In our latest “Between Two Palms” fireside interview, we chatted with our Engineering Manager responsible for Growth & Commercial, Nuša Babić. We talked about how she got into Engineering, what the transition from Engineering to Engineering Management was like, and about her best hacks for productivity and problem-solving. 

Let’s dive right in…

 

What is your favorite book?

NUSA: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I almost quoted it in a very elaborate Slack message I was writing the other day about how we should never throw away good ideas on a purely bureaucratic basis — That’s one of the big themes that the book deals with. There’s this famous quote in it, “manuscripts don’t burn”, because even if the written copy of a thought or story is destroyed, it will always exist in the author’s mind. 

 

What is your favorite song?

NUSA: The Doors currently. I like “The End” and “People are Strange”.  But what I’ll admit is that during difficult times nothing can cheer me up like firing up a very old, Balkan tavern song. That’s where my Serbian roots come in.

 

What’s your favorite film?

NUSA: I actually don’t watch films all too often, so I feel like I’m still catching up on the classics. I’m more of a TV show person. I love Mad Men and Better Call Saul. I also just saw His Dark Materials, which was amazing.

 

Walk us through how you got to your current position. 

NUSA: I just recently celebrated my 8th year in this field. My first website was published on January 1st 2013.

Early in my career, I tried out different things. I studied to be a biologist for a while, then I thought I would be a journalist. I only got to Engineering quite late in life. I wasn’t a child prodigy coder or anything like that. In fact, most of what I did in the beginning was “survival-oriented”; My entry into the field was based on the fact that I had to make money and live independently. 

But on the way, I picked up some really great skills which I don’t think I could have done if I didn’t really love what I was doing. I started with some freelance gigs as a system and server administrator in the early days. I also did a bit of security for mid-sized businesses, as well as a horrendous amount of WordPress websites. And my gigs eventually turned into long-term retainers and contracts. 

It wasn’t until my position before Grover, as a Senior Engineer at Meetup, that the thought emerged in my head that I could – or should – be an Engineering Manager. I realized that I wanted to do more to ensure that the Engineering voices in a company are heard and that Engineering teams can seize and make the most of opportunities. So I was very happy when the possibility to do this at Grover presented itself.

 

What was the transition from Engineer to Engineering Manager like?

NUSA: It wasn’t always easy. A big challenge for me was not knowing my strengths and weaknesses. Before the switch, I knew exactly what I was not good at, and also what I was really great at. And all of a sudden I had no idea. It took me a while to get my bearings and to understand what to commit to, what to prioritize and where to take a step back. Thanks to the other Engineering Managers on the team, I was able to identify how we complement each other and the different roles we each occupy.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to people who want to become an Engineering Manager? 

NUSA: Write more notes. Document things. Also, make sure you understand the people management aspect of the role. If you feel deeply annoyed by team members discussing their problems, you’re probably not going to like this position. You really need to step away from any sort of individual contributor mindset and get comfortable with guiding the team through difficult decisions.

 

What motivates you?

NUSA: It’s almost like I have endless reserves of motivation. Give me a task and within 2 or 3 days, it will be the only thing I care about. For me, it’s all about sticking to my core principles: I will never do something if I don’t believe I can succeed, and I always live by the campsite rule, “leave it better than you found it.”

 

What are some daily habits that you find really support your professional life and productivity?  

NUSA: One of my most precious tools is to take a moment and just be completely silent. I try to take breaks so I can do this and get a clearer picture of everything that’s going on. I make a mental map of every concern, zoom out and consider everything as a graph. That’s how I think about systems in general. For the year 2020, I actually created a “concern map” with everything important intricately connected, like a mind map. I had a section there called “burning fires”, which I’m happy to say the team and I were able to extinguish.

 

Thank you, Nuša, for sharing your experiences and stories with us!