The People of Jira Work Management: Amanda Adams

 

Amanda is one of our Senior Engineering Managers here at Jira Work Management, leading a team based in the US. Soon to complete her first year with us, she agreed to have a chat with me and share her story, looking back over her 10 year career, from gaining leadership inspiration from Star Trek to her time as Head of Mobile at Dropbox to sharing her tips for newbies starting out today. Profile photo for Amanda Adams

 


Heather: “So firstly, I'm interested in the story of your life - how did you get here?

Amanda: “So, I do not actually have an engineering background. I did not know I wanted to be an engineer when I was 17 and applying to colleges, so I got a degree in Applied Economics Management, which is really just like a business school program. And I did that along with a degree in Communications, which wasn’t marketing communications but more focused on how historically human beings have communicated with one another.

“And then, one of my first jobs out of college I was working at a Brazilian jelly shoe company of all places, called Melissa's - they have a really fun tutti-fruity scent but the shoes are made totally out of plastic. Anyway, they had an e-commerce site and they had an agency who was building it, and I started trying to help out with the site and take items off of our internal backlog, just by googling around.

“And I'd always been interested in puzzles and problem solving and so at that point I thought, ‘I want to take this more seriously’, and so I went and took a 10 week immersive front end web development course. And then at that point I got a job at Venmo, which is an app in the US for sending money to your friends, and I got a job doing Facebook marketing because I had done some marketing and managing for the e-commerce site, but I knew I wanted to go into tech and so this was my foot in the door.

“And then when I got there it was a weird time, it was like one of those crazy big tech acquisitions. They had been owned by PayPal, and PayPal had just been bought by eBay. And so there was no marketing budget for at least a quarter or two during this time, and they were like, ‘We have no marketing budget, but we need Android developers, do you want to be an Android developer?’ And I was like, ‘I would love to be an Android developer’.

“I had none of the skills required to be a developer, but this was my second job out of college, and at this point the biggest thing in my life I had done is learn. And so I was like, ‘I'm a really good learner, I have a proven track record of being a student and so I can learn’, and so I literally walked to Barnes and Nobles and bought Java for Dummies.

“Then slowly over time, two of my mentors put together a Computer Science syllabus for me - they wanted to make sure that I knew how to do things beyond just coding, actually understand higher level algorithms and some of the complexity of Computer Science beyond how to get a piece of text showing up on the screen. And so that was really valuable.

“I have a bunch of funny stories about that time, about things that you just don't know in programming. My favourite is one of the people on my team, his name was Robert Cheung and when it was his turn to do release management, he would put like RC27 for Release Candidate 27, but I thought it was for his name Robert. So when it was my turn I put my initials and I shipped the app, and people were like, ‘What is this?’

 


H: “And then how did you transition into being an engineering manager?”

A: “I was an engineer for about 5 years and I've been a manager for about 5 years. After Venmo, I ended up going to an agency where I had the amazing opportunity to build about 7 apps over 2 years which was tremendous. Then I went back to product because consulting can be really draining, but when I got back I had a realisation that actually, I'm kind of bored of building apps. I thought that I was having more fun helping my teammates solve problems. And so I was like, ‘You know what’s not boring? People. Because people are really weird and they stay weird and they stay interesting and challenging’ and so then I got into management.

“During the pandemic, I was the Mobile Engineering Manager at Dropbox, leading the entire mobile organization there, which was a wild fun ride. And that was my first experience managing managers; I was surprised by how different that is from managing engineers because I was thinking, ‘You're all people, I can manage you’. But it really is a very different mindset, managers come to you with a different head space than engineers do. Engineers are natural problem solvers so they come to you with problems that they are interested in solving vs managers tend to come to you with problems they want you to solve for them.”

 


H: “Are there any particular experiences that shaped you as a leader and how you think or respond to situations?”

A: “Yeah, so I first became a manager partially because I wanted to, but also because I saw a gap on the team. So I prepared a case to present to my boss about why he should make me a manager. I wanted to make sure that I was prepared when I presented my case, and my husband’s suggestion was that I watch Star Trek the Next Generation - this is a very real story! He said that he had watched Star Trek as a kid and that the Star Trek captains are really great leaders and there's a lot that you could learn from them about how to lead.

“And I was like, weird, but okay. I had never watched Star Trek and fast forward almost five years and now I'm a huge Trek fan and I've watched most of the shows. And yes, I'd say that it is a show about leadership for sure. I mean yes, it takes place in the future, and on starships, and most of the science is more fiction than science, but ultimately it’s a story of people who sort of live at work - so you get all sorts of crazy work situations and opportunities to see how different leaders might handle things. You get to see a lot of these dynamics across a comically large breadth of scenarios. For example, in one episode the captain gets stuck in an elevator with small children - and then we watch them try and get out. So we get to see the captain’s leadership techniques but adapted for children. It’s not the most relevant example for our jobs, but sometimes taking these examples to the extreme can be extremely revealing. And so I actually did learn a lot about management from watching Star Trek, and I learned how to still bring your humanity to this, because ultimately, you're talking to people.

“And so Star Trek is how I got started in management, and from there, I just started reading books. It's a people sport is what I always say, and so anything you can read about human beings, I think of as being really powerful. So on my desk at the moment, I have The Art of Gathering, which is just a book about why people get together and why it matters. And then I have, hilariously, another military book. I really like the military, they thought a lot about leadership and how to get people to do stuff, and so their material is really interesting. This one is Leadership Strategy and Tactics, and this is a really good book about how do you make it so people understand what they're doing and why they're doing it.”

 


H: “What would you consider to be the most significant achievement in your career?”

A: “Probably running mobile at Dropbox, that was a big goal of mine, I wanted to run mobile at a large company here in the United States. It was a blessing and a curse, but that was definitely a professional achievement for me, that was really cool. There were 60 engineers and 5 managers, I think it was like 30 iOS and 30 Android, a pretty even split, across 5 teams.”

H: “And had that been a goal for a few years?”

A: “Yeah, and pretty much since I started becoming an engineer. Because I was an Android engineer, I knew that I wanted to run a mobile organization in particular. Cause when you're so junior, you’re like, ‘Oh, I could do this better.’ And then you become mid-level and you're like, ‘Oh, actually, I have no idea how any of these people do it’, and then you get a little more confident. It's like this ebb and flow of confidence and lack of confidence.

“And so, for 5 years, I guess it was something that I wanted, and then, yeah, I got the opportunity to do it. And then after managing managers, I decided I never wanted to do that again. I just wanna be a line level manager.”

 


H: “Do you have any advice you would give to people entering the engineering world?”

A: “I think - ‘Be thirsty for knowledge’. Learning is so important, I think that being open to learning and being open to being told you're wrong, that's how you're gonna get better. When someone tells you you're wrong, your first response is often like, ‘No, I’m not’. But if you can change that to being like, ‘I am? Tell me how’, that'll really make everything so much more exciting, more fun, and more pleasurable for you and everyone around you.

“I think having mentors is very important, and not just for people starting out. I also think having mentors is very different than having champions and champions are also important. And this is definitely advice that I give to people when they want to be promoted or get to the next level.

“In order to get promoted, usually you need champions who are just people who will say, ‘This person, they are awesome, I love their work’. And then there are the people you can go to when you have a problem and they will help you solve it without judgment. There are some people who you only want to see the good stuff, and then there are some people who you also want to be able to go to with the bad stuff. That's sort of the difference to me between champions and mentors and why I think it's important to have both.

“And so yeah, I've always made sure to have mentors, whether they know it or not, because to me sometimes mentors are just someone you really want to learn from and someone you really admire. And so for people like that, I try to just schedule time with them and ask them a lot of questions, like, ‘What would you have done here? How did you think about that? What led you to that decision?’ And just absorb as much of their time as I possibly can. I consider that a form of mentorship, even though they're not always aware that it's happening.”

 


And that concludes our interview with Senior Engineering Manager Amanda Adams! I hope you enjoyed this personal insight into our team, and maybe even took away some inspiration. If you have any of your own stories to share, or questions for Amanda, or just want to show your appreciation to her for sharing her life and experiences with us, feel free to leave any comments ⬇️

 

3 comments

Hind Kadiri From Jaanga
Marketplace Partner
Marketplace Partners provide apps and integrations available on the Atlassian Marketplace that extend the power of Atlassian products.
January 10, 2024

@Heather Roberts Truly one of the most inspiring interviews, resonating closely with our professional journeys. Thank you Amanda, for opening up and sharing such a vital part of your career. As they say, beginnings are often the toughest, but once you take that step, the path unfolds naturally.

Like # people like this
Ankush Bora February 14, 2024

Loved this! @Heather Roberts Where may I find more such articles? 
Thanks to the Valentine's Day challenge (spread the love) for leading me here. :)

Heather Roberts
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
February 20, 2024

Glad you enjoyed it @Ankush Bora! This was the first time writing this kind of article, I think the closest we have to this is an AMA that was run with our Lead Designer here: https://community.atlassian.com/t5/Jira-Work-Management-Questions/CLOSED-Ask-Me-Anything-AMA-Project-management-at-scale-with/qaq-p/2123877

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