‘Navigating tech success – Career Goals with Team Relations’ with Anemari Fiser, Tech Lead Trainer

In the recent episode of ‘Beyond the Code’, Host Kshitij Mohan, founder of Typo, welcomes Anemari Fiser, a Tech lead trainer. Her vast experience also includes valuable contributions to renowned companies such as CodeOp, Thoughtworks, and Waterford. The focus of the discussion is on navigating tech success with an emphasis on Career Goals along with Team Relations. 

The episode initiated with Anemari sharing her inspiring journey – transitioning from a software engineer to a tech lead trainer, followed by an engaging fireside chat. Afterward, Anemari dives deeper into creating a growth plan setup for team members. She also underscored the significance of conducting one-on-one meetings to gain a deeper understanding of team members and to provide them with constructive feedback.

Lastly, Anemari highlighted the core principles that every leader should be well-versed in: self-awareness, reflection, and embracing vulnerability. 

Time stamps

  • (0:06): Anemari’s background
  • (6:14): Fireside chat 
  • (8:10): Growth plan setup for team members 
  • (9:43): Importance of 1-on-1 conversations 
  • (11:28): Understanding people’s motivation 
  • (13:02): Constructive feedback and trust 
  • (16:02): Common mistakes by tech lead 
  • (18:12): Core principles: Self-awareness, reflection, and vulnerability  

Links and mentions

Episode Transcript

Kshitij Mohan: Hello everyone! I’m Mohan, your host, back with another exciting episode of ‘Beyond the Code’ by Typo. Today’s guest brings a very unique perspective on navigating tech success. From being a software developer herself, today, she helps software developers build a successful career in engineering. She has completed the entire loop. Today, she acts as a career coach where she helps engineers get what they need to reach to the next level. Please welcome, Ane to the show. 

Hey Ane, thank you for your time today. 

Anemari Fiser: Nice to be here and to meet you, Mohan. It’s a pleasure. 

Kshitij Mohan: Thank you so much, Ane. I think before we start with anything, we are already amazed by the kind of career progression, the evolution that you have had. And I think to begin with, we all would love to understand about these career choices that you’ve made that helped you reach where you are. And now, you are helping the entire community with it. Would love to understand your experiences, Ane. 

Anemari Fiser: Sure. Well, a quick overview over my trajectory, let’s say. So, I started as a software engineer. I had what you would call a straightforward path to software engineering. I’d done my four years of university, got my degree in computer science, and then I started playing different roles as a software engineer in different companies, different industries. And, I loved that for a while until at some point, early in my career, I got really curious on all the other problems, like the product side “Why are we doing the things we’re doing?” “How do we make sure we’re more productive together as a team?” And, that’s how I got into leadership. And once I switched to that part of focusing on people and focusing on what exactly we’re trying to build, it became clear to me that that’s the type of impact that I want to have. So, I started my role as a tech lead. I’ve been a product director. And, at some point, some years ago, I burned out in the tech lead role that I loved. So I had to change the trajectory a little bit. So, I started working with people individually, in tech leadership positions in different roles, helping them identify when they are close to burnout, but also identify how to move forward in their career. And this is what I’ve been doing for the past three years. I’m also running trainings, like with tech leads into helping them building high performing teams, and individually supporting their individual struggles. So, yeah, I think that sums it up. 

Kshitij Mohan: You know, I think that’s such a great initiative, Ane, that you’re working on. And as you mentioned, burnout and how do we help build teams sustainably. If you would be okay, would love to understand this entire ecosystem of burnout, When do you start feeling? How do you start experiencing? How did you realize “Hey, this is something that we need to address and then move on to the next journey?” I think that would really be valuable for all of us.

Anemari Fiser: So, I think for me, it was pretty obvious given the fact that I couldn’t be productive anymore in the day-to-day. So, I was feeling overwhelmed all the time. I reached like the final step in which I wasn’t able to function day-to-day at the level that I was expecting from myself at that point.

So, I do believe there are signs earlier. And, if you’ve been through it, you start to identify them sooner. And also for people that didn’t get to that point, I think there are some signs that you can identify before getting to that point and you can address it. So, that means you can address this with a way better approach than me, which is quitting your job. I think the signs are clear, but we just ignore it. Tiredness, it’s demotivation, it’s exhaustion, it’s not being able to sleep. You know, like just kind of feeling unable to show up every day to the level that you expect from yourself. So, I think those are the small signs. 

Kshitij Mohan: Right. And just talking about a bit more, Ane. So, these sometimes are phases also, right? Sometimes there is a phase where you experience this and then after the phase, you are back on with the same energy. So, is it like a cycle that you constantly are on, or any specific things to consider about?

Anemari Fiser: So, definitely can be cycles. I think it’s depending on how intense the cycles are and how often do they repeat, in order to get to that burnout phase. I definitely think if you identify the signs earlier, you can address them earlier and then you can be in this period, like you say,  “Okay, they are temporary.” “I know how to address them.” “I know how to get back on track.” but, I think it depends from individual to individual, and from the level of exposure to stress they have. 

Kshitij Mohan: Right. This is really great. Before I jump on, I just read your LinkedIn profile and there was one thing that I was really curious to talk about. So, you mentioned that you help quit your job without guilt and leave a door open. This is a very interesting statement that you have written. I think we’d love to understand what’s the perspective behind this. 

Anemari Fiser: Yeah. So, I mean, quitting your job is a normal thing to do, mostly in the world today. And it doesn’t have to be like a door closing. It’s not like I’m not going to talk with these people again. It’s not like I’m not gonna maybe even come back at some point. So, I think it’s important to normalize quitting, just as normal as it’s become now firing people. Unfortunately, it’s just the world we’re living in. And so, normalizing quitting and just understanding that it’s about moving to something else, looking for different opportunities. It’s okay. At the same time, while understanding that you never know, and trust me, i’ve seen it. You never know where life takes you. You never know when you’re gonna start or meet those people again or that company or their product. So, it’s always important to just act as people and to treat it as an adult. All of this, it’s like separation, situations and just approach it like that and, leaving that door open, so you can come back, so you can work with those people in the past.

For me, definitely that happened and I’ve seen it firsthand. The world is very small, even if we think it’s really big and you never know when they will need you or you will need them. So, there’s this level of professional friendship that I think needs to just be there as a base. But for that, it’s important to have a clear understanding on why you’re quitting your job, and to not basically get to that point of full frustration, when you’re just slamming the door. I think it’s just a more healthy approach for your development, but also for the industry’s development. 

Kshitij Mohan: I think it definitely takes a mature set of conversations to end things on a good note, other than just making it anything on the personal front. Perfect, Ane. So, before we begin with anything, we would love to have this quick fireside chat with you, where we would love to ask some questions to know more and then just go about it. So, if you’re ready, I’ll just shoot those three questions for you. 

Anemari Fiser: Go for it.

Kshitij Mohan: Perfect! Question one. After a demanding day of work, which I’m pretty sure most of your days are, how do you unwind yourself? 

Anemari Fiser: With a good thriller book. That’s my escape from the work, brain. 

Kshitij Mohan: Oh wow! So now coming to who’s your favorite thriller writer? And any specific book that you would like to mention?

Anemari Fiser: Yes, so I don’t remember the writer, but the book is called ‘The Silent Patient’. That’s my favorite thriller book. 

Kshitij Mohan: ‘The Silent Patient’. So guys, ‘The Silent Patient’ has to be on our next reading list. 

Perfect. Question 2. What does it take to bring a smile on your face even in the toughest of the times?

Anemari Fiser: I would say reggaeton music. There’s nothing that puts me in a good mood more than a reggaeton. Very, you know, classic reggaeton song that completely shuts down my working brain. 

Kshitij Mohan: Whoa! Nice. Gets you in your zone.  

Last thing, your most triumphant moment as a leader? 

Anemari Fiser: My most triumphant? Well, there are a couple to choose from. I think the most triumphant, the moment that I’m most proud of as a leader, was actually the moment when I failed miserably, and I let my team down. But I think the comeback from that experience was something that I’m really proud of as a leader. 

Kshitij Mohan: Totally! Any specific situation that you would like to talk about there? 

Anemari Fiser: Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty simple. I basically made a decision that wasn’t in line with what the team was going for. And I had to stand behind that and work together with the team to build back that trust that I lost in that moment.

So, it was early in my starting days as a tech lead. And I learned my lesson definitely. I would not like to be in this situation again. 

Kshitij Mohan: So, thank you so much firstly for this. This was really fun and exciting. Now, getting to the real stuff, the expertise that you have seen and evolved over time. Navigating into this entire dev ecosystem, dev journey. And, when we talk about growth and scaling and all other aspects in your career. The first important aspect that comes in that, how do you identify who needs what set of things to grow on. That need gap analysis. How do you identify which set of members need what set of support to grow, and all this has to be balanced while you are doing what you are doing in your daily flow of work?

So, how do you do that? Any specific ways that you have done in your career that could help us? 

Anemari Fiser: So, I think every person, every individual in the team needs some sort of growth plan set up. And I think that’s part of the responsibilities of a tech lead, of a leader in the team to make sure that they have that. That means helping them develop it. Personal growth plan, and identify areas for improvement by asking for feedback. Maybe just taking an assessment on their skills and seeing where they are, based on the expectations of the company and seeing what they have to work on. So, I think it’s a key expectation of a leader in the team to make sure everyone has some sort of roadmap for growth in the area that they need to develop, which is aligned. And that’s where again, the role of the leader comes, to make sure that’s aligned with the needs of the team or the needs of the company.

So, I think that those are the main things. It’s about working together with the individual to identify areas of growth, and then helping them find opportunities, and in the day-to-day work, so they can develop those skills. 

Kshitij Mohan: Right. And what I’ve realized is that the folks, for example, the developers are also not aware of what they need to be, or how do they fit in the bigger picture of the growth journey and roadmap.

So, how do you actually make them also buy in and realize, “Hey, this is something you should also be focusing on”, because most of the times it looks like just a one-way conversation, right? You, as a leader say something, developer thinks, not thinks, ignores and then you just keep on going about it. How do you ensure that these folks also buy?

Anemari Fiser: I think everything comes from the culture that you set up in the team. So, how do you develop that culture? If it’s a culture of growth, then definitely it’s gonna set in. For example, I’ve never been in a situation like the one that you’re describing, where I actually had to push someone at that level to do something and feeling like I’m not being heard. And so, at least in the companies that I’ve been there was a default expectation of constant growth. Not even that, but people were very aware of the value that personal growth brings. They all wanted to grow. So, coming back to your question, I think what’s important and what tools you have as a leader is to identify people’s motivation.

So, it might not be growth in certain tech skills, but it might be going to the next level in their career and for that, it’s your role to point out, “Okay, in order to get there, you need to develop these skills.” or “You need to get better in this specific area”. And that’s basically you connecting the needs of growth with their personal motivations. I think that’s where the key is.

It’s not about making people do something, but it’s about working with them, understanding where to find that middle ground, in order to align. Like, the needs of the company or growth with their personal motivations. I think that’s definitely something that can happen. And, I’ve seen it happen by using different tools. 

Kshitij Mohan: Sure. I think you mentioned a very critical aspect, identifying their motivations. And, this is where I think most of the managers or leaders fail. Especially, while being a new manager or a leader. We are all in that black box and we don’t know how to actually proceed with this process.

Any specific thoughts around how do you actually achieve them in a practical sense? 

Anemari Fiser: So, how do you get to actually understand people’s motivation, is that the question? 

Kshitij Mohan: Exactly. 

Anemari Fiser: I think first, you have to show real interest and curiosity about their day-to-day, the things that they care about, like, “Okay, tell me what motivates you?”  that’s a fair question, right? And it can get you something, but it’s definitely not going to give you the information that you need in order to move them forward. And so, I think it’s one of those situations that takes a little bit of time and the main part that it requires is for you to build trust with those people.

So, I think the best way to build trust in my opinion, is to have those 1-on-1s where you build rapport and you build a relationship with that person. So, before you get into the motivation, it’s a matter of getting to a point with that person where they can trust you enough to share with you. There are struggles, what they care about, where do they want to go, and also understand that you can help them, right? 

So, I think that the key part is when you show them that you can find opportunities that you can delegate things to them, that can help them go in the direction they want to go. That all only makes it easier for them to come to you, instead of you kind of trying to drag the information out of it. So, once you have that trust, you don’t have to do that much work, because people will come to you. 

Kshitij Mohan: I think it makes sense. So, basically again, everything comes down to the right setting of trust, the culture that you are setting out in these conversations, right?

Anemari Fiser: Exactly. 

Kshitij Mohan: And, talking about these conversations, It’s easier said than done, right? When you talk about these 1-on-1s, these conversations, the critical aspect of this entire growth is this constructive feedback that you just talked about. Let’s talk about what I need, what I don’t, what do you think I need to grow on?

And, this has to be on some levels of trust, as you mentioned. And still, in general, we are also skeptical to give feedback, receive feedback, while we know how critical it is. How do you cater to this in this entire coaching process that you do? How do you ensure that the right practices and processes are being set around this?

Anemari Fiser: I do agree with you that if you set up a culture where feedback naturally develops, then you have a base for all of this. And so, how do you ensure that? Well, first it comes back to that trust, to that psychological safety that I was mentioning before. I think once you have the trust in the team, a correct culture, or the culture that you want is gonna naturally develop. Now, in order to do that, I think there are simple tricks. Like, you can just make it part of the expectations that feedback happens. So, that means creating the opportunities for that to happen.

There was this thing that we used to do in one of my previous teams, they were called ‘speedbacks’. So, basically you would put people together, the whole team. Each pair would have like five minutes where they would have to say three things that you are doing well and three things that you have to improve. There wasn’t any follow up conversation. At that point, it was just a quick thing. Now, the idea of that was to trigger conversations after. So, there was no value in it in just throwing some things at people, but it was about triggering them to go after and talk between themselves on examples and how to take it further from that point. So, that’s one thing. 

Second, it’s about showing the value that it takes to do that. So, one thing that I used to do before these speedbacks was to block half an hour in everyone’s calendar to make sure everybody has time to prepare for that. So again, it’s not something that you do in-between or in breaks or whatever. It’s something that you actually have to put effort on. So, giving people the opportunity to do that and actually saving time shows them how valuable it is. 

And last, but not the least, the best tool any leader has in order to create the culture, in this case, the feedback culture that they want, it’s them, by acting as an example. If you provide people useful feedback, if you put effort in it, if you react to it when they give it to you in the correct way, then I believe and I’ve seen it, that is going to have the biggest effect. So, it’s about you acting in the way that you expect them to act and them seeing the value of that. I mean, you’re the one that has the tool, that you have the most control over. So, I think change happens one person at a time. So, that’s how you basically start to move things around.

Kshitij Mohan: Sure, great point. And, just to add onto this, while doing all these sessions with engineers, leaders, what’s that common mistakes that you feel, “Hey, we generally tend to make, where we are able to go beyond these blockers in order to unlock”, right? As you mentioned, your biggest tool is, us.

Where do we lack on in understanding this aspect? 

Anemari Fiser: So, first thing and one of the main mistakes I’ve seen, it’s not even having the 1-on-1s. I’ve seen a lot of leaders that don’t see any value in the 1-on-1s. The reason for that is because they don’t do it right. The problem is not with the 1-on-1s, it’s how they do it. So, I think they expect people to kind of just see that as an opportunity and take it. That doesn’t happen. You have to show people what is the value in them. You have to show them consistently and explaining to them, and helping them understand that that’s for them and how it can move them forward.

And so, I think one main thing coming back to your question is not even having 1-on-1s, deprioritizing them, which I think is worse than not having them in the first place. When you have that call with your tech lead, scheduled every week, and it keeps getting moved around. For me, that’s the clear sign that whatever you’re doing, it’s more important than talking to me, right? That’s definitely a message you don’t want to give people. So, that’s one mistake. 

Second, it’s about prioritizing results over people. So, it’s more keeping your eyes on “What is it that we have to deliver?” “When do we have to deliver?” “What’s happening?”, instead of trying to actually understand, ‘Why are people struggling with this?” “Why are we taking so long?” like, kind of doing that switch between “Why is the system not working?” to “Why us as a team, allow the system to keep working like this in this not desired state?”. So, this is the second mistake that I’ve seen. 

Kshitij Mohan: I think keeping results above people. I think that’s a great point that you mentioned, Ane. I think, totally aligns to what I think every leader or manager should be thinking about. In the end, it’s the team that drives those results and not the other way around, right?

Anemari Fiser: If you have a happy team, results just happen. 

Kshitij Mohan: Definitely. Now, so just coming to the last part, which you have personally experienced, and you talk a lot about is this entire burnout and well-being part. As a leader, as a manager, as a coach, you must have had so many experiences around identification, firstly, of, “Hey, this is the wrong stage here where you are at.”, and then helping them to overcome that part in some way or the other. Any specific instances or any specific experiences that you can share with us around this piece? 

Anemari Fiser: I guess it’s about you as a leader, identifying when someone in your team is struggling and helping them deal with that.

Kshitij Mohan: And the other way around as well, right? Some key advice, insights for every developer should also be a part of it, right? I also need to be aware of what’s happening with me as an individual and then kind of driving those conversations most of the time. So, would love to understand these spectrums. 

Anemari Fiser: Yes. Okay, thank you for clarifying that. So I think, first it’s about self-awareness. Identifying whatever individual that is struggling, it’s about identifying that in that point, you are struggling. Now, that self-awareness can come from different sides. It can come from you, like feeling like you’re getting close to burnout, feeling like you’re not well.

Second, it can come from the outside. And, this is where the leader can play a good role. If you’re noticing that someone is struggling, tell them, “Hey, I’ve seen you’ve been working over hours.” ” Is there something?” “What’s happening?” “How are you managing all of this overwork?” “How does it affect you, the fact that we have this big deadline?”.

So, it comes from both sides. You can be self-aware or people can make you aware that you’re struggling. Sometimes, we don’t see it. It’s just that. Third, even if people are not telling you, you can actually ask for feedback. For example, for me, a good awareness when someone in my team goes, “Hey, I feel like you’re not doing well.” they just told me that, right? Like, I feel, “Are you okay?”. Someone just asking you, “Are you okay?”, it’s a sign that something is not right. So, I think it’s about whoever comes to you and asks you, “Are you okay?”, I think that’s a sign for you to start asking, “Why are you asking me this?” “Is there something that is showing you that I’m not okay?” so, I think it’s about just paying attention to what people are telling you and what’s happening with you and with people around you to understand if you’re in a good state or not, and taking action, right?

And the best way to do that, it’s reflection. So, if you want to develop self-awareness, or if you want to understand where you are, or how people feel around you, it’s reflection. That means just taking a moment out of your very busy life and week and understanding, “Hey, what have I been doing?” “How am I feeling?”. Getting some feedback of people around you to see if it’s aligned with the signs you’re giving out. I think that’s the best indicative to understand where we are and then taking action. I think that’s a different point because once you get aware, you can take action. The simplest thing is just making people aware around you that you’re struggling. Even as a leader, I did this. I went to my team and I said, “Look, I just need help.” it’s as simple as that. So it’s kind of working from that point. One word, and being vulnerable. So, one thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s magic.

When you show vulnerability, something happens. Even the people, their first instinct is like, “Oh, what’s happening?” “Why is she telling us this?” but then over time, they start sharing also. So, I don’t know, I feel this for me, has been a magic tool. The more you share, the more people share. I think that’s the place where you want to be as an individual, as a leader. And that’s where the solutions are.

Kshitij Mohan: Definitely, this was so insightful. I think you touched on very core principles – self-awareness, reflection, and being vulnerable. And, this is what I think most of the leaders we have heard talk about, and it’s just about how you start reinforcing them in your everyday of work and talking more and more about it.

And that’s how you guys are trying to build a community around it as well. So, thank you so much, Ane. I think this was really wonderful. We were really impressed by the kind of experience and wisdom that you’ve shared with us, with our all viewers. 

Thank you for being on the show, Ane. This was really great, thank you. 

Anemari Fiser: Thank you for the invite, it was a pleasure. Nice meeting you both. Have a great day! 

And, thank you again for the invite. It was a pleasure being here.