Today’s guest—Emad Georgy—is passionate about technology leadership. He’s a CTO Consultant and the Founder and CTO of Georgy Technology Leadership. Emad has been in the tech industry for over 25 years. His hybrid approach to technology management—focusing on both the practical and cultural elements of leadership—makes Emad a trusted and valued partner helping both domestic startups and global enterprises scale and grow.
In this episode of Simple Leadership, we chat about what cultivating leaders looks like. Sometimes, it involves making difficult decisions for your team. You must also embrace your values and lead your team by example. Listen to learn some steps to help you grow and mature as an individual and as a leader.
According to Emad, if tech leaders really want to solve the root cause of technical debt, they have to start talking about leadership debt. It’s the concept that the decisions you make as a leader results in hidden costs that build over time.
He points out that “It's our responsibility as technologists to bring [those decisions] to the surface, make [them] transparent, hold them and go, "Are we making decisions that enable the durability of the company and/or architecture?".
You don’t wake up one morning and decide to rewrite your whole platform or application—the decision is based on little decisions and mistakes that occur over time. Having knowledge of how leadership debt works helps you make better decisions along the way.
Emad points out a key trait: embracing the concept of ownership. A leader “Must have a collective sense of responsibility—not just about his or her actions—but about the actions of their team and the organization”. It’s about leading by example.
You need to be problem-solvers, not problem-reporters. Emad has learned that pointing fingers only serves to create dissension among your team. It isn’t about who’s at fault, it’s about how you got there. So when something goes wrong, you step up and take ownership—then help your team find and fix the problem.
Emad points out that as the leader, you get to manage the company culture. He defines culture as “the stories you tell every day”. If you spend every day complaining and moaning about the work you’re doing—that’s your culture. That is your contribution to the culture. But you can easily change that. Keep listening as Emad shares some other traits and processes he believes are key to your success.
Emad gets frustrated when leaders claim that they’re “all about their people”, but when it comes down to it they focus less than 20% of their time on their team. He believes it is essential to apply a tangible growth path to your team. Where do you want to see the team go in a year? What will you do for the company in that time? What do you expect from each individual? Are you helping them determine their career path and managing their growth?
Anywhere Emad has migrated in his career, he embraces a people-first approach. He’ll spend his first couple weeks—or month, if necessary—having one-on-ones with his team members. Getting to know your team speaks volumes about who you are as a leader. You need to take the time to show them that you actually care and hear their needs and concerns. Emad points out that the need to have your voice heard is a core human need—everyone wants to be understood.
Emad and I talk about improving customer focus and facilitating conversation between customers and team members. We also talk about being “Process Ninjas”—so keep listening for more great content.
Emad points out that leaders NEED to step up their game in times like these. With the majority of teams working from home, it takes hard work to keep them engaged and dialed in. Leading remotely also exposes any gaps in leadership skills that you may need to develop. While you’re all working from home, you need to continue to recognize your team for their accomplishments. They need to be reminded that they’re still part of something greater.
Emad shares that managers need to constantly ask, what is the larger story for my team? The larger story of the company? Take this time to develop a vision for yourself and your team. How do you define your team and its culture? Nail these things down, communicate them clearly, and reinforce them. To hear more of Emad’s technology leadership recommendations, listen to this engaging episode of Simple Leadership.
Transitioning an engineering leadership position to a work-from-home model can be a challenge. For some engineers, working remotely is the norm. For others, such as those working for Shopify, being forced to work from home because of the Coronavirus is a whole new ballgame. In this episode of Simple Leadership, Farhan Thawar joins me to chat about his transition into working from home and how Shopify has made the process manageable. We talk about the benefits of coding in pairs, whether or not managers should still code, and what he looks for when hiring engineering leaders.
Farhan became the VP of Engineering at Shopify after the company acquired Helpful.com, where he was co-founder and CTO. He is an avid writer and speaker and was named one of Toronto's 25 most powerful people. Farhan has held senior technical positions at Achievers, Microsoft, Celestica, and Trilogy. Farhan completed his MBA in Financial Engineering at Rotman and Computer Science/EE at Waterloo. Listen to this episode for a glimpse into his expertise.
Shopify sent all of their employees home to work remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. They also supplied each employee $1,000 to make the transition a smooth process—for necessary equipment such as webcams, ergonomic chairs or mats, and office supplies. They knew they wanted to be proactive in protecting their team and those around them.
Farhan much prefers in-person communication and interaction. Since working from home, he has made a concerted effort to focus on communication that includes Google Hangouts, Zoom calls, audio, and asynchronous video—all before defaulting to text. His goal is to connect and converse with fellow employees about their lives and remember to have non-work-related conversations like they would if they were in the office.
Something new managers often struggle with is whether or not they continue to code once they assume a leadership role. Should they work on company projects? Practice coding on the weekend? Farhan incorporates coding into his schedule every Thursday morning as a way to “go deeper” and stay on top of his skills.
Something that Shopify implements is what is called a “studio week” in which executive-level team members take a week to deep-dive into their craft to continue learning and perfect their skills. It takes their skillset to the next level, gives more context to how their team operates and helps them stay on top of the right questions to be asking their team.
Pairing with someone is a great way to learn a new environment and language. It’s also a great way to learn something new that you’re not as familiar with. You can lend your technical expertise and architectural ideas to the team. You work to help each other stay focused and intense—and add to the intellect and velocity of the team.
Shopify allows their teams to set up pair programming hours—they simply open space in their schedules for others to sign up. They even supply special rooms specifically for the practice. Farhan shares that it’s set up with two monitors, two keyboards, with a long desk so you can sit and pair for a long period. Others prefer to work on pair programming in the comfort of their own pods (work areas).
While Shopify employees are practicing social distancing and following COVID-19 “shelter at home” protocols, they use a nifty tool called Tuple, a remote pair programming app. Listen to the whole episode as Farhan explains the importance of this practice.
Farhan doesn’t believe your typical interview style is particularly effective in choosing the right engineering leader. They like to find a way to immerse the potential hire into a situation they’d likely be solving and observe how they’d behave. It’s far more effective than asking questions. However, they do implement an interview-style where they, as Farhan describes it, “Try to figure out—has the person led an interesting and diverse life with examples of relatable experiences that we think can translate well into Shopify?”.
They call this interview a “life story”. Farhan states, “The life story is really a way for us to explore someone's past in as much detail and backward-facing situational data as we can, which will potentially give us some insight into future performance”.
On the technical side, they do a deep-dive into a problem in the interviewee’s past to see where their passions lie. They look at their depth of knowledge regarding problems they were connected to and what strategies they use to solve them. Listen to this episode for the engineering challenges that Farhan has faced and details on what he’s learned.