Rising Through The Ranks

Edwin Chau

Head of Engineering, Global Financial Services at Brex



"I started at Betterment around seven years ago as their first engineer, working side-by-side with the CTO. This meant that my first year was extremely hands-on, and I was completely focused on shipping the next thing. However, over time my role shifted and I had to get used to the shift in my job's requirements."

Actions taken

"When we brought five other engineers, shipping was still our number one priority and we were doing everything in the engineering team. There was no such thing as different roles - we were all working on the same things together. In addition, because we were such a small team, everyone had an individual project or feature they were owning and that they were responsible for. We were responsible for testing, deploying, and bringing our work to production. The company was very small, with five engineers and around ten other employees. This meant we were expected to do other tasks, such as answering customer service calls, cleaning the office and kitchen, working with marketing, thinking about how to advertise, explaining the product to our customers, and doing operational work."

"Around about two and a half years into it, we began to scale out the engineering team and doubled its size. This resulted in a completely different environment. We had 15 engineers and with this number of people we couldn't just have each engineer being autonomous and doing their own thing, because when you have 15 engineers working on separate things, it's difficult for them to all communicate what they're doing effectively. They needed to work on things at the same time, so we set up some new teams to separate out the work."

"It was around this time that I started moving into more of a lead role for one of the new teams. I struggled a lot with this. Because I had joined so early on, I had become used to doing everything and touching every part of the codebase. I knew it like the back of my hand. I felt like I was losing ownership, as I was losing the broad scope of my work. However, I came to realize that I would be able to do more with a deep focus on a single domain. My responsibility also grew - I was no longer just responsible for my individual output, I was responsible for the output of my team and the stability of what we owned."

"As the team grew further to around 25 engineers, we realized there were too many engineers to have them all report to a single person (the CTO). About three years into working for Betterment, I started to manage people's careers. I was no longer just responsible for their output, but for their growth and performance. My time was now spent more on people management. I came to learn that I needed to be the biggest advocate for my team."

Lessons learned

"Although I felt like I was losing responsibility and could no longer touch everything, I had a different responsibility - running a team. There are only 24 hours in a day, so regardless of how long you work you can only fit so much in. If I was to spend all my time on my individual output, I would have no time to spend on helping my team be better."

"For a good period of time, I was focused on myself, then I was focused on the output of my team, and now I'm focused on the output of my team, as well as the growth of individuals in my team. I now focus on making sure people are making the best use of their skill set, so they can free up things that others can do. For example, if a lead engineer is still stuck doing very basic tasks, that's not the best use of their time, no matter how fast they are at them, because they could be doing things that only a lead engineer can do."

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Edwin Chau

Head of Engineering, Global Financial Services at Brex

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill Development

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