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A Day In A Life: Pete Karl II - Head of Engineering

A Head of Engineering is responsible for supervising and managing an engineering team, specifically the productivity of the technical team and training said team on the latest software, equipment, setup and troubleshooting procedures. But what does the head of engineering truly do on a day-to-day basis? And how could you build your resume to land a role like this in the future?


Enter: Pete Karl II.


When we did this interview with Peter, he was the Head of Engineering at SilverCloud Health. He has since grown his career and taken on the title of VP of Engineering at Thrive Global. For the purposes of this interview, we’ll be focusing on what he did as a Head of Engineering at SilverCloud. Let’s hear what he has to say about how he landed a head of engineering role and what a day looks like for him.


Startup Boston (SB): What inspired you to choose this career path?

Pete Karl II (PK): Engineering leadership was not a career path that I chose, per say. It was more so a side effect of self-reflection.


I like programming, I like startups, I like building teams, I like talking, I like strategy, and all of that stuff came together and made me say, “Hey, ya know, this might be fun.” I love driving engineering work, making customers successful, and making engineers successful, it’s been very cool.


SB: How did you know this was the best career choice for you?

PK: Because my path to this career choice was just so motley. It was an absolute quilt of design and digital photography, java, HTML tooling, web server stuff, you name it. It was this huge spectrum of new media and then experience combined with a skillset in leadership, hiring, product strategy, and business strategy. And engineering leadership in a startup is the perfect cross section of all of these things.


SB: What did you do to land this job?

PK: For the job at SilverCloud Health, it’s a bit silly. They originally posted a Sr. Software Engineer position in the U.S. and this was a Dublin-based organization which very successful in the UK.


When I saw this profile, I did my research and realized they didn’t need a Sr. Software Engineer, they needed someone to run engineering and take it to the next level. I applied and then had the conversation that went very much like this. They then told me that I may be right. And, because I gave them a good idea of how I fit into this company and how they could leverage me and my skills to get to where they wanted to be, I landed this role.


SB: What are you specifically responsible for?

PK: I am responsible for leveling up our engineering culture, practices, and ability to execute on our product roadmap. In other words, make sure we have a world-class technology team.


SB: Who do you report to and who reports to you in this position?

PK: I report up to the CTO and all of the engineering regional leads then report up to me.


SB: What is some advice you could provide to someone looking to work in your field?

PK: If you’re looking to work in the field of engineering leadership, there are a few things you should get really good at.


One of them is being an executor. There are different ways you could do that. You can learn to follow, you can ship really good engineering work, get familiar with the language, get familiar with the technical domain, and exhibit good ownership and build up a track record of being reliable in how you deliver things, always displaying a lot of humility along the way. Those folks have a future at being an engineering leader.


The second piece of advice I’d offer is to figure out how to bring people along for your stories. You’re going to have to come up with those ideas and those ideas are going to have to be reasoned with with other people. You can’t just say, “Here’s my idea, well let’s go.” You have to be able to say, “Here’s my idea and this is my motivation for coming up with this idea, and here’s what I’m hoping to achieve with this idea. Now how do we do this and does this fit into the context with what you’re doing?”


You need to bring people along with your ideas, and there’s a whole lot of different ways to do this. The easiest way to start is to just ask other people what they’re trying to accomplish. You can simply do this by asking, “What do you want to accomplish in this meeting?” so you can figure out where people are coming from and fit your agenda into theirs. And before you know it, you’re starting to cross-functionally collaborate.


Curious what a day in a life looks like as a Head of Engineering? Check out what Pete does on a daily basis in the video below:


Connect with Pete Karl II! Did you love what Pete had to say? I know we loved the conversation we had with him. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.


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