The journey from student to Senior Software Engineer is one that many of our listeners are familiar with, but what happens when you throw a dose of management into the mix? In this episode, Erin shares with us the details and insights gained from her experience, as well as the BEST response to "Explain DDS to me like I'm 5" we've heard to date.
In Episode 10 of The Connext Podcast:
- [1:05] Erin recalls her first days at RTI
- [2:35] Why she valued her stint on support and how that's translated into how she views the challenges she works with now
- [5:55] Effectively combining her love of the technical work with her desire to try management
[10:08] Erin explains DDS Like I’m 5 (ELI5), and it's pretty much the best response ever.
Lacey Trebaol: Hi everyone. Welcome to Episode 10 of the Connext podcast. Today, I'm here with my co-host, Niheer Patel, and we're going to be talking with Erin McManus, Senior Software Engineer here at RTI. Erin started her career at RTI and quickly rose through the engineering organization to become a Senior Software Engineer on our core development team as well as an engineering Manager. Along the way, Erin has made some huge contributions to built-in Q0S profiles, a relatively recent innovation called, Topic Queries, and the dynamic data, API. We hope you enjoy this interview.
Niheer Patel: Hi Erin. Thanks for joining us today.
Erin McManus: Hi.
Niheer Patel: Why don't we start by just telling us a little bit about yourself and what you like here at RTI.
Erin McManus: I'm part of the core engineering team. I've been here in July it's five years. I came right from Vanderbilt University, that we have a good relationship with the University so that's how I heard about RTI.
[1:05] Erin recalls her first days at RTI
Niheer Patel: Why don't you tell us a little bit about your first few days at RTI? How did those go?
Erin McManus: Um.
Niheer Patel: Making you remember way back five years, almost five years.
Erin McManus: Well, it was exciting and fun, but it was also, I'm not going to lie, it was overwhelming and stressful.
Lacey Trebaol: Like being hit by a fire hose?
Erin McManus: Yeah. I was nervous about starting my first job and especially starting here where this had nothing to do with what I did in my undergrad and grad school. I majored in computer science. My thesis was on virtual reality. I was-
Niheer Patel: Give it a couple years, we'll get there maybe.
Erin McManus: Coming here I was just like, all these things were new, but I learned a lot.
Lacey Trebaol: And you were new to California.
Erin McManus: Yeah.
Lacey Trebaol: Because you didn't grow up here.
Erin McManus: Yeah. I'm from the East Coast. I'm from Maryland. That was also new. I didn't really know anybody here, but I always say I was really lucky to come out here not knowing anyone and to join this team.
Niheer Patel: Okay. You got started pretty well, and then you started growing and doing more at RTI. Tell us now how you rose through the ranks, starting out right after school.
Erin McManus: Having to learn what the product was.
Niheer Patel: Yeah. Just having to deal with having a job in the first place. Right? Now you've rapidly rose through the ranks in five years becoming an engineering manager is pretty impressive.
Erin McManus: Thanks.
Niheer Patel: Maybe take us through that journey.
[2:35] Why she values her stint on support and how that’s translated into how she views the challenges she works with now
Erin McManus: I started just like any other new hire on the engineering team. I started on support, which I think is a really great experience. Oh, I'm going to be on support. But, you're not telling people to turn off and on their computers. These are very hard debugging-
Lacey Trebaol: Did you try plugging it in?
Erin McManus: That gives you a chance to learn the product from a user’s point of view, which is a really good perspective to have once you're actually on the team and developing, because it puts a frame around why you're developing the features that you're developing and what kind of problems the user can run into. And why it's important to design an API that is easy to use and understand.
Niheer Patel: Okay.
Erin McManus: I started on support and then I was on support for six months.
Niheer Patel: And that's pretty standard?
Erin McManus: Yeah. They usually say six months to a year, and it just depends on not only how well you're doing, but just what stage and development the team is in. If you're right near a release, they're probably not going to start you on the engineering team, because everybody's super busy trying to get a release out. But if there's a project for you to jump in on and help with, then they'll transition you then. It depends on a case by case.
Niheer Patel: Okay. You spent six months on support and then where did you end up after support?
Erin McManus: After support, I had my first project on the core team. It was increasing the message size max. I apologize to anyone out there who has to interoperate with older versions of DDS because those QoS settings are because of me. But, we needed to make this change. It was just changing a QoS, so it made sense for a new engineer to be able to jump in on that. It doesn't involve touching too many layers, I guess.
Niheer Patel: That makes sense.
Erin McManus: Then after that I got onto another project that was customer driven, and I've been on the core team since.
Lacey Trebaol: Was the QoS profiles, that was one of your first projects, right?
Erin McManus: Oh, yeah. The built-in QoS profiles came out of the message size max project, because we were changing this really important QoS that you wouldn't need if you were interoperating with a older version. You would have to make these changes in your QoS profile, and there were a lot of changes that you would have to make. We wanted to make it easy for users to just inherit from a pre-made built-in profile so that they could interoperate with older versions. Then we decided just if we're going to add one, we might as well add a bunch and that's where the built-in profiles came from.
Niheer Patel: Would you say that that's a common value across engineering, is this customer driven development or really trying to focus on the customer pain points?
Erin McManus: Yeah. We definitely try and focus on the customer pain points. We do end up having a lot of customer driven projects. We take on customer driven projects that make sense for a lot of customers. If a customer comes to us with something that we've heard, complaints about or desires for from a lot of different places, and we can see the value that that will add to more than just this one specific customer, then it makes sense for the engineering team to take that project on.
Niheer Patel: That definitely does make sense.
Lacey Trebaol: Enhance everyone's experience.
Erin McManus: Yeah.
Lacey Trebaol: In a positive way.
[5:55] Effectively combining her love of the technical work with her desire to try management
Niheer Patel: Okay. You went through this project to build up the built-in quality service profiles and along the way you kept advancing. Maybe tell us a little bit about what it was like to consider your options of staying as an engineer or look at a chance to be a manager.
Erin McManus: That's always come up when you're having your one on ones and it's like, what do you want to do with your career?
Lacey Trebaol: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Erin McManus: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Lacey Trebaol: I'm like, I don't know.
Niheer Patel: I think we're all still trying to figure out what we want to do with our career no matter what age we are.
Erin McManus: Yeah. I guess my answer was always, I think it would be interesting to manage people, but I also really like my technical side. I don't want to give that up. But I found that I really enjoy helping people and trying to give what advice I can. At RTI, I really like that all of the managers on the engineering side at least still have their technical projects and they all code and develop and are very much involved in the product. We don't have managers yet that are only managers. When that opportunity presented itself to me, I was willing to take that on because I was also able to still keep all of my other responsibilities.
Lacey Trebaol: Have your cake and eat it too.
Erin McManus: Yeah. Exactly.
Lacey Trebaol: But I think it helps so much. Because I know when I was doing my engineering stuff that having a manager that you know, you technically respect, right? That person worked possibly on the exact things you're working on in a previous version of the product or whatever it is. They understand that when you go to them and you're like, "I'm overwhelmed. I'm stressed." They can look at what you're doing and understand it takes this much time, this might make it easier. You can be more effective manager. I think that for the person you're managing, they really listen to what you have to say then and they respect it so much more when it comes from somebody who they technically respect. It's really hard when I see ... especially for young engineers, when they have an engineering manager who isn't technical, because it's you’re not managing a tenth of what that person's going through at that point.
Niheer Patel: Yeah. And then they'll need some separate kind of mentorship and then-
Lacey Trebaol: Yeah. And it's all disjoint ... that person doesn't understand the higher level of what that individual is going through, it's just too much. But, it's hard, I think, because you're also getting into this thing where you get really talented engineers, and you're looking at the idea of building a product, right. Erin is a great programmer and does all this stuff and where is the most value added occasionally with people's time. That's a thing that has to get weighed. Right? Is it more valuable to mentor and to manage and do that or to have your amazing engineers doing engineering?
Niheer Patel: Right. Something I've noticed just everywhere I've seen, not just engineering but especially in engineering, is you're not just building the product but you're building the people up too. Has that compounding effect of being able to then build a better product and more features and functionality for customers. I think it's really cool that you jive with that and you're sticking with your technical skills but exploring the managerial side. I wasn't able to stick with the technical stuff so I just went all product management.
Lacey Trebaol: I went into marketing. Okay.
Niheer Patel: Now I rely heavily on folks like you. I know enough to talk about it.
Lacey Trebaol: Yeah. Or enough to be dangerous. We'll wrap up this episode of the podcast with the same two questions that we ask all of the RTI staff that we interview. The first one is, what is DDS?
Erin McManus: What is DDS? To be really technical about it, DDS is a standard managed by the OMG that we implement. The standard describes a software framework that helps application developers build distributed systems. That was a lot of buzzy words that are strung together. I always try and explain it to my friends and my family and I just say, we take care of getting the data where it needs to be when it needs to be there and so that the developer can just do with it what they need to do and not have to worry about the how and the when.
Lacey Trebaol: They focus on the application that they're are the expert in it.
Erin McManus: Exactly.
[10:08] Erin explains DDS like I’m 5 (ELI5), and it’s pretty much the best response ever.
Lacey Trebaol: The second question is now can you explain that to me like I'm five?
Erin McManus: I guess how I would describe it to a five-year-old would be, say you have a letter that you want to send. You want to send it to your friend. What do you do? You put it in the mailbox and somehow it ends up at their mailbox. We're kind of like the mailman. It goes through this ... the mailman takes it and takes it to the post office and then it might go to another one and all ... but you don't have to care about any of that and it shows up where it needs to be.
Lacey Trebaol: That's a cool one.
Niheer Patel: That is probably my favorite so far.
Lacey Trebaol: That's your favorite so far? I was not five.
Thanks for tuning into Episode 10 of the Connext podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or suggestions for future interviews, please be sure to hit us up over on social media, and you can also reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and have a great day.