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Behind the scenes: Pooja Salpekar (she/her)

Pooja talks to us about managing teams across different timezones as well as aligning Tech and Product roadmaps.
Behind the scenes: Pooja

At Babbel, our purpose is to create mutual understanding through languages, meaning 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 Pooja, Senior Engineering Manager, based in our New York Office.

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

I am a Senior Engineering Manager at Babbel. 

I’m responsible for ensuring that my team delivers business-critical results and is happy and thriving. Another key aspect of my role is to partner with product management to ensure that we are building the right thing in the right manner.  

My typical day is a combination of individual conversations and alignment. On one side, I have individual conversations with my team members – both on helping them to focus as well as to learn and grow. On the other hand, a close collaboration with Product management is key to ensure our technical and product roadmaps are aligned and prioritized. 

I also make sure I’m up to date on my team’s technical pulse by following along with discussions on code reviews. I love the intersection of deterministic engineering activities with the ambiguous space of user needs and feedback. 

Which languages do you speak?

I speak English, Hindi, Marathi, and a little bit of German.

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

Babbel is an international company with 750 Babbelonians representing over 65 different nationalities. Every day, I interact with people from different cultures and diverse backgrounds. I am always humbled by how much I learn from my colleagues.

As a manager it is important that I build a diverse and inclusive ecosystem within my team. And working in such a rich multicultural environment inspires and enables me to be committed to creating cultures of inclusion. 

Are there tools you’ve brought with you that you find surprisingly useful?

These aren’t necessarily tools but the things I like to remind myself from time to time. 

  • As a team lead, one has to step into whichever roles the team needs. So learning new skills/programming languages is an important part of this job
  • At the very core, this role is about problem-solving. But the beauty of this role is that it teaches you to face interpersonal conflicts, career uncertainties, steering the team towards the company strategy and making the right technical choices
  • Doesn’t matter how busy things might seem, the utmost priority is to be there for your team.
  • Authenticity is the most precious commodity as a leader. Being honest and genuine with the team is the only way to gain trust and establish a growing culture.

What challenges are you most animated by? What is the most rewarding thing for you as an engineering manager?

I find it very rewarding to build highly efficient yet humble teams that continuously deliver user value using the right engineering tools and have fun while doing so!

Let me share this example with you. In 2021, my team was presented with the problem to make it easy for our learners to discover Babbel’s Live tutoring in the product. In one sprint’s time, the team improved our in-app navigation to bring Babbel’s new live tutoring offering into focus. This empowered our learners to combine self-study and classroom training to unlock their language learning goals.

It was very fulfilling to see such a small team exhibiting ownership and executing on a high-impact use case.

What learning/growth opportunities have impacted you most?

Managing teams across different timezones: I am currently managing multiple engineering teams located across 3 different continents. One of the significant challenges of these widely distributed teams is the time difference. What pandemic has taught us is that while people are very productive working from home and during flexible work hours, teams need to work together to drive creativity and collaboration.

One of my key learnings is to spend dedicated effort on setting up team processes, frameworks, and communication channels so that we are purposeful in how we use the limited overlap in time across multiple timezones.

Aligning Tech and Product roadmapsWhen I first started as a new engineering leader, one of the mistakes I made was to treat tech debts and product enhancements as two disjoint sets. This leads to conflicting priorities between engineering and product roadmaps. 

However over the years, as I spent more time in this role and interacted with my peers from the industry, I have come to understand that tech enablements and resolution of tech debts can have a positive and profound impact on the end-user experience. 

Building this understanding between the product and engineering leadership helps converge the product and engineering priorities, resulting in a KPI-driven roadmap.

How does working on a purpose-driven product affect your workday?

As a purpose-driven company, we make conscious efforts throughout all of our actions and decisions to adhere to our core mission – Creating mutual understanding through language.

As a leader it helps me in the following ways: 

  • Prioritise purpose and values over anything else
  • Shapes our technical decisions and roadmap
  • Gives us a measure of success
  • Brings customer-centricity to the forefront

Want to work with Pooja as one of her fabulous peers? We are looking for Engineering Managers (all genders) for some of our Berlin teams. Apply here!

Michèle Steinert

Michèle works in the People & Organization team in Berlin and takes care of many things related to culture, communication and learning organizations. Her search for new restaurants and recipes is taking her to different places here in Berlin and beyond, always keeping her on her toes to learn, stay curious and enjoy the world we live in!

Michèle works in the People & Organization team in Berlin and takes care of many things related to culture, communication and learning organizations. Her search for new restaurants and recipes is taking her to different places here in Berlin and beyond, always keeping her on her toes to learn, stay curious and enjoy the world we live in!

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