The Code To Success: How 5 Engineering Leaders Help Their Teams Win

August 30, 2019

To lead is to lend support. An engineering leader may be separated from the on-the-ground, line-by-line work of their team, but it’s impossible for that work to be done efficiently without them putting the right people and processes in the right places. We spoke to tech team leads at five Colorado companies to find out how they do just that.

 

Wowza Media Systems team standing for group photo

Sometimes, you need more than pure skill to succeed. Director of Engineering Scott Nicholls at Wowza Media Systems doesn’t hire new team members based solely on their technical prowess — he assesses how well they would fit into the team dynamic overall and how their uniqueness can add value across the board.

 

When it comes to hiring, what characteristics do you look for in candidates and how do you ensure they’re a great culture fit?

Of course, we look for strong technical skills and experience that will help us succeed in building great software. But, candidates should also bring their unique perspectives, talents, passions and preferred ways of working. I consider how each candidate would complement and affect the team dynamic and make us even stronger. It’s also important to engage the rest of the team in the interview process for them to get a personal sense of how a candidate will mesh. 
 

I consider how each candidate would complement and affect the team dynamic and make us even stronger.”


How do you set your engineering team up for success and support them in reaching their goals?

As a leader, I consider serving the team my top priority. I strive to work with the product team and other leadership to capture the company vision so the teams understand the “why” behind the work we’re doing and the impact we’re making. I also have regular one-on-one meetings to listen to concerns and challenges, to coach and to ensure we’re working together to help the team succeed while also enabling individual career growth.

 

GutCheck team working at conference table

Software Engineering Director Nathan Lamb pushes his team to succeed by letting them fail. The leader at the online market research firm GutCheck encourages his team members to take chances on things that may not be guaranteed to work but are guaranteed to be learning experiences.

 

When it comes to hiring, what characteristics do you look for in candidates and how do you ensure they’re a great culture fit?

We’re always looking for the next hire that makes our amazing team even more amazing. We search for those excited to share their own knowledge and expertise, helping push the current team to even greater heights. Our culture is one that values candor, intellectual honesty and humility. We are a team that collaborates with a positive attitude to find the most constructive ways to accomplish goals in the time we have allotted. Our team strives to find people who are egoless, driven and who want to push themselves past their limits. We search for these candidates and invite them to our team’s welcoming and friendly environment.
 

Each team member is free to take calculated risks; failure is encouraged provided we learn something along the way.”


How do you set your engineering team up for success and support them in reaching their goals?

GutCheck’s core values help set its leaders on a great path. I empower my team by trusting and respecting their decisions. Each team member is free to take calculated risks; failure is encouraged provided we learn something along the way. Further, I assume and generally believe that everyone on the team is doing the best they can do. As a group, we are challenged to solve difficult problems, and we trust ourselves to build the best possible solutions. 

 

Travelers Haven team in group photo

Warren Wright, vice president of engineering at the tech-enabled housing firm Travelers Haven, strives to build tech teams that are like families. He wants team members to share, look out for one another and call out areas of improvement for others — all without the sibling rivalries or bickering. 

 

When it comes to hiring, what characteristics do you look for in candidates and how do you ensure they’re a great culture fit?

We value the spirit of Agile here and hire accordingly. To that end, I look for engineers who, aside from technical qualifications, show a level of humility and relational smarts. I want a team of folks who collaborate well, are in love with the idea of shared code-ownership, are open to the ideas and critiques of others, and treat each other well. I strongly believe that an engineer who is productive and functions well as part of a team is a happy engineer.
 

Each team has a dedicated product owner, and that P.O. puts in work to make sure devs are tackling meaningful problems.”


How do you set your engineering team up for success and support them in reaching their goals?

We run a fairly typical scrum framework for our engineering teams. That said, I am not married to scrum, so much as to principle of Agile development. Over time, our flavor of Agile can and should evolve, tailoring to each team. Retrospectives and open conversations are key. 

Further, I work with my product folks to not just funnel requests, but to develop them into roadmap items and strategically prioritize them before we expend dev cycles. Each team has a dedicated product owner, who puts in work to make sure devs are tackling meaningful problems.

 

Brandfolder team in group photo outdoors

Brandfolder’s Director of Engineering Brett Nekolny works to keep his team engaged, and he has a number of ways of doing so. Nekolny’s team at the cloud-based asset management solution provider has many efficiency-based processes and tactics in place, designed to keep engineers working at their full potential.

 

When it comes to hiring, what characteristics do you look for in candidates and how do you ensure they’re a great culture fit?

We’re always looking for someone who is going to add to our team dynamic and push us all to be a better team. But we also make sure the candidate’s values align with our core team values: it’s all about the team; bring passion, work together; ship fast, sustainably; and fix problems, even when they’re not yours.

Assessing if someone is a great culture fit for us is much simpler if we understand how they’ll complement the various opinions and personalities across our team and fit within the values. Our team strives to strike a balance between well-designed code and delivering the next great customer experience. Does the candidate seek team buy-in, or do they steamroll others with their ideas? Is there a drive to deliver? Finally, when we have an incredible product that’s been built, will this person embrace the existing successes of the team’s hard work and build upon those wins?
 

In my experience, I’ve seen that having an engaged team segues into a team that is executing at a high level.”


How do you set your engineering team up for success and support them in reaching their goals?

The first thing to establish is what success looks like. For me, success looks like an engaged team that’s continuously learning and delivering on objectives. In my experience, I’ve seen that having an engaged team segues into a team that is executing at a high level.

We have numerous mechanisms and touch points that facilitate both growth and delivery. Some of these day-to-day practices include seeking feedback early with code reviews; static code analysis and automated testing; pushing dark code that leverages our iterative process across more than 15 deploys a day; and feature ownership and documentation that includes product requirement docs, an internal Wiki and code-level comments.

On the “softer” side of things, we have planning, daily standups, check-ins and one-on-ones to support the progress and growth of our individual team members and the overarching goals of our team. If we leverage these practices appropriately, there should be sufficient feedback to show us that our team is set up for success and supported in reaching their goals.

 

Flowhub team members laughing

As the chief technology officer at Flowhub, Mark Donnelly takes seriously his job of aligning employee goals with that of the business. Donnelly said new engineers are asked to think about what they want their future at the company to look like almost immediately, and efforts are taken to ensure their goals can be met within the enterprise. 

 

When it comes to hiring, what characteristics do you look for in candidates and how do you ensure they’re a great culture fit?

We look for engineers who can work with a level of maturity regardless of title. No one has time to micromanage, so being comfortable with autonomy is very much a trait you need to have to thrive here. 

The culture at Flowhub is something everyone is very proud of. We have an interview process where the candidate will get to meet a lot of the engineering team. During this process, our people naturally illuminate aspects of the culture they like. At the end of the interview, we make sure the message has resonated with the candidate.
 

We look for commonality between our employee’s needs and wants, and the company’s — making sure that people get to work on the problems that interest them.”

 

How do you set your engineering team up for success and support them in reaching their goals?

Career development has always been in sharp focus for me. It is satisfying to see people grow within the organization. When a candidate starts at Flowhub, an engineering manager will meet with them in their first week to discover what they want their career trajectory to look like and what interests them — be it technologies, processes or experiences. We look for commonality between our employees’ and company’s needs and wants, making sure that people get to work on the problems that interest them.

 

See Responses From More Engineering Leaders on BuiltIn.com

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