A Day in the Life: Alex Phillips (Engineering Manager, Yelp)

Alex Phillips (Engineering Manager, Yelp)

What has been your journey in tech so far?

My journey began with playing lots of video games as a kid! And as I got older, a lot of the gaming evolved into a desire to learn how they worked and how to create them. In high school, my budding curiosity in game development and how computers worked pushed me to take a couple of computer engineering classes where I found the material scratched a personal itch. It was a pretty awesome feeling to have a tangible way to solve interesting problems.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced moving into your current role?

One big challenge that I face and continue to manage is making decisions in situations with high and varying levels of ambiguity. A key part of supporting a team is empowering them to work together towards something (i.e. a goal, mission or direction). However, to provide that something, it likely means making a decision without perfect information. Granted, humans rarely work with perfect information, but as an engineer I was used to being able to work with more concrete variables and reliably static development environment.

Briefly describe your stack and workflow

Our team’s stack is a fun challenge! We’re a team that’s been made up of two Yelp acquisitions: SeatMe and Nowait, now known as Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist respectively.

What does your typical day look like?

Yelp engineering managers tend to prioritize supporting the people on our teams first and foremost. (This means I savor the time to code during our Hackathons.) My day typically consists of a handful of 1:1’s with the engineering team and other colleagues in different departments. My team has folks located at our headquarters in San Francisco and distributed all over the US. I’ll generally try to spend some more time via video conference with our remote team as I don’t get to see them in the hallway to catch up on general life updates.

What’s the best and worst part of your job?

Team Development is 100% the best part of my job. Working with code is great, but what makes my role intriguing is how people are incredibly complex, so when someone reaches their goal, sees growth in themselves, or breaks through a problem they’ve been working on for a while, it’s so exciting.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

“Do you need to be doing that?” — Almost every manager I’ve had.

Generally, I think to succeed as an Engineering Manager, you need to enjoy supporting people and teams, being a leader, working on a diverse set of tasks, etc. I found it can be really easy to ‘say yes’ to help out, do that CR, or take on new opportunities. I’ve been working on being intentional with my work, asking myself ‘Can this experience provide development for others?’ or ‘Should I be doing this?’

What is your most useful resource (book, blog, newsletter)?

This answer is colored with the fact I like talking to people. Most useful resource? People, talk to more people. People are the best resource. Everyone can teach you something. My brother is in medical school right now and I’ve learned a lot from him on how he prepares to have tough conversations. Completely different subject matter, but a tough conversation is a tough conversation and I’ve learned from his perspective. As with any resource, I think the most important part of consumption is the critical thinking that goes along with it.

What’s one thing you’d like to learn, develop or work on in 2019?

“Should I be doing this?” :)

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