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Chief Collaboration Officer

When you search for the word “collaboration” on the Internet, the top hits are mostly software packages you can buy.  Software can facilitate collaboration, but it doesn’t make people collaborate on its own.

One of the key functions of a technical leader is to bring a team together, help people share ideas, and facilitate team members helping each other.  When a software leader overlooks this key function, you end up with a group of individual contributing engineers instead of a cohesive team.
Before we get into tactics, we should ask “Why is collaboration important for an engineering team?” 
It’s critical to examine your assumptions, so here are my reasons for why a group of engineers working on their own are worse than a team working together: Smart people learn from each other.Getting your plans and designs reviewed by other people allows you to leverage their experience and check your assumptions.Collaboration produces artifacts that stay after collaboration has taken place (such…
Recent posts

Two Critical Questions for Your Next Interview

I’ve interviewed probably over 500 engineering and management candidates over the last several years.  There have been a lot of really smart people who have applied at DocuSign, Microsoft and Tempo Automation. A surprising number of them didn’t have a clear answer to these two essential questions:

Why are you interested in joining our team?Why should we be interested in you? 
If you are an applicant, having a prepared answer for these questions is critical.  If you are a hiring manager, you should ask them and have a clear answer to these questions at the end of the first interaction with your future team mate.

In a field where work is somewhat predictable and static, those questions are less critical, but in software development perseverance, ingenuity and focus make all the difference. These are the two main questions that will separate a subpar and a superb hire.

When I discuss those two questions with an applicant I try to go below the surface.  Generic answers like “it says you ar…

Ego in Your Decision Making

Oxford dictionary defines Ego as: “a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance”. It says that it is “responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.” For a lot of us techies those were really important functions that probably served us very well early in our career.  We had to be assertive, we had to choose a coding style guide, pick our frameworks and “be decisive”.  However when it comes to engineering management the same things that used to help might be turning into a liability.

When my job changed from writing code to creating an environment where the best code is written - it took me a while to understand how my ego was holding me back.  I kept applying the old tricks - defining the architecture, the final design and task priority.  What ended up happening is those things led me to turn off a lot of the best and brightest people on my early teams.

I remember the feelings of being aggravated when I had to go over an explain my decisions and get buy …

Engineering Career Presentation to UW Computer Science Undergrads

In January I had the honor to present a quick overview of my career to the UW Computer Science undergraduates.  It was great to see the upcoming UW engineers, you could just sense that there is a lot of talent and curiosity in the room.  I hope that they took note of a thing or two from my way and build on that.

Here is a copy of the slides for your pleasure:

There are Only Two Ways to Treat Your Team

There are only two ways to treat your team: take care of them or let them go.  Early in my management career there have been times when someone has been underperforming on the team.  Before I knew better I let my emotions get the best of me: I’d give them the cold shoulder, avoid including them in conversations and look like I was upset with them. Thankfully with some good mentorship I came up with a simple rule: we are helping each other or you are off the team.

One of the biggest mistakes that folks make a lot of times is letting people linger on for too long.  Hiring good engineers is hard and getting new folks up to speed is hard.  You feel like you are going to miss your product delivery plan if you let someone go.

Letting folks linger when you are unhappy with each other creates a toxic environment.  This toxic environment is generally contagious and brings the entire organization down.  Of course you can’t have a constant state of euphoria on your team, but if a productive and…

Highly Effective Software Teams

A few weeks ago our Board of Directors asked me to present my assessment of the state of software.
 I was hired to organize and grow the software team and the directors wanted to know what kind of a team we needed to build.  I was hoping that I can just reference an article somewhere that would give me the answer, unfortunately I didn’t find anything suitable. During my research I did find some great material that will be helpful if your job is to put together a highly effective software team.
A highly effective software team has the following key characteristics: dependable, committed to shared goals, passionate about technology, respectful and compassionate.  These are not limited to technology industry, it can easily apply to finance, medicine, or sports as well.  Below is the summary and references that I found. Dependable If you are creating a software product, you need to deliver your software to your users.  Your users need to know that you are able to solve their problems on …

Lessons from my 9 Year Journey with DocuSign

After over 9 years at DocuSign I am taking on a new challenge.  It’s been phenomenal seeing the
company grow from from 25 to 2000 employees.  DocuSign has changed the way the people do business and I am proud of it.  The next chapter is going to be heading up software development at Tempo Automation - a 25 person startup that is changing the way people produce electronics.  While I am extremely excited about the future, this is a good time to reflect on my journey and share the things that contributed to the success and things that I will do differently next time around.
1: Focus on the Customer One of the key things that contributed to the success of DocuSign and my personal career is relentless focus on the customer success.  From the very beginning our CTO has taken meetings, listened and prioritized requests and feedback coming from customers.  People who could not be bothered by customer requests didn’t last long.  As a result over time our engineering team retained and reward…