Behind The Scenes: Gaetano

One of Babbel’s Engineering Leads talks to us about his career development, what it’s like managing a team of engineers, and adapting to the WFH lifestyle.
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Behind The Scenes: Gaetano

At Babbel, our endgame is getting people to have conversations with other people in a new language. There are fantastic folks here making that possible. In our “Behind The Scenes” series, we sit down with them to provide a glimpse into who makes it all work, what they do and where their heads are at. 

This round we’re talking to Gaetano Contaldi, one of Babbel’s Engineering Leads.

What’s your role at Babbel? What do you do on a typical day?

I am the Engineering Lead of the Impressions Experience Area. I spend a good amount of my typical day working together with the Director of Product, as Experience Areas follow the dual leadership model. On top of that, I meet with my team to discuss progress and challenges, as well as with people from other departments to make sure we are working towards the same goal.

Where are you from and which languages do you speak?

I am Italian, more specifically from the south of Italy. I speak Italian, of course, English and Neapolitan (some people might argue against Neapolitan being a language 😁). 

This is a pretty international workplace. How does that influence your work?

Indeed, my team represents 16 different countries. Working in such an international environment is very stimulating, but can also be a challenge at times. I needed to learn how to adapt my communication to different cultures, and how to recognize and work with an unconscious bias. Inclusiveness is a super important topic that I try to keep in mind every time I schedule a meeting or any sort of event.

You have been at Babbel a few years already. Tell us about your career progression here and what else you hope to achieve?

I started at Babbel as a Software Engineer, then moved to the Engineering Manager role. Since February, I have been leading an Experience Area together with the Director of Product, which is a team made of sub teams. Engineering Managers at Babbel are responsible for the career development of the team. This would include having 1:1 meetings and supporting the engineers so they can  develop their skills further. Together with the Product Manager, the Engineering Manager is accountable for the team’s success and failures, so having a close relationship with the Product Manager is very important.

What’s it like leading a team of engineers, rather than just being an engineer? What skills are particularly useful for this?

Delegation and active listening are the skills that I value the most when leading a team. At Babbel, technical decisions are made by the team and not by the Engineering Managers. In order for this to happen, the Engineering Manager needs to be able to create a safe space where all engineers can easily contribute, as well as facilitate the discussions so that the group can make a final decision. 

Are there tools, or skills, that you find surprisingly useful?

The tool I love the most is Todoist. When I started being a manager I struggled a lot with time management. As an engineer, I was used to working on one thing at a time. But as a manager, I find myself working on multiple things at the same time. So I decided to attend a training from the Babbel Academy and I learnt about the Eisenhower Matrix, which is a framework that helps to prioritize tasks. Todoist is a nice tool that implements the Eisenhower Matrix to help you prioritize your work.

What challenges are you most animated by?

I generally like changes at work. They offer an opportunity to challenge the current status of things and improve them. In our Product & Engineering department, we are focusing on creating cross-functional units that deliver value autonomously. It might sound simple, but it’s not always easy with an organization of this size. Changes challenge our way of working and our mental models. With my new role, I’m part of this change and this challenge excites me a lot. 

Since we are now all working from home, how have you adjusted to this situation? Do you have any tips to share for WFH productivity?

Before this, I’ve only experienced working from home for less than a week. I have to say that my first week was pretty hard, as I missed my routine. The commute from home to the office was a good way for me to switch off work related thoughts and focus on my private life. Taking the stairs to go from a meeting room to the other was a good 1-minute exercise and a break which I never realized how much it played in my daily routine. After 3 weeks, I have a new routine: Slack reminds me to take breaks, I work a few hours standing and few hours sitting, I shortened meetings by 5 mins to allow breaks between them and I have a daily walk around the block to switch from work to private life.

Want to work with Gaetano? Babbel is currently looking for a Director of Engineering!

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