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A day in the life of an engineering manager blog banner with Michal Parkola

A Day in the Life of an Engineering Manager


In this next part of our series “A Day in the Life of” we asked Michał Parkoła, Senior Engineering Manager, at Appsilon to tell us about his role, career path, and pieces of advice.

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What does an Engineering Manager do?

As a Senior Engineering Manager at Appsilon, I do three things:

  1. I take care of a group of engineers and designers who make apps for our clients. I make sure they are happy, effective, and growing.
  2. I oversee several projects, which means I form the team, support the Project Leader and maintain a good, high-level relationship with a client.
  3. I also help develop the organization as a whole. In the past, I introduced App Sprints, Guilds, and ‘Show Your Work’ which help people learn and share their knowledge with others. More recently I’ve been helping to grow our design capabilities.

How do you spend your time as an Engineering Manager?

I am a night owl by nature, who’s lucky enough to be working remotely. As a manager, my main method of delivering value is talking with people about their plans, hopes, dreams, or worries. I want to create a working environment that allows people to reach their full potential, aligning their personal goals with the company’s business objectives. That’s why my day is typically full of video calls, both with the team members and clients. However, I always try to leave some open slots for deeper thinking.

What are you currently working on?

Apart from the ongoing projects and people support, we’re developing a Design Guide to help R/Shiny developers create more beautiful, easier-to-use apps that users will love. On top of that, I’m working on systematically increasing the impact we make for our clients.

How do you become an Engineering Manager?

My career path was long and winding. I started as a student of Physics. I then moved to Mathematics and Computer Science and began to work for one of my teachers before even graduating. I worked first as a systems analyst, designing systems for telcos and later insurance companies.

I then learned about Agile through the wonderful book by Andrzej Blikle and I had a very strong, visceral feeling that this is the right way to work. Currently, it’s a default management approach everywhere. Back then, Agile was not so well known and developed. I decided that the best way to learn is to teach and started a training & consulting company called Fluid Circle.

With my business partner, we traveled around Poland gathering case studies from early adopters of Agile. We shared this knowledge with our clients, graduating from presentations and training to full-scale transformations. Over the years, I witnessed Agile being adopted by dozens of companies, from small startups to huge corporations and everything in between.

During that time I also experimented with online education. I started a company called People Skills for Geeks (which failed) and Grow Together Academy (which had a promising start, but I decided to join Appsilon and grow together with other Appsilonians instead).

What are the biggest challenges of Engineering Management?

The biggest challenge is helping up-and-coming leaders graduate from problem solvers to problem finders.  To help them get things done and lead the discussions about what is worth doing in the first place.

What’s the best thing about working as an Engineering Manager?

It’s hard to choose just one thing. If I had to, I would say it’s being surrounded by people who care deeply about the craft of their job (be it engineering or management) and about the impact it has on the world.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

This is more of a question for people I support as an Engineering Manager. From my point of view, one of the recent highlights was the introduction of a ‘Show your work’ Slack channel.   It helps us recreate the experience of looking over a colleague’s shoulder, easily available in the physical space of an office, but in a remote setting. This way, people can discuss cool details of whatever they are working on in a light, fun, and practical way.

What do you consider some of your professional mistakes? And what have you learned from them?

I once told one of the people I was supporting about a raise he would get, but due to a clerical error, I shared an incorrect amount. As you might imagine resolving this issue was quite embarrassing for me, and no doubt extremely frustrating for that person. That’s a mistake I will never make again, since then I always make sure my numbers are correct. 

The second mistake was underestimating the risk of assigning someone who just joined the company to a difficult project. Without making sure it was a good fit. I knew it was a risky decision and took some mitigating steps, but it was not enough. In the future, I will definitely be more careful about assuming what is ok for people, personally double and triple checking it with them.

Do you have any advice for new Engineering Managers?

Develop a genuine interest in helping people lead better, richer lives. Invest in developing your soft skills – get better at understanding people and making it easy for others to understand you.

Top 3 qualities of a good Engineering Manager?

  1. Empathy – you need to understand people – what they need and want, how they see the world, and what they have to offer.
  2. Drive – you need to care – it can’t be just about collecting a paycheck. If there is no deeper meaning, you will not be good at it and will likely burn out quickly.
  3. Grounding – you need to understand yourself and have a good foundation to build on – diet, exercise, sleep, family, friends, fun – everything you need to lead a healthy and happy life.

If you would like to hear more from Michał, you can do so by listening to the January 2023 Agile Book Club podcast patron-only aftershow, in which he was a guest. 

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