Engineering Manager’s role in a tech company is complex, NordLayer isn’t an outlier in this case. With the role comes expectations to know everything about the topic and beyond. However, it’s not a solo adventure covering only infrastructure and code building — you must lead teams and communicate on various organizational levels.
We asked Carlos Salas, Engineering Manager at NordLayer, to take us behind the scenes of his work life and share what it’s like balancing technicalities and managing a team. He is known for always being available to help you out. This time is no exception — after meeting Carlos, you’ll learn how to improve in your field and what gaps any engineer and tech lead should mind in their journey.
Carlos, introduce us to your role and your team’s responsibilities at NordLayer
My role is fundamentally to lead the Infrastructure team as their Engineering Manager. The responsibilities include (but are not limited to) procuring, expanding, and maintaining NordLayer’s private cloud infrastructure. Our team does the research and development of new features and functionalities. Nonetheless, we look ahead to prepare for the potential challenges that might arise on the road.
I am lucky to have such a well-rounded team — this helps to keep a balance between leading my team and creating new features alongside them.
What from your previous learning and growing experiences best reflects in your current job?
I started my career as a Junior System Administrator at a cybersecurity firm and kept evolving from there to a Java developer, Oracle DBA, Android Developer, Technical Lead, and then back again to a position tightly coupled with cybersecurity, but this time as an R&D Manager. All these past positions led me towards my journey with Nord Security almost two years ago.
I use past experiences to shape my role as a manager and a technical-oriented lead. Combining the best of both worlds is necessary when leading highly technical engineering teams.
What is your thought process for problem-solving? Have you developed a specific approach or technique for dealing with challenges?
My approach to problem-solving is always to consider every stakeholder’s opinion and input. I believe that one of the biggest flaws of most engineers is to let ourselves into the delusion of knowing it all.
I always tackle this issue by involving my team in every decision: I ask and listen to their ideas, thoughts, and questions. This way, I make them a part of the decision-making process instead of just giving orders and expecting them to proceed with no-questions-asked.
Is creativity important working in the tech-engineering field? How do you find your ways of thinking outside the box?
Creativity is necessary for the Engineering Manager’s role, but this can also be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, letting your creativity fly when making decisions can lead to amazing and out-of-the-box thinking. However, unbridled creativity can lead to excessively over-engineered solutions instead of simplifying the process from the start.
While creativity is a must, it’s imperative to learn when and how to bring an idea to fruition in a simple yet future-proof way.
In your opinion, what criticalities an Engineering Manager should be aware of?
First and foremost, as much as you’ll be involved in technical topics and decision-making, there’s also the other side of the coin. You won’t be as involved in the actual implementation as you anticipated. It brings challenges, such as being highly knowledgeable on various topics, to effectively delegate tasks to your team members.
Secondly, you need to be aware that you’ll now be the spokesperson for your team. When you communicate with other teams, the representation becomes absolute. No more of the X Person said this, but rather the Y Team said this, so you need to be mindful of such perception and discuss with your team what best describes their mindset.
Finally, we tend to dismiss a skill set that is very important to have, yet most people with engineering backgrounds don’t take into consideration: communication skills. It is pretty easy to say something the wrong way, miscommunicate a task, or simply use the wrong words to trigger a more significant problem that could involve multiple teams. I would say that as a manager, communication skills are equally important as technical skills.
Engineering and the tech-lead role require you to be highly knowledgeable and able to deliver the message to different audiences clearly. It’s not an easy task — how to overcome such a knowledge & skill gap?
For technical training, there is a wide range of certifications and training. They could vary depending on your role as a manager and the industry you are working in. Therefore, I suggest you look for vendors or training providers that lend you a hand to hone your skills.
On the soft skills side, I highly recommend The Open University. They have various free courses to learn soft skills such as Effective Communication, Leadership, and Personal Branding that could help develop or polish your soft skills arsenal.
It’s not rare to see you as a guest in tech podcasts, conventions, and interviews — is it your way to clear your head from technicalities in your job, or do you find it tightly corresponding to your function?
Podcasts, presentations, and interviews are indeed a way to clear my head from the highly technical tasks my team and I are involved in daily. Yet, these are tightly coupled with my responsibilities as an Engineering Manager.
In my mind, I am responsible for educating and expanding cybersecurity awareness in all sectors of the population - from the end user to governmental agencies - to prevent high-profile hacks and data leaks.
One last thing — scientists and AI like predicting how future humans will evolve. Could you simulate how a typical engineer will look in the 2030s?
As much as I love making predictions about what the future will bring (especially when it comes to cybersecurity), I’m honestly baffled by how technology is evolving nowadays.
Quantum computing is in its infancy, yet growing exponentially, so it is anyone’s guess on what will happen to our present networks once they reach a more mature level. It might be nothing or bring chaos, but only time will tell.
So, my not-so-accurate predictions on what will happen until we reach the year 2030 are:
Quantum-safe crypto algorithms will be created before the first viable quantum computer ever hits the consumer market. Yet most “legacy” solutions will remain — and they’ll be a huge target for cybercriminals.
Malware (especially ransomware) will continue to evolve and grow in complexity.
Slowly but surely, Zero Trust-like architecture will take over, but there will still be room for legacy solutions to exist, specifically in traditional corporations.
AI will also continue to evolve, but not so much that it will impact daily life significantly. Expect something more like Alexa, Siri, or ChatGPT technologies.