Thomas Hughes

My view on customer engineering

A team of sherpas guiding the customer through their journey with Sourcegraph. Ideally, the information exists to allow a customer to self-guide their path, but a customer engineer makes it safer, faster, and shows which paths are more optimal for a given use case. You may not have encountered every possible scenario, or have deep knowledge on every aspect of a situation, however you serve as a better guide in these situations than a customer leading themselves, and that’s where the true value-add is.

Preferred learning styles

I learn well in multiple ways, though learning by doing (possibly with a shadow) is my best route for technical learning. I enjoy the process of trial and error while problem solving, and having a shadow or resource that has the answer after spinning my tires for awhile is a great way to balance making progress with concreting the topic. I enjoy visual representations and analogies when possible, but do well with strictly verbal content as well.

Communication style

Asynchronous is my preferred method of communication, while being open for hopping on a call to really hash out fine details when necessary (round robin emails due to time zones can sometimes make the decision process lengthy). I really try to live by the “Start with Why” principles that Simon Sinek writes about in his book of the same title, emphasizing why a task/change is important and the impact it will have to those whom I’m asking to perform the task. I prefer direct communication and open feedback, and if it’s critical feedback for that to be private before being spoken about openly when possible.

Preferred way to collaborate

Async first is something I try to hold dear. If we have meetings, I want them to be very intentional with a clear plan of what is to be discussed and what we are hoping to achieve during the meeting. I enjoy being task oriented and “ticking checkboxes” for larger projects. I also like continuous feedback when possible, leveraging a “living document” or “agile” methodology to collaboration where we can see how things look at small iterative stages while working on a project.

Time of day where I’m most productive

I am a morning person and find myself most productive then. I actually try to end my day a little earlier than most (by local if possible). I get up and get started early to allow myself time in the late afternoon/evening for personal appointments and engagements, though can be flexible when needed with advanced notice.

How I approach problems

I like to ask leading questions that get to the root cause of a problem before proposing a solution. Often and in general, I think people tend to look at symptoms and want to solve that one problem, without taking the extra time to take a step back and evaluated the longer-term solution for a root pain point. Immediate fixes may be necessary at times, but when possible, I like to truly address the root of the problem with a staged/iterative solution that covers 80% of the issue, leaving 20% left for wiggle room. Continuing this process allows the next stage to have 80% of the remaining 20% unsolved to be solved, and so on.

Preferred way to be recognized/appreciated

I prefer one on one recognition, and when possible specifics being detailed so I know how to repeat the success. Instead of “that was a great demo!” I like to hear what specifically about the demo made it great for you so I can repeat those elements in future demos. Public recognition is fine as well in a general sense, but I prefer private recognition to get specifics as I care more about repeating successful things then just the recognition along.

How to convince me to do something

I tend to lean more toward my Spock side (for the Trekkies out there) and prefer logical reasoning to emotional. That said, sometimes things just “feel right” or “feel like the right thing to do” (especially in a customer-facing role) and the logic may not back that emotional feeling, but I’ll still go with that “emotional” route. Finally, I prefer solution proposals when possible versus just identifying a problem. Convincing me of a problem existing may be pretty easy, but having a potential solution would convince me to address it faster in some situations.

Thoughts/feelings/preferences when it comes to asking for help

When asking for help I try to do my best to find my own path and solution first. I can be hard headed about self-learning and not distracting others from their work, and try to remain empathetic to others’ time zones, tasks, etc. and try to avoid having people context-switch when possible. If I’m spinning my wheels for longer than I’m comfortable with I’ll reach out for help to try to get me unstuck, versus continuing to waste cycles with diminishing returns or completely stalled progress.

When helping others, I am always open to just listening, providing feedback when asked, or providing advice when asked. I prefer to co-elevate (see Leading Without Authority) others, enabling them to achieve their goals and finding the middle ground where our goals overlap so we can help each other succeed. I’m completely comfortable taking a back seat to someone else driving a goal, providing input as needed, and I’m also comfortable leading and making decisions if asked. My only ask in return is that others also respect my own time zone, tasks, and context switching that may occur and attempt to help themselves some when possible. Most of my help will come in the form of “teaching to fish” versus “giving a fish.”

How I like to give and receive feedback

When giving feedback I like to give actionable feedback (see this article, on actionable feedback.

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As shown in the diagram from the above article, I prefer Spades for critical feedback which give me actions to improve on and specifics I can use to dig myself out of the hole for next time. I prefer Diamonds which provide valuable feedback I can continue versus strictly hearts, which are nice to hear, but lack specific details on what I should continue doing in the future.

Finally, I prefer more immediate feedback. It’s easier for me to reflect on mindset, a situation, etc. when the feedback is more immediate versus waiting a few weeks or longer. I try to approach all feedback with empathy toward all parties involved and do my best to see the perspective of the other parties as well before commenting and determining a path forward.

What I find enjoyable at work

I am a lifetime learner, so I love learning new things. I also love to teach and share knowledge. One of the best methods for me to learn is through teaching, and then I like to bring that learning to a repeatable process with collateral others can use to learn and teach it as well.

What kind of work do I find easiest to do when

Meetings and any focus work I try to do in the morning when I have the most brainpower. I’ll set blocks for “heads down” or “detail work” later in the day at times to ensure I still dedicate focused efforts towards tasks throughout the day, versus just in the mornings.

How do I feel about getting messages after/outside of hours that are meant for me to see and respond to during active hours

I don’t mind emails, messages, meeting invites, etc. that are outside of my working hours, provided there is no expectation of a reply or me attending. With enough notice, I can try to flex my personal schedule to make things work, and often will, but I reserve the right to decline things outside of my normal hours, especially last minute asks.

My mornings are most important to me, as that is when I go to the gym, prepare my work day, and center myself on the tasks that need to be accomplished. Evenings can also be difficult as that is when I schedule personal things that need to be done during the week. Finally, I have lunch blocks to ensure I step away from my desk for awhile. I am a recovering workaholic and have absolutely had 16+ hour days where I never left my desk for more than a quick minute or two for a bathroom break or to grab DoorDash and a drink from the fridge, eating at my desk, etc. I put hard boundaries on my calendar to help me from falling back into that.

How folks can best show up for me when I seem off

Privately checking in on me is something I would appreciate it. It’s hard for me to ask for help when it comes to self-care and mental health. Reassurance that it’s okay to take a day, or step away for an hour or two, etc. is important in moments I may seem off as I often just need to give my brain a quick break and recenter myself. Telling me to go on a quick walk will usually do the trick as well, as the separation from the desk, even 10-15 minutes (preferably 30 minutes), is great for me.

Things I am aware of that trigger anxious feelings/feelings of less than at work

Knowing only partials without the full intent is difficult for me. For example, a meeting that has no agenda, is an unscheduled one on one, and the subject is something like “we need to talk” would potentially give me an anxiety attack. I am most anxious when there’s that feeling that there’s something going on, others feel it too, but no one is talking about it openly or fully and I’m left to decide internally what may or may not be going on, which tends to lead to a negative mindset as I can be a “worse case scenario” type of person and planner.

Three things that bring me back to center when I’m stressed

  1. Taking a quick walk. 10-15 minutes minimum, but just completely shut off, leave the phone at home, and get some sunshine and greenery if possible without distractions.
  2. Just stepping away physically from the desk to another room, and deep breathing a bit. Maybe meditation, but usually just breathing exercises on their own.
  3. Truly just taking a vacation. I love to scuba dive, and it allows me to truly shut myself off from the world (can’t check Slack under water 😉) which saves me from myself and my workaholic tendencies to constantly look for notifications on my phone, check emails, etc. When I am most stressed, taking time off with full disconnect helps the most.

A pet peeve of mine

Having to repeatedly address the same issue without any improvement or effort being done to improve the situation, and this situation recurring multiple times in a short period without time to “reset” myself on it.

For example: I may start by acknowleding something I dislike internally. Then maybe a day or two later it happens again and I say “I’d prefer we don’t do that please.” Then maybe another day or two later it happens again, and I’ll say more sternly “I’d really like us to stop doing that please.” Then again and I’ll say “This needs to stop happening now.” Then finally after another few times, I may finally have a bigger reaction that I later apologize for. The key here is that the same thing I asked to stop happening occured over and over again in a short period of time, so the “fuse” so to speak was not given time to grow longer again and just kept burning down. Unfortunately this is something that has occured in my personal and professional life and is something I’ve been working on as well.

My areas of knowledge

Customer-facing engineering. Developer tooling. Technical discussions. Breaking down technical topics to non-technical audiences. SDLC processes, paint points, flows, and more. Big picture strategizing and building programs.

Areas of interest to learn

I want to regain some of my development chops as it’s been awhile, and am currently looking more into Python/Django again, React, Golang, and Terraform. Outside of technical topics, I love language learning and want to go back to studying German and Spanish, and maybe start learning Dutch.

Current personal project

I have a number of projects around the house to do, but personally I am working on my personal health in all forms (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) and am working toward my instruction certifications in SCUBA diving so I can teach part time.

Something I fear

My own mind. Our minds play many tricks on us, and mine definitely has caused some trouble in the past. I over analyze things, overthink things, and often trend to a “worse case scenario” mindset that can negatively impact my social life (and to a lesser extent, my professional at times). I also fear “losing my mind” so to speak, in terms of memory loss, cognitive function loss, etc. I had a concussion in 2021 and had trouble holding conversation for about 2 weeks. I would be in the middle of a thought, and completley forget what I was doing and never finish a sentence without realizing it, or later relizing it but not being able to do anything about it. Recognizing you are having memory loss is a very scary thing to me as I could feel it happening but couldn’t do anything to fix it.

A few quotes I find powerful

  • “This is our big mistake: to think we look forward to death. Most of death is already gone. Whatever time has passed is owned by death.” - Seneca
  • “Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.” - Seneca

For me, these both speak to the idea Seneca and other Stoics have conveyed that it is not that we have lived a certain number of years, but that we have already died that number of years. Time is the one currency we all have a finite amount of, we must spend, and can never gain back. You can chose to spend it on whatever you chose, but you have no knowledge of what your remaining balance is and there’s no way to increase that balance later. It’s constantly being spent, and we chose what it is spent on.

My Strengthsfinder results

  1. Restorative 2. Strategic 3. Achiever 4. Relator 5. Futurist