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April 30, 2024 43 mins

This week, I 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.

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

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Neha Batra (00:00):
As we work in organizations over time we

accrue social capital.
to think of that as actually arisk budget, right?
Where You can spend some of thatrisk budget on different bets
that you want to make the techworld is very forgiving, right?
And they reward people who takethose risks and try to make
those improvements.
You just want to react reallyquickly.

You wanna clean it up, you wannafix it.
But if it works really well inyour favor, you're able to do
things that you can never dobefore.

Conor Bronsdon (00:30):
How can you build a metrics program that not
only measures, but improvesengineering performance?
What's the right metricsframework for your team.
On May 2nd and seventh LinearBis hosting their next workshop
where you will learn how tobuild a metrics program that
reduces cycle time by 47% onaverage improves developer
experience and increasesdelivery predictability..

At the end, you'll receive afree how-to guide and tools to
help you get started.
You can register today at thelink in the description.
Hope to see you there.
We are back on Dev Interrupted,and I am your host, Connor
Bronston, live from the DevInterrupted Dome with Neha
Neha is the VP of Engineeringfor Core Productivity at GitHub.
Welcome to the show.

Neha Batra (01:11):
Thanks so much for having me.

Conor Bronsdon (01:13):
it's my pleasure.
I've actually heard about youfrom multiple folks here today
who are like, oh, you're talkingto Neha end of the day.
That's gonna be amazing.

Neha Batra (01:19):
Yeah, that's absolutely terrifying.

Conor Bronsdon (01:21):
Uh, yeah, I'm just building the hype for the
audience so that really when wecrash and fall, it's a lot more
Um, but.
I actually think you have areally unique take to here,
which is that you've noted thatsenior leaders often find
themselves as this kind ofin-between person who is
matching business needs totalent to product execution.
And because of this, I know thatyou've developed a framework

that you apply to help seniorengineering leaders strengthen
that company alignment piece,which can be really challenging
sometimes while you're focusingon engineering efficiency.
And it sounds like you do thisthrough establishing
communication paths, Can youbreak down how that framework
works and kind of introduce usto us?

Neha Batra (02:04):
Yeah, absolutely.
So, I mean, just to kind of takea step back, right.
I think that it can be reallyfrustrating when you feel like
you're caught in between a bunchof different people and no one's
really communicating towardseach other.
And I felt like that for a verylong time in my career.
And it felt like a puzzle,right?
Why is this so hard for me?
And ultimately what I came outwith is this framework, um,

which is pretty simple, right?
Like as you start to identifyconsistent conversation patterns
that you're in.
Um, and I think the product oneis the most, uh, simple one,
You get a request, you have topass that on to the team.
The team says no, or the teamsays yes, And then, uh, you know
that you can't pass that to theex, like your leadership team,
And so you kind of conjole themto give you some updates, and

then you turn that into like.
And a progress update for theexecution team or the leadership
And so I started to find that wewere doing this over and over
and I was like, if I have to doall the work to do this
translation, how do I lower thatbarrier?
How do I make things easier?
And that's where you start totake ownership of this process
and drive that accountability.

I can go to my team and get thema little bit more used to some
of the vernacular that we mightbe using with the leadership
Give them the exposure andtransparency, which is a growth
opportunity for them.
And then when it comes toupdating my management team,
right, how do I have an easierway to give them those updates
in a form that they like andalso in a form that the team can
So how do I just like automatethis process and connect the two

And that was like the big, uh,insight for me, and that's what
I wanted to share back with theaudience.

Conor Bronsdon (03:35):
I love that because I think a lot of folks
hear framework, and unlessyou're in leadership, you
definitely think of it as, oh,buzzword another framework.
Yeah, yeah.
Space framework.
This framework,framework.
Another one.
Uh, but when you really thinkabout it, what frameworks are,
is there a way for us to reducethe cognitive load of doing a
task that we're gonna have toapply multiple times and about,

maybe that's hiring, maybethat's, you know, how you report
Um, so I actually think it'sreally important that you've
done this because what you'redoing is you're freeing up your
mental capacity and time.
To be more successful at otherkey parts of your job instead of
doing these continual tasks overand over.
So, I'd love to understand thatframework a bit more, like, what
are the steps you go through?
How do you approach it?


Neha Batra (04:17):
I often, uh, it starts with frustration,
So the minute I start to feellike I'm doing the same thing
over and over, I start to get alittle bit frustrated, and I
channel that frustration intocreation, right?
So I say, okay, cool, what ishappening over and over that I
feel like I find myself kind ofrunning into a wall?
And that's the time where I needto sit down, I need to put pen

to paper, Who am I interactingbetween and what are those
pieces of information that arecoming to me and what work do I
have to do to translate that,right?
And so that's when I start towrite that into the very simple
like, you know, cycle framework.
And once I do that, I think themost interesting part about this
is that since I've done this somany times, every single time I

map this into the, theframework, I have the same
questions that I ask.
And I think that that's thevalue, as you said, you reduce
the cognitive load, right?
If I can put this into aframework, I automatically know
the questions that I can askfrom that framework, and those
questions are what is beingprovided to me.
What do I need to provide?
What is the work that I'm doingand who's the most willing to

change in order to make thiseasier?

Conor Bronsdon (05:25):
Can you unpack that last one abit?
Because I think the first threepeople are like, okay, okay,
But that fourth one is a littleunique.

Neha Batra (05:32):
When it comes to changing yourinformation cycles, right?
In a way you're essentiallyoptimizing for something.
You're optimizing for.
Less time that it takes toalign, right?
And when you can make thatchange, you can make that change
between the people, you can makethat change between the process,
you can make that change betweenthe tools or the product, right,
that you're working with.

All of those can result in likea net change in your time to
And so the way that I kind ofthink about it is kind of like a
Jenga tower, right?
Yeah, I, I, there's a bunch ofblocks that I can move, right?
And I might have, in my mind, Iwant this block to change.
And as you tug on that block,the whole tower's gonna come
apart, and there's no way youcan actually use that one.

And so what, you know, it's kindof cheating, but you tap on a
bunch of different blocks andyou kind of see which one's, uh,
the most easiest to move.
And, you know, all you have todo is result in a net rejection
in like time to align.
And that makes your processeasier and easier.
And as you know, with the jangleblock tower, as you start to
bring more pieces to the top,other blocks start to free up

and get easier to move.
And so for me, I've alwayspursued the path of like least
The path of momentum, and evenwhen it comes to like, making it
easier for me to communicatewith my teams, um, and with my
leadership team, I'm looking atwhere that path is, where the
friction is, and like what'smost easiest to change.

Conor Bronsdon (06:57):
I really like this Jenga metaphor in Aha.
Yeah, because I, I also think itbrings to mind the risk of
taking the wrong actions as youkind of change these
communication paths.
How do you think about that riskelement?

Neha Batra (07:10):
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, reducefriction.
And you try to change a process,for example.
Everyone who's involved in thatprocess now has to adjust to a

new process.
And temporarily you increasethat friction, right?
So pretty much with any actionthat you take there's going to
be some sort of risk that youneed to do.
And it kind of comes back towhat you're trying to optimize
for and where you're willing totake that risk.
Um, I think that like as we workin organizations over time we

Accrue social capital.
I like to think of that asactually a risk budget, right?
Where you can spend some of thatrisk budget on different bets
that you want to make.
The tech world is veryforgiving, right?
And they reward people who takethose risks and try to make
those improvements.

You just want to react reallyquickly.
You wanna clean it up, you wannafix it.
But if it works really well inyour favor, you're able to do
things that you can never dobefore.
And, um, this came from someonefrom, uh, a manager.
I had Dana Lawson a long timeago.
Dana's amazing with that on theshow.
Oh yeah.
She's great leader.
She is amazing.
And she, she was the one whotold me like, Hey, you have a
lot of social capital.

You should use that and dosomething with it.
And I, um, I was very riskaverse at the time.
I feel like a complete 180 towhere I am now.
The way that I kind of grew outof my shell was to say, Okay, I
have a budget that I can spendevery quarter, what do I want to
spend my coins on?
And so even when it comes tochanging these processes, you're
taking a risk, absolutely.
I'm trying to make the best betsthat I can, um, and I will do

that only when I've accruedenough capital or coin.
To be able to spend that on therisks that I wanna take.

Conor Bronsdon (09:03):
what ways do you like spending a risk budget?

Neha Batra (09:06):
I like taking risks on, um, uh, making things more
I like taking risks on people.
I like going to bat for people.
I like trying to grow, growthem.
And I think it's a, it's not theway that most people think about
spending risk.
I think most people are takingrisks on like product decisions
or things that they want to do.

Um, but I think it all comesfrom the same bank.
And for me, um, if I can givesomeone else a chance, I can
lend them my safety net andcover for them as they try
something new.
That's like the thing thatenergizes me the most.

Conor Bronsdon (09:39):
Is that mostly about folks who are internal
retaining them, giving'emtraining or giving'em

Neha Batra (09:44):
Yes, absolutely.

Conor Bronsdon (09:45):
Do you also apply that sameframework in the hiring process,
or you think that's the wrongplace to kind of take those risk

Neha Batra (09:52):
Um, I think you can apply risk, uh, you know, you
can take risks on people when itcomes to hiring.
You have to be really, reallystrategic about it.
Yeah, I think that, um, when youare building up an org, you need
to have the essential elementsin place.
I think here's a great example.
When it comes to, um, building abrand new feature, a brand new

product, right?
You want to make sure you havesome experts in place, people
who understand what you need todo.
You might err towards senior andstaff folks, right?
Um, and then at some point youneed to have a succession plan.
You need to have people who cankind of grow through that system
and not all problems are goingto be hard.
So for those first few folks whoare a little bit more junior,

who are your SE1s, SE2s, SE3s,you're kind of taking a risk,

Conor Bronsdon (10:40):
Yeah, because you don't know howthey're going to grow.
You can maybe predict.
That's a great point.

Neha Batra (10:43):
There's not enough data for youto be able to conclude, but you
know that there's also a risk innot investing in younger or
earlier career engineers becauseyou need to have people succeed
and grow, and you're not alwaysgonna necessarily have the most
technical, difficult problemsfor the staff engineers that
created that path in the firstplace.

Conor Bronsdon (11:02):
Now I'm thinking about managing our risk budget
across people, products, etcetera.
This is okay.
This is, this is great.

Neha Batra (11:07):
It's all connected.

Conor Bronsdon (11:08):
All right.
All right.
We're cooking here.
You mentioned something elseearlier that I want to What are
some of the walls that you'veran 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 ofstuff 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 hasto do with.
Anything that I'm trying to dothat's like, um, avant garde or

avantgarde is not the word, but,um, uh, I'm trying to do
something that people haven'tdone before.
I wanna experiment.
I wanna kind of push theenvelope.
How can we, um, do better whenit comes to, uh.
Increasing the diversity on ourteams, how can we support
marginalized people, how can wetry to ship faster or try

different ways of working,right?
Most of those at some point havehit a wall where people have
said no, and usually has to dowith the fact that it's not the
right time, it's not with theright people, or I just don't
have enough trust in the org.
You could try to go around, youcould try to go over under, you

know, whatever.
Or you can just say, okay, cool.
Well I have five places where Ican kind of.
Try to move forward.
One of them's working and I'mgonna come back to the other
And I feel like that's reallyimportant, especially when it
comes to people who are really,um, passionate about certain
values and they're really hellbent on kind of making progress
in those areas.
That is a total path to burnout.

Um, and that's kind of my hottake, right?
Is that you, if you'repassionate about a bunch, a
bunch of different things, youcan easily burn out when you get
that answer.
But if you have enough thingsthat you're willing to try, you
might get yes on something elseand you can go and revisit
I mean like, if you think aboutit in tech in the last few
years, we've had a huge swell ofpeople coming in, we've had a

huge swell of people coming out,we've had hiring freezes, Up and
down like a roller coaster, butwith that comes a bunch of fresh
It comes a bunch of reorgs andit, and, and that turns into a
bunch of opportunities for me totry again.
For all those walls that I hit,I'm gonna try exactly again with

brand new people and see whichones I can get through this

Conor Bronsdon (13:37):
I'm almost seeing this as, notto put words in your mouth, but
like a maze where you know youhave different options of where
to go and some walls you caneven go through and you have to
Which ones will I try right now?
Based off of that risk budgetyou have?
Based off of the resources youhave.

Neha Batra (13:51):

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 typeof pathing, this type of
discovery is actually anothertype of pathway, which is the
communication pathways youalluded to earlier.

Neha Batra (14:06):
Yes, yes.

Conor Bronsdon (14:06):
What's your strategy around communication
pathways as an engineeringleader?

Neha Batra (14:10):
Okay, so this might sound like way too calculating
or way too strategic, but let'sgo with it.
Um, it is, uh.
It's amazing how much you canget done when you have trust
within your org and yourorganization.
And having effectivecommunication pathways to
explain what you do and to buildthat trust with your team gives

you a much higher social capitalbudget that you can spend.
And that has come very helpfulfor me when it comes to
delivering bad news, when itcomes to trying things that
don't necessarily work.
I feel like because I have beenvery intentional about how I
communicate, where I communicateand the tone and the

authenticity that I bring tothat communication, um, and
people have also seen that I'mwilling to take risks with them
by providing transparency aroundhow I communicate.
They will then trust me enoughfor us to try things that we
couldn't try otherwise.
And so it really is kind of likean investment that kind of keeps
on building in the bank.
And I have a bigger budget nowthan I've ever had before for

the teams that I've built thattrust with.

Conor Bronsdon (15:18):
It's letting you stretch your risk budget, which
I think is a smart way ofthinking about it.
Because you've placed theseinvestments, you've grown your
capital, so to speak.
I would love to dig into aspecific example, if you have
one, of how you've built thattrust, because I think that's a,
a really important thing.
We can all say building trustcrucial.
Yes, yes.
We agree.

What's a specific way you'redoing it?

Neha Batra (15:40):
One way that I've built trust with my team is that
I've made a commitment to them.
Um, and that's really what a lotof like trust is built off of.
You say you're gonna dosomething, you make a commitment
to it, and then you have to comethrough.
And you're essentiallygenerating data for your team

Come into a town hall or anysort of meeting with me, receive
news for the first time.
I will provide it to you inwriting beforehand.
Now this is a really hard thingto protect when it comes to like
weird information.
Um, and the times that I do haveto deviate from that, I'm I'm
very upfront about, hey, this isdifferent from the promise that

I made to you, and this is whyI'm deviating from it.
But I always go writing first,which is very important at
We are a async communicatingplace.
We encourage open source, weencourage documentation, and I
leverage that tool set, and Icommunicate to them, via
discussion posts, via issueposts.
Um, about the news that I wannacommunicate with them and they

won't have to worry about,coming into a, a new meeting and
hearing about a reorg because ifthat's gonna happen, even if it
is 10 minutes beforehand in ateam post, I will make sure that
happens in a team post.
It's a commitment that I make tothem and I build trust through
that because they know that Icome through for them.
And I, there's other ways that Ido 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 quarteris a town hall.
Second month of the quarter isan AMA.
Third month of the quarter isdemo day, right?
as part of that, for example,with the AMA, I tell them, you
can ask me anything, and as longas you ask it in an earnest way,
I will answer a question, um, orI'll tell you that I can't, but

I'm not gonna give you abullshit answer, a skirt around
the question.
And, um, I gave them thatcommitment.
When I first became a VP inJanuary, they put me through the
They asked me questions that Iwas like, okay, you really wanna
understand whether or not I, Ibelieve in this.
But I did.
I doubled down and I said, okay,cool.
If you're gonna ask me hardquestions.

I'm gonna give you answers.
You might not necessarily likethem, but I'm going to show you
I mean, what I say and um, andthat helps me sleep at night.
Honestly, I just want to be ableto mean what I say, but I can
turn that into a commitment tothe team and build trust off of

Conor Bronsdon (18:11):
I think this is a wonderful approach and
honestly it gives me a greatpivot to ask you a fun question.
Yeah, I'll try not to be toohard, but yeah.
I hear that you have a list offun facts about yourself that
you keep just on your phone.

Neha Batra (18:25):
I do.
I mean, like, imagine when yougo to these AMAs and they ask
you a question, like, what's theone fun fact about you?
I get so nervous when it comesto going around a circle and
telling about fun facts.
So I said, okay, cool.
I'm gonna put together a bunchof fun facts on, um, my Apple
So I literally have on my phoneright 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 likethis, this is correlating to how
you think about the world, whichis strategically.
Uh, placing bets, buildingaccountability in yourself, and
you're saying, okay, here's thesituation I'm gonna encounter.
How can I prepare to communicatethe right way?
Yes, yes.
So that my team knows I valuethem and think about this.
And that's awesome.

Neha Batra (19:03):
I, I try to do it in other waysas well.
When I first came intoleadership, 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'smore than just like telling
people about myself.
I think it's important forpeople to hold me accountable.
To what I say that I believe in.

Um, and invite that in differentways.
Um, and so, uh, I try to do thatin different ways.
I, I really do care about, um,giving people a sense of
security, giving them a placethat they can do their best
I still don't quite understandit, but.
People need to be able to trustin their leader and feel

comfortable in the, with theirleader in order to do their best
I, I never wanted to be in thatposition, but if I can provide
that for people in order forthem to do better work, I'm
gonna do it.
It seems like the most basicthing for me to do for my team,
I mean, there's research,

Conor Bronsdon (19:57):
research on this, right?
That teams, when they feeltrusted, when they feel that
they are trusted to make animpact, and that they are
enabled to make an impact,perform better.
Feels logical to me that yes, Iwould then want to have the
trust in my leader and feel thatI can trust my leader.
'cause then it enables me tosay, okay, let, let me be
Lemme go take this, take thisthing on.
Especially when you're lookingat an org like GitHub, that is

so focused on async fo focusedon enabling everyone to, to, you
know, have a viewpoint and, andtake an action.
I, I do wanna ask before we loseit.
Can you share one of your funfacts?

Neha Batra (20:30):
Um, this, you're gonna get a kick outta this sets
for sure.
Um, I have, uh, present ideasfor my mother-in-Law.
Tips that I collected for a tripthat I did to Machu Picchu.
I have.
Yeah, totally.
Fun facts about Neha.
I opened that in September.
Um, and then I have like a, alot of ideas that I'm

collecting, uh, because I dotown halls, right?
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 asI go.
I'm a very big note taker, um,and like collecting ideas as I
I, you know, as a mechanicalengineer, like we were always
encouraged to have a littlenotebook in the back of our
pocket, and I'm doing thatagain.

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 tabnow that you mentioned it.
Yeah, you totally have to do itbecause I, I have like a, you
know, writing ideas tab.
I have a, you know, things Ineed to communicate with my team
I have just like a to-dos.
I have a gift from my wife tabYeah.
So, uh, I, I, I hear you on thisthough.
I, I have to admit, I'm a Pixeluser, so it's Google Notes that

Apple Notes.
Uh, don't cancel me.

Neha Batra (21:34):
Good luck, uh, getting thoseemoji reactions in text.
No shade.

Conor Bronsdon (21:38):
Uh, I'm being majorly shaded here.
we're, we're just gonna moveright 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 Ihave a note about fun facts and
we just close it there.
But anyway, um, that's a goodone.
I think Emperor's New Groove isthe most underrated movie of all

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 aclapping for you.

Neha Batra (22:05):
you Yay.
Um, uh, my nickname at work twojobs ago was No Fun, Neha.
Um, and I've also had thenickname No Filter, Neha, which
I think a lot more people wouldprobably relate to.

Conor Bronsdon (22:18):
I see that a little bit.
I see that a little bit.
No, I love that.
Thank, thank you for sharingthat.
I appreciate you kind of gettingpersonal with us.
Um, I see how this, this focusof yours helps build that
accountability org.
You're, you're clearly very openwith your team.
You clearly think about them alot and I mean, you have the
strategic mind where you want toapply it and continue to improve
and do better.

It's very clear, someone wholoves to learn.
What I'd love to get at thoughis like, okay, great, you're
building accountability in yourorg, you're modeling that
How are you getting your teammembers to take accountability?
How are you building thataccountability across your

Neha Batra (22:52):
I think that as a leader, um, there's a variety of
ways to kind of build thataccountability.
Of course it starts with rolemodeling, right?
They're not going to want tohave accountability, um, and
take accountability unless youare.
Um, I think that also as aleader, it's my role to coach
them and demand accountabilityfrom them.

Um, I, obviously I want to workwith people who want to have
that automatically too.
It doesn't always work that way.
it's important for me to chart apath where people can take Uh,
Risks, they can have a safetynet around that and they can
start to grow into a world wherethey see that how taking
accountability benefits them andbenefits the people around them.

I am definitely the kind ofperson where I don't
necessarily, you know,understand how to do something
until I try it a few times and Iget the hang of it.
And I feel like, um, that's theapproach that I take with my
Try to give them someopportunities to take
accountability, to understandthe consequences when they
don't, understand the benefitswhen they do, and give them a
few chances at it, um, and coachthem along the way.

I mean, I think it reallydepends on the people.
I can't, I don't have aunilateral approach.
But it's important for me toalways provide opportunities for
people to do that and let themknow that this is what I expect
from them.

Conor Bronsdon (24:07):
I've mentioned the word strategy a couple times
here because it's clear.
You think about everythingwithin your work through this
lens of how can I connect ittogether to make everything I'm
doing more powerful and we'resupportive of my team and build
this high performingorganization.
How can I lead better?
How do you think about thisforward planning element, you
know, both for yourself and foryour organization?

Neha Batra (24:29):
I mean, like, honestly, it starts for a very
simple, uh, notion, which isjust, I want to work with really
great people, I want to doreally great work, and I want to
have fun while doing it, that'sthe, the serious parts of the
strategy start to stem out fromthat, how do you find the best
talent, how do you grow the besttalent, how do you, um, Uh, get

an opportunity to do reallygreat things together.
I feel like it really juststarts, it starts from something
super simple as like wanting tohave a good time with really
good people.
Um, and you go from there.
And I also like kind of wannatake a moment and say that, you
I, I've had the opportunity tobuild really successful teams

Um, it takes time.
I, I, you know, right now I'm inthe middle of my role, um, my
new role that I started inJanuary.
And, um, they are already,there's so many parts of that
that's already high performing.
But to be able to, um, put myown spin on it, to be able to
grow into that and fit into thatand help them get to the next

step that they need to go, ittakes time.
Um, so for example, the thingsthat I'm looking at right now
are, what are the vision that wehave?
Do people feel like they cankind of see where they are right
now and where we need to go?
Do they feel like they areconnected to the company and the
company's goals?
Do they feel like theyunderstand what's expected of
them, right?

I start with a bunch of verybasic questions and it helps me
understand where we need to goand what we need to do
Because every single kind oforganization that you work with
looks very different, right?
I think you have to be a goodlistener.
You have to pause and take alook at where we really are and
what the truth is and you haveto figure out how you're going

to understand that truth.
And then, only then can youchart a plan.
With trusted people around youto be able to give you an
indicator as to whether that'sgoing to work or not.

Conor Bronsdon (26:26):
What's your approach to gathering that
signal from your team about howthey're feeling and so that you
can build that trust and makesure you are moving in the right

Neha Batra (26:35):
I think there's a bunch of different signals that
you can take, and it's reallyimportant to get different kinds
of signals.
Um, of course you want to talkto people and, uh, folks are
going to tell you, uh, a list ofproblems that they've
experienced pain with recently,right?
So I think people is definitelyone way to get signals.
I think you should look atdifferent levels.
You should look at who's themost 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 bunchof different places.
And you can put out, forexample, you can put an open
call out for a feedback andyou're gonna get people who
definitely don't have the fearto provide that feedback.
Um, but that's gonna be verydifferent from like, uh, your

dark matter users who neverrespond to something.
Um, and so people is, it's, it'sits own piece, right?
Of taking different ways to kindof cut your population up and
figure out how you can get asignal from them.
Eventually you figure out who isproviding you consistent
information that like lines upwith your truth, and so you hone
that side.
Um, you can also take a look at,uh, tangibles and outcomes.

So people said that there weregonna do a thing.
What actually happens?
Um, there's a track recordbehind everything, and
essentially if you're looking ata system.
You're looking at what you putinto 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 planningdocs, our, um, posts around what

we do, our strategy docs, um,and what we ship, right?
So that's another signal that Ikind of pick up on, um, and I
have to benchmark that eitheragainst what I believe is true
based on what I know already, orI'll talk to other leaders and
other organizations withinGitHub outside, right, around
what is normal right now.
Um, and I need to benchmarkthat.

Well that's like people inprocess, I wanna say tools, but
I don't really know if.
We have many tools that kind ofgive you that indication right
Dev surveys I suppose, butthat's surveys still pretty
I feel like that's really goodinput.
All of this is like input foryou to be able to like, generate
a solution and, and generate aconclusion.
But once I do generate aconclusion, I use ability to
test that.

So I'll say, Hey, cool, I'm kindof reading a few pieces of
evidence and it's almost likeyou're building, um, a.
Like you're building a proof,for example.
Uh, you wanna list all the stepsout, your assumptions, and then
how you're taking thoseassumptions and the givens and
you're coming up with aconclusion.
So that's kind of like my job isto say, okay, cool.
Based on these things that Iviewed, I'm coming up with this

A, am I missing anything in myassumptions and givens to be
able to come up with thisconclusion?
B, do you come up with the sameconclusion based on what you're
Uh, and c.
Does that conclusion ring rightto you?
And so I kind of put together aproof.
I tested against a few peoplethat I do believe have had like

consistently good judgment orum, have come up with like
helpful conclusions in the past.
And then you just kind of gottaroll the dice at some point.
You gotta pick something, yougotta try it out.
If it fails, apologize quickly.
Apologies are free.
And you gotta move forward.

Conor Bronsdon (29:46):
I, I love that phrasing'cause I think a lot of
I feel like it's a challenge toapologize when really it's part
of building that accountabilityyou 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 accountabilitypiece is something that is
clearly a through line for topengineering leaders like

However, there we're talking alot about best practices.
Yeah, for sure.
There are also a lot

Neha Batra (30:10):
of mistakes that get made.
Oh, hundreds.

Conor Bronsdon (30:12):
What are some of the top mistakes that either you
have made that you've learnedfrom, or that you see other
leaders making that maybe youwanna 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 astime mistake, which is that.
You know, the first thing thatyou do when you come into an
organization, you have ideas,right?
You say, Hey, what's yourprocess around X, Y, Z?
And they're like, what process?
And you're like, you're tellingme you don't have a way to, you
know, generate a roadmap withlike OKRs against it or

whatever, and you're used todoing 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 alittle bit of failure, right?
It's coming in really earnestlywanting to show that you can do
a lot of good, but jumping tothe gun too quickly and
generating process for process'ssake based on what you believe

the problems are and not givingit any time to do it.
I remember doing that in myfirst like, Uh, manager job, uh,
for sure.
Oh, I came in, um, I thought Iknew like where we needed to go.
I added some value, but I alsoadded a lot of churn.
Way more churn than the valuethat I added.
I was very grateful to have avery understanding, calm,

collected team who's dealt withbrand new managers before, um,
who kind of helped me see adifferent way of doing things.
Um, and I'm really grateful tothem because I wouldn't be here
today without them.
And I see this happen a lot.
I mean, like, I think the, thebiggest joke is right when like
a leader comes in, like within amonth they're gonna reorg.

And I remember talking to mycareer coach and she's like, she
gave me one mission.
She's like, when you get intoyour new role for 30 days, don't
touch anything.
And I was like, how hard couldthat be?
And then all of a sudden I comeinto the role and it's not even
that I wanna do it right.
You sometimes get pressure topdown.
They're like, Hey, you're gonnawanna reorg that area and, uh,
you're gonna wanna do X, Y, Z.

And actually, if you wanna showthe team that you trust them,
that you're willing to listen,you have to take a loan now on
that expectation from yourmanager 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 howI 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 ofthem are actually really real
and some of them are not, andyou have to have a little bit of
patience, and by not listeningto everything come your way, and
being a dampener, you can kindof avoid a lot of churn with
your team, and I learned thatnothing's going to happen if you
don't reorganize the first 30days, 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 abouthow do you want to improve as a
leader, what would your advicebe to Engineering leaders who
are listening, who maybe earlierin their career, maybe they're
fir on their first engineeringmanagement gig gig, maybe
they're a dev who wants to getinto management or, or someone
What, what would be that adviceyou'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 tobecome a good leader.
Um, I think that you can get ataste for that from any seat.
And it's really important as youbecome a staff engineer, or a
principal engineer, or adistinguished engineer, that you
learn to have influence fromwhere you are.
Now, what starts to change asyou become a manager, not in all

roles, but in many roles, is youmove further and further away
from the code, being a manageris a shit job.
Like, it is really hard.
You might spend all of yourtime, 24 hours a day, trying to

keep things as they are today.
And I find that the people whostick it out, and the people who
really get joy in it, Are theones who can't help themselves
but want to look at how thepeople 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 thatkind of makes up for the other
29 days of pain.
Um, so I, unfortunately, it'slike a very jaded view as
someone who feels like, managingis really, really, really hard.
I just can't help myself.
Those tiny moments, those tinywins where I see the light bulb
go off and someone is able to dosomething that they could never

do before, that makes up formonths of pain for me.
Um, and that's just how Ifunction and that's how I work.
So that was my advice to newmanagers or people who want to
become managers is that try itout from where you are right
And if you really, really wantto do it, right, give it your

best shot.
Understand that I think a lot ofpeople who go into management
think like, okay, cool, I'mreally excited about coaching.
I'm really excited about growingmy folks.
And I'm like, you will get to dothat.
And those moments will reallymatter.
A lot of the time, your time isspent around like managing
information, uh, providingupdates, organizing information

away, uh, and unblocking theteam so that they can move
And that's a lot more silentwork.
And it doesn't feel like thesame as like coaching someone
and getting to work with'em.

Conor Bronsdon (35:39):
I would almost reframe that alittle bit though and say like,
yeah, you spend a lot of yourtime on blocking, dealing with
the blocking and tackling, letalone, you know, trying to make
sure they have the context andcommunication they need.
But what you're doing there isyou 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 togrow.
Um, because you can't, you can'tfully teach them this thing.

They, they have to go experienceit for themselves.
And like, I, I'm with you.
It is frustrating sometimes notto get to coaching times, but it
is, it is so rewarding when youget to see people, you've had an
opportunity to nurture, um, gointo this open space and take on
these resources that have beenset, set up there for them.
Or, or, or create their ownresources.

And, and achieve things.
Because I, I mean there'snothing like it in the

Neha Batra (36:28):
I know.
And it's so funny.
Like we get paid to do this,right.
We get paid to create anenvironment where people can do
their best work.
That is definitely, uh, when itcomes to like the great things
about being a manager, I somehowget to get paid to.
Just till the soil, um, so thatthe seeds can be planted and
then the plants can grow, right?

And those plants obviously arehuman beings that have careers.
Um, and then, yeah, I guess formy advice for people who are
trying to become more seriousleaders or trying to grow and
try something new, um, it wouldbe to, um, you know, going back
to that Django block analogy,right?
Um, pick something that youwanna try, uh, experiment and be

curious about it.
Pick that block, make sure thatthere'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 trysomething new.
Um, I find that teams are a lotmore forgiving, uh, if you
approach it in the right way, ifyou apologize when it goes
wrong, and, um, if you keepmoving forward and listening to


Conor Bronsdon (37:31):
Is there anything that we haven't talked
about that you're really excitedabout talking about, that you're
like, hey, let's dive into thisthing that we haven't talked
about yet?

Neha Batra (37:37):
I have like a very big passion around
experimentation as you can kindof like see and pick at.
I take that pretty seriously.
So it's like even when I starteddating, I started running
experiments when I was datingand I actually found my husband
while dating, while running anexperiment, um, because I just
got bored and I needed to find away to like entertain myself and
Build curiosity into the world.
Being on Tinder sucks, right?

And like, uh, you know, you kindof go through the same cycles
over and over and over again andyou have to find a fresh way to
keep, you know, you have to finda way to keep your curiosity
about the world to not get toojaded.

and um, like what's like onemoment that made you whatever,
whatever, right?
And so I'd like get reallyinteresting conversations kind
of backfired because then peoplethought that the conversations
were great.
But I was just doing that'causeI was bored And then, uh, I
started writing experiments.
So, you know, I would have ahypothesis that I would start
Um, I'd have to swipe right oncertain people because they

fulfilled that like quota in thehypothesis.
And then I'd compare it to abaseline and I'd try to make a
Swiped right.
Went on a date.
Um, and then after that firstdate 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, theother people I was dating.

Um, and, uh, that was in 2015.
I think I just found your

Conor Bronsdon (39:13):
Fun fact actually,

Neha Batra (39:15):
It would be that I found myhusband while running an experi
dating experiment.
I How to write this

Conor Bronsdon (39:20):
Yeah, I got you.
No worries.
We're here.
We're here for you.
Um, I'd love to ask you for anyclosing thoughts.
I, I've enjoyed the far rangingnature of this conversation and
I feel like you've got a, atakeaway punch for us.

Neha Batra (39:35):
I think that when it comes to being strategic, uh, a
lot of people do associate thatwith being calculating.
They associate it withpoliticking, they associate it
with meddling.
Um, and while I do think thatthere's an element to that,
Like you obviously have to beable to see the systems for what
they are and see the potentialin them to try to move them to a
different state.
Um, it really, for me has a lotto do with curiosity.

I feel like I really lovepuzzles.
I like learning about why thingswork the way that they work.
I like taking inspiration fromdifferent places and I like
trying new things.
And, um, if I'm going to try newthings, if I'm going to, um.
Try to learn about things in adifferent way.
There is absolutely strategy toeither A, create the space to do

that, or B, to make that happenwithout other things burning
I do have to think about thingsstrategically, but it's in
pursuit of understanding thingsbetter.
Um, and, you know, making thingsmake sense to me.
Um, and that's like really whatdrives me and motivates me

Conor Bronsdon (40:37):
in a lot of ways I think.
We're all leveraging strategy ina lot of our waking moments in
this world, whether we want tocall it that or not.
Okay, maybe some of it'stactics, sure.
Yeah, sure.
But we all are breaking down theworld so we can understand it
Or we are acting off habit and

Neha Batra (40:50):
Yeah, it's a very human thing todo.

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?

Neha Batra (40:59):
Um, I, uh, I haven't playedboard games super, super
recently, but the last boardgame I played was Spirit Island.
Oh, that's a good one.
Um, and we were playing, uh, ohmy god, I really.
Hope I can remember it.
Um, it's like one of the mostcommon, it's not like cat silos
of cat contain, it's like a reluh, gloom.

No, Gloo Haven gloom was a greatbloom haven.
Um, yeah, we had like a, acouple that we used to, um,
during the pandemic, they werein like our pandemic pod.
Um, and we went.
Every other week, and we playedGloomhaven 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, youknow, kind of, I'm naturally a

support character, like when itcomes to like, you know, video
games and stuff like that.
Um, and so you can't really be asupport character fully in the
basic set for Gloomhaven.
So I was a tank.
How do I like, take the hits forother 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 wasbeing live streamed, uh, because
I got too tilted.
Uh, it's, you can, you can findit on the internet.
I love playing TwilightImperium.
It's like a 4X exploring,conquest, space opera game.
Too many hours, haven't playedit in ages, need to get back

into it.
Um, but I was, I was playing inan online tournament during the
pandemic and, um, managed to geta little too excited trying to,
uh, crush my opponents.
And, uh, maybe gave the gameaway.
But it was, it was a good time.
There was actually a meme madeabout 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'reright.
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
Hit me up.
Uh, would love to play.
Uh, Alright, on that note, uh,I'd love to give our, uh,
listeners an opportunity tofollow your work, Neha.
I, I've really enjoyed thisconversation.
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 bothon Twitter.
I'm Nerd Neha and GitHub.
I am Neha at on LinkedIn.
Uh, you'll identify me because Iwork 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):
Well, Neha, I'll make sure toconnect with you on LinkedIn.
I bet you a few of our listenerswill 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.
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