Chat With Engineering: Carlos Avila, Senior Software Engineering Manager

Mar 10, 2022 | By John Siegel

Train at a train station

If this sort of thing was certifiable (it really isn’t), Carlos Avila would be a certified FloQast OG.

Having recently celebrated his seventh anniversary, the senior software engineering manager has been with the company since the days of the somewhat legendary (which is the name of my fictitious band) FloHouse, the two-bedroom house FloQast once rented as an office. Officially, he was the second engineer hired by Chris, Cullen, and Mike and is as core to the FloQast engineering team as any one person can be.

This week, Director, Software Engineering (congrats on the new title!), Vinoj Zacharia, chats with Carlos about joining the company, the Engineering team’s culture, and what exactly a senior software engineering manager does on a day-to-day basis does. Enjoy!

Carlos: Is it is it... is it— So I know it's not ZaCHaria, but essentially. Zatcharia? Is that how do you—

Vinoj: ZACK-uh-RYE-uh

Carlos: ZACK-uh-RYE-uh. Okay. Yeah.

Vinoj: Yeah.

Carlos: Like, I feel like when I first saw it, I saw it was Zacharia and I was like, I never actually asked, like, And I've heard you say it, and I'm like, oh, like, you know there's definitely a lot more letters in there that I'm not pronouncing at all.

There's a lot more letters in there. ZACK-uh-RYE-uh ZACK-uh-RYE-uh.

Vinoj: ZACK-uh-RYE-uh. AH-vila? No, Ah-VILA, I got it. I got this. Cool. Cool.

I love that. Like, three years in, we're now figuring out each other's names.

00:00:40:15 - 00:00:43:11

Vinoj: Hey there welcome to Chat with Engineering. My name is Vinoj Zacharia. I'm your host as we chat with various team members and engineering and get to understand what they do
and get to know them today.

We've got Carlos Avila, a Senior Engineering Manager at FloQast. What's up, Carlos

Carlos: what's going on? Vinoj, how you doing?

Vinoj: This is so awkward because we have to act like we don't know each other, I guess?

Carlos: Right. Yeah, I know, right? Yeah. I definitely haven't worked with you for the past few years, and it's-

Vinoj: You weren't, like, my first interview at FloQast at all.

Carlos: No, definitely not. The tables are turned now. Now I get to be on the – cast here, so I'm really excited to see what kind of questions you have for me.

Vinoj: So what would you describe as a job—

Carlos: Right.

Vinoj: Talk me through your resume. Actually, that is, we could actually go through that like, you know, you're you're an Engineering Manager at FloQast. What does an Engineering Manager do here?

Carlos: Yeah. Yeah, that's that's a good one. And I feel like I should have an equally good answer for it hopefully. So. So I think Engineering Managers actually do a lot. There's a lot going on in terms of what we do in the day-to-day. You know, some people look at it is like, you know, you're you're constantly glueing things together. Others see it as we're moving blockers. Some people see it as a career developers. You know, you're a career development or coach in many ways. Yeah, I think I, I kind of always go back to this little phrase. I read it once upon a time and it kind of stuck with me to remind me of the types of work I do. More importantly, yeah. And and... the phrase is, you know, I feel like I'm enjoying my job is to make sure that the trains
look good and they run on time. And so, you know what does that mean—

Vinoj: What does that mean? I don't know what's a train man. You lost me on the analogy.

Carlos: Yeah, we're talking about software Engineers. We're talking about there's these teams and trains and airports. So that what does it mean for a train to look good and run on time… So, you know, in many ways, those trains are essentially are they are our teams, our projects.

Vinoj: Right.And so when I kind of dove into, you know, what does it mean that they look good?
It's like I look at it from a few perspectives. You know, I look at it on is the team delivering good work? You know, are they moving their roadmap forward? Are they doing this in a predictable
fashion?

Vinoj: Right. Like, you know, sometimes it doesn't look it doesn't look good to have things to be really, really late. Right.

Vinoj: Sometimes.

Carlos: Sometimes. Is a team engaged, you know, is a team engaged in what they're doing.

Vinoj: Right. Are they engaged in not only the projects, the type of work they're doing, but in their own career development path? And are we are we spending that knowledge around or making sure that we don't have any single points of failure and we're being flexible in that regard. So, you know, that really handles the do the train look good portion of it? And then do they run on time is really the business side of it. It's like it's like in order to function as a business, you believe that certain expectations we need to be able to hopefully be able to kind of give an idea of where we're going and when we will be there. And that's why I put those two together. Is my goal is to make sure that the teams are capable and able to do these things in order to meet those business expectations.

And thus, again, the trains look good and they kind of runon time.

Vinoj: I like it. We have to stick with travel analogy this whole time – that's the only way this is going to work. No, only rocket ships then. Right?

Carlos: High growth.

Vinoj: Anything that can be that has an emoji is okay. Actually optionally to extend on that — What's a Senior engineering manager of FloQast? What does that mean?

Carlos: Yeah. So I think I think one of the things that we look at and maybe just showing a distinction between Engineering Manager work and Senior Engineering Management work is really this one of the things that of the scope of influence and what you're doing that out. That's one of the really big distinguish or so oftentimes in the manager position you're going to be a little bit more hands on within that team, not necessarily coding directly, but giving a little bit
more guidance on what's going on. You have a lot more time to dig in on particular aspects of projects and help kind of grow careers of the engineers that respect. At the senior level you're starting to really do that with other managers, right? You're starting to kind of like go and say, Okay, how can we move instead of one team, How can we move to three or four teams
or at the same time, how can I help this manager again? You know, help those teams look good and make sure that they're kind of running on time and to, you know, using our best engineering practices and stuff.

Vinoj: Right.

Carlos: That's that's one of the bigger difference is really just the scope of influence you have.
It sounds like you're saying like setting up the systems
so that people can do good work.

Vinoj: Right.

Carlos: And and that's really starts to become like part of the influence of that Senior

Vinoj: Right. Yeah.

Carlos: So yeah, in that case, you know, if you start to look at it, I maybe I need to find a better analogy to trains and

Vinoj: It's gotta be trains.

Carlos: Yeah. You start to kind of step back and say Like, you know, how does how this whole station kind of perform, right?It's like we need,you know, there's more than one
train, there's multiplenand we can't have them all show up at the same time or we're going to have a some problems on that. Some issues.

Vinoj: Yeah. Yeah.You started at FloQast as a software engineer. You were like, what? What number hire were you in Engineering?

Carlos: Yeah. So I was the the second engineer on board. So it definitely is a definitely a different time. Then we were very small. We had a little there was a little tiny house and there's a couple of us that it was a two-bedroom house, one bathroom and a tiny little kitchen.

Vinoj: So I'm just imagining Silicon Valley right now is like totally where my brain just went.

Carlos: Right. Well, the house is much bigger. So it was very much like that. We had a bunch of - couple of us engineers stuff to do a back room. You know, working away
on some of our earlier products. But yeah, so came as a second engineer on board and, you know, kind of help us move out a lot of our earlier products.

Vinoj: And what was that shift like, you know, from, you know, a senior software engineer to now — Now this whole new hat called manager.

Carlos: Yeah. Yeah, that one's as big because it was an interesting time for us. I think my story there might be a little atypical kind of just given the growth at the company compared to maybe like most of the industry that have been with the company for a long time. One of the things that was specific to my journey at the time and moving from an individual contributor and to a manager position is kind of doing so proactively like at that time, 2018 as we start to get around like this to engineer mark and we get up there and a bunch of people like started lifting their heads up from writing code and was like, "Hey, what's going on?" Am I good at my job? Am I doing the right thing? Where am I going? A lot of people started to have these types of questions, myself included, and I just, I noticed there was a vacuum. There was kind of a hole there saying like, Hey, who's thinking about this type of stuff? You know, we want to, you know, if we want to keep our employees, if we want to keep them happy, we want to make sure
that we're being productive. Yeah. Who's who's thinking about those things?

And so I approached our CTO Cullen Zandstra on that and talked to his about the importance of management, especially in our early startup. You're kind of like everything's like, Hey, get the product out the door. There's so much going on. And management kind of took a backseat to that and saying like, Oh, hey, like, that's something — Get customers, right? What was the first goal? Right?

Vinoj: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Carlos: And so around that time I talked to him, we formulated a plan and we said, hey,
like we put together, like, here is let's, let's try this definition of management
that I imagine is going to kind of again be this glue in all these different spots. And they're going to work with, you know, with all these different teams. And, you know, that's where it kind of really started from.

Vinoj: As you brought up this really cool point. That like I noticed a vacuum, which is a cool phrase that you just mentioned. Right? And that seems to permeate a lot of people's you know, I was talking to Kris Clemente hey, I see a gap here And sort of raised your hand and said, I think I have an idea.Speak to that a little bit. How did that kind of come about for you? Because it seems to come up for a lot of people, at FloQast.

Carlos: Yeah. Yeah. I think especially speaking from a the Senior EM position – is that a lot a lot of leaders will encounter that. And I think the reason is because there's not there's no there's no answer book. You know, there's no there's no here's the solution to all your problems. You know, those don't exist unfortunately.

Vinoj: I just ask you mostly.

Carlos: Oh yeah. So there's no solution to those things that I think that's something that a lot of you know I guess I'd say that's kind of where leadership starts to be born is that you're looking
you're searching for you're looking for or at least observing or recognizing that a problem exists. More importantly, you're proactively bringing solutions to mitigate or resolve that problem. So like even our especially at FloQast we have a you know, there's the whole idea of like, you know, see something, say something. And I think the thing that really starts to separate engineers in their later careers are kind of moving through those paths are the Do Something aspect of it. Just like if you see a problem in a code base and you're like, Hey, this is this is a little bit hard to maybe refactor this to do one of those things that's you know, doing something right.

Vinoj: Yeah. Yeah.

Carlos: And I think I think those same types of things exist on the leadership side where we're really kind of judged more by, Hey, are we identifying those problems? Are we preventing those problems? Are we, are we finding solutions that can be applied to our organization?

Vinoj: So this is super interesting. I want to go deeper here so there's problems that any of us could find, right? How do you know which are the right problems? What's your personal matrix of This one. Is it now this one? Let's table it. How do you see that?

Carlos: Yeah, that's a that's a good one I think maybe my final answer will be whichever
one says is scheduled on my calendar that week. Is really important – but usually, you know, actually, I think I think like the better answer here is you really got to look at your horizons. You got to look at your time horizons rise in your role. I see. So for instance, this is what change
are you looking to see happen and you got to get you've got it's almost the same way you might estimate, you know, how long it takes the software you might want as to how long it's going to take to see that type of change within our business.

Vinoj: Right.

Carlos: So so certain things might be a little smaller, like, Hey, we want to improve our culture. So let's have an event this quarter that brings some people together and get that all in. They might look at and say, hey, that might be a little bit of effort and it can happen now. And we could see results really, really quickly here where people can connect and that will compound Other ones might be a little bit more difficult - it might be like, hey, we want to change the way that we build our software. And so when you're trying to move, you know, multiple teams on an issue like that, you could say like, okay, that's going to take a lot more. You're going to have to work with a lot more people to take a lot more time. Might still definitely be worth the effort of what you want to do, but you got to look at the horizon of that, say, what can I do today? To get that there?

Vinoj: So I think what you're saying is like, there's some stuff, even if the time horizon is big, it's important enough, right, that you still go, Okay, this is going to take like this whole, Num — migration from A to B will take a year. ut it's still valuable to say, can we do it like a chunk of it today, right?

Carlos: Yeah. Yeah. And little by little.

Vinoj: But then lean towards the things that I think you're saying is like if they're quick wins, let's just do the quick wins. Anyway, right?

Carlos: Yeah. I think I think if I boiled it down to like the formula really is Impact/Time.

Vinoj: Yeah, right.

Carlos: You're going to you're going to organize the things that you need to do as a manager by he amount of impact they can have or how much time it's going to take you to do them. And you know, that that's really kind of the, the guiding – guidance scoreguard there.

Vinoj: So yeah, and and the reason I think that's a super interesting equation is because like that's actually it doesn't have to relate to management at all. Right? It can be also a software engineer as to where should you kind of focus your time. That's probably something that you had calculation earlier in your career. And that's continued to grow with you as the different problems that you've kind of looked at.

Carlos: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's a, I think it's a strong concept for as far as those things. Are you always looking at your impact? You're always looking at time. And then even if you try to dig it
further, it's like, how do you define impact?

Vinoj: Right?

Carlos: You could go further and say, and the way I've always tried to look at defining that for myself is you got to look at your environment and your skills, right?

Vinoj: Yeah.

Carlos: Look at, you know, what what is it that I can do to have an impact? What skills
I could use, my technical skills. I could use the processof the different types of processes
I've seen over the years. I could use my knowledge of working in different engineers, then apply those in the environment which, you know, in FloQast. Right? How can I apply that here
to make sure that we're having that?

Vinoj: Yeah.

Carlos: And is that the right problem that the company needs me to solve right now?

Vinoj: Right, right.

Carlos: It's trying to get to that as well.

Vinoj: That's really cool. Sweet. I really enjoyed all this conversation. I had a question. What do you do outside of work?

Carlos: Yeah, outside of work, kind of a lot of little random things there. I think mostly try to stick, I think the last two years been a little harder because I do a lot of traveling. So I've been able to travel as much. So being a little bit of a homebody in that regard. Just definitely reading a lot of books, movies, TV shows. Yeah, anything like that. Trying to get back to the gym every other week. I'm starting to—

Vinoj: That's a start that's a start.

Carlos: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But yeah. So other than that, like maybe like a good book recommendation there that every recently for instance, is it's 4,000 Weeks: Time management for Mortals. I thought it's like, for instance, that's just the book I've been into lately, which is
of course on the management side doing it, always doing better to try to manage my time
and look into that. I think that's a really cool takeaway there about, you know, understanding
that we're not always going to be able to do it all and really putting our efforts and our energy into the things that

Vinoj: I'm not going following - this just not doing it all. I don't I don't follow That's really cool. I will definitely check that out. I could probably get some good lessons there, too. Carlos, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed the time here as well.

Carlos: Yeah Vinoj. Thanks for having me on. Appreciate it.

John Siegel
John Siegel is a Content Creation Manager for FloQast. Prior to joining the company, he wrote about Los Angeles-based tech companies for Built In LA. You can follow him on Twitter @JVNSiegel.

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