My questions for new direct reports

My management mantra has always been “what would I like my manager to do in this position?”. That gave rise to the following set of questions that I ask every new person who reports to me, either as a transfer or new-hire, to start off on the right foot.

  • What would you prefer your core work hours to be?
    I’m not monitoring when my reports are in and out of the office every day (far from it), but knowing if they are a morning or evening person helps me know how they work best and when to start getting worried if they don’t show up and I haven’t heard from them.
  • During those core hours, what hours would you like to have meetings?
    Are there certain days of the week or times of the day you would prefer to not have meetings?

    I view one of my primary objectives as a manager to buffer my folks from interruptions. One way I can do that is to make sure I’m scheduling meetings at times that are good for the employee. For example, if they prefer to eat lunch at 11a I’ll try my best not to schedule a meeting with them then. I also try to enforce meeting-free Thursdays to give a solid block of Maker time and enable people to work from home.
  • How often would you like to have one-on-ones?
    Setting up reoccurring 1:1s are important, as is knowing how frequently the person wants to meet. We may have a discussion if their desired frequency is the right amount, but most people know how often they want to check in with their manager.
  • How do you like to communicate? (Slack/email/in-person/phone/etc)
    I think this is one of the most important questions. Part of buffering folks from interruptions is buffering them from my interruptions too. If someone prefers email to Slack, I’ll drop them a more coherent email rather than a train-of-thought IM. If someone would rather me stop by their desk to ask something rather than send an IM (and I have a couple of folks who prefer this), I’m happy to oblige.

Thus far these questions have been well-received and knowing the answer has improved my ability to effectively manage my employees and communicate with them.

What questions do you ask your direct reports or wish your manager would ask you?

Promotion: Software Development Manager

Over the past 8 months I’ve gradually taken over responsibility for our Ground & Control segment here at Spaceflight Industries, making sure we’re on-track to support our upcoming launch. Apparently I worked myself into a new role. Today I was promoted to Software Development Manager over Ground & Control.

It’s been insanely exciting watching our next-generation ground systems come online. The team is doing some highly innovative and industry-leading work on automated satellite commanding, whole-constellation planning, ultra-low-latency telemetry propagation, distributed system monitoring & alerting, and more. We learned a ton from our first iteration that is operating Pathfinder-1 and we have significantly improved on it now that we better understand the problem space1.

I’m stoked to be a part of this team as we prepare for Global-1 and beyond!

1 Ba dum bum.

Work-life questions to ask tech recruiters

When I was looking for a job over a year ago I had a list of questions for tech recruiters about the company’s work environment, some of which seemed to catch them off-guard. I continue to refine these questions as I discover what environments I work best in.

These may or may not match things you care about, but perhaps they’ll spark some ideas on what is important to you.

What workstation hardware is provided and is that flexible?
If you’re a Mac aficionado and they stick you with a Windows box, are you going to be happy? If you are use to working with a laptop but they only provide desktops, is that OK? What if you function best with both, is that an option? How many monitors are provided and how big are they? You’re going to be spending hours and hours in front of whatever they give you, so make sure it’s something you want, they’re flexible in getting you want you want, or they’re at least OK with you bringing your own hardware.

Do you provide standing desks?
I’ve used a standing desk for 6 years now and couldn’t go back to sitting down all day. If this is something important to you, ask.

Do you have an open floor plan, cubicles, or offices?
Spaceflight is the first company I’ve ever worked in with an open floor plan and I hate it. It’s loud and disruptive. In the future this is going to be one of the factors I consider when looking for something else.

Can I access my personal email?
Shockingly, some companies block IMAP/POP3/SMTP and/or webmail sites for their employees, preventing them from using their personal email. Yes, you really have to ask this question.

Do you have a man-in-the-middle for HTTPS requests?
This question blew recruiters away. They couldn’t believe that a company would distrust their employees enough to snoop on their secure traffic for banking and other things. Except this is exactly what EMC did to their employees. All corporate-provided systems included an EMC CA. Their snooping appliance used that CA to sign certs provided to your browser every time it made an HTTPS request. For those of us in engineering who installed their Linux OS from scratch on Day 1 and didn’t have it, the web browsers would rightfully complain loudly that the certs were invalid and your traffic was being snooped on. Chrome would go so far as to refuse to connect to Google services when presented with a cert that wasn’t signed by a Google CA.

Can I bring and use my personal devices?
What is the official company policy on bringing and using your personal devices (laptops, tablets, cell phone) while at work? Can you work from the devices?

What is your work-from-home policy?
Are employees allowed to periodically work from home? Does the company provide adequate resources to make that possible?

What is the real vacation policy?
I’m way too old to start a job with just 2 weeks of vacation. Sorry, not going to happen. If the company refuses to budge, ask if they are OK with unpaid leave. On the flip side, if the company policy is “unlimited vacation”, what does this really mean in practice? Because if you give me unlimited vacation I’m likely to take a 4-6 weeks worth of vacation over the course of a year, usually in one or two day increments, while still making sure my work is getting done and my team is taken care of. If that’s not OK I need to know up front.

Where is the office located and are there existing plans to move?
Long commutes do not fit into my work-life balance and I will not work for an employer where I have to waste 2 hours of my day getting to and from work. For instance, I live in Seattle and will not take a job on the east side (that might change when the light rail gets completed, we’ll see). Knowing where the company is located is important to me. Knowing if there are existing plans to move the company is equally important.

 

These are just a small set of the questions to think about (I covered some more in my Dear Recruiter post two years ago) but don’t hesitate to ask them. We spent an exorbitant amount of our lives at work and we need to be happy there too.

1 year at Spaceflight Industries

Today, June 27th, marks my 1-year anniversary at Spaceflight Industries1 (SFI) and it’s hard to believe it’s already been a year. I was brought on to build up their validation team and was promoted to Validation Manager three months later. Spaceflight is the first company to successfully convince me to be a manager and so far it has stuck.

It’s been great to work alongside such a passionate and knowledgeable set of engineers, both software and aerospace. Getting to work with Jane and Eric again, in particular, is fantastic. I’ve had to learn a whole different set of terminology and skills being a part of New Space. IBM and EMC have absolutely nothing on aerospace’s use of obscure initialisms or their fascination with waterfall development.

I was excited to be at SFI on September 25th when we launched Pathfinder-1 and subsequently confirmed communication with it & downloaded our first images. It is thrilling to task a satellite to take a picture of the other side of the Earth and get the photo back in less than 2 hours.

The team is hard at work as we take lessons learned from Pathfinder-1 & our first-generation ground systems and build out our next-generation satellite constellation & ground systems. It’s been a fantastic year full of challenges and fun and I look forward to what lies ahead!


1 nee BlackSky — same company, just some marketing/branding changes.

SDETs in Space!

I’m having a heck of a time finding, much less hiring, SDETs to fill my open Ground Systems and Platforms SDET positions. My gut tells me that the job descriptions just aren’t exciting enough to get people’s attention. What does a “Ground Systems SDET” do? What “Platform”?

Lets see if I can’t explain them a bit better.

Talk-To-A-Satellite SDET

Ground systems refer to all of the hardware and software components here on the ground that work together to talk to a satellite in orbit. That’s everything from the software the satellite operators use to issue high-level commands, to the systems that relay that information to our ground stations around the world, to the services on the ground station that control and task the radio chain, to the services that move the antennas, to the entire telemetry pipeline back to the missions operations center allowing the operators to know the health of the satellite and ground system components.

Everything that goes to the satellite or comes from it goes through our ground systems. These systems have to work reliably to support our growing constellation.

Making sure they all work together is where the Ground Systems SDET comes in. You’re the first line of defense in making sure that all the awesome code our devs are slinging actually cling together and make a functional system. You get to play with our satellite-on-the-table (aka: Flatsat) in our staging environment to make sure what is being built works, and then see that be deployed to our production systems and task Pathfinder-1 (and soon Pathfinder-2!) in space.

If that sounds interesting and you either live or are willing to relocate to Seattle, WA, take a look at the Ground Systems SDET position and toss me your resume!

Satellite-Picture-Selling SDET

We’ve taken all of these pictures of the Earth from space, how do we sell them to people? Well, you need an intuitive interface for customers to see all of the images you have in your catalog, buy them, and task new pictures to be taken. That’s our Platform that ends up tasking the satellites in space through our ground systems.

There are a lot of factors in play when you start talking about satellite imagery. How cloudy was it when the picture was taken? What angle was the picture taken at? Where, exactly, was the picture and how does it map onto the earth? When was it taken? Is the customer allowed to see an image over this country?

And you can’t just show them a grid view of the images. You need to place those images onto an interface that makes sense, such as a map of the Earth, and oriented such that they align up correctly.

The interface needs to scale with the ever-growing number of users as well as the ever-growing number of images in the catalog. It also needs to have good access time to our customers around the globe while maintaining security restrictions on what geographies have access to what images.

Making sure all of this works is the role of the Platform SDET. As the devs craft javascript and RESTful backend code at a break-neck speed, you’re the one that ensures cohesion and functionality. Oh sure, their new gee-whiz feature looks great in demos, but how does it scale? What did they break adding that new feature? You’re one of the first to see new images from the satellite as they make their way into our catalog and enable customers to fully realize the power of our satellite constellation.

Interested? If you live in the Herndon, VA area or are willing to relocate, take a look at our Platform SDET position and apply!

Resume tips when applying for an SDET job

I’ve been a Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET) for 15 years. I’ve interviewed many people and seen many resumes. Now, as a manager with 3 open SDET positions1, I see a lot of resumes every day. Here are some tips when applying for an SDET job.

Be a tester; have test experience

I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen for developers applying for an SDET position. Pretty much by definition, developers aren’t testers. That isn’t to say that developers can’t test, or testers can’t develop, but the skill set and approach of the two are very different. If you are applying for an SDET position and the words ‘test’ or ‘validate’ do not appear prominently in your resume, you’re probably applying for the wrong job.

Demonstrate test methodologies

Your resume should communicate that you understand test methodologies and that you come from a culture of test. What type of testing have you done (unit, functional, system, integration, regression, performance)? Do you understand the software development process? Call out automation that you’ve done and the bugs exposed or time saved. Tell me how much you love breaking things and representing the customer.

Have development skills

The ‘D’ in SDET is for development — you need to have some development experience. If a company is hiring SDETs it’s because they are looking at people to write and develop automated tests and tools for automated tests to use. SDETs are not hired to be manual testers or push buttons, they’re hired to write automated tests to break the heck out of things. I want to see some software development experience on a resume and know what languages you are familiar with.

Write tests or tools/frameworks?

If you are an SDET that likes to write test automation frameworks, call that out on your resume as some SDET jobs are looking for more tools- and framework- oriented people. If you like to write automated tests and actively break things, call that out on your resume.

Most of the time I’m hiring for an SDET, I’m looking for them to write automated tests, not frameworks. Both are perfectly valid skills, but make sure it’s clear where your skill set lies and be upfront with how that matches with the position.

Make your platform experience clear

Just because you are a rockstar SDET on Windows doesn’t mean you necessarily have the skills needed to be a rockstar SDET for an embedded-Linux device. Similarly, if you have extensive experience writing system integration tests for Linux distros doesn’t mean you know a hill of beans about the same for Windows 10.

Your resume should be very clear about which platforms you have experience with and which ones you’ve simply used.

Overall resume tips

These tips aren’t specific to SDET positions, but they’re worth calling out:

  • Any link you put on your resume is fair game to be viewed.
  • If you have a LinkedIn profile, assume I will search for it and look at it. I will not find you on Facebook or do a Google search for your name, but I assume your LinkedIn profile is there to present your professional image to the world and it should not contradict your resume.
  • If at all possible, provide your resume in PDF format. That’s the only way to guarantee that the way it looks on your screen is the same as it looks on mine. There can be huge differences when I open up your .docx resume on my Fedora desktop in LibreOffice with no Microsoft fonts compared to how you meant for it to be viewed on your Windows machine in Office.
  • If you’re not already friends with a technical writer, make friends with one and ask them to look over your resume in exchange for buying them lunch; their feedback will make your resume stand out from the crowd. Tech writers are amazing people and knowing them will enrich your career and your life.
  • Spell check your resume. The number of resumes with horrendously misspelled words is, frankly, sad. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but misspelling ‘validation’ is not going to impress me (and yes, that’s happened).

More?

Fellow SDETs and test managers, what do you look for on a resume? What do you like to call out on yours?


1 This post contains my own opinions and does not reflect those of my employer, because everyone is paranoid around lawyers.

Promotion: Validation Manager

I’m excited to announce my promotion to Validation Manager! I’ve lead teams in a technical capacity many times over my 16-year career, but this is the first time I have HR management responsibilities.

My team and I are the sole software validation team within Spaceflight Industries. We’re responsible for the end-to-end testing of our entire software stack: from the web interface customers use to task and purchase satellite imagery, to the ground-station software that operators use to communicate and task satellites, to the flight software running on the satellites in orbit.1 One of our missions is creating and implementing software validation practices across the entire company.

I’m very fortunate that my direct reports, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with over the past three months, are rock stars. I fully expect the bulk of my “manager” duties to be protecting them and giving them space to work.

Oh, and did I mention we’re hiring? I’m looking for a strong SDET with embedded experience to work with our satellite flight software team. Have a strong test background? Feel at home in a Linux terminal? Have experience with C? Like to play with hardware? Excited about SPACE? Contact me!2


1 I like to joke that “we prevent your satellite from becoming a meteor!”.

2 Unless you work for DellEMC, because this is NOT a solicitation of any kind for you.