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Coffee Chat Questions With a Tech Lead - What to ask?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer at Taro Community9 months ago

Hi Taro Community,

I am a new hire for my company and I will have an amazing opportunity to chat with a tech lead.

I wonder from a more senior engineer perspective, what some important information or questions are essential to ask or tackle during the opportunity coffee chat?

Thanks a lot for the help :)

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Discussion

(5 comments)
  • 2
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    Senior Software Engineer [IC3] at Nvidia
    9 months ago

    Two quick thoughts:

    • "Amazing opportunity"? It's good to be grateful, but be careful here. If you psych yourself up too much, you might be very nervous and have a rough experience. They are another human being, just a bit ahead on their career journey. Hopefully, you'll have plenty of opportunities in the near-term and long-term to meet other tech leads and engineers further on the career journey.
    • What's your aim? It's hard to answer this question without context, as we don't know your role, career path, goals, relationship to this person, or a number of other important specifics. I would start with clarifying your goal though. Is it a tech lead on your team? Watch some of the Taro content on how to start a new project and make an impact fast. Questions there would be around how to onboard quickly and what areas could push the project along. Is this a lead on another team? Maybe your goal is to learn about their project and create a relationship for the future. The first question to gain clarity around is what your goal is in this interaction. Once you know the why, the how will be much easier.
  • 4
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    Staff Eng @ Google, Ex-Meta SWE, Ex-Amazon SDM/SDE
    9 months ago

    This is not a make-or-break conversation. You don’t need to impress them, be a person. Ideally you sow seeds of an ongoing relationship. Even if it’s not formal mentorship, being able to ping them with quick questions, whatever… that’s real value.

    The “easy” things to ask would be things like “What do you wish you knew when you first started here?” and “Who do I need to know to be effective?” and “What is the worst code we have, and how can I learn it?”. But really… you don’t know enough yet to ask any really probing questions. Most important is “Can we meet again in 6 weeks when I’m terribly confused?”.

  • 2
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer at Series B Startup
    9 months ago

    I agree with Lee. Depending on your culture and the bandwidth of the tech lead, I think it's much more important to use this opportunity to start establishing a great personal relationship.

    Reason being is the practical stuff like how best to succeed, org structure, dev processes etc will be answered organically as you start to ramp up, work with others, look at the code etc. 30 minutes of talking about work related things with the tech lead won't have a large impact on how well of efficient your onboarding goes.

    However, 30 minutes establishing a good personal connection will. There are tons of opportunities to learn about the code, but not many to connect with your tech lead. The earlier you establish a great personal connection, the earlier you can benefit from the better connection. This will manifest with benefits like

    1. More patience with any onboarding troubles
    2. More personal investment of the tech lead in your success
    3. Reduce your resistance in reaching out when you need help
    4. A headstart in building an even better connection

    There's not really a script in building a good relationship. But easy tactics are

    1. being genuinely interested in them as a person and ask questions about themselves and things they are interested in
    2. Finding points of connection like hobbies, experiences, etc.
    3. Be vulnerable when socially appropriate
    4. Being some most likely much needed positive and enthusiastic energy (I don't think you will have a problem with this given your question)

    Obviously, if your tech lead is all business or overworked this will be more difficult. However, you won't know that until you try connecting first.

  • 1
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    Startup Engineer
    9 months ago

    +1 to all the other responses.

    Always come at it from the perspective of "What value can I provide them?" instead of "What can they do for me?" Surprisingly (and you'll have heard it in some of Rahul's videos), some people actually want highly motivated mentees who can grow to provide a lot of value for their organization. There are stakes involved, i.e. their performance is linked to yours. Just take that into consideration and do your best!

  • 3
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    As others have mentioned, the goal of the initial meeting should be more around establishing yourself as a positive, well-meaning presence eager to contribute to the team, less so around procuring valuable tactical knowledge.

    Focus on exhibiting the following behaviors:

    • Listen deeply - Lean in, nod, smile, and show that you genuinely care about what they have to say. Follow the advice from here: Effective Communication Guide [Part 3.2] - Deep Listening
    • Take notes - If they're talking, you're writing. This has the dual purpose of showing that you care about what they have to say, and it helps you retain/learn the material.
    • Try to make it recurring - You can say something like "I know you're busy, but would you be open to meeting every month to catch up? I would love to learn more from you, and it would help me tremendously in ramping up on the team. No worries if you can't though - I totally get it."

    At a high-level, follow all the advice from here: [Masterclass] How To Have Impactful 1 on 1 Meetings

    When it comes to questions though, I recommend these:

    • "What's the best way to ask for help on this team?"
    • "What's the most important thing to remember when working on the codebase?"
    • "How can I help with what you're doing? Is there anything in your backlog I can take off your plate?"

    That last one will be particularly impressive coming from a junior engineer: It shows that you're taking the initiative (something juniors rarely do) while simultaneously signaling that you really want to add value to this person as well. Being delegated stuff is generally the main way for a junior to add value to a tech lead.