Paul Hitz of Dun & Bradstreet is smiling into the camera with the company logo behind him.
Paul Hitz. Image: Dun & Bradstreet

Going from software engineer to manager means taking pride in others’ work

5 Mar 2021

After years with Dun & Bradstreet, Paul Hitz, who’s now a software development manager with the company, has realised that learning to manage other engineers’ work can be as rewarding as doing it yourself.

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Paul Hitz is an experienced software engineer and leader with more than 15 years’ development experience.

We chatted to him about his extensive career path and the joy he now gets from watching his teams succeed.

‘Seeing a junior engineer excel at their job and progress to become a senior engineer, and beyond, gives me confidence that we’re doing something right’

What first stirred your interest in a career in software development?

Some of my earliest memories involve tapping away on old computer keyboards. I still have fond memories of learning to code on my trusty Commodore 64. The simultaneous feelings of surprise and triumph from making the code work is something I will always remember. Along with the feeling of frustration from something not working because of a simple typo!

The satisfaction from finally getting a piece of code to work can be exhilarating. I knew then that there was something special about software development.

What led you to the role you now have?

I have a BSc and MSc in computer science from University College Cork. The years I studied and worked there gave me the grounding I needed to take my first steps in the world of professional software development.

I spent my first summer as a university student (badly) assembling Apple Mac laptops on an assembly line. By my final summer, I’d joined IBM as a software engineer.

That first role would eventually set me on a career path that has led to my current position as a software development manager at Dun & Bradstreet.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path?

One of the biggest challenges for me was moving from individual contributor to leader. I’d spent my entire career up to that point as a software engineer and it was a role I enjoyed. However, I realised that I could be more impactful as a software development manager.

I now rarely experience the personal pride that comes with writing quality code yourself. Instead, I take pride in the achievements of my teams. It was a difficult, but correct decision to make. It has allowed me to have a more complete view of how to deliver large-scale applications and have a broader impact. It also helps that I’ve been privileged to work with some first-rate development teams.

That said, I still do some coding in my own time. I need to get my fix somehow!

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

I’ve been lucky to have some outstanding leaders and peers that have helped shape my career and skills. I’ll always be grateful to them for taking the time to share their insights and help me improve.

I’ve also gained a lot from my direct reports, particularly in one-to-ones. They keep me honest and rarely let me get away with excuses. They push me, sometimes unknowingly, to be a better leader so I can support them more. Bonus: they make me look good when they excel!

What do you enjoy about leading a software engineering team?

Arguably the most rewarding aspect of my current role is watching team members grow in their capability and mindset. At Dun & Bradstreet, we want our engineers to stay with us and make an impact on the company and their careers. Seeing a junior engineer excel at their job and progress to become a senior engineer, and beyond, gives me confidence that we’re doing something right.

Another aspect that I enjoy is knowing clients use our software and benefit from it. Working on something that you know will positively impact others can be incredibly motivating.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

You need a healthy dose of pragmatism in this role. No large-scale software solution will ever be perfect. It’s important to recognise what’s acceptable to drop, if needed, and what’s critical to successful delivery. You’ll have competing priorities vying for limited development capacity, so you need to pick your battles. There’s an old Epictetus quote that helps keep me sane: “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

How did Dun & Bradstreet support you on your career path?

Dun & Bradstreet has helped me progress from senior software engineer to team lead to software development manager. They’ve provided training, support and opportunities that have allowed me to advance my career.

I’m certainly not unique in this. Dun & Bradstreet invests in its people and encourages internal promotions. Within my own teams, it’s typical for most developers to be preparing for Java or AWS certifications – all paid for by the company.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in software engineering, or just starting out in one?

Try to adopt a routine of continuous learning. Admittedly, that’s far easier said than done. However, even dedicating a small percentage of your time will allow you to guide your own personal growth and broaden your horizons.

I would also recommend devoting some time to a personal project or hobby so you can have a healthy work-life balance.

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