The Happy Engineer Podcast

051: Q&A #1 with Zach White – How to Be More Productive and How to Make Tradeoffs Between Company Size and Title

You ask the questions, and host Zach White answers! Enjoy our new Q&A series where we will tackle how to build your engineering career and accelerate growth!

In this episode, you asked me to tackle the common challenge of increasing personal productivity, and how to make tough tradeoffs when looking at new job opportunities.

Thank you to Isaac, a Senior Engineering Manager in Hardware Development, and Shah, a Global Project Engineering Manager, for sending me your questions!

>> Want to continue the conversation about these topics and more? Join our new community of engineering leaders in a free private Facebook group! Our goal is to do more than provide ideas and information, but to help you put them into action. Check it out here:

We all have questions, and this is the place to ask ‘em!

So press play and let’s chat… it’s time to get some answers.


The Happy Engineer Podcast




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That was a great Q&A episode with my good buddy Daniel. 

This week we got two great questions from Isaac and Shaw. You reading this are invited to submit your questions, too. Just shoot a message at [email protected]

Issac wrote: my to-do list is way longer than the day. Like all engineers. I know I’m constantly trying to juggle multiple projects, all the different parts of my life and trying to get more done. Zach, how do you personally stay organized and increase your productivity?

Shaw’s questions was: I’m an engineering manager looking for my next promotion and I’m unsure how to compare the different opportunities that I have, and which one is best for my career path. Should I go to a bigger company and take a position one level higher in a position such as a senior manager, or should I go to a smaller company and take a bigger title, like director or VP?

But I just want to share with you something that popped in for me after we stopped recording. And it was a flood of additional ideas. I mean, dozens of additional tips tricks, hacks, strategies, principles, tools, books, resources, people… about both of these questions, frankly, I live in this world, you know, in terms of personal development and career growth and coaching. 

Now, that may happen to you as well. You got a couple of tips from this episode around these questions. Maybe you’re in the same situation as Isaac or Shaw, maybe not, but you’ve probably also read some books about these topics or talked to a mentor in the past about similar questions or, you know, heard another podcast that addressed productivity in a different way.

You probably have dozens of ideas around what you could do next in your situation…

In your question, the question that did not get asked today… 

But when you look at that challenge or that barrier in your life, you’ve got a hundred ideas of what you could do. And so I wanted to share with you one of the most important skills and behaviors to nurture in your career and in your life to help you become the kind of leader who creates massive results in less time. 

Make a decision now

Quite simply, it’s the habit of making decisions and acting now. 

Decide and act immediately.

This is such an important habit. It’s a leadership quality that we need to nurture as engineering leaders make a decision on what the next step is. It doesn’t have to be the entire solution all the way to the finish line, but get into the habit of deciding the next action and do something now to put that action into motion.

The actual thing that you’re going to do, make a phone call, workout, fill in the blank. 

Like you may actually be able to take the action right now, or it could be that your next step is simply to calendar time to take that action or put some reminder on your computer monitor to take care of it.

Don’t leave this moment without a decision on what your next step is. 

Now, I want to give you an action that’s really useful, and that has the bonus of also creating accountability. 

Share your decision.

Share that action that you plan to take with someone else.

It could be an accountability partner or a mentor could be your coach, but I also want to give you an opportunity in the spirit of that to share that with the happy engineer podcast community, to share with me, to share with. 

Go to TheHappyEngineer Facebook group and share anything that’s going on with your career, ask questions, but also put your decisions and the things that you’re going to take action on.

You’re not sharing it for other people. You’re sharing it for yourself. You’re sharing it to create that psychological commitment to action. And yeah, if we can give you some feedback and connect you with other people and potentially help you with… all the better! 

So again, what is the next step, the next action that you need to take, whether it’s related to one of these questions we’ve covered today or in your own career in life. Let’s build that habit of deciding and acting now.

And while you’re in there, post a question, let us know what you want to cover in the next Q&A. Or if you’d rather send me an email, again, do it [email protected] 

Feedback is very much appreciated as well!

I hope that you’re doing awesome. Keep crushing comfort, have some fun.

Remember to enjoy it. You’re living your life right now. Not a year from now, not 10 years from now. It’s happening now. So let’s be happy engineers.


Previous Episode 050: How to Get a Seat at the Billion $$ Table with Casey Tubman




Zach White is a widely regarded coach known for changing the game in engineering career & leadership coaching. He has worked with hundreds of engineering leaders from top technology companies worldwide including Facebook (Meta), Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, to industry leaders like General Motors, Nike, Lockheed Martin, Whirlpool, and many more to escape burnout and achieve breakthrough results.

Zach is the Founder and CEO of Oasis of Courage, known as OACO, a fast-growing company with unique and proven coaching programs exclusively for engineers. He also hosts a top rated show, The Happy Engineer Podcast, where listeners discover the steps to engineering success through expert interviews and Zach’s own transformational framework, the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint.

As a coach for engineering leaders, Zach understands the journey first hand, holding a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, and a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. With over a decade of experience and top performance in a $20B organization, he is now a sought-after coach by engineering leaders around the world.

Zach is the World’s Best Lifestyle Engineering Coach.

Connect with him online and schedule a call to build your career, balance your life, and BE HAPPY!





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineers, I am pumped that you’re back for today. It is our first ever question and answer – Q&A episode. And that means my good buddy, Daniel Powell is back. Daniel what’s up, man? How are you doing?

Daniel Powell: Good to see ya!  

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:17]  Zach White: So for those who don’t know back in like episode 40 with our man Guillaume, I had this conversation with him about storytelling and in that episode, What came up was the idea of how we, we call the people who engage with us.

[00:00:32] Zach White: Sometimes we call them an audience, you know, you all our listeners. And if we don’t like that language at all, cause it’s one directional, it’s passive. You just get this picture. You know, people sit and cross-armed in a folding chair as an audience, just watching what’s happening and the happy engineer podcast and this community. It’s about way more than that.

[00:00:50] And Daniel and I were talking and said, well, we need to. Engage and really give an opportunity to make this a two way conversation. And back in episode 44, Daniel interviewed me to kick off some of that, just getting to know Zach, getting to know the happy engineer, and we told everybody, then we’re going to start doing these Q and A episodes.

[00:01:10] And so thank you to everybody who reached out and engaged and sent us questions and are sharing. What do you want to know? What are the things in your career that you feel stuck on? The barriers, the roadblocks, the frustrations, your dreams, your goals, the things that you want to accomplish that feel out of reach for you, or feel like it’s taking too long to get there.

[00:01:33] Send us those questions. And we’ll go back through at the end, how to send a question for next time, if you’re hearing this episode and you’re like, oh, I didn’t even know that was an option. Cool. We’ll get you the info, but we’re going to dive in and Daniel’s gonna, you know, help me ask some questions that came from you all out there doing the work, doing the thing.

[00:01:50] And I’m going to share my insights and do some coaching with you. And we hope it’s, absolutely tremendous value. And with that said, Daniel Alita sin, man, what’s the first question. Where are we going to go today? 

[00:02:01] I’m excited about these questions. There are really good ones. So our first one comes from Isaac 

[00:02:09] Daniel Powell: He’s a senior engineering manager in hardware development. And this is what Isaac asks. He says my to-do list is way longer than the day. Like all engineers. I know I’m constantly trying to juggle multiple projects, all the different parts of my life and trying to get more done. Zach, how do you personally stay organized and increase your productivity?

[00:02:36] Zach White: Isaac, my man, you are speaking to the heart of every single engineering leader that I’ve ever coached. And I know Daniel and I both relate to that to do list. Yikes. So I have in my 90 day coaching program in one of our modules on productivity, I joke a little bit that all productivity conversations began with Sage wisdom of the Disney movie.

[00:03:05] The lion king. So I got to start with the lion king, the, the song that’s the lyrics.Yeah. From the day we arrived on the planet, the moment we stepped into the sun, there’s more to do more, to see than can ever be seen more to do than can ever be done.

[00:03:23] This, this amazing intro line in the theme song from the lion king. And that is the truth. your to-do list will always and forever as an engineering leader be longer than you will be able to get done on any given day. There’s just more to do than we can get done. So we get like right there with you Daniel you’re moderating. So I need to go straight to the heart of the question or is it okay if I back up a step or two and address some, what I think are prerequisites to actually getting to a real answer here? I think 

[00:03:58] Daniel Powell: that’s everything you do as a coach, right? Like you’re, you’re digging down to the foundation, like you’re not concerned with next steps.

[00:04:05] You got to set up the first stuff, right? So, you get to the back steps in the right 

[00:04:09] then let’s back up. there’s two things that I think pre-seed the question around how to get more done. And there’s so many tools and resources and systems and ideas and life hacks and productivity hacks we could talk about.

[00:04:23] Zach White: But to me, it’s all worthless. If we don’t hit these two things, first, number one is that priority precedes. You know, in my 90 day coaching program, we talk about four key pillars to creating massive success in your career, purpose, priority productivity and people. And while they are all four pillars that equally hold up this house of our career, it is important to note that, to measure true productivity in your life and in your career must be in context of what priorities you have chosen.

[00:05:02] So if you’re getting a lot done on something that is not a priority, I would tell you as a coach, you’re not being productive at all because you’re not doing the right things. And so the first question, for Isaac and for anyone asking the question about how to get more done is we’ll.

[00:05:21] Hold on. Before we even talk about getting more done, do you have clarity on what are the most important priorities for you? Not just at work. But in the context of your whole life, are we clear on what we want to do? So what, before, how, okay. that’s step one. The second piece, even if we have that clarity is that as engineers, we get taught about productivity in a scientific way, a factory physics kind of way, how many widgets can we produce per hour?

[00:05:55] How many tasks can I get done? per hour, we’re always measuring productivity as an amount of something done per some unit of time, because that is the definition in a sense from everything we learned in school. And it’s how we think about productivity. That’s the mindset we’re taught. Well, I want to challenge that mindset around productivity because I believe absent.

[00:06:19] The most important factor to exponentially multiplying your productivity in your career and in your life, rather than thinking about tasks per hour, how much can I get done in a certain amount of time? I want you to think about the amount of energy that you’re bringing to the task in that same amount of time.

[00:06:46] So rather than focusing on tasks per hour or even worse, how many hours per week am I working? Yeah, this is thing we all talk about. Like, Hey, how many hours did you work last week? And we put that badge of courage on us. I, I w I put in 70 hours, 80 hours, a hundred hours last week. And we talk about that.

[00:07:03] Okay. Forget that. I want you to ask the question, how much energy am I bringing to the task at hand? How much energy per. Okay. So forget hours per week, let’s talk about energy per hour because productivity in your career, especially, you know, as engineers, we’re not actually an assembly line. We’re doing work that involves the bind.

[00:07:29] We’re solving complex problems. We’re connecting dots. We’re working in the space of thought for the most part. Now, even if you’re a manufacturing engineer, the work and the value that we add is not actually building the widget or shooting the screws. Right? So in that regard, we’re still using our mind to create the value and it’s energy.

[00:07:48] That is the X-Factor from people who are massively productive from those who are just fighting for the next hack to claw out, one more email per day. Right. And that’s really not where we get leverage. so those are the two questions I would always coach someone on first. Are we clear on the priorities and how’s your initial.

[00:08:07] Daniel Powell: Are you bringing energy to the task at hand? So let me pause there for a second. I’m curious, Daniel, have you ever heard those two things or what triggers for you when I say that? Uh, there there’s something I want to jump back to I’ll answer that question first. Yes. I’ve shifted my perspective. When you said, you know, energy per hour.

[00:08:29] When I heard you say that the first time, because I’ve always had this, uh, this way that I want to work, that I feel guilty about you know, as I’ve been getting a little more healthy in my routines, my desires to set it up so that I work 45, 60 minutes and then take a 50, minute break, go for a walk, you know, do some sit-ups like ride my bike, right.

[00:08:51] Zach White: Just do something that gets the blood pumping. When I do that, I’m so productive. When I don’t, I’m just worried about the problems. I’m looking at the list, you know what, I’m focused on the number of things I need to get done. Totally. So you said there’s something you wanted to back up to. So personally, what I’m finding my own journey is the best way for me to get stuff done is to find out the stuff that I don’t need to be doing in the first 

[00:09:20] place.

[00:09:21] Oh, a hundred percent, 

[00:09:23] Daniel Powell: It’s simple example here, like, right. I don’t like to control everything. I like to know everything When I was important photos from my, and my wife’s phone the other day, you know, stuff is coming in as like a. ATI C files instead of JPEGs, like, what is this new file format that I’ve never encountered before?

[00:09:42] anyway, it’s not like whatever, you know, I, I figured out how to convert them, but the other day, my wife’s like, oh, have you noticed this new file format? I was like, yeah. And she’s like, oh yeah, there’s just a setting. You can change in your phone. So I fought, I fought the need to say, oh, I need to find out how to change that.

[00:09:58] Daniel Powell: So when I get the next phone, I’ll know how to change it. Just hand on my phone and my wife. And I said, you change it for me because I want to use my brain power for other things on 

[00:10:06] Zach White: my list. Yeah. A hundred percent. So this is a good segue then it’s like, let’s go answer Isaac’s original question to be fair.

[00:10:14] How do you actually increase the productivity? Assuming we’ve got clear priorities and we understand how to manage our energy, And if you don’t know how to do those things, great topic for another conversation. But first piece, what Daniel just said is so true. And it’s my first step. Every single time I feel overwhelmed or behind, or the to-do list is getting too long.

[00:10:36] Is I go back to the core question of how can I eliminate automate delegate, procrastinate, and concentrate. And I’m pulling those five words from an amazing framework from a guy named Rory Vaden who wrote a book called procrastinate on purpose and has a tool that he calls the focus funnel. And so I highly recommend you go check out Rory, buy a copy of his book.

[00:10:59] It’s great, but that focus funnel, those five stages is a great way to take your entire to-do list. You dump it in the top of this funnel, and you can just imagine you’re churning through every single item and asking. I need to figure out this new file type using Daniel’s example. Well, can I eliminate that task?

[00:11:17] What if I just don’t do this? What happens? can I say no, really? do I actually have to do this thing anymore? And a lot of times, if we are honest and have the courage to say no, there’s a lot of things we can say no to, but let’s assume it passes that filter. Well then, can this be automated?

[00:11:34] Is this a task that I need to actually be doing all the time? Or what if I invested the energy or the money or the resources to automate this? Would that save me from ever having to do this again? Okay. That might be worth it to go invest that time and energy or money to automate those things. If it can’t be automated or it’s not worth it to automate, maybe it’s a one-time thing.

[00:11:54] Can I delegate? Daniel’s a role model for us, delegate it to his wife. Hey, you know what you do this, I would appreciate if we can just leverage your expertise rather than me taking on an incremental tasks. Delegation is so key, as an engineering leader, I don’t know why this is, but most people get taught that you can’t delegate until you’re a manager and you have a team to delegate to.

[00:12:19] That’s not true. You can delegate any time to anyone by just building those relationships, building that trust and having a great, compelling reason and vision for why that delegation makes sense, to go to a peer or even to delegate back to your boss, managing up, like anyone can delegate. but Hey, let’s say it’s gotta be Daniel.

[00:12:43] You know, you gotta do it, passes through the delegate, then there’s that procrastinate? Wait, what, what are we talking about? Zach procrastinate? What’s that about? I love what Rory says here that even if the task needs to be done and it needs to be done by you doesn’t mean now is the time that you need.

[00:13:00] Which does come back to that question of priority is now actually the time that this needs to get done. And if not, it goes back up to the top and we’re going to run it through the filter again. Next time that bottom level then is concentrate. That’s that point? Hey, it’s time to do it. Time to get after this is single tasking.

[00:13:18] This is that high energy, that full focus go get the job done. So I like to start with that as a lens to take all my tasks through and just make sure that I’m not missing opportunities to get stuff off my list, automate, delegate, et cetera. now let’s say I want to hop in 

[00:13:33] Daniel Powell: here places you put some language to that, that I haven’t heard before, 

[00:13:37] Because a lot of times I’ll get stuff in my field division. Yeah, I don’t need to be doing, but if I put it off long enough, if it stays on my to-do list long enough, I’ll get in the mode where I’m just like, I want to hack, hack all the unnecessary stuff out. I get four things done just cause I procrastinate.

[00:13:55] Right. And I just say, that’s not even important. 

[00:13:58] Zach White: Procrastination gets a bad rap because it does create a lot of problems for most people. if you’re avoiding work that needs to get done now because it’s difficult or uncomfortable, or you have to go sit down with a colleague who you really don’t like that much to do that task.

[00:14:14] And so you’re avoiding it, back to credit to Rory Vaden, he coined this really brilliant term creative avoidance. it’s just a form of procrastination where you need to go do that thing. It really is a priority, but you’re avoiding it. that’s dangerous. That’s not going to help you in your career, but to be intentional to say, you know what, this doesn’t need to be done now.

[00:14:34] And maybe if I batch this, or maybe if I do it at a time where my energy is more aligned to that task, you know, I want to do it more. Or frankly, for some people it can be a fruitful strategy to wait until it’s closer to the deadline, both. So you avoid the risk of rework. If you’ve learned something down the road or.

[00:14:52] That may help you to bring more energy to the task. If there’s a greater sense of urgency, again, you got to know yourself, and this is something as a coach, it’s like, we got to choose the right approach and strategy for each person, because for some people that time pressure might actually hurt you rather than help you to get to know yourself.

[00:15:08] But so Zach, We haven’t answered the question yet. I feel like we’ve danced around it. So how do you stay organized when you feel like you have, too much to do, how do you let’s go, let’s read the question again, just to make sure we’re staying on topic here, but with the different parts of your life and wanting to get more done, how do you facilitate getting 

[00:15:31] more done in your life?

[00:15:33] Daniel, I’m glad you’re here. Or I would have rambled on about principles and concepts all day. Isaac. Here’s the key. I like to use what I call a brain friendly to do list. I take the thousand things that I have on the list and for today. So this morning I did it this morning.

[00:15:53] Zach White: I pull off only the things that I intend to get done today. And I write those on a post-it on a separate short list that this is today’s plan. I make sure that my calendar is fully reflective and supportive of that intention. So if I said, these are the five things I’m going to get done today, do I have time set aside on my calendar to tackle those five things?

[00:16:21] Don’t be foolish and say, you’re going to get 10 things done when you have 10 hours of meetings on other things and no time to get work done, right. you’ve set yourself up for failure on the day. So before. I grabbed just what I’m going to get done today. I pull it off that list onto a separate small list.

[00:16:37] Why do I do that? Well, psychologically, I want to be able to limit my focus, literally like my, my environmental focus, right? I’m not looking at a list with more things on it than what I intend to get done. I’m seeing just those, three to five things, whatever it is. also at the end of the day, I want to be able to have scratched off all five.

[00:17:00] I want to be a hundred percent, five out of a thousand. Feels like total failure. I barely made a dent out of the thousand things I got to get done, but five out of five feels like a perfect day. Right. And as much as it seems like a gimmick psychologically, that helps me keep my energy up. It helps me stay focused and it helps me feel really good about what I accomplished.

[00:17:21] So that’s the first thing I do brain-friendly to do list. I stopped staring at the thousand things, pull in the five things. The second piece of that is I make sure my calendar is fully supportive of that plan. And so if I have an hour, that’s open on my calendar, I’ll actually create a meeting for myself with the specific actions as, Hey, during this time, this is what I’m going to get done.

[00:17:42] Time block, such a simple but crucial skill for anybody who wants to be productive. It’s assigning your time to where you needed to go. I call this time investment. So I focus in my life around energy management, time investment. Okay, time’s going to keep going. We don’t get to manage time. It does its thing.

[00:18:02] Zach White: Right. We manage ourselves, but we invest the time that we have. So I make sure the calendar reflects it. piece that I use to become more productive. So really get to the heart of the matter. How does Zach white get more done? Parkinson’s law and I apply it into my life relentlessly. Parkinson’s law is the idea that work will fill the container or the space, the time that we give it. So if I give myself two hours to edit a podcast, before I hand it off to Daniel and he does his magic to make us sound great, I’m going to use two hours. But if I give myself 30 minutes, I’m going to get it done in 30 minutes.

[00:18:42] Now we always find exceptions to that. Like, oh, Zach, some things just have a minimum amount of time. It always, okay, fine. Look, I get it. there’s usually a lower bound, but here’s what I have found with work that involves the mind where we have to think and decide and really do that critical work.

[00:18:58] That’s it’s mental work information work. I am yet to find a client. Assumes that it’s going to take an hour and is right. That that’s the true venom. You can do it faster. I know you can, I’ve proven it over and over and over and over. So how do I do this, Daniel? I literally will say, look, I’m going to take what last week I spent an hour on and I’m only going to give myself 45 minutes.

[00:19:25] I’m only going to give myself 30 minutes and I’m going to turn in. Whatever’s done at the end of that time, you gotta be relentless about protecting that back end. Like at the end of the 30 minutes, I’m sending it to Daniel at the end of that 30 minutes, I’m emailing my boss. The final answer at the end of that 30 minutes, I’m getting up out of the chair.

[00:19:42] I’m going home. Right. So we’ve got to protect that back end, but I just give myself less time. And when I do that and I commit to it every single time, I find myself rising to the occasion. the mind comes up with the answer, you get to it quicker and you can get more done. that’s why it’s a couple of keys.

[00:20:01] We could go to a hundred more tactics and tips, but that’s fine. 

[00:20:04] Daniel Powell: Let me hop in here as a less productive guy.

[00:20:10] the shorter list. That’s an effective way to get stuff done and motivate your mind. A little piece of you die every day. When, you know, you’re only gonna get three things done or five things done. I think, getting in that. It’s difficult because you have to sacrifice the rest of your, to do list.

[00:20:30] do you feel that struggle, that pain when you write that to do list of three things, five things, seven things

[00:20:38] Zach White: I may have at the beginning and date, I think this is a really powerful observation that you’re making, because it actually touches on the foundation of all of our coaching at OACO, which is your mindset you know, if we had more time and if you and I were coaching together right now, well, we would start digging into is, well, what’s actually behind what’s the root of that.

[00:20:58] Feeling that, uh, I’m dying inside a little bit because there’s 995 things that I’m not going to get to today. You know, what’s actually happening there. And for me, the mindset that underpins that emotion and that response of dying inside a little bit, because the list is long is this idea that I’m not going to do enough today.

[00:21:21] And if I’m not doing enough, it’s because I’m not enough to get there. And it starts to tap into some of these core root challenges that can really disrupt our mindset, hurt our self-esteem, our self image and creating. Negative relationships with work and with time and with everything happening in our life.

[00:21:40] And it’s a great observation. And for anybody listening, if that’s something that you feel we all want to be 

[00:21:46] Daniel Powell: what we all want to be Superman. 

[00:21:47] Zach White: Yeah. It’s 

[00:21:48] Daniel Powell: like, we don’t want 

[00:21:49] Zach White: to get the whole isn’t done today. Yeah, 

[00:21:51] Daniel Powell: When you only put three things on it. Yeah. Acknowledge that you’re just human capacity.

[00:21:57] Zach White: Daniel. It’s like, you got to ask ourselves, am I, is Zach white worth more to the world? And the people in it, if I can get 10 things done instead of five things done and we could easily argue, oh yeah. Well, people who get 10 things done every day, get paid more than people who get five things done and productivity matters.

[00:22:15] Yeah. But like as a person, as a human is my worth in this world. Truly at the end of the day, by how many things on my to do list, I can get done. Yikes. If that’s my measure of my self worth and my self image, I got a deeper problem to deal with than my productivity, because my worth is not proportional to my productivity.

[00:22:38] just because our salary might be related to the value we create at work. And there can be some correlation there, right? We’ve gotta be careful taking that and pasting it onto your self-esteem and self-worth. And in fact, let’s even take that paradigm. I just said, and challenge it does the CTO do that much more than the entry level engineer each day in terms of productivity?

[00:23:04] Zach White: Well, it’s a nursing question. let’s say they both put in a 10 hour day, did the CTO do that much more? That’s worth 10 X or 20 X or a hundred X, the salary of that other person, did they really do a hundred times. Probably not, it’s just a different kind of value. So we got to get out of this question around productivity and also understand what is value.

[00:23:26] you’re talking about mindset and that’s why all of our coaching, it’s not just about these tactics and strategies that the foundation of the lifestyle engineering blueprint model is mindset for that exact reason. So Isaac that’s 

[00:23:39] Daniel Powell: one step to take is breaking your long to-do list into smaller.

[00:23:45] Did you have a word for those daily lists? Micro lists? 

[00:23:48] Zach White: I call it my brain friendly daily to do lists at 

[00:23:52] Daniel Powell: the brain-friendly to do list daily to-do list. 

[00:23:56] All right. Well, there’s some, uh, strategies, techniques, and, uh, additional thoughts for Isaac. 

[00:24:05] Zach White: Uh, Isaac, if we, if we just danced around the topic and didn’t even get to what you were hoping for, send us another note, man. And we’ll, we’ll dig back in. I’ll send you some personal feedback on your situation. 

SHAH Question:

[00:24:16] So our next question is from a Shaw and Shaw is a global project engineering manager. Here’s what Sean says. I’m an engineering manager looking for my next promotion and I’m unsure how to compare to different opportunities that I have, and which is best for my career path. Should I go to a bigger company and take a position one level higher, in, in a position such as a senior manager, or should I go to a smaller company and take a bigger title, like director or VP.

[00:24:50] Zach White: Tricky question Shaw, because there’s a lot of play, but let’s talk about some of the trade-offs that exists here. first of all, absolutely true, as an engineering manager, I’m going to assume for the moment that try to mid-size company, cause you’re drawing this distinction between, do I go bigger or go smaller?

[00:25:08] So you’re probably in a, a mid-sized organization. There’s most likely some hierarchy where you’re at probably manager and senior manager positions, in your current organization. Maybe not, maybe it goes from manager straight to director, but let’s just address the reality that the bigger the organization, you the more layers there’s going to be in that org chart in that hierarchy, you won the titles that we all hear about and are familiar with are generally anchored around larger company dynamics.

[00:25:38] So when you go to a really small company, like a startup. 20 or 50 people in the company in a way those titles don’t even make sense. In the same context, you have to be a vice president at a startup, in terms of the scope of that job and what you’re going to be doing every day. It’s totally different than being a vice president at Metta or apple or you some large organization.

[00:26:02] So we understand that and hopefully that’s not a surprise Shaw. We get that there’s this dynamic. And so what you’re asking, it’s confounding these two factors of, of title with, the scope of the role, right? and where do I want to land and what’s best for my longer term career path.

[00:26:21] So, you know, as you can imagine the answer and the recommendation is really going to depend on your vision for your career longterm. So if you don’t understand or have a vision beyond the next. Let’s push pause. And that’s the first thing you want to go get clarity on. think about five, 10, even 15 years from now.

[00:26:45] What’s the vision you have for your career and your life longterm. do you aspire one day to be a VP or CTO level leader at a fortune 500 organization. One of these big engineering organizations, if that’s the case, that’s going to have a big impact on how we answer this question. Versus if you said Zach, what I’d really love to do is join a small company or even start my own company and get into something that’s boutique small, very focused and, and that’s what I would be passionate about doing and in the long-term future.

[00:27:20] Let’s just take those two extremes to make answering this possible without being able to interact with you right here. And I would just say for starters, if you know, already for certain that you want to lead in a large organization at a high level, then what you really want to prioritize around in terms of career decision-making is getting the experiences and delivering the kind of results that are going to make you a great.

[00:27:49] To lead big teams and big companies that doesn’t necessarily mean that your next move has to be straight to that bigger organization, but we definitely need to measure carefully. What are you going to gain in terms of your development and your career? If you go to a small company, because you might get that director title of that VP title, but then when you go down the road to that move into a fortune 500 organization, you know, you’re not likely to be able to keep that title.

[00:28:20] You’re going to go back down to a lower level. lower level by, by titles. It may still be a bigger job in a bigger scope of what you’re responsible for and maybe bigger income as well. But we got to make sure that what you’re gaining in terms of career development and skills and experiences and leadership with that director of VP role are going to be a direct transfer to what you need and the gaps that you need to close to then move back into the bigger organization, risk is that sometimes the experiences that you really need to be successful in a big organization do require being in the big organization context to get them, you it’s hard to lead a team of a hundred engineers if there’s only 30 people in the company.

[00:29:03] So, so there’s going to be some pieces where eventually you got to make the step into a big organization if that’s what you want. And then on the flip side, if what you want is to be in a startup or a small business, one day, it’s the same question, but we’re optimizing around.

[00:29:20] Attributes. So what’s the development and the experiences that you need to eventually be successful, as a startup leader. it might seem simple, like going to a small company now is the right move. But the common thread here is let’s optimize the decision now around what you need to grow and develop in to reach your longterm vision.

[00:29:39] Daniel Powell: So what I hear you saying is don’t get seduced by 

[00:29:43] Zach White: a title 1000% the titles are meaningful. If we’re comparing companies of like size and scale, uh, just so you understand, what they’re valued at and the scope of those jobs. But honestly, title is not important. don’t know anybody who has told me, Zack, my.

[00:30:06] Absolutely transformed by moving from senior manager to director, when I’m doing the exact same work for the exact same pay for the same size team, developing the same kinds of products. And all that changed was my title. I got a new title. My life is brand new. It’s like, no, no, not at all. Yeah.

[00:30:26] The titles are what they are, but what really drives fulfillment and happiness and growth. And the things that we want from our career is, is not directly related to that. 

[00:30:36] QnA 01 – The Happy Engineer Podcast: so 

[00:30:36] Daniel Powell: let me ask you a question on that. That makes a lot of sense. Now you’re a guy who’s, who’s, well-networked within the engineering field and I’m sure, you know, a couple of recruiters, 

[00:30:47] Do you think a title might catch a, uh, a recruiter’s eye or are they too smart for that? 

[00:30:54] Zach White: If somebody was a 

[00:30:55] Daniel Powell: funny P like, right. Is that going to catch their eye or is that going to, do you think, I think we’re all human. I think that’s going to catch your 

[00:31:02] Zach White: eye. you’re 

[00:31:05] Daniel Powell: on the road in the interview, that’s going to come out.

[00:31:08] If you’ve only managed a team of 30 people, 

[00:31:10] Zach White: three. Exactly. Exactly. 

[00:31:11] Daniel Powell: And you’re interview for a position where it might be a 

[00:31:14] Zach White: hundred people, so yeah, no, you’re right. I mean, subconsciously we all have bias. That’s tied to labels. This is true in every domain of life. It’s part of how the brain works is we categorize things, you know, somatic markers and the neural networks of the brain and associations.

[00:31:32] So you’re right. There’s no way to avoid. The subconscious triggers and the biases that flow in, when you introduce yourself as the director of something versus introducing yourself as the manager of something, there is a social context around those titles. That’s going to create a certain impression.

[00:31:49] And this is why by the way, small companies will still issue these higher titles. Because then when that leader goes into a big company to sell their products and services, it’s like, why am I talking to the manager? I need to be talking to the vice president of sales, you know, like, so the titles do matter in that regard, but other than that initial eye catching and first impression when it comes down to the actual hiring and decision-making eventually that you’re to your point, they’re going to get to the meat and the heart of the matter.

[00:32:18] so I think the key here is be aware of that external influence and bias that the title may bring. don’t hesitate to leverage that if there’s a reason to, you know, if you’re the one making decisions on titles or, uh, as you look at your own career and when is it important to make that step? That, yes, it does matter.

[00:32:35] Zach White: I don’t mean to say it’s irrelevant, but what I would say to Shaw, the reason I earlier mentioned, like, forget about the title, because for you on the inside, your own life, if you’re linking your happiness and esteem and quality of life to the title, then I’d say we need to have a deeper conversation.

[00:32:57] So, so I think Daniel is a great point. Let’s put some, true context around what that means, but in the long run, your career potential is still governed by what you can bring to the table, the results that you’ve delivered and these other pieces more than what title you hold today. 

[00:33:16] Daniel Powell: So pursue X, the relevant experience.

[00:33:20] Over the title, but it would bring, 

[00:33:23] Zach White: here’s a good little test for people to use, you know, shod encourage you to do this. And anybody listening, if you’re making a decision between two, two choices, we get to these forks in the road, you know, the crossroads of our lives making the big call. Do I go to this company or that company, do I take this job or that job that can create a lot of stress, a lot of turmoil for engineering leaders, because we don’t always do well.

[00:33:43] And I include myself in this category when it comes to facing the unknown, there’s a lot of fear about the unknown do I go left? Do I go right? And which one is the right decision? And by making that statement, we’re assuming one of them is the wrong decision, you know? And that’s a scary thing.

[00:33:58] I don’t want to make the wrong choice. Well, there’s a lot things to unpack there, but here’s an exercise or a little tip to address the question. Do I go to AA? Do I go to beak? Do I go to the left? I’d go to the right. Take a moment. I want you to close your eyes, get present, you know, that kind of meditative state for a little bit, no distractions clear the mind and imagine yourself one year from today in that job, let’s start on the left side.

[00:34:27] Yeah. Look at that role and imagine yourself a year from today in that place, what would you be doing? What, where are you living? What’s the kind of things you’d be experiencing day to day and as vividly as you can just imagine yourself in that place a year from now that you’ve taken that job, just play out that, that movie in your mind take note of how you feel about that picture.

[00:34:52] just kind of be honest with yourself. Are you excited about that picture? Is it kind of myth what’s triggering for you? What’s coming to the surface and then do the same thing on the other side. Imagine yourself a year down the road in the. The other path. And what are you noticing?

[00:35:06] Zach White: What, where are you living? Who are you working with? What are you working on? What’s going on? Where do you see that going? And just imagine a day in the life, make that movie of the other option and then notice what you’re feeling, what you’re observing there. and just take stock in that. And in that process, you may start to notice what are the things that are actually bubbling to the surface that you get most excited about and where are you less excited?

[00:35:29] And what do you really value about these two opportunities? The most, you may find yourself really honing in on the location. Like, oh, I really don’t see myself living in Michigan. You know, it’s too cold there. I don’t actually don’t when I thought about it, I don’t really like that at all. Or you may find yourself really triggering it on the size of the team.

[00:35:46] Like, oh, when I thought about how big that organization was and the size of that team that really lit me up versus this other. So doing that exercise as a way. help you get past some of those surface level metrics that we all measure like salary and titles and these things that are at the top and get into a little bit more of the, the heart of the matter and just trust yourself, start to pay attention to what you’re feeling and use that as an indicator for things you may want to explore deeper, or even potentially to make that final decision.

[00:36:17] Daniel Powell: Excellent.

[00:36:20] Shall I hope that helps, man. And again, these are tough questions. This is real life. This is, this is real life making those decisions is hard. And, you know, for both Isaac and Shaw and everybody out there, I do encourage you to, solicit support, ask for help, talk to mentors, get a coach, do the things you need to do to make sure that you feel great about how you’re moving forward in these areas.

[00:36:39] Daniel, yeah, as we wrap up for today, just a reminder for everybody out there. If you want to get a question brought into this, Q and a episode forum, please reach out. And I would love to hear from you directly. I mean, Give you my email, it’s [email protected] Z-A-C-H at oasis of

[00:36:58] Zach White: Just shoot me a note. It could be, you know, written or if you want to shoot me a voice memo, just talking through your situation, what your question is, we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to chew on those things and also, send me any feedback. how can we make these Q and a episodes even more useful for you?

[00:37:12] Daniel knows. I love to, just go and pull the thread wherever it goes. Sometimes, you know, maybe we could be a different format, a little more tactical or address more questions in less time. You know, I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can make this as valuable for you as a community.

[00:37:26] Zach White: Cause that really is our heart. we want the happy engineer podcast to be more than just, you know, you come in here to soak up information. It’s about getting the things you need to take that next step in your career to really experience happiness and fulfillment in your life. And so anything we can do let Daniel and myself know how we can improve this.

[00:37:46] And, uh, it’s just an honor to. Support you all and hear the stories of your success and the journeys that you’re on. So, so keep crushing it, keep crushing comfort, create courage and have tons of fun. But, um, Daniel, thanks for being here with me today, man. It’s always good to have you on the show too. QA.

[00:38:02] Daniel Powell: Number one, it’s been a pleasure.