/ BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY

So you want to become a leader? Review my lessons learned from the top leaders and roles in technology

While working at Microsoft as a Cloud Solution Architect in Data Platform, one of the things we constantly thrive for is improving ourselves and our customers by spreading our energy and passion. A way to improve this is by focusing on our growth path to see which skills we lack and how we can improve those. One of those skills for me is leadership, and how we can grow towards managing a team and reaching new heights. Just think of managing a team of Architect, managing a Product team or even managing the technical strategy of Microsoft (=CTO).

In previous articles, I already defined the core values (see them here) that I think a leader should express (Focus, Inclusion, Commitment, Exploration and Listening). But what are the skills that others have that we still need to learn? This is what I will tackle in the following few lines.

Do you want to instantly see the results of this article? Skip to the summary

Discovery

I started by discovering what the current leaders of today are doing and focusing on, as well as some job descriptions that fit with the profiles of leaders. In here I will list up some leaders and job descriptions that fit my interest for finding skills regarding “technical leaders” rather than the normal “business leaders” in a summary kind of style.

Leaders

Kevin Scott - CTO Microsoft

Summary

  • Keep on creating prototypes with your own products
  • It takes ~9 months to know what you’re doing in the role before being able to contribute
    • Make yourself vulnerable and meet with as many people as you can meet with in “sponge-mode”
    • Don’t throw your opinion around before you are well informed
  • Responsibilities
    • Integrating all the products into one coherent whole
    • Make good products that customers want and that are reliable, fast and meet their expectations of functionality
    • Expressing the technology strategy (which things do we need to be building?, how should we build them?, …)
      • Through memos, talking to developers, reviewing projects

Career Path

Date Company Description
2003 - 2005 Google Engineer
Shopping & Advertising
2005 - 2007 Google Sr Engineer
Created 25+ search engineering team
2007 - 2010 AdMob VP Engineering
Grew product & serving systems 30x to >1B requests -> got acquired by Google
2010 - 2011 Google Sr. Engineering Directory
Integrated AdMob and double its traffic
2011 - 2012 LinkedIn VP Engineering
Responsible for engineering for all LinkedIn products, infrastructure, tools and QA
2012 - 2013 LinkedIn Sr. VP Engineering
Responsible for engineering for all LinkedIn products, infrastructure, tools and QA
2013 - Now LinkedIn Sr. VP Engineering & Operations
Responsible for engineering for all LinkedIn products, infrastructure, tools and QA
2017 - Now Microsoft CTO

References

Michael Curtis - VP Engineering @ Airbnb

Summary

  • 2 market (supply & demand) problem solved by tightly managing the community till there is enough supply and demand for the hockey-stick.
  • Engineers are now “business process owners” who want a problem and be in charge of solving it.

Career Path

Date Company Description
1997 - 1999 iAtlas Corporation Software Engineer
acquired by Altavista
1999 - 2002 Altavista Software Engineer
2002 - 2003 America Online Software Engineer
2003 - 2004 Paradigm Healthcare Director of Engineering
2004 - 2007 Yahoo Engineer through Director on Yahoo Mail Infrastructure
2007 - 2008 Yahoo Sr Director for Yahoo Social Platform
2008 - 2009 Yahoo Sr Director for Yahoo Mail
2009 - 2011 Yahoo VP Engineering Mail and Messenger
2011 - 2013 Facebook Director Engineering
2013 - Now Airbnb VP Engineering
Scaled Airbnb engineering from 40 to 1000+

References

Job Postings

Chief Technical Advisor to the CTO

  • Help formulate and drive technical strategy
  • Lead team of advisors, PMs and developers focused on driving technology and cultural change
  • Run strategic initiatives, incubations and programs
  • Build a product vision and roadmap

Principal Development Manager

  • lead, mentor and grow a team of engineers and architects
  • Collaborate with UX, marketing, 3rd party
  • Align with SLT on strategy
  • Drive initiatives around the company, partnering with other segments
  • Skills Needed:
    • Business Leadership – Lead consumer and services business
    • Engineering leadership – Manage engineering pool (hire, grow, manage) and be a role model for technical excellence and customer quality
    • Drive – Passion to turn vision into detailed plans and execute against complex plans
    • Collaborate – Partner with product teams to manage dependencies, jointly deliver updates, and continuously improve our engineering capabilities
    • Communications & planning – Clearly communicate engineering roadmap, backlog, and team updates across the organization
    • Culture – Contribute to a team culture that embraces diversity and inclusion and makes your team awesome place to work

Group Program Manager

  • Lead PMs focused on driving adoption, satisfaction and removing customer barriers
  • Set product strategy
  • Lead team through all phases of product definition and delivery
  • Accountable for customer satisfaction, product success and business results
  • Identify revenue and margin objectives
  • Establish relationship with Open Source Community
  • Partner with Engineering, sales, marketing and partners to ensure all functions are aligned

Summarizing

Looking at what we found in the discovery phase, a red line can be found of skills that are needed to be in a leadership position:

Customer Obsession

The most clear one is as always Customer Obsession, without customer satisfaction your product will die and nothing will come forth from it. Which is why you need to know the ins and outs of your customer, their satisfaction, their needs and their opinions

Product Quality

Another important thing that is often overlooked, or neglected and that is in combination with Customer Obsession is the quality of the product. If your product is not reliable, fast or has a wrong UX, customers will not be retained. Resulting in a high Customer Acquisition cost (CAC) but even a lower Lifetime Value (LTV).

Therefore you need to make sure as a leader that you know which KPIs define your product and customer obsession. Without these you will not expire the growth that you expected and your product will experience doom sooner than later.

Product / Technology Strategy & Roadmap

As a leader, you will need to put a clear strategy and roadmap for the product (as a VP in engineering) or for the company (as a CTO, more horizontally focused) that can be communicated to the outer world, but also towards the inner parts of an organization.

Large scale organizations are like a Container Ship. Once you steer them, the effect is not instantly visible. Therefore you need to do everything you can to speed this up, because the speed that an organization runs on, will define the speed to market that you can achieve.

Empower your team

The last point I want to summarize from this is your team. As often thought, you are not in charge of them! They are in charge of you. Your team is the one that will deliver you your success, so you should treat them like it. Listen to them, empower them and give them the freedom they need to be successful. Because in the end, with a good team you can take on the world.

xavier

Xavier Geerinck

Xavier works as a Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft, helping its customer unlock the full potential of the cloud. Even though he is still considered a young graduate, he achieved his first success at the age 16, by creating and selling his first startup. He then took this knowledge to create and help more startups in different markets such as technology, social media, philanthropy and home care. While in the meantime gaining more enterprise insights at renowned enterprises such as Nokia, Cisco and now Microsoft.

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