. The importance of intellectual honesty and awareness in engineering leadership – Articels
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The importance of intellectual honesty and awareness in engineering leadership

Last week we announced hiring Jenny Farver as our Chief Technology Officer. Announcements are wonderful to get the word out, but I thought I would take a few moments to share some more context around it all.

From the very beginning, we have been committed to building a strong culture and environment to empower people to do their best work. We would talk to each other as founders, read everything that we could, and iterate to build the place we have always wanted to work. A place where you are happy doing what you love with people you love.

I may be biased, but I think our team is incredible, and am thrilled that they chose to share their journey and talent with us at Lightstream. That is a responsibility and trust we don’t take lightly. Our leadership is responsible for making Lightstream a defining part of each person’s career where they have had the greatest opportunity to grow personally and professionally. We want our team to leave Lightstream fundamentally better than when they arrived.

Co-founder Dan Trocchio in a meeting with Lightstream staff
Co-founder Dan Trocchio breaks down our video pipeline during an engineering retreat

In the middle of last summer, our co-founder and CTO, Dan Trocchio, came to me after having just taken his first vacation in years. He shared that he had given some serious thought about Lightstream’s future and his role in it and after much consideration, he believed that he would be most impactful to our team’s future success if he focused on our code and technology.

Up until this moment, Dan was splitting his time and his mental energy trying to fill two roles: 1) our super talented founding engineer and 2) the supportive technology leader our team needs. These are two very different jobs and career paths. To do either well, you have to commit to that path as they both require enormous amounts of focus, time, and practice. It took an immense amount of self-awareness, trust, and courage to be able to share that with me and I am grateful to him for that.

I quickly recognized that we now had a few opportunities. First, to find an incredible operational technology leader who could fully support our engineering team members. Secondly, to add some fresh perspective to the team. As four founders, the leadership positions were filled from the beginning and it was a completely homogeneous group. Lastly, we could use this change in our leadership to make some big cultural and operational changes on the engineering team.

Dan and I sat down to write out all the traits and qualifications we were looking for. Most of them came back to our core values, humble leadership, and operational efficiency. “Who’s writing and measuring the engineering plan” and “who’s making sure that our team is heard, growing, and happy”. We were looking to address the current challenges and those that lied ahead. We shared that list with Drive Capital’s Robert Hatta and talked through what our future looks like. We asked for a diverse list of candidates qualified to be CTO of our highly technical team – and he delivered.

CTO Jenny Farver in the Lightstream Office
Jenny Farver at Lightstream HQ

I won’t go into the details of every interview, but the connection with Jenny was evident in the very first meeting. Our 30 minute coffee became hours of talking about team values and dynamics, empathy in leadership, and what it really means to build an incredible culture. It was clear that we had many shared values and both held close to our hearts that the lovely humans who have chosen our team are the most important part of the business we are building. She won over the rest of the team just as quickly and has clearly been the right choice.

When we announced it internally to the team, we simply defaulted to transparency to give everyone the full context around the decision and the process to find the right person. Dan stepped up with a lot of courage and talked. Things weren’t going well because one person was overloaded trying to do two very different jobs and running low on time and energy to do either well. I then shared our process. I talked about the new division of labor and how Dan’s principal engineer role will be continually focused on building incredible technology and being a great engineering mentor for the team. And that Jenny as CTO will be supporting and scaling a world class team, to “empower every engineer as a decision maker”, and to drive the operational efficiency of our engineering team.

The team was ecstatic. They got Dan back in the code where they could build great things together AND a supportive new leader to drive our mission and help take the team to a new level. Our leadership got an inspiring and fun new addition to build on our experience and provide a fresh perspective. The impact in just a few short months can be seen across the entire company. I am so grateful to have a brilliant co-founder like Dan who can make the right call even when it’s scary and uncomfortable. And I’m also very grateful to have Jenny join our Lightstream crew. So much to come! Stay tuned

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