As the economy and various business sectors continue to evolve, many leaders are looking at how transitioning to a distributed company might be the best option going forward. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Zapier’s Bryan Helmig to discuss all the benefits and some of the challenges involved with running a distributed company.
Bryan co-founded Zapier in late 2011 with his friends Mike and Wade, and they were soon admitted to Y Combinator’s YCS12 batch. Zapier is a web automation application, with Zapier you can build Zaps which can automate parts of your business or life. A Zap is a blueprint for a task you want to do over and over.
In our conversation, Bryan and I discuss the crucial role of hiring, what that process looks like at Zapier, the three ingredients for running a successful distributed company, lessons he has learned along the way, and much more. I can’t wait for you to dive in and learn from Bryan’s fascinating perspective!
What would you identify as the number one area that business leaders should focus on as they work to take their business to the next level of growth? Should they focus on big-picture strategies or less sexy aspects like their hiring process?
Looking back at the growth of Zapier, Bryan Helmig says that the hiring process is the most important area for businesses in general and startups, in particular, to focus on. Hiring can be even more complicated for a distributed company but, in Bryan’s view, it doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day, it all comes down to relationships - the people who you hire and trust are critical to your business’ health. Learn more about Bryan’s approach to the hiring process at Zapier by listening to this episode.
Let’s face it, running a successful business is hard enough but the challenges can increase tenfold when you are operating as a distributed company. Thankfully, leaders like Bryan Helmig are leading the way and paving a path forward. In our conversation, Bryan was kind enough to share his three ingredients for running a successful distributed company.
Which aspect of Bryan’s three ingredients resonates the most with you? Make sure to catch my full conversation with Bryan as he expands on these three ingredients and much more.
What is your knee-jerk reaction when you think of a distributed company? Do you have a positive impression or a negative one? Don’t assume you know all of the relevant information, get it from the source!
One of the unique advantages of a distributed company is the limitless opportunities it provides when seeking talent. You don’t have to limit your talent search to those in your geographical area; you can choose from qualified candidates all over the world. Connected to this unique advantage is another advantage - diversified points of view. With a distributed company, you have the opportunity to get a global perspective that can give you an advantage over your competition.
While it might seem like there are only positives, the reality is there are a good number of challenges that arise from operating a distributed company. One key aspect is pretty obvious, you don’t get to look your peers, employees, and supervisors in the eye - this can lead to a whole host of challenges.
People who tend to view their workplace as a key aspect of their social life would find working for a distributed company challenging. Clear communication can also be a barrier for many individuals as well - what may come off as curt and obtuse in an email might not be what the sender had in mind. These challenges may prove too overwhelming for some, but the evidence shows that many people find the freedom and flexibility of working remotely are too good to pass up. Get even more insights into how a distributed company operates by listening to this episode of SimpleLeadership with Bryan Helmig!
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There’s good news for all you tech leaders who feel you got thrown into management without much preparation - leadership can be learned. My guests on this episode of SimpleLeadership are Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale, the founders of Raw Signal Group - a company with a simple promise, “We Build Better Bosses.” They are also best-selling authors of the book, “How F*cked Up Is Your Management?: An Uncomfortable Conversation About Modern Leadership.”
I can't think of two people better suited to talk to about the challenges of tech leadership. Prior to founding Raw Signal Group, Johnathan and Melissa were both tech execs who spent their careers running large parts of companies (product, engineering, data, design, marketing, PR, etc.). It’s honestly hard to find a role that one of them has not taken on. Through their work with Raw Signal Group, they've helped thousands of leaders understand their roles, build their skills, and be better bosses. Join us for this great conversation and learn how great leadership can be learned.
There is a strange belief that exists among those who are in tech management roles - they think that leading engineers is somehow different than what other leaders within their organization deal with. It’s true that engineers can be a bit unique, but there is much more that can be learned from other leaders in different areas of your organization than you think. Even leaders in entirely different industries have something valuable to offer.
Johnathan and Melissa speak to the issue by pointing out how significantly tech leaders can be helped when they learn to humbly approach others they see doing things well to simply ask for insight into how they do it. Listen to hear how they coach leaders to build cohorts of help within their own organizations, across departments.
When it comes to learning leadership skills, every leader needs to be on the lookout for the things the leaders around them do well. It’s one way you can see things in others you admire and develop a list of leadership qualities or skills that you want to improve in yourself. Melissa refers to it as the “leadership skills you want to steal.”
But the truth is that you don’t really have to steal anything. Most leaders are eager to help others understand the things they do well. But it requires that you have the bravery to approach them to ask for help.
We’ve all heard someone described as a “natural born leader.” While we understand what is meant by the phrase, Johnathan and Melissa push back against the notion that some people are born with the skills needed to be leaders and others are not. Even casual observation proves it not to be true. None of us naturally know the critical skill of leading teams, having effective one on ones, conducting effective meetings, or firing someone. If that’s the case, then how did those who do those things well get that way?
They learned the skill over time. Melissa and Johnathan developed their company, Raw Signal Group after years of observing the terrible leadership practices being carried out in the tech industry. They felt that not only did they have a responsibility to ensure that their personal leadership was not guilty of the same abuses they saw going on around them, but that they also had an obligation to help solve the problem industry-wide. You’ll enjoy hearing their frank perspective on how leadership can be learned, why it’s important to grow as a leader, and how anyone can do it.
We’ve all done it. We misspeak or forget to respond in a way that is sensitive to the diverse people and backgrounds in the room. And when we’re told how we hurt someone, we often say, “But that was not my intent.” Johnathan says "intent" is something we fall back on as a defense when what we should be doing is accepting the correction, admitting our wrong, and committing to do better next time. When we say we didn’t “intend” to do what we did, we are attempting to avoid accountability.
We all have to learn how to be better humans, people who care enough to learn how to communicate with more inclusiveness and more sensitivity toward others. Leaders especially. It's a big part of what makes for a team that gels well and becomes powerfully effective - and it starts with the leader. Learn how you can and should grow in this area, on this episode.
Patrick has spent his career applying his engineering talents to the healthcare industry. In that time he’s focused on learning and growing as an engineer, a teammate, team lead, and more recently as an engineering manager. He considers himself a people gardener and coalition builder and believes in people-first leadership. Patrick loves teaching and tackling people and process opportunities to help teams and individuals grow.
On today's show we discuss communication, psychology, having a growth mindset and his upcoming conference talk.
Jason Wong is a proven engineering leader, diversity & inclusion consultant, and doughnut enthusiast. With almost two decades of experience in building and scaling web applications, he has worked in a range of industries from academia to online media and e-commerce. He helped establish web development and administrative computing at Columbia College, led development of premium video streaming services at Yahoo! Sports, and spent seven years at Etsy leading their Infrastructure Engineering team. He currently works with engineering leaders to improve their engineering management practices and establish inclusive cultures.
He spends most of his time in the San Francisco Bay Area with the most beautiful woman in the world.
On today's show we discuss the leader's role in setting the tone and culture of teams and how important it is for scaling.
On a technical note: Due to a hardware issue, I had to record this episode on a backup computer and although the sound quality of Eric is awesome, my sound quality is lower than normal. Hopefully, this will be fully fixed by my next episode.
Liam is the co-founder and CMO of TimeDoctor.com, Running Remote Conference and Staff.com. After graduating with a masters in Sociology from McGill University, Liam opened a small tutoring company which grew to over 100 employees, and looked to solve a problem with remote employees not reporting accurate work data which turned into Staff.com. He consults on outsourcing and process design and is passionate about how to gain insights into the inner workings of how people work.
On today's episode we discuss running remote teams, including hiring, performance, management, culture and mental health.
Liam's Social Profiles:
About Time Doctor:
Time Doctor is a time tracking and productivity monitoring software for remote teams. The goal with the software is to help individuals and organizations to be more productive when working remotely
Time Doctor Social Profiles:
John Rouda is an IT Leader and Computer Science Professor. Currently, he is an IT Director and he teaches as an adjunct professor at both York Technical College and Winthrop University. John has spoken at numerous conferences and is currently on the board of the Interface Cyber Security Conference. John’s past experiences include more than a decade of Technical management in both software development and network infrastructure. In 1999, John Rouda and 2 partners founded a business developing, hosting and marketing websites. The business was profitable each year until it was sold in 2007 to a larger competitor. John has developed dozens of mobile apps for the Apple Appstore and Google Play Marketplace. He holds two master degrees, one in Business Administration and one in Computer Science. He has written 3 books that can be found on Amazon & Audible. John regularly speaks on technology, entrepreneurship and leadership topics at events and conferences, including a TEDx talk in 2015. He hosts a technical leadership podcast called A Geek Leader that can be found on iTunes or at https://ageekleader.com. John is married to a beautiful wife and has three wonderful kids who he dearly loves.
On today's episode we discuss motivation, empathy, leadership and cover the highlights John's Ted Talk.
Saurabh is currently an Engineering Manager at Twilio. He joined Twilio about 4 years back as a senior engineer. He then moved into a tech lead position and then transitioned into management about 1.5 years ago. Since then, he has grown into managing multiple engineering teams within Twilio's Messaging organization. Before joining Twilio, Saurabh worked in a couple of fin-tech startups in the Boston area mostly in an Individual Contributor role. He has a strong passion for engineering leadership and is always looking for avenues to give back to the community. Other than computers, he is fond of reading, cars, astrophysics and travelling.
On today's episode we discuss the importance of relationships and building trust.
Michelle is a Senior Backend Engineer at ChowNow, helping local restaurants grow their business by strengthening relationships with their customers. She has previously served as both an engineer and a manager for the last 7+ years in entertainment technology. She has worked tirelessly to help movies and television get made faster and cheaper, saving productions millions of dollars. A Philadelphia native, she has a background in Media Arts and is a self-taught Python developer. Michelle is now working to give back to her community through mentorship and conference speaking.
Darragh is currently the VP of Engineering at Intercom. (One of my favorite companies). He joined Intercom in early 2012 as a product engineer and Intercom's second outside hire. Fast forward to today, and he is Intercom's VP of Engineering where he has grown and scaled the organization into a world class Engineering team. Prior to Intercom, Darragh worked at numerous other companies including Amazon.com. Darragh is mentor on the Plato network and is passionate about the outdoors and his family.
On today’s show we discuss his path from IC to VP of engineering and tips on how to scale a fast growing engineering team.
Camille Fournier is the head of Platform Engineering at Two Sigma, a financial company in New York City. Prior to joining Two Sigma she was the Chief Technology Officer of Rent the Runway, a transformative brand that offers unprecedented access to designer fashion, disrupting the way millions of women get dressed.
She is an open source contributor and project committee member for both Apache ZooKeeper and the Dropwizard web framework. Prior to working for Rent the Runway, Camille served as a software engineer at Microsoft, and most recently, spent several years as a technical specialist at Goldman Sachs, creating distributed systems for managing risk analysis and firm-wide infrastructure.
She has a BS in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University and an MS in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Camille is a well-respected voice within the tech community, speaking on a variety of topics such as engineering leadership, distributed systems, scaling teams, and technical architecture. In 2017 she released her book, “The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change.”
Camille Talk: http://www.camilletalk.com/
Lara Callender Hogan is an engineering leader, coach, and consultant at Wherewithall. She is also the author of Designing for Performance (O’Reilly, 2014), Building a Device Lab (Five Simple Steps, 2015), and Demystifying Public Speaking (A Book Apart, 2016).
Lara champions engineering management as a practice, having built and led engineering organizations as an Engineering Director at Etsy and VP of Engineering at Kickstarter.
In her world tour to advocate performance to designers and developers alike, Lara has keynoted the Velocity Conference, presented at Google I/O, and given talks at companies like The New York Times to help shift them toward a culture of performance. While at Etsy, Lara co-created the initial physical device labs, and co-authored a tutorial and bookfor companies interested in building their own lab.
To connect her passion for performance with her activism, Lara donates all of the proceeds from Designing for Performance to charities focused on supporting underrepresented people in tech.
Lara also believes it’s important to celebrate career achievements with donuts.
On today's episode we discuss proper expectation setting, mindful communication, Lara's new company and a surprise management challenge! Listen on to find out what it is!
Mihai Fonoage is the Vice President of Engineering for Modernizing Medicine. In this role he leads a Team of Engineers that are working on building high-quality software for medical practices to increase efficiency and improve patient care. With over 13 years of experience in the technology world, his technical prowess has strongly contributed to Modernizing Medicine’s success. Mihai has a PhD in Computer Science from Florida Atlantic University and was Modernizing Medicine’s first employee. He is a recipient of the Sun Sentinel's 2015 Top Workplace Professionals and the South Florida Business Journal’s 2014 40 Under 40 award.
On today's episode we discuss Mihai's path from being an intern to becoming the VP of Engineering and his guidance for engineering managers on how to best prepare to scale to prepare for the role.
Jen Dary is the founder of Plucky, an organization that works with companies and individuals to create healthy dynamics at work. She is a leadership coach and speaker; she travels across the US teaching workshops, including her popular course, So Now You’re a Manager, which trains new managers across the country for the complex work of herding humans. Jen lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two young sons.
On today's episode we discuss one of the tricky challenges of being a first time manager - managing your former peers and friends. We also discuss Plucky Cards? What are those? Stay tuned to find out!
Leonard is the founder and CEO of Hello Chava, a company reimagining productivity tools for the solo professional. Over the past 25 years, Leonard has recognized emerging markets and launched multiple successful products with a particular focus in SaaS, Cloud Computing, and Collaboration through first gen products such as Hello Chava, Syncplicity, Windows PowerShell, and SETI@home.
On today's episode we discuss scaling your leadership, being humble, racing cars and slowing down to go faster.
Today's podcast is a recording of a live panel that I moderated which focused on nurturing an inclusive environment at technology companies. It was part of a larger event put on by the tech mentoring company Plato.
The fantastic guests that I had a chance to discuss this with were:
Listen on as my panelists discuss the current challenges with diversity and inclusion at tech companies and strategies for helping to foster a more inclusive environment.
A special thanks to Plato for sponsoring this great event and for allowing me to use this for my podcast.
Plato matches tech managers to highly experienced engineering leaders to help resolve their challenging management situations. If you would like to find out more information about Plato you can visit their website at PlatoHQ.com where Shivani and I are also mentors.
Erica is an engineering manager for the integrations and data analytics teams at SalesLoft –
where she’s helping grow the product engineering team for the 4th fastest growing software
company in North America and #1 best place to work in Atlanta. During her 18 year career in
tech, she’s worked with large companies, including Boeing, FOX Interactive Media and Turner
Broadcasting, as well as early-stage startups--of which 2 were acquired, by MySpace and
Erica works passionately towards diversity and inclusion in tech, via education and exposure to
opportunities. In 2013, she started the Atlanta network of Women Who Code, where she
organizes conferences, hackathons, developer workshops, monthly tech talks and networking
events for women technologists. In addition, Erica collaborates with companies to help improve
strategies around diversity and inclusion. She also helps develop and teach youth coding
programs, speaks at tech events and mentors entrepreneurs for various incubators and
On today's episode we discuss improving diversity and inclusion at companies and how important it is in building high performing teams. We also discuss Women Who Code, The WeRise Conference and 100 Girls of Code.
Dennis is the Head of Integration at HiredScore, a startup that helps large companies achieve their hiring and recruiting goals using deep system integrations and AI. Dennis is a former team and group leader at Sears Israel working on large scale social e-commerce platform and before that he was a team leader and a full stack developer at the Israeli Air Force. He is passionate about people growth and company culture.
On today's episode we discuss the challenges, both logistical and emotional, when a manager decides to leave their team and company. This is based on Dennis' personal experience leaving his past company and a blog post he wrote about it.
Katie is a Director of Engineering at Buffer, a globally distributed team with no offices, and O’Reilly author. At Buffer, she leads the engineering team focusing on crafting productive, effective teams and delivering a world class software product. She previously worked as software engineer before moving into leadership. Her writing has appeared in The Next Web, Inc Magazine and Fast Company.
Rachael is an engineering manager for the infrastructure and backend teams at Lever, a collaborative hiring software product helping companies recruit and grow their teams. She joined the team in 2014 as a product engineer and was one of the first employees to kickoff internal discussions around diversity and inclusion. She transitioned into a management role over a year ago and is dedicated to growing engineering teams who have a strong combination of technical and soft skills.
On today's episode we discuss best practices in hiring and diversity and inclusion in tech companies.
Four Engineering Managers from Facebook, Kabam, Clever, and Medium shared their tips on becoming a great Engineering Leader during the Plato event hosted on May 15, 2017 in San Francisco.
This event was sponsored by Plato. Plato matches tech managers to highly experienced engineering leaders to help resolve their challenging management situations. Find out more and sign-up to me mentored at platohq.com.
Jean-Denis Greze is Head of Engineering at Plaid, the technology company giving developers access to the financial system and the tools to build many of the most influential applications and services of the modern financial era. Companies such as Venmo + Paypal, Coinbase, Robinhood, Acorns, Betterment, Clarity Money and hundreds more are built on Plaid - whose investors consist of Goldman Sachs, NEA, Citi Ventures, Spark Capital, American Express, and Google Ventures.
Prior to joining Plaid, Jean-Denis was Director of Engineering at Dropbox, where he led the growth, identity, notifications, Paper and payments teams. Prior to Dropbox, Jean-Denis worked in fintech in New York and has CS degrees from Columbia as well as a JD from Harvard Law School. Outside of work, you’ll find him trail running, reading, or plotting his next vacation to Japan.
If you want to learn more about Plaid after this podcast, visit them at www.plaid.com and check out the open eng roles on their career page - where you can actually apply by API. You can also follow them on Twitter - their handle is @plaid, or give their awesome recruiting team a shout at email@example.com.
On today's episode we discuss software engineering values and how to enable engineers to be successful at your company and beyond.