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It’s a Chimed Life: Meet Thanh Khong, Director of Engineering

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It’s a Chimed Life: Meet Thanh Khong, Director of Engineering

“I was always a good engineer, but I was really good at talking to people and explaining things,” says Thanh Khong (he/him/his). “As a result, early on in my career, I was made a manager. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what being an engineering manager meant, but I’ve learned over the years that EQ and communication are critical skills for being a good manager of teams—you have to be able to express ideas and understand others rather than just find solutions and execute. I’ve definitely grown into that role over time.” 

We sat down with Thanh to learn more about his path to Chime, his management philosophy, and the teams he works with at Chime. 

The right place at the right time

Thanh was contacted by a Chime recruiter at the right moment for him: “I don’t come from a Silicon Valley tech background—all of my experience has been in Chicago—but when my recruiter told me Chime was opening an office in Chicago, my interest was piqued,” he says. As a born and raised Chicagoan, Thanh has a lot of pride in where he grew up. “I wanted to have a greater footprint on the Chicago tech ecosystem,” he adds. “The fact that Chime was in Chicago was a big draw.”

After working with a company with headquarters in other cities, he was excited about working in an office where there would be other leaders to bounce ideas off of. “As someone trying to improve and uplevel my own career, traveling to be amongst other leaders all the time had become exhausting,” he explains. “Working with a great team in Chicago sounded like a nice change of pace.”

And when Thanh met with Chime Chicago Senior Engineering Director, Emily Anderson, he saw someone whose philosophy and people management style were right in line with his own. “The work is always the work, but if the people you’re doing it with are great, the work is that much easier,” he says. “Emily gave me a ton of confidence in the teams and people at Chime—I was sold.”

Today, Thanh is an Engineering Director at Chime, where he leads the Decision Platform and Machine Learning Platform teams. “These platform teams help data scientists at Chime successfully build models so that we can make smart, data-driven decisions across the organization,” he explains. 

How Thanh empowers engineers with his thoughtful approach to managing teams

Thanh has thought about his role as a manager a lot. The root of his management philosophy stems from the idea that his team is trying to deliver something to Chime (the company) or our members—the ultimate goal is that their work creates value more broadly. 

The most important part of his management philosophy is how his teams deliver on that goal. “I want engineers to be happy and engaged—that’s how I believe all people produce the best results,” he says. “That starts with an understanding of what they’re working on. At our core, I believe humans want to build things that others care about, so I strive to make sure that what my team is working on is aligned with our company goals and needs and that, at the end of the day, our members will care about the outcomes we produce. If our members care, our team will know they’re delivering something that matters.” By starting with the outcomes—rather than the specific architecture, features, or buttons that will be on the screen, he helps his team take ownership of their work and deliver the best member experience.

“After all, engineers are part of the solution, not just here to take orders,” he says. “By empowering our teams, we stand to make them happier at work.” 

The second part of Thanh’s philosophy is that every member of his team is different. “I figured out early on that I have to tailor growth plans to each individual—different things drive us, and by tuning into my team members’ intrinsic motivations, I can help them achieve their own measure of success,” he explains. For example, some members of his team might be motivated by expanding their skills or getting a new title; others might want to flex their creativity muscles and not care as much about promotions. “What each individual needs to grow and stay engaged is different,” he says.

To better understand every member of his team, Thanh strives to build relationships and trust with them. “I try to understand where they are coming from and what drives them,” he says. “I let them guide most of our conversations and focus on listening. This helps conversations happen authentically, rather than my reports saying what they think I want to hear.”

Much of Thanh's approach to managing his teams stems from how he’s been managed over the years. “I’ve boiled down the ways that I’ve appreciated being supported by my managers and built my philosophy around that,” he says. 

Making connections to his team’s why: Chime members

Thanh oversees several different teams that have all optimized for their specific parts of the value chain; his role is now to unite their efforts to drive company priorities. “I want to help our teams answer questions around whether our work is making a difference to our business and our members,” he says. “The work is excellent, but how often are we taking a step back to evaluate its impact? I want to keep striving to help my teams understand how the things they’re building will impact our members and business.”

For Thanh’s teams, knowing that they’re making an impact will actually come from members not noticing their work. “Our work is similar to that of an IT team—if it’s working well, you don’t notice it,” he explains. “We’re working constantly to prevent bad events for our members, which they only notice if a bad event happens. When we do our job well, it’s only celebrated amongst our team. That’s another reason I try so hard to help everyone working on these initiatives understand the impact they’re making—because it can sometimes feel invisible.”

“There are many pieces that have to come together for a seamless member experience, and I’m proud that my team is part of that. As a manager, I hope they feel supported and celebrated for work that, when done well, goes unnoticed by our members—but never by me or the rest of the team. It’s work that deserves to be acknowledged.”

Thanh's team continues to deliver an exceptional member experience through and through—and he helps his team grow by connecting each individual with their own motivations. And even though our members may not express their direct gratitude, we see the fruits of Thanh's team's labor in our customer love, the awards we win, and the growth of our team—their impact is all around us.