Burag Cetinkaya

Sr. Engineering Manager at LinkedIn | ex-Instagram at LinkedIn


As engineering leader, you are expected to build a stellar product and lead a healthy team. Awesome. There are endless number of resources on the best planning process, tooling, management frameworks out there, how hard it can it be? However, at the end of the day, these are just tools. You, the reader, are expected to synthesize and make the judgement call on these with your teams. But how does one get better at that? Based on my experience, it mostly boils down to one thing: context 🧐. Planning, roadmapping, executing, and growing talent need to be fine tuned to your context. But what is context? It is specific to your company, product, and team. That's why it is crucial to take the time to observe and synthesize the context before making any big changes, especially when you are starting on a new team, new product, or a company.

How does one build context? We all begin with the product specs, internal documents and even outside reviews of the product and industry. These are all great to understand what is built and established. However, context is often about what was not built, decided against, completely revamped, teams that were disassembled or charters that were moved. If written material you can find covers this, consider yourself lucky. More often than not, the answers to these are institutionalized knowledge that lives in the collective mind of the team.

Your job is to get this information out there, and then synthesize it to establish today’s context. I have found that the best way to do this is to saturate your brain with company, product, team and process context and then synthesize it. The most efficient way I have done this so far is to:

  1. Read the product specs, design docs, and retrospective meeting notes.
  2. Schedule 1:1s with your eng teams, product partners and product marketing managers
  3. In each one of those, ask them if they could change one thing about the end result what it could be

The goal is to understand the people, product, technology and processes that you are operating in.

One way to do this is by holding 1:1 meetings with team members and stakeholders to understand their perspective and gather insights πŸ’‘. These conversations can reveal hidden challenges, opportunities, and ways to improve the team's process. It's also important to read internal documents and previous retrospectives to get a sense of the team's history, strengths, and areas for improvement πŸ“š. By taking the time to understand the context, we can avoid making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. We can also tailor our planning, execution, and roadmapping to fit the unique needs of the team and company. This leads to better outcomes and higher team morale.

Of course, understanding the context is an ongoing process. As the team and company evolve, the context changes too. That's why it's important to regularly check in with team members and stakeholders, read internal documents and previous retrospectives, and adjust our plans accordingly πŸ”„. But hey, don't stress out too much! Remember to have fun along the way and enjoy the journey πŸŽ‰. As engineering managers and leaders, we have the unique opportunity to shape the future of our team and company. So let's embrace the challenge and make the most of it πŸ’ͺ.

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Burag Cetinkaya

Sr. Engineering Manager at LinkedIn | ex-Instagram at LinkedIn

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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