This week, we sat down with Neha Batra, VP of Engineering for Core Productivity at GitHub. Our conversation is about the value of taking calculated risks in engineering leadership, using a “risk budget,” and how you can leverage your social capital to take risks that help your career.

Neha also shares her insights on senior engineering leaders' challenges when aligning business needs with talent and product execution. She discusses her framework for strengthening company alignment and engineering efficiency using established communication paths.

As we work in organizations over time, we accrue social capital. I like to think of that as actually a risk budget, right? Where you can spend some of that risk budget on different bets that you want to make. The tech world is very forgiving, and they reward people who take those risks and try to make those improvements. You just want to react really quickly.

You wanna clean it up, you wanna fix it. But if it works really well in your favor, you're able to do things that you can never do before.

Episode Highlights:

  • 00:26 Frameworks that strengthen company alignment
  • 03:11 How should you channel frustration into creation?
  • 05:58 Conceptualizing your risk budget 
  • 12:53 Strategies for building communication pathways 
  • 16:04 Conducting AMA's with your team
  • 21:47 How do you get team members to take accountability?
  • 25:27 How do you gather signals from your team?
  • 29:13 Mistakes leaders make you can learn from 
  • 36:32 Building curiosity into mundane experiences like dating

Show Notes:


(Disclaimer: may contain unintentionally confusing, inaccurate and/or amusing transcription errors)

Neha Batra: 0:00

As we work in organizations over time we accrue social capital. to think of that as actually a risk budget, right? Where You can spend some of that risk budget on different bets that you want to make the tech world is very forgiving, right? And they reward people who take those risks and try to make those improvements. You just want to react really quickly. You wanna clean it up, you wanna fix it. But if it works really well in your favor, you're able to do things that you can never do before.

Conor Bronsdon: 0:30

How can you build a metrics program that not only measures, but improves engineering performance? What's the right metrics framework for your team. On May 2nd and seventh LinearB is hosting their next workshop where you will learn how to build a metrics program that reduces cycle time by 47% on average improves developer experience and increases delivery predictability.. At the end, you'll receive a free how-to guide and tools to help you get started. You can register today at the link in the description. Hope to see you there. We are back on Dev Interrupted, and I am your host, Connor Bronston, live from the Dev Interrupted Dome with Neha Badra. Neha is the VP of Engineering for Core Productivity at GitHub. Welcome to the show.

Neha Batra: 1:11

Thanks so much for having me. Uh,

Conor Bronsdon: 1:13

it's my pleasure. I've actually heard about you from multiple folks here today who are like, oh, you're talking to Neha end of the day. That's gonna be amazing.

Neha Batra: 1:19

Yeah, that's absolutely terrifying.

Conor Bronsdon: 1:21

Uh, yeah, I'm just building the hype for the audience so that really when we crash and fall, it's a lot more funny. Um, but. I actually think you have a really unique take to here, which is that you've noted that senior leaders often find themselves as this kind of in-between person who is matching business needs to talent to product execution. And because of this, I know that you've developed a framework that you apply to help senior engineering leaders strengthen that company alignment piece, which can be really challenging sometimes while you're focusing on engineering efficiency. And it sounds like you do this through establishing communication paths, Can you break down how that framework works and kind of introduce us to us?

Neha Batra: 2:04

Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, just to kind of take a step back, right. I think that it can be really frustrating when you feel like you're caught in between a bunch of different people and no one's really communicating towards each other. Mm-Hmm. And I felt like that for a very long time in my career. And it felt like a puzzle, right? Why is this so hard for me? And ultimately what I came out with is this framework, um, which is pretty simple, right? Like as you start to identify consistent conversation patterns that you're in. Right. Um, and I think the product one is the most, uh, simple one, right? You get a request, you have to pass that on to the team. The team says no, or the team says yes, And then, uh, you know that you can't pass that to the ex, like your leadership team, right? And so you kind of conjole them to give you some updates, and then you turn that into like. And a progress update for the execution team or the leadership team. And so I started to find that we were doing this over and over and I was like, if I have to do all the work to do this translation, how do I lower that barrier? How do I make things easier? And that's where you start to take ownership of this process and drive that accountability. I can go to my team and get them a little bit more used to some of the vernacular that we might be using with the leadership team. Give them the exposure and transparency, which is a growth opportunity for them. And then when it comes to updating my management team, right, how do I have an easier way to give them those updates in a form that they like and also in a form that the team can give. So how do I just like automate this process and connect the two pieces? And that was like the big, uh, insight for me, and that's what I wanted to share back with the audience.

Conor Bronsdon: 3:35

I love that because I think a lot of folks hear framework, and unless you're in leadership, you definitely think of it as, oh, buzzword another framework. Yeah, yeah. Space framework. This framework,<INAUDIBLE> framework. Okay. Another one. Yeah. Uh, but when you really think about it, what frameworks are, is there a way for us to reduce the cognitive load of doing a task that we're gonna have to apply multiple times and about, maybe that's hiring, maybe that's, you know, how you report out. Um, so I actually think it's really important that you've done this because what you're doing is you're freeing up your mental capacity and time. To be more successful at other key parts of your job instead of doing these continual tasks over and over. So, I'd love to understand that framework a bit more, like, what are the steps you go through? How do you approach it? Yeah,

Neha Batra: 4:17

I often, uh, it starts with frustration, actually. So the minute I start to feel like I'm doing the same thing over and over, I start to get a little bit frustrated, and I channel that frustration into creation, right? So I say, okay, cool, what is happening over and over that I feel like I find myself kind of running into a wall? And that's the time where I need to sit down, I need to put pen to paper, Who am I interacting between and what are those pieces of information that are coming to me and what work do I have to do to translate that, right? And so that's when I start to write that into the very simple like, you know, cycle framework. And once I do that, I think the most interesting part about this is that since I've done this so many times, every single time I map this into the, the framework, I have the same questions that I ask. And I think that that's the value, as you said, you reduce the cognitive load, right? If I can put this into a framework, I automatically know the questions that I can ask from that framework, and those questions are what is being provided to me. What do I need to provide? What is the work that I'm doing and who's the most willing to change in order to make this easier?

Conor Bronsdon: 5:25

Interesting. Can you unpack that last one a bit? Because I think the first three people are like, okay, okay, okay. But that fourth one is a little unique.

Neha Batra: 5:32

Yeah. When it comes to changing your information cycles, right? In a way you're essentially optimizing for something. You're optimizing for. Less time that it takes to align, right? And when you can make that change, you can make that change between the people, you can make that change between the process, you can make that change between the tools or the product, right, that you're working with. All of those can result in like a net change in your time to align. And so the way that I kind of think about it is kind of like a Jenga tower, right? Yeah, I, I, there's a bunch of blocks that I can move, right? And I might have, in my mind, I want this block to change. And as you tug on that block, the whole tower's gonna come apart, and there's no way you can actually use that one. Mm. And so what, you know, it's kind of cheating, but you tap on a bunch of different blocks and you kind of see which one's, uh, the most easiest to move. And, you know, all you have to do is result in a net rejection in like time to align. Right. And that makes your process easier and easier. And as you know, with the jangle block tower, as you start to bring more pieces to the top, other blocks start to free up and get easier to move. Right? Right. And so for me, I've always pursued the path of like least friction. The path of momentum, and even when it comes to like, making it easier for me to communicate with my teams, um, and with my leadership team, I'm looking at where that path is, where the friction is, and like what's most easiest to change.

Conor Bronsdon: 6:57

I really like this Jenga metaphor in Aha. Yeah, because I, I also think it brings to mind the risk of taking the wrong actions as you kind of change these communication paths. How do you think about that risk element?

Neha Batra: 7:10

I think that with any change that we make, um, we always incur some sort of risk, um, and I think that, you know, there's this paradox here, right? If you are trying to, um, reduce friction. And you try to change a process, for example. Everyone who's involved in that process now has to adjust to a new process. And temporarily you increase that friction, right? So pretty much with any action that you take there's going to be some sort of risk that you need to do. And it kind of comes back to what you're trying to optimize for and where you're willing to take that risk. Um, I think that like as we work in organizations over time we Accrue social capital. I like to think of that as actually a risk budget, right? Where you can spend some of that risk budget on different bets that you want to make. The tech world is very forgiving, right? And they reward people who take those risks and try to make those improvements. You just want to react really quickly. You wanna clean it up, you wanna fix it. But if it works really well in your favor, you're able to do things that you can never do before. And, um, this came from someone from, uh, a manager. I had Dana Lawson a long time ago. Dana's amazing with that on the show. Oh yeah. Really? Yeah. She's great leader. She is amazing. And she, she was the one who told me like, Hey, you have a lot of social capital. You should use that and do something with it. And I, um, I was very risk averse at the time. I feel like a complete 180 to where I am now. The way that I kind of grew out of my shell was to say, Okay, I have a budget that I can spend every quarter, what do I want to spend my coins on? And so even when it comes to changing these processes, you're taking a risk, absolutely. I'm trying to make the best bets that I can, um, and I will do that only when I've accrued enough capital or coin. To be able to spend that on the risks that I wanna take. Right.

Conor Bronsdon: 9:03

what ways do you like spending a risk budget?

Neha Batra: 9:06

I like taking risks on, um, uh, making things more efficient. I like taking risks on people. I like going to bat for people. I like trying to grow, grow them. And I think it's a, it's not the way that most people think about spending risk. I think most people are taking risks on like product decisions or things that they want to do. Right. Um, but I think it all comes from the same bank. Right. And for me, um, if I can give someone else a chance, I can lend them my safety net and cover for them as they try something new. That's like the thing that energizes me the most.

Conor Bronsdon: 9:39

Is that mostly about folks who are internal retaining them, giving'em training or giving'em opportunities?

Neha Batra: 9:44

Yes, absolutely.

Conor Bronsdon: 9:45

Okay. Yeah. Do you also apply that same framework in the hiring process, or you think that's the wrong place to kind of take those risk bets.

Neha Batra: 9:52

Um, I think you can apply risk, uh, you know, you can take risks on people when it comes to hiring. You have to be really, really strategic about it. Yeah, I think that, um, when you are building up an org, you need to have the essential elements in place. I think here's a great example. When it comes to, um, building a brand new feature, a brand new product, right? You want to make sure you have some experts in place, people who understand what you need to do. You might err towards senior and staff folks, right? Um, and then at some point you need to have a succession plan. You need to have people who can kind of grow through that system and not all problems are going to be hard. So for those first few folks who are a little bit more junior, who are your SE1s, SE2s, SE3s, you're kind of taking a risk,

Conor Bronsdon: 10:40

right? Yeah, because you don't know how they're going to grow. You can maybe predict. That's a great point.

Neha Batra: 10:43

Exactly. There's not enough data for you to be able to conclude, but you know that there's also a risk in not investing in younger or earlier career engineers because you need to have people succeed and grow, and you're not always gonna necessarily have the most technical, difficult problems for the staff engineers that created that path in the first place.

Conor Bronsdon: 11:02

Now I'm thinking about managing our risk budget across people, products, et cetera. This is okay. This is, this is great.

Neha Batra: 11:07

It's all connected.

Conor Bronsdon: 11:08

Yeah. All right. All right. We're cooking here. You mentioned something else earlier that I want to What are some of the walls that you've ran into that you've now either had to learn to go over, around, under or, or through?

Neha Batra: 11:25

Yeah, and I would actually even add a different element to it. I've hit tons of walls. Um, I am someone who was, uh, hell bent on experimentation and so I will just throw a bunch of stuff at a wall and kind of see what sticks. Love it. I think it's fascinating and um, uh, so the types of walls that I often run into, it usually has to do with. Anything that I'm trying to do that's like, um, avant garde or avantgarde is not the word, but, um, uh, I'm trying to do something that people haven't done before. Experimental. Yeah. I wanna experiment. I wanna kind of push the envelope. Right. How can we, um, do better when it comes to, uh. Increasing the diversity on our teams, how can we support marginalized people, how can we try to ship faster or try different ways of working, right? Most of those at some point have hit a wall where people have said no, and usually has to do with the fact that it's not the right time, it's not with the right people, or I just don't have enough trust in the org. Right. You could try to go around, you could try to go over under, you know, whatever. Or you can just say, okay, cool. Well I have five places where I can kind of. Try to move forward. One of them's working and I'm gonna come back to the other four. Right. And I feel like that's really important, especially when it comes to people who are really, um, passionate about certain values and they're really hell bent on kind of making progress in those areas. That is a total path to burnout. Mm-Hmm. Um, and that's kind of my hot take, right? Is that you, if you're passionate about a bunch, a bunch of different things, you can easily burn out when you get that answer. No. But if you have enough things that you're willing to try, you might get yes on something else and you can go and revisit later. I mean like, if you think about it in tech in the last few years, we've had a huge swell of people coming in, we've had a huge swell of people coming out, we've had hiring freezes, Up and down like a roller coaster, but with that comes a bunch of fresh talent. It comes a bunch of reorgs and it, and, and that turns into a bunch of opportunities for me to try again. Yeah. For all those walls that I hit, I'm gonna try exactly again with brand new people and see which ones I can get through this time.

Conor Bronsdon: 13:37

Yeah. I'm almost seeing this as, not to put words in your mouth, but like a maze where you know you have different options of where to go and some walls you can even go through and you have to decide. Which ones will I try right now? Based off of that risk budget you have? Yeah. Based off of the resources you have.

Neha Batra: 13:51

Yeah. Yeah.

Conor Bronsdon: 13:52

Another thing that's kind of crucial to building the risk budget, building the social capital that you need to. Be successful at this, this type of pathing, this type of discovery is actually another type of pathway, which is the communication pathways you alluded to earlier.

Neha Batra: 14:06

Yes, yes.

Conor Bronsdon: 14:06

What's your strategy around communication pathways as an engineering leader?

Neha Batra: 14:10

Okay, so this might sound like way too calculating or way too strategic, but let's go with it. Um, it is, uh. It's amazing how much you can get done when you have trust within your org and your organization. And having effective communication pathways to explain what you do and to build that trust with your team gives you a much higher social capital budget that you can spend. And that has come very helpful for me when it comes to delivering bad news, when it comes to trying things that don't necessarily work. I feel like because I have been very intentional about how I communicate, where I communicate and the tone and the authenticity that I bring to that communication, um, and people have also seen that I'm willing to take risks with them by providing transparency around how I communicate. They will then trust me enough for us to try things that we couldn't try otherwise. And so it really is kind of like an investment that kind of keeps on building in the bank. And I have a bigger budget now than I've ever had before for the teams that I've built that trust with.

Conor Bronsdon: 15:18

It's letting you stretch your risk budget, which I think is a smart way of thinking about it. Because you've placed these investments, you've grown your capital, so to speak. I would love to dig into a specific example, if you have one, of how you've built that trust, because I think that's a, a really important thing. We can all say building trust crucial. Okay. Yeah. Yes, yes. We agree. Yeah. What's a specific way you're doing it?

Neha Batra: 15:40

One way that I've built trust with my team is that I've made a commitment to them. Right? Um, and that's really what a lot of like trust is built off of. You say you're gonna do something, you make a commitment to it, and then you have to come through. And you're essentially generating data for your team Come into a town hall or any sort of meeting with me, receive news for the first time. I will provide it to you in writing beforehand. Now this is a really hard thing to protect when it comes to like weird information. Um, and the times that I do have to deviate from that, I'm I'm very upfront about, hey, this is different from the promise that I made to you, and this is why I'm deviating from it. But I always go writing first, which is very important at GitHub. We are a async communicating place. We encourage open source, we encourage documentation, and I leverage that tool set, and I communicate to them, via discussion posts, via issue posts. Um, about the news that I wanna communicate with them and they won't have to worry about, coming into a, a new meeting and hearing about a reorg because if that's gonna happen, even if it is 10 minutes beforehand in a team post, I will make sure that happens in a team post. It's a commitment that I make to them and I build trust through that because they know that I come through for them. And I, there's other ways that I do that as well. Um, when I do AMAs, I do AMAs, you know, I kind of have an interesting way that I approach, uh, communicating with my team right now. So, um, we meet once a month. The first month of the quarter is a town hall. Second month of the quarter is an AMA. Third month of the quarter is demo day, right? as part of that, for example, with the AMA, I tell them, you can ask me anything, and as long as you ask it in an earnest way, I will answer a question, um, or I'll tell you that I can't, but I'm not gonna give you a bullshit answer, a skirt around the question. And, um, I gave them that commitment. When I first became a VP in January, they put me through the ringer. They asked me questions that I was like, okay, you really wanna understand whether or not I, I believe in this. But I did. I doubled down and I said, okay, cool. If you're gonna ask me hard questions. I'm gonna give you answers. You might not necessarily like them, but I'm going to show you that. I mean, what I say and um, and that helps me sleep at night. Honestly, I just want to be able to mean what I say, but I can turn that into a commitment to the team and build trust off of that.

Conor Bronsdon: 18:11

I think this is a wonderful approach and honestly it gives me a great pivot to ask you a fun question. Yeah, I'll try not to be too hard, but yeah. I hear that you have a list of fun facts about yourself that you keep just on your phone.

Neha Batra: 18:25

I do. I mean, like, imagine when you go to these AMAs and they ask you a question, like, what's the one fun fact about you? I get so nervous when it comes to going around a circle and telling about fun facts. So I said, okay, cool. I'm gonna put together a bunch of fun facts on, um, my Apple Notes. So I literally have on my phone right now, a list of fun facts. I don't even think they're very, they're, they're pretty bad.

Conor Bronsdon: 18:46

I mean, this speaks to your strategy too. So I, I like the, I feel like this, this is correlating to how you think about the world, which is strategically. Uh, placing bets, building accountability in yourself, and you're saying, okay, here's the situation I'm gonna encounter. How can I prepare to communicate the right way? Yes, yes. So that my team knows I value them and think about this. Yes. And that's awesome.

Neha Batra: 19:03

Yes. I, I try to do it in other ways as well. When I first came into leadership, I made sure to have a human user guide around me. Um, and like who, what I am, what I value, how I act. I think it's an important, it's more than just like telling people about myself. I think it's important for people to hold me accountable. To what I say that I believe in. Yeah. Um, and invite that in different ways. Um, and so, uh, I try to do that in different ways. I, I really do care about, um, giving people a sense of security, giving them a place that they can do their best work. I still don't quite understand it, but. People need to be able to trust in their leader and feel comfortable in the, with their leader in order to do their best work. I, I never wanted to be in that position, but if I can provide that for people in order for them to do better work, I'm gonna do it. It seems like the most basic thing for me to do for my team, I mean, there's research,

Conor Bronsdon: 19:57

research on this, right? That teams, when they feel trusted, when they feel that they are trusted to make an impact, and that they are enabled to make an impact, perform better. Yeah. Feels logical to me that yes, I would then want to have the trust in my leader and feel that I can trust my leader.'cause then it enables me to say, okay, let, let me be autonomous. Lemme go take this, take this thing on. Especially when you're looking at an org like GitHub, that is so focused on async fo focused on enabling everyone to, to, you know, have a viewpoint and, and take an action. I, I do wanna ask before we lose it. Yeah. Can you share one of your fun facts?

Neha Batra: 20:30

Um, this, you're gonna get a kick outta this sets for sure. Um, I have, uh, present ideas for my mother-in-Law. Tips that I collected for a trip that I did to Machu Picchu. Yep. I have. Yeah, totally. Fun facts about Neha. I opened that in September. Um, and then I have like a, a lot of ideas that I'm collecting, uh, because I do town halls, right? Yeah. Like once a quarter. I have a bunch of ideas around, like some talks that I wanna do, and I just kind of add to it as I go. I'm a very big note taker, um, and like collecting ideas as I go. I, you know, as a mechanical engineer, like we were always encouraged to have a little notebook in the back of our pocket, and I'm doing that again. I

Conor Bronsdon: 21:09

have to call myself out here and say, I also keep a lot of notes on my phone. Um, Woohoo. I may, I may add a fun facts tab now that you mentioned it. Yeah, you totally have to do it because I, I have like a, you know, writing ideas tab. I have a, you know, things I need to communicate with my team tab. I have just like a to-dos. I have a gift from my wife tab Yeah. So, uh, I, I, I hear you on this though. I, I have to admit, I'm a Pixel user, so it's Google Notes that Apple Notes. Uh, don't cancel me.

Neha Batra: 21:34

Cool. Good luck, uh, getting those emoji reactions in text. Wow. Yeah. No shade. Okay.

Conor Bronsdon: 21:38

Uh, I'm being majorly shaded here. we're, we're just gonna move right along,

Neha Batra: 21:42

uh, So, so, um, fun facts about Neha, please. Uh, the first one. Man, I'm like already cringing. I really like that. My fun fact about Neha is that I have a note about fun facts and we just close it there. But anyway, um, that's a good one. I think Emperor's New Groove is the most underrated movie of all time. Oh.

Conor Bronsdon: 21:59

That, that movie is awesome. So I think that's fair. I think it's very self referenc. Our producer Jackson is a clapping for you. Behind

Neha Batra: 22:05

you Yay. Um, uh, my nickname at work two jobs ago was No Fun, Neha. Um, and I've also had the nickname No Filter, Neha, which I think a lot more people would probably relate to.

Conor Bronsdon: 22:18

Yeah. Okay. I see that a little bit. I see that a little bit. No, I love that. Thank, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate you kind of getting personal with us. Um, I see how this, this focus of yours helps build that accountability org. You're, you're clearly very open with your team. You clearly think about them a lot and I mean, you have the strategic mind where you want to apply it and continue to improve and do better. It's very clear, someone who loves to learn. What I'd love to get at though is like, okay, great, you're building accountability in your org, you're modeling that behavior. How are you getting your team members to take accountability? How are you building that accountability across your organization?

Neha Batra: 22:52

I think that as a leader, um, there's a variety of ways to kind of build that accountability. Of course it starts with role modeling, right? They're not going to want to have accountability, um, and take accountability unless you are. Um, I think that also as a leader, it's my role to coach them and demand accountability from them. Um, I, obviously I want to work with people who want to have that automatically too. It doesn't always work that way. it's important for me to chart a path where people can take Uh, Risks, they can have a safety net around that and they can start to grow into a world where they see that how taking accountability benefits them and benefits the people around them. I am definitely the kind of person where I don't necessarily, you know, understand how to do something until I try it a few times and I get the hang of it. And I feel like, um, that's the approach that I take with my team. Try to give them some opportunities to take accountability, to understand the consequences when they don't, understand the benefits when they do, and give them a few chances at it, um, and coach them along the way. I mean, I think it really depends on the people. I can't, I don't have a unilateral approach. But it's important for me to always provide opportunities for people to do that and let them know that this is what I expect from them. I

Conor Bronsdon: 24:07

I've mentioned the word strategy a couple times here because it's clear. You think about everything within your work through this lens of how can I connect it together to make everything I'm doing more powerful and we're supportive of my team and build this high performing organization. Yeah. How can I lead better? How do you think about this forward planning element, you know, both for yourself and for your organization?

Neha Batra: 24:29

I mean, like, honestly, it starts for a very simple, uh, notion, which is just, I want to work with really great people, I want to do really great work, and I want to have fun while doing it, that's the, the serious parts of the strategy start to stem out from that, how do you find the best talent, how do you grow the best talent, how do you, um, Uh, get an opportunity to do really great things together. I feel like it really just starts, it starts from something super simple as like wanting to have a good time with really good people. Um, and you go from there. And I also like kind of wanna take a moment and say that, you know. I, I've had the opportunity to build really successful teams before. Um, it takes time. I, I, you know, right now I'm in the middle of my role, um, my new role that I started in January. And, um, they are already, there's so many parts of that that's already high performing. But to be able to, um, put my own spin on it, to be able to grow into that and fit into that and help them get to the next step that they need to go, it takes time. Um, so for example, the things that I'm looking at right now are, what are the vision that we have? Do people feel like they can kind of see where they are right now and where we need to go? Do they feel like they are connected to the company and the company's goals? Do they feel like they understand what's expected of them, right? I start with a bunch of very basic questions and it helps me understand where we need to go and what we need to do differently. Because every single kind of organization that you work with looks very different, right? I think you have to be a good listener. You have to pause and take a look at where we really are and what the truth is and you have to figure out how you're going to understand that truth. And then, only then can you chart a plan. With trusted people around you to be able to give you an indicator as to whether that's going to work or not. Right.

Conor Bronsdon: 26:26

What's your approach to gathering that signal from your team about how they're feeling and so that you can build that trust and make sure you are moving in the right direction?

Neha Batra: 26:35

I think there's a bunch of different signals that you can take, and it's really important to get different kinds of signals. Mm. Um, of course you want to talk to people and, uh, folks are going to tell you, uh, a list of problems that they've experienced pain with recently, right? So I think people is definitely one way to get signals. I think you should look at different levels. You should look at who's the most marginalized versus who has the power. Um, you should look at, uh, people both on the IC level and on the management level. So I try to sample from a bunch of different places. Um. Yeah. And you can put out, for example, you can put an open call out for a feedback and you're gonna get people who definitely don't have the fear to provide that feedback. Um, but that's gonna be very different from like, uh, your dark matter users who never respond to something. Right. Um, and so people is, it's, it's its own piece, right? Of taking different ways to kind of cut your population up and figure out how you can get a signal from them. Eventually you figure out who is providing you consistent information that like lines up with your truth, and so you hone that side. Um, you can also take a look at, uh, tangibles and outcomes. Mm-Hmm. Right. So people said that there were gonna do a thing. What actually happens? Um, there's a track record behind everything, and essentially if you're looking at a system. You're looking at what you put into it, and you're looking at what it produces. So I can look at the evidence, which has to do with like, our roadmaps, our OKRs, our planning docs, our, um, posts around what we do, our strategy docs, um, and what we ship, right? So that's another signal that I kind of pick up on, um, and I have to benchmark that either against what I believe is true based on what I know already, or I'll talk to other leaders and other organizations within GitHub outside, right, around what is normal right now. Um, and I need to benchmark that. Well that's like people in process, I wanna say tools, but I don't really know if. We have many tools that kind of give you that indication right now. Yeah. Dev surveys I suppose, but that's surveys still pretty qualitative. Yeah. Surveys. I feel like that's really good input. Yeah. Right. All of this is like input for you to be able to like, generate a solution and, and generate a conclusion. But once I do generate a conclusion, I use ability to test that. Right. So I'll say, Hey, cool, I'm kind of reading a few pieces of evidence and it's almost like you're building, um, a. Like you're building a proof, for example. Uh, you wanna list all the steps out, your assumptions, and then how you're taking those assumptions and the givens and you're coming up with a conclusion. Mm. So that's kind of like my job is to say, okay, cool. Based on these things that I viewed, I'm coming up with this conclusion. A, am I missing anything in my assumptions and givens to be able to come up with this conclusion? B, do you come up with the same conclusion based on what you're seeing? Uh, and c. Does that conclusion ring right to you? And so I kind of put together a proof. I tested against a few people that I do believe have had like consistently good judgment or um, have come up with like helpful conclusions in the past. And then you just kind of gotta roll the dice at some point. You gotta pick something, you gotta try it out. If it fails, apologize quickly. Apologies are free. Right? Yeah. And you gotta move forward.

Conor Bronsdon: 29:46

I, I love that phrasing'cause I think a lot of folks. I feel like it's a challenge to apologize when really it's part of building that accountability you talked about. Saying, look, look I screwed up, uh, or I was wrong. How can I make this better? I'm going to. And that, that accountability piece is something that is clearly a through line for top engineering leaders like yourself. However, there we're talking a lot about best practices. Yeah, for sure. There are also a lot

Neha Batra: 30:10

of mistakes that get made. Oh, hundreds. Yeah.

Conor Bronsdon: 30:12

What are some of the top mistakes that either you have made that you've learned from, or that you see other leaders making that maybe you wanna suggest they learn from?

Neha Batra: 30:21

Yeah, I mean, I think I can give like a very simple and easy tale as old as time mistake, which is that. You know, the first thing that you do when you come into an organization, you have ideas, right? You say, Hey, what's your process around X, Y, Z? And they're like, what process? And you're like, you're telling me you don't have a way to, you know, generate a roadmap with like OKRs against it or whatever, and you're used to doing that, you're like, oh my God, I know how to do this. I'm gonna help you do this, and. That is step one towards like a little bit of failure, right? It's coming in really earnestly wanting to show that you can do a lot of good, but jumping to the gun too quickly and generating process for process's sake based on what you believe the problems are and not giving it any time to do it. I remember doing that in my first like, Uh, manager job, uh, for sure. Oh, I came in, um, I thought I knew like where we needed to go. I added some value, but I also added a lot of churn. Mm. Way more churn than the value that I added. I was very grateful to have a very understanding, calm, collected team who's dealt with brand new managers before, um, who kind of helped me see a different way of doing things. Um, and I'm really grateful to them because I wouldn't be here today without them. Uh. And I see this happen a lot. I mean, like, I think the, the biggest joke is right when like a leader comes in, like within a month they're gonna reorg. Right? And I remember talking to my career coach and she's like, she gave me one mission. She's like, when you get into your new role for 30 days, don't touch anything. And I was like, how hard could that be? And then all of a sudden I come into the role and it's not even that I wanna do it right. You sometimes get pressure top down. They're like, Hey, you're gonna wanna reorg that area and, uh, you're gonna wanna do X, Y, Z. And actually, if you wanna show the team that you trust them, that you're willing to listen, you have to take a loan now on that expectation from your manager or what's ever happening, top down and say, no, I'm not gonna do anything for the first 30 days. I'm gonna listen and this is how I wanna do it. Um, so I feel like. I've learned to have patience, I've learned that the requests that are made of me, some of them are actually really real and some of them are not, and you have to have a little bit of patience, and by not listening to everything come your way, and being a dampener, you can kind of avoid a lot of churn with your team, and I learned that nothing's going to happen if you don't reorganize the first 30 days, right? It'll be fine.

Conor Bronsdon: 32:56

As someone who has been very intentional about thinking about improvement, thinking about how you want to guide your teams, thinking about how do you want to improve as a leader, what would your advice be to Engineering leaders who are listening, who maybe earlier in their career, maybe they're fir on their first engineering management gig gig, maybe they're a dev who wants to get into management or, or someone else. What, what would be that advice you'd tell'em about how can I learn to become a better leader?

Neha Batra: 33:20

Well, I would say that first of all, you don't have to become a manager to become a good leader. Mm. Right. Um, I think that you can get a taste for that from any seat. And it's really important as you become a staff engineer, or a principal engineer, or a distinguished engineer, that you learn to have influence from where you are. Now, what starts to change as you become a manager, not in all roles, but in many roles, is you move further and further away from the code, being a manager is a shit job. Like, it is really hard. You might spend all of your time, 24 hours a day, trying to keep things as they are today. And I find that the people who stick it out, and the people who really get joy in it, Are the ones who can't help themselves but want to look at how the people are working and are fascinated by the processes and, um, and have this innate sense of, uh, you know, curiosity, uh, and, uh, you know, they get one tiny win once a month and that kind of makes up for the other 29 days of pain. Um, so I, unfortunately, it's like a very jaded view as someone who feels like, managing is really, really, really hard. I just can't help myself. Those tiny moments, those tiny wins where I see the light bulb go off and someone is able to do something that they could never do before, that makes up for months of pain for me. Um, and that's just how I function and that's how I work. So that was my advice to new managers or people who want to become managers is that try it out from where you are right now. And if you really, really want to do it, right, give it your best shot. Understand that I think a lot of people who go into management think like, okay, cool, I'm really excited about coaching. I'm really excited about growing my folks. And I'm like, you will get to do that. And those moments will really matter. A lot of the time, your time is spent around like managing information, uh, providing updates, organizing information away, uh, and unblocking the team so that they can move faster. And that's a lot more silent work. And it doesn't feel like the same as like coaching someone and getting to work with'em.

Conor Bronsdon: 35:39

Yeah. I would almost reframe that a little bit though and say like, yeah, you spend a lot of your time on blocking, dealing with the blocking and tackling, let alone, you know, trying to make sure they have the context and communication they need. But what you're doing there is you are, you've planted the seeds in your coaching. And now you are watering Yes. You are providing the sunlight. You are giving them the space to grow. Yes. Um, because you can't, you can't fully teach them this thing. No. They, they have to go experience it for themselves. And like, I, I'm with you. It is frustrating sometimes not to get to coaching times, but it is, it is so rewarding when you get to see people, you've had an opportunity to nurture, um, go into this open space and take on these resources that have been set, set up there for them. Yeah. Or, or, or create their own resources. And, and achieve things. Yeah. Because I, I mean there's nothing like it in the

Neha Batra: 36:28

world. I know. And it's so funny. Like we get paid to do this, right. We get paid to create an environment where people can do their best work. That is definitely, uh, when it comes to like the great things about being a manager, I somehow get to get paid to. Just till the soil, um, so that the seeds can be planted and then the plants can grow, right? And those plants obviously are human beings that have careers. Um, and then, yeah, I guess for my advice for people who are trying to become more serious leaders or trying to grow and try something new, um, it would be to, um, you know, going back to that Django block analogy, right? Um, pick something that you wanna try, uh, experiment and be curious about it. Pick that block, make sure that there's like, it's the path of like low friction. Put it on the top of the, um, tower, let your tower re stabilize, and then try something new. Um, I find that teams are a lot more forgiving, uh, if you approach it in the right way, if you apologize when it goes wrong, and, um, if you keep moving forward and listening to them.

Conor Bronsdon: 37:31

Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you're really excited about talking about, that you're like, hey, let's dive into this thing that we haven't talked about yet?

Neha Batra: 37:37

I have like a very big passion around experimentation as you can kind of like see and pick at. I take that pretty seriously. So it's like even when I started dating, I started running experiments when I was dating and I actually found my husband while dating, while running an experiment, um, because I just got bored and I needed to find a way to like entertain myself and like. Build curiosity into the world. Being on Tinder sucks, right? Yeah. And like, uh, you know, you kind of go through the same cycles over and over and over again and you have to find a fresh way to keep, you know, you have to find a way to keep your curiosity about the world to not get too jaded. and um, like what's like one moment that made you whatever, whatever, right? Yeah. And so I'd like get really interesting conversations kind of backfired because then people thought that the conversations were great. But I was just doing that'cause I was bored And then, uh, I started writing experiments. Yeah. So, you know, I would have a hypothesis that I would start that. Um, I'd have to swipe right on certain people because they fulfilled that like quota in the hypothesis. And then I'd compare it to a baseline and I'd try to make a conclusion. Swiped right. Went on a date. Um, and then after that first date I was like, um, this guy's pretty cool. this guy's pretty great. I think I found the one. Um, broke off with like, the other people I was dating. Um, and, uh, that was in 2015. I think I just found your

Conor Bronsdon: 39:13

best. Fun fact actually,

Neha Batra: 39:15

wait. What? It would be that I found my husband while running an experi dating experiment. I How to write this

Conor Bronsdon: 39:20

down? Yeah, I got you. No worries. We're here. We're here for you. Yeah. Awesome. Um, I'd love to ask you for any closing thoughts. I, I've enjoyed the far ranging nature of this conversation and I feel like you've got a, a takeaway punch for us.

Neha Batra: 39:35

I think that when it comes to being strategic, uh, a lot of people do associate that with being calculating. They associate it with politicking, they associate it with meddling. Um, and while I do think that there's an element to that, right? Like you obviously have to be able to see the systems for what they are and see the potential in them to try to move them to a different state. Um, it really, for me has a lot to do with curiosity. Yeah. I feel like I really love puzzles. I like learning about why things work the way that they work. I like taking inspiration from different places and I like trying new things. Right. And, um, if I'm going to try new things, if I'm going to, um. Try to learn about things in a different way. There is absolutely strategy to either A, create the space to do that, or B, to make that happen without other things burning down. I do have to think about things strategically, but it's in pursuit of understanding things better. Um, and, you know, making things make sense to me. Um, and that's like really what drives me and motivates me

Conor Bronsdon: 40:37

in a lot of ways I think. We're all leveraging strategy in a lot of our waking moments in this world, whether we want to call it that or not. Okay, maybe some of it's tactics, sure. Yeah, sure. But we all are breaking down the world so we can understand it better. Or we are acting off habit and

Neha Batra: 40:50

impulse. Yeah, it's a very human thing to do. Totally. Yeah.

Conor Bronsdon: 40:52

Uh, I have to ask, since I'm a a big strategy board game fan. Are you a board game person too? Mostly puzzles. Where are you at? Yeah.

Neha Batra: 40:59

Yeah. Um, I, uh, I haven't played board games super, super recently, but the last board game I played was Spirit Island. Oh, that's a good one. Yeah. Um, and we were playing, uh, oh my god, I really. Hope I can remember it. Um, it's like one of the most common, it's not like cat silos of cat contain, it's like a rel uh, gloom. No, Gloo Haven gloom was a great bloom haven. Um, yeah, we had like a, a couple that we used to, um, during the pandemic, they were in like our pandemic pod. Um, and we went. Every other week, and we played Gloomhaven through like, I don't know, like five or six chapters. It was lovely, yeah. I was the tank, right? So it's like someone who, you know, kind of, I'm naturally a support character, like when it comes to like, you know, video games and stuff like that. Um, and so you can't really be a support character fully in the basic set for Gloomhaven. So I was a tank. How do I like, take the hits for other people so that they can kind of do what they want? It was like very manager of me.

Conor Bronsdon: 41:59

I, uh, one of my fun facts is that, um, I lost a board game tournament that was being live streamed, uh, because I got too tilted. Really? Yeah. Uh, it's, you can, you can find it on the internet. I love playing Twilight Imperium. It's like a 4X exploring, conquest, space opera game. Too many hours, haven't played it in ages, need to get back into it. Um, but I was, I was playing in an online tournament during the pandemic and, um, managed to get a little too excited trying to, uh, crush my opponents. And, uh, maybe gave the game away. But it was, it was a good time. There was actually a meme made about it

Neha Batra: 42:34

within the Oh, oh my god, I have to see that. Uh, I can find it for you. That's definitely, yeah, you're right. That is your fun fact. It's, it's a

Conor Bronsdon: 42:40

little niche, but it's, it's pretty good. Um, if anyone's listening and, and if my producers Imperium player. Hit me up. Uh, would love to play. Uh, Alright, on that note, uh, I'd love to give our, uh, listeners an opportunity to follow your work, Neha. I, I've really enjoyed this conversation. Where can they find you online?

Neha Batra: 42:59

Um, if you wanna see, uh, a graveyard of past tweets, uh, I am nerd Neha both on Twitter. I'm Nerd Neha and GitHub. I am Neha at on LinkedIn. Uh, you'll identify me because I work at GitHub so I don't put posts off out too frequently, but if I do, they're probably gonna show up on LinkedIn.

Conor Bronsdon: 43:18

Excellent. Well, Neha, I'll make sure to connect with you on LinkedIn. I bet you a few of our listeners will as Well, and, uh, thanks coming on the show. We've really enjoyed it.

Neha Batra: 43:24

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This was great.