an experienced and enthusiastic leader in Sofia to help our current and future colleagues in their strive for technical and processes excellence.

We are all sometimes faced with a difficult task and often don’t know where to begin. When you are faced with a similar task, what steps do you take to ensure its proper completion? 

This is a good one. In my opinion, the most important thing is not to focus on making it work immediately at one go. That’s straight-up impossible and your brain will make everything it can to put that strange big terrifying task away.

So, you should start with understanding the problem, as much as you possibly can. And incrementally dividing it into small chunks that are much easier to understand and complete. Rinse and repeat.

Last but not least, don’t forget to ask people for help. As if you want to know the road ahead, ask the person that’s already been there.

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Mikhail shares his advice on how to tackle difficult tasks

We know that you accelerated in your career quite quickly. What advice would you give to aspiring managers to fast-track their career development? 

Have a Q&A with yourself and find out what you want to do and why. There’s a framework called HARD goals that can help with that. HARD stands for Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult. By understanding what and why you want to achieve something, you can then make a road-map for yourself and evaluate what skills you are missing and how to acquire them to get where you’d like to go. 

Also, make sure your manager cares and helps you with your journey towards those goals. There’s a reason why people say that employees don’t leave companies, but they leave managers. It’s important to feel supported and as though you always have someone to turn to for help. 

Lastly, nothing is given, so be ready to go the extra mile at least for yourself.

Where can we find you doing after a long day of work? What are some of your hobbies and interests? 

Family and my wife in particular – those are the people who help me keep my sanity during these COVID times. Sports, like football and tennis. I enjoy quality time with my friends over a couple of drinks and a board game. Last but not least, I’m fond of cooking and planting tropical trees like mangos and avocados.

What are your top board game recommendations?

Gloomhaven, Pandemic, and Pathfinder.

One of your current projects is the redesign of the JTT tool. When will we have the new application ready?

We are almost ready for the Alpha version. In the coming weeks, we will show a demo of the main scenarios to everyone interested.  April will be dedicated to the Beta version testing and new bug fixing. Finally, sometime in May, we’re planning to start transferring users from the old JTT to the new application. Stay tuned!

Read our previous edition of dxSpotlight with Paulo Pina Pires, CEO of Devexperts Portugal