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The Asana Engineering team: Meet Rachel Miller

Asana Engineering TeamEngineering Team
January 2nd, 2018
4 min read
The Asana Engineering team: Meet Rachel Miller

From individual contributors to managers and program leads, every engineer at Asana is encouraged to pursue a path to success that leads them into their zone of genius. To give you a look into our engineering org and what it’s like to work here, we’ve put together a series of blog posts to help you get to know our teammates. They’ll focus on people in different roles, from different backgrounds, and with different perspectives. We hope you enjoy meeting a few members of our team!

Meet Rachel, a manager on the Product Engineering team. She joined Asana in 2012.

We often talk about Asana as being a product-driven organization. What’s it like to work at a product-driven organization, and what does Asana, the product, mean to you as an engineer?

Before starting at Asana, I hadn’t thought about how awesome it would be to work on a product that everyone at your company uses, but now I love it. Using your own product means all your coworkers have opinions about the product and really care about it as part of their everyday workflow.

So on top of the fact that we get to hear from customers, we also very tangibly feel the impact of our product in our daily lives. We collect ideas for our roadmap from every part of the organization—not just from engineers, but also from user operations, sales, marketing, and more.

Our business model also makes us more product-driven. We rely on a freemium sales model, which means that users typically pay for Asana after they’ve already been using it (and loving it). Our product goes hand in hand with our sales strategy: we want to win over end users with our product. Because we expect people to try our product for free and understand its value before they pay us for it, our product has to be sticky.

What’s it like being a manager in a product-driven organization?

We expect our engineers to care about things beyond just code: to care about how the product is developed, make sure they have great relationships with PLs and designers, and think about trade-offs. My reports  have opinions about the things they’re working on, take part in brainstorming sessions, and think about their relationships with other stakeholders. Being a manager at such a product-driven organization really affects the way we coach.

Tell me a little about your trajectory and your career here. You’re a manager now—what did your path to your current role look like?

I started at Asana after leaving my PhD program and was the team’s first new graduate hire – so when I joined, everyone had much more experience than me! It was very clear that the company had really great mentorship to offer, so I focused on learning code and becoming the best product engineer I could for a few years. Then I became the program lead (PL) of our Growth team. As a PL, I made sure the team was focused on the right pieces of work and that people on my team were working well and happy.

Through my experience, I realized that I especially enjoyed mentoring others. Realizing that coaching people was one of my favorite parts of my job made the transition to being a manager a really natural one. As a manager, I now mentor people not only on technical work but also on bigger picture stuff—making sure they’re connected to the right resources, happy, and thriving. I’ve been a manager for two years now and I’m still loving it!

How do you feel supported as a manager at Asana?

My relationship with my manager is really important. We balance tactical work—talking through whatever challenges are facing me—with what I want to do and how I want to grow in the long term. We always make sure we have space for both of those topics.

I also attend manager trainings on a regular basis. They’re a nice way to have all managers in the company learn together and discuss relevant topics.

My favorite meetings are engineering manager meetings, though. I really appreciate learning from other people’s experiences and having more casual conversations with my peers. One of the challenges of being a manager is that you’re not always working closely with people doing the same type of work as you are. So it’s really helpful to come up with structures where you get to interact with your peers and brainstorm.

What are your priorities as a manager?

My main priority is my reports! I try to take good care of our one-on-one projects, so whenever I find something good for us to talk about, I’ll add it there. I’m always trying to find topics related to their growth and talking about their big picture goals frequently. I also write code, contributing pieces to a lot of exciting parts of our product. It’s important to me to make sure my technical skills are still sharp enough to be a good coach to my reports.

Most managers also have other Areas of Responsibility (AoRs) that they’re passionate about, and I’m no exception; for example, I do a lot of work with university recruiting. Working on a variety of responsibilities—from managing my reports to contributing to areas I care about in the organization—is a nice way to keep my job exciting for me.

What do you find to be most rewarding as a manager?

I’m really motivated by watching my reports grow and meet their goals. It’s really satisfying to see my reports get clarity on what their goals are—and to see them reach them!

Once they’ve set goals, we work together to make sure they have successful mentorship relationships. For example, some of my reports are really excited to grow into being program leads. I’m excited to help them figure out what skills they need to achieve that: what projects can they work on, who can give them feedback, things like that.

What does success look like at Asana?

There’s a broad range of what success looks like at Asana and managers get to focus on co-creating what success looks like for each of their reports. I think it also helps that we have people who are visibly successful in very different roles.

I love that Asana has very successful engineers in a number of different roles—we have some very senior ICs, PLs, and managers. I appreciate that each role presents unique responsibilities that speak to different people, and each contributes to Asana’s success.

Why do you feel good coming to work each day?

I’m impressed at how much Asana invests in the long term. Within engineering, we invest so much in our systems. For example, we were willing to do a complete rewrite of our site for performance because we think it will set us up for success in the future.

I also see our investment in people’s long-term growth, making sure everyone has the resources they need to become leaders—whatever role that might be in. I’ve gotten to experience it personally, through my own growth at Asana—that’s what’s kept me here so long! That feels really good.

Does Rachel seem like someone you’d like to work with? Have a look at our open engineering positions to see how you might fit into our team.

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