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What does it mean to be a Mobile Lead?

Marcus Wermuth
Marcus Wermuth
4 min read

I often feel the need to explain what my role means. It is not as clear as “I am an iOS Engineer” or “I am a Designer”. There will also be a thousand different description depending on the company people work at. For us here at Buffer being a Mobile Lead means I am doing a mix of the work of an Engineering Manager and a Product Manager. My job is to help the Mobile Team be able to build our products, whatever that might look like. Speaking up for the team, helping with cross-dependencies or personal thoughts. Let’s turn back a little bit.

How did I end up in this role?

Before having a person leading the Mobile Team long-term, it was a shared responsibility between our CTO and us, the Mobile Engineers. Our team was operating mostly on its own, in our own Mobile world. Only connected to the rest of the engineering and product teams through our CTO. We were doing 1:1s with him on a not so regular basis and were receiving news/requests and other important information through that role.

Roughly 1 1/2 year ago, our CTO decided to move on and leave Buffer. That left us in a tricky situation. At that moment I was worried that this would end up in the Mobile Team drifting further and further away from the actual product teams at Buffer. Luckily I was able to join a group of Engineering Leads at that time to form an interim group, chatting about all the things we needed to replace and work on in this transition period. What I did in those meetings, was to always raise my hand and say things like “Whats with Mobile…”, “This is a huge change for us, ….”, “The Mobile Team needs some support for …”, I became kind of an advocate for the team.

In this transition period, the first thing we did shift was, that I started doing 1:1s with the team and keep them connected to the rest of the team. Trying to help the team to feel safe and cared about, was an important aspect of having someone lead the team. I was bridging the gap between the Mobile Team and the rest of Engineering at Buffer. At the same time, I was still working as an Android Developer.

Do you want to be the Mobile Lead?

After a while, we understood that this role is key in getting the Mobile Team even closer to the rest of the company and keep iterating on where and what the Team can do in the future. Step after Step I started to tackle more and more different topics, like advocating in product meetings that we need to consider Mobile too and build features into the API.

This is what I would call the first transition. Supporting the Mobile Engineers and helping them achieve their professional goals and develop opportunities for them to grow.

While advocating for Mobile in Product Meetings, it became clear that there are still untapped areas for how Mobile can make the experience for Buffer better. That is where the second transition happened or is still happening. I am focusing almost 50% of my time now and understanding more about the Mobile Product Environment, what our users want and do on Mobile. This area of my work is still quite new to me, but it excites me as much as the other half of it!

As you can see in the diagram below, my role is the cross section of Product and Engineering Manager. In my day-to-day, I am focusing on what and who is going to build those stories. You can probably imagine that those roles are never perfect circles. So my areas of focus will never be exactly like this. Especially if you consider that almost half of my time I spend with the Engineering Leads on each platform (iOS + Android) to make this process a dialog.

Engineering Manager

The Engineering Manager part of my role is heavily focused on the people management side, and not so much on the technical side. That’s where I work together with the Tech Leads of each platform and rely on their knowledge.

Some points of what I am doing as an Engineering Manager:

  • Lead and align the engineering team with the Engineering vision
  • Prioritise tasks for the team
  • Inspire, mentor, and evaluate the engineering team
  • Cultivate our team culture
  • Collaborate with cross-functional peers to deliver projects Improve engineering quality and efficiency (e.g. improve workflow, code review, etc.)
  • Hire qualified candidates to strengthen company and team

Product Manager

As I mentioned above this is something I am still working on and am figuring out while you read this. A couple of points I’ve already worked on and plan to do:

  • Set the long-term vision and strategy for the Mobile Product
  • Communicate this strategy to all of the relevant participants and stakeholders
  • Write together User Stories and Roadmaps
  • Make Decisions based on Metrics
  • User Research to gain more insights into how the product is used and can be optimized

What does that look like on a daily or weekly basis?

This can all sound a bit generic and it is hard to understand what I actually do day in, day out.

I’ve been really enjoying the variety and differences in my days. It never gets boring. Of course, there are moments when both parts (PM, EM) require full attention. When that happens, it can become a bit struggling but with the right peers and the right support, it is always doable. And ultimately having both views, Product View and Engineering/People View it’s really helpful even in those situations.

Here is a screenshot of my calendar, where you can see how I split up my time on a weekly basis. Staying in the same mindset and not change context every hour is key to not becoming tired fast. I use colors on my calendar to differentiate those areas inspired by Lara Hogan’s article.

  • Blue — Product related Calls
  • Green — People Management/ One-to-Ones
  • Red — Engineering Lead Specific Calls

Overall everything I learned until now in this role has been super helpful in understanding more about building great teams and products. I would never have gone another way.

I hope that this helps to understand what it means to be a Mobile Lead at Buffer. If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to chat about this, learn from you or maybe even help you with challenges in your current role.