When hiring new engineers on his team, Eric Hoelzle likes to look past a person’s background and focus on their potential instead. After all, he once was the unexpected choice.
“As someone with a liberal arts degree and no formal training in engineering, I am a great example of someone who wasn’t a ‘cookie-cutter’ candidate,” says Hoelzle, who’s worked in tech for 20 years and is now a software engineering manager at Cisco Meraki.
Hoelzle’s nontraditional background has shaped the kind of leader he’s become: one who understands the importance of providing a space to collaborate and try new things, which is crucial to his team’s development.
“Mistakes can always be fixed, but if you don’t make mistakes, you’ll never grow,” he says.
Here, Hoelzle shares more about his leadership style, his philosophy on work-life balance, and why curiosity is an important trait for engineering candidates.
What initially attracted you to apply for a position at Meraki? How did you know the company would be a good fit?
During my 20-year career, I became familiar with the company’s reputation and its simple, accessible, and solution-oriented approach to solving customer problems. This philosophy resonated with me, so when I learned about a job opportunity at Meraki, I decided to apply. During the interview process, I got to speak with several people and really liked each of them. It felt like a great fit.
What are your core responsibilities as a software engineering leader?
As a software engineering leader, my responsibilities fall into two buckets. First, I am responsible for helping people on my team grow and excel in their careers. Second, I lead my team to deliver the best products for our customers by coaching them to solve issues and develop product enhancements.
Tell us about the newly formed MS Polaris Security team that you’re leading. What are your short- and long-term goals for the team?
The MS Polaris team includes three sub-divisions: security (which I manage), connectivity, and core. While each division has a different area of focus, we all work together to solve problems for our customers and improve our products.
MS Polaris Security’s short-term goals are to release our newest product and continue to enhance features on existing products. To support our growth, we’ve been hiring a lot of new talent. In fact, we’ve almost doubled in size since I started less than a year ago. To accommodate our expansion, I’m coaching team members to become leaders.
A long-term goal is to continue building a team culture where everyone feels comfortable, welcomed, supported, and able to do their best work.
What types of roles are you trying to fill, and how do you hire with diversity in mind?
Currently, all my team’s open positions are software engineering roles. When it comes to hiring, it is important to keep an open mind. I look for candidates who not only have the necessary capabilities for the role, but also possess the confidence and willingness to learn, make mistakes, and enhance our team’s culture.
I also work to hire the best fit for the role, and there are many people with diverse backgrounds and abilities who are great for the positions. For example, you don’t need to have a computer science degree to be an engineer at Meraki.
What can candidates expect from the interview process, and what can they do to stand out?
The interview process is an opportunity for Meraki to get to know the candidate and for the candidate to get to know Meraki. Candidates typically meet with several engineers and have a conversation with the hiring manager. We always carefully review their resume and work experience. Most importantly, we ensure that candidates are engaged, treated well, and assessed equally throughout the process.
While there are many characteristics that make for a strong candidate, I believe curiosity is one of the most distinct differentiators. I really appreciate when someone is genuinely curious about Meraki and how things work here—or if they’re simply curious about anything. Curiosity is a great trait that always stands out to me because it shows a candidate is excited and willing to learn.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced leading a newer team, and how did you overcome them?
One challenge of leading a new team is recalibrating everyone’s expectations around new roles, responsibilities, and goals. As the leader, I needed to establish our team objectives and best practices for working together. It is important to tap into people’s individual strengths and empower each person to take on responsibilities that play to these strengths. It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s also the most impactful way to build a successful team that can make meaningful progress through creativity and innovation.
Why is now an exciting time to work in tech at Meraki?
First, we are always expanding our capabilities, which provides a lot of growth opportunities for employees. Second, I think the Meraki value proposition— “simplify everything”—enables us to develop products that satisfy our customers. And happy customers go hand-in-hand with happy employees. Overall, I love the culture here. The people are friendly, smart, and excited about what they’re doing. It is refreshing to be a part of a company that genuinely cares about its customers and employees alike.
How would you describe your management style, and what do you like most about being a manager?
My management style is conversational, and I like to meet with my team regularly to discuss any topics or issues. I try to lead by being both kind and fair. If I need to have a difficult conversation with someone, I do it as soon as possible, which I think is the kind thing to do. People respond well to being treated like professionals, and we are all professionals at Meraki.
I enjoy being a manager because I like helping people grow, build on their work, and expand their capabilities. Sometimes that means that people will outgrow your department and join a different part of the company—and that is totally fine. If somebody outgrows their role, then I know that I did a great job helping them reach the next step in their career.
Why are asking questions and making mistakes important when starting a new role, especially as a leader?
Asking questions and making mistakes are part of any job. No one knows everything, so you have to be willing to ask questions. If you get something wrong, that is OK. How you react to making a mistake shows more about your character than the mistake itself. As a leader, if you can demonstrate that you’re OK with making mistakes, it will empower people on your team to try new things.
How does Meraki support working parents like yourself?
At Meraki, there is a lot of support for parents. From a parents employee resource group to parental leave, you know that leaders understand the importance of balancing work and family life.
What advice do you have for parents who might be struggling to find work-life balance?
My advice to parents is to remember that you will likely have many jobs over the course of your career, but you only have one family. When your career and family conflict, you should prioritize your family. You only have so much time to spend with your children, and you can’t get that time back.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The best career advice I have ever received is, “you can always steer the boat, but only after you launch it from the dock.” This means that you have to take the first step and get started, and only then can you decide to change course if necessary.