Sanjiv Prabhakaran: Culture, Contribution, and Leadership



Sanjiv Prabhakaran is a senior executive and entrepreneur with over 30 years of software development management and technical architecture experience in mobile and web applications for a wide variety of applications and industries.  In early 2002, he founded Bytes, Inc. to provide low cost and rapid software outsourcing and project management services. Sanjiv talks about so many things in this episode, ranging from transitioning from coder to leader, leading cross-cultural teams, managing internal politics, and making a difference in the world.  You won’t want to miss this episode.

Highlights:

Q: What do you do as CEO of Bytes and how did you get there?

“I wear multiple hats, but my primary role is developing the business.  I spent a lot of my time in the Bay Area before 2000.  I worked at 3-4 companies.  I wrote code and climbed up the ladder and managed small teams developing systems for clients.  It was fun in those days.”

“There came a time when I was looking to go further and be independent.  In 2000, I found a nice opportunity here in San Diego and that’s how we came down.  This was as a VP of Engineering and R&D for a small software company dealing with real estate.  That’s how I happened to lead a team of 20-30 engineers to make cool stuff.”

Q: What was the transition like from being a coder to managing teams?

“That was fun!  As a coder you’re working with a team, listening to your bosses, and obviously providing input based on your experience.  You always had a fixed goal and knew what you were trying to accomplish.  But when you’re getting into more responsible roles, the thing that you run across is team culture.  How do you integrate—especially when you have teams from different regions and different countries—and have a cohesive culture at the end?  I had teams from the US and India and there were cultural differences…  Understanding the cultural differences takes time.”

“It was a fun experience.  It helped me grow into a role where I started realizing how to be patient with people, how to understand differences in how people communicate, and how to to build a team spirit.”  To hear how Sanjiv manages cultural differences between the US and India, handles internal politics among leaders, builds trust in the leadership team, and leads his teams to improve efficiency for their customers, listen to the episode.

Q: I see that you help physically challenged individuals with job opportunities within Bytes and other companies.  How do you do that?

“Yes, this was an interesting project that started few years ago. A family friend in India mentioned this young 20-year old kid that had an unfortunate train accident and hit his head and became a quadriplegic with no movement below his neck. He was bed-ridden but full of joy and motivation to live a full life! He found a way to use his voice as a powerful tool to command his computer into doing all kinds of tasks. He was able to use his voice to control the files and keyboard so he could type out documents and do various web development tasks on the computer. He had a couple clients in the UK and USA for whom he did basic tasks of updating web pages and creating shopping cart sites on eBay, etc.”

“I then visited him on one of my India trips and was able to see how he manipulated the computer via his voice. It was just mind-boggling to see how his injuries had no impact on his mind and heart. So, I hired him to do some of my web and Excel tasks. He later created a tutoring class in his home to help young kids that wanted to learn about computers and web programming.”

To hear other ways Sanjiv contributes to society and to get ideas of how you can contribute, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

Sometimes a nod is a shake and a shake is a nod.

I had to learn patience to lead a team.

Having trust between team members is crucial.

The earlier you do something about a bad fit the better.

Volunteer work is about bringing your skills to help the organization grow and spread the word.

Each person has to find the synergy between a philanthropy organization and their goals and passion.

Contact Sanjiv Prabhakaran:

Website: Bytesinc.com

Email: sanjiv@bytesinc.com

Phone: 888-988-bytes

Direct: 619-933-3366


Sean Ferrel: Growing a People-Oriented Company



Sean Ferrel founded Managed Solution in 2002.  They provide consultative IT services for small-to-medium and enterprise clients. Sean tells his story of literally growing the company from his living room to a flourishing downtown San Diego enterprise. Hint: it starts with, “I was going to be a lawyer…” Within 3 years, the company was recognized as one of San Diego’s 40 fastest growing companies, awarded one of the 40 companies with owners under 40 years old and recognized as the 27th fastest growing IT company in Southern California. His secret sauce? Keeping it people first.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to found Managed Solution?

“When I got out of school, I realized what I loved was people.  If I applied my people skills, I could take into any business, but what did I do in college?  I really got into the tech thing.  Tech was really interesting at that time, around 2002, and I started Managed Solution.  To be honest, I hadn’t done anything else.  We started with the idea of let’s find great people.  I was looking for three things: (1) soft skills, (2) accountability, and (3) technical skills.  And we started hiring.  I printed business cards in my dorm room.  I hired my best friends, who lived on my couch, and family members.  Then we realized we had to get serious.”

Q: How did you decide you needed to get the people skills in early on as a priority?

“I’ve always believed if you do the right thing in life, the money will come.  That means acting with integrity, being accountable, and teamwork.  Whether it’s in sales or in engineering, we want everyone to find themselves accountable to customers.”

“We follow the concept of RACI—responsible, accountable, contributor, integrator.  It’s a term we use in business to say, who’s accountable for this customer we’re dealing with?  Or who’s a contributor for a project for this customer?  You find the person who is responsible for the customer receives the credit and that makes them happier.  That’s what gets them driven to do better in our business.”

Q: How do you find people who have these skills?

“The first thing we do is look internally.  We look at recruiting like sales.  We need to attract good people.  Most of our people come from recommendations from people we know.”

Q: What do you do to train people?

“There’s a lot of burnout for engineers, if you’re doing the same thing for a long time.  We give them a lot of opportunities to train, to earn different certs and vary what they do.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about what Sean does to develop his people and himself to be and even stronger leader.

Words of Wisdom:

“Our success is driven by our people.”

“In so many ways, running a business is like running a family.  You have to nurture, grow, and enable people to do great things.”

“Employees get better on the tech stuff because they feel empowered.”

“When people feel you’re going to take care of them when in need, that’s the best gift ever and that’s what creates culture.”

Contact Sean Ferrel:

Company website: managedsolution.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-ferrel-6427a45/

Or stop by anytime!


Will Marshall: Improving Your Relationship with Your Lawyer



Will Marshall is a co-founder and partner of UBM Law Group. He drafts and negotiates commercial contracts, especially SaaS and traditional software licensing agreements and takes care of all sorts of legal things that come up for businesses.  He is also especially knowledgeable in issues that come up with small businesses and startups.  If you are avoiding talking to your lawyer, have ever had a bad experience with a lawyer, or are curious about the issues that can come up when technical people deal with lawyers, listen to the episode.  Will gives tips for technical people on how to communicate with lawyers and save money by doing so.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us your story of how you came to work with tech companies.

“I had an unusual career where I started as a General Counsel of a company—so I did the whole startup thing—and then I went into private practice, for about the last 10 years or so.  Usually, it’s the reverse.  That’s important because I learned to be a lawyer in a business context with limited resources.  Even though my company was a technology-based manufacturer, not a tech company, I seemed to gravitate toward tech companies when I started my practice, doing software as a service and software licensing and that sort of thing.  I can’t say why that went that way.  Maybe I just liked that type of work or maybe I did a good job of it.  I’m not sure.”

Q: Why do technical people interact with lawyers?

“Sometimes it’s them coming to me and sometimes it’s me coming to them.  It can be pure technical matters, like negotiating an agreement for technical services.  It could be dealing with employee issues.  It could be dealing with raising money and startup-type issues.  It could be implementing policy issues, compliance.  There’s a whole slew of things where I might be interfacing with technical people.  Sometimes the technical person is the founder so they have a broad view of all the legal issues and sometimes they’re a junior technical person where we’re hammering out a lot of really technical issues and granular issues.”

Q: What hesitations and concerns do technical people have with lawyers?

“First of all, there’s the cost.  The costs when you’re working on an hourly basis can run up, particularly if you don’t know how to manage your lawyer and use them efficiently.  That’s really about building trust.  I cut my teeth as a co-founder, paying outside lawyers and seeing their invoices and knowing what aggravated me about them.  So, a key part of my customer relationships is building the trust that I’m as worried about spending their dollars almost as much as they are.  For example, I’m not going to suggest that they burn up all the profit on the deal having me make the perfect contract if it wipes out the profitability of the deal.”

“The other concerns are that law can be very confusing and not jive with common sense and, when lawyers aren’t doing their job right, they can be the sales prevention unit or the Doctor No.  When you’re talking to startups, for example, they have their foot on the gas and anything that stops them is terrible.”

Q: How do you help technical people understand the legalese?

“That’s more of a contract drafting scenario.  Legalese can be archaisms, like whereas, witnesseth, and that stuff.  Those things just need to go away.  If your lawyer is saying witnesseth in your contract, you need a new lawyer.  The other part of it is not as obvious.  Contract language needs to be precise, to a level of precision that is not common, certainly not like when we talk to one another.”

To hear more about navigating legalese, managing your lawyer to be efficient, and how to communicate effectively with them, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“When we talk, we say things that are 10 ways ambiguous.  In a contract, we don’t have the luxury of doing that.”

“Employment law: it’s not a risk until it blows up in your face.”

“Technical people don’t like to be told how to do things without an appreciation of the complexities; lawyers don’t either.”

“Be careful when you grind your contractor or your attorney on fees because you might become the disfavored project.”

Contact Will Marshall:

Email: wmarshall@ubmlaw.com

Website: ubmlaw.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-marshall-9979242a/


Burt De Mill: When Technical People Do Business



Burt De Mill is the President of BDM Consulting, a San Diego based consulting firm that works with small and medium sized companies who are in the biotechnology tools and clinical diagnostics spaces.  Burt helps companies define their products and markets, conduct new market research, and launch products.  Burt talks about the challenges scientists encounter when they interface with the business world.

Highlights:

Q: Burt, you are a scientist by training.  How did you move into business?

“I wanted to be a doctor.  I was the kid who wanted the chemistry set and microscope for Christmas.  I was a chemistry and biology major at the University of Maryland.  Then I applied to medical school and didn’t get in.”

“While I kept trying, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital doing cancer research.  I was working with a very prestigious physician, Dr. Philip Burke, who said to me after I gave a presentation, ‘Burt, good job, but I noticed you had more fun doing the presentation than doing the work.’  I realized that I do like talking about the work.  I was also taking business classes there for free while I worked.  I felt that business was like a duck swimming on the lake to me.  It was simple.  It was easy.  That’s kind of how I ended up the failed scientist turned into a business guy.”

“I made that split over 25 years ago and never looked back.  I still do have a soft spot for the science, but I like it in a business context.”

Q: As the Sr. Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Genoptix Medical Labs back in 2005, how did you scale revenues from $4M to $184M in 5 years?

“It was kind of like running a marathon with your hair on fire, but it was kind of fun!  It was fun because we were building something.  There were some key points.  One was timing.  That’s something you can’t plan for, but it’s important for a business.  Is it the right business concept at the right time?  Is society ready for it?  Are customers ready for it?  A lot of good businesses are the benefactor of that.”

“There were three key things that we did.  We knew who our customers were and who they were not.  That is incredibly important for a startup….  We surrounded ourselves with a fabulous team…  The last one is we measured things.  This is really important when you scale…”  To hear the details, listen to the episode.

Q: As a leader, how does it feel it to not be the one doing it all but getting others in to do it?

“In the consulting business I’m in now, I work with some incredibly smart people—PhDs, MDs.  The talent is enormous in what I call their vertical.  They know that enzyme or they know that diagnostic test like the back of their hand.  But it’s very hard to be an expert in all areas.  One of the things I’d advise founders not to do is to get caught up in what I call ‘founder’s syndrome.’  Founder’s syndrome is: it’s my baby, I’m going to hang on to it all the way through, and I’m afraid to let anybody touch it because it’s my child.  Most of the time, it does not go to a good place.”

To hear what Burt recommends to prevent founder’s syndrome and what other leadership challenges he sees when he consults to small businesses, listen to the episode.  Burt has some great advice for technical leaders.

Words of Wisdom:

“Failure’s not a bad thing.  Sometimes you learn a lot about yourself.”

“You can’t be good at everything, so you have to rely on your team.”

“If you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.”

“Scientists also have to sell to bankers and lawyers and business people.”

Shout Out:

To the Rady School of Management at UCSD for helping science majors get exposure to business at the undergraduate level.

Contact Burt De Mill for a free one-hour consultation:

Email: burt@bdmconsulting.org

Phone: 760-707-9519 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.


Adam Cuppy: Building Confidence in your Soft Skills



Adam Cuppy is the Chief Operating Officer at Zeal, a web and mobile apps development company.  He is also an actor.  He helps Zeal focus on how process drives success.  He says he has “no idea” of what he does.  Already, you can tell this is an entertaining episode.  Really what he focuses on is business development, evangelism, speaking nationally and internationally on confidence and process-driven team development and how to apply the soft side of life into the highly technical side of life.

Highlights:

Q: As an actor, what draws you to high tech?

“I went to college for acting and worked for a large regional theater company in a small town in Oregon, called the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  While I was there, I learned a lot about general human psychology.  As an actor, your job is about simulating and replicating the responses and reactions that a fictitious human being would have in a given situation.  You learn a lot about the human physicality and the general patterns they follow in life.  I was really fascinated and loved it a lot.’

“However, the profession of acting is a really tough one, to say the least.  A more senior actor told me that every three months he didn’t know what would be next.  That wasn’t for me.  While I was totally into the art form, the profession was not for me.”

“I went from psychology to psychology–acting to marketing.  I took what I learned as an actor to understand what and how someone might interpret what they saw in an ad or something.  Being in marketing, you’re dealing with computer systems and minimal applications development.  That took me down the path of websites and web apps, and here we are.”

Q: How do you make connections with nerds?

“Sometimes making connections comes down to very simple things, like identifying as quickly as you can what do you share, what do you know?  Sometimes there’s some basic stuff.  It might even be cliché, like family.  We all have parents!  Most often, you have siblings.

Building rapport quickly might be as simple as not introducing yourself as, ‘Hi, my name is Adam and I have a brother,’ but something simple like finding a unique story that you can tell consistently that is not overwhelming, is quick to get to, and might be a good conversation starter.”

Q: What is your method to help technical people develop confidence in their soft skills?

“It’s called Mechanical Confidence.  We take for granted that, if you’re an actor, you rehearse.  The standard time is 4-6 weeks of rehearsal.  The only reason you do that is to embed the movement and text into your body so that it’s automatic on opening night.”

“Every actor, musician, and technical person will have a process that creates this confidence in their body.  Having gone on stage so many times, it’s become automatic for me.  It’s a very logical, mechanical, procedural thing.  It’s not a feeling.”

To hear Adam’s process, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“To keep your audience engaged, find something small and physical to make the audience do.”

“Habits are incredibly powerful.”

“Talk to your dog (or cat or rubber duck).”

“Don’t presume chaos will get you there.”

Contact Adam Cuppy:

Twitter: @AdamCuppy

Email: Adam@codingzeal.com


Gina Stetsko: Becoming a Compassionate Leader



Joanie has a conversation with Gina Stetsko, Vice President of Manufacturing at Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  Gina has a been a leader in Pharmaceuticals for over 35 years and she’s held other executive positions in the pharmaceutical industry including: Vice President of Product Development, Vice President of Operations, and Chief Scientific Officer.

Highlights:

Q: How did you get into pharmaceutical development?

“As a child, believe it or not, I used to read encyclopedias. Luckily, they were scientific Encyclopedias.  I chose Pharmacy because I was interested in how you could swallow a drug and then it would affect your headache or something else in your body.  I no idea!  As a child, you want to know those answers.”

“I stuck to it and became a pharmacist and I got my license and decided that I could do more, and my boss told me, ‘Go back to school.  You can do more than this.’ So, I got my PhD in pharmaceutical development and I’ve spent the last 36 years working on developing products and manufacturing products.  I’m taking the drug from the bench in science all the way to the marketplace.  There’s a lot of engineering and a lot of pharmacokinetics. There’s a lot of math and science and things like that along the way.  So, I guess I just really liked it and I stuck with it.”

Q: How did you develop your interest in leading people?

“I started to gravitate towards smaller companies. I started in large companies and inside these companies we developed the products what’s called ‘virtually’ so you don’t have the full staff within your own company.  You have to go outside and hire people at different companies around the world to do the do your work and one of the things that that taught me was how to deal with different people in different cultures–not only company cultures, but country cultures.  I think that that was one of the things I enjoyed the most–not in the beginning because it was hard, but eventually.”

“I was always curious and interested to meet people and see how they think.  I think, with what’s happened over the years, is that I enjoy the science less and I enjoy the people more.  That was not on purpose.  It just kind of happened and now I really enjoy the people and developing the people.  As a matter of fact, there are four people that I mentored at different companies that own their own companies now.  And, to me, that’s the biggest achievement of my career versus the products, because these people figured out a way to understand themselves better and to be effective in an enterprise like that.”

Q: How did you get to the point where you were loving developing people?

“Well let me just tell you that, at the beginning, I actually thought: ‘I am going into research so I don’t have to deal with people like I did in the pharmacy.’ Little did I know, my first job out of graduate school, I got put on all sorts of international work workshops and workforces and things like that so I was flying to different countries and I was having to deal with people.  So, it kind of forced me.  It was a survival thing that kicked in. I realized, well, this is what I’m going to have to learn to do.  I think that life is not perfect and you make mistakes in each place and you learn things that you bring to the next place.  And so over time, I guess over 36 years, it was just one event after another.  You just you build this toolbox and that’s really, in a way, what happened over the years.  You have different challenges in different countries in different situations and you just adapt.”

Q: How did you move from an intellectual style of leadership to a compassionate one?

“I used to think that if I was smarter, I was better.  And so you’re always looking to be the smartest one in the room, right? I reached a point where that irritates people.  It really does!  It’s like, okay, so you know you’ve got to not be the smartest person.  Then I realized that, to get people that work for me to be more effective, they really needed to feel that I heard them. So, instead of coming in my office for me to solve their problem like I was when I was younger (I had all the answers, right?), it’s drawing it out of people and avoiding giving the answer, and saying, “I don’t know.”  Let’s work on that together.” Or, “What do you think?”  The more I did that, it made my job easier. I didn’t have to be the smartest person anymore because the pressure was off me.  The pressure was on those people because I was forcing them to dig deep and think about what they wanted.”

“Then, over time, I think I built a style that made it feel safe for them to speak what was inside.  And then I really liked that!  Something clicked in me: I really like to understand. Even in my private life I do that with people.  ‘Tell me more about that…’  ‘Why did you feel that way?’  Or, ‘I’m just curious…’  I’ve just become a very curious person.  It’s really a shift from trying to be the smartest person to being just truly interested in other people.  That’s the compassion part.  I think people don’t normally get that.”

Words of Wisdom:

“Everybody has their own life and they put their vision of reality together differently.”

“Feel free to tell people ‘I don’t know.’”

“Don’t go to meetings.  Let them work it out on their own.”

Contact Gina Stetsko:

LinkedIn: Gina Stetsko, https://www.linkedin.com/in/gina-stetsko-phd-29a28b101/


Meetesh Karia: Advantages of Diverse Teams



Joanie interviews Meetesh Karia, CTO of The Zebra, the nation’s leading insurance search engine.  Meetesh’s interest in computers goes back to childhood.  He taught himself several programming languages back in the 80s when he was a kid and played on his dad’s 8086 computer.  He studied computer science and math and minored in psychology in college.  Meetesh is first generation Indian American and he grew up understanding and valuing what diverse teams bring to the table.  We talk about how to recruit, hire, and manage diverse people, the unexpected benefits and challenges of diversifying, how to manage people remotely, and how Meetesh grew from managing a handful of people to over a hundred.

Highlights:

Q: Why and how do diverse teams help?

“Let me start by illustrating it with a story.  In early days at The Zebra, when we were designing our first release and we were designing the thing we thought we wanted to use.  We built it and released it.  What we learned through that was that 40% of drivers in Texas drive uninsured and that there are a significant number of them that pay their insurance on prepaid debit cards.  They do that because they pay enough to get legal and then let it lapse and that’s because they are deciding on whether to pay this or their utility bill or their phone bill.  While I didn’t come from significant means, I thankfully was lucky enough to never have to worry about are we legal or do we have lights?  That different perspective never occurred to any of us because we had not lived it.  That’s one example of how and why diversity, in terms of viewpoints, experiences, age, and everything, is critical to building a better company and team.”

Q: I hear a lot of excuses of why people don’t hire for diversity.  What kinds of strategies have you used to attract diverse people?

“It is challenging but it is doable.  I’ll challenge people to do it because it’s worth it.  One of the reasons it’s challenging is that we, as humans, want to be around people who are like us.  That goes to recruiting as well because we tend to subjectively prefer people who are like us.  People applying tend to look at those companies and if the group of people in those companies don’t represent them, then they aren’t as interested.  It is a challenge and it does require being extremely intentional about it.  It doesn’t happen by accident.”

“A while back, our company was all male—thankfully from different backgrounds—and I started thinking that if I don’t find a woman and start the process of making a gender-diverse team, then it will become more and more daunting for a woman to come into a team full of men.  Around that time, I was looking for help with management of the team.  I sought to hire a project manager.  I thought to myself, this is an opportunity for me to remove the requirement to be technical, to widen the top of the funnel, and focus on bringing in a qualified woman to the team.  That, hands down, has been the best hire I’ve made in my entire career.  She went on from being our project manager, to Director of Engineering, and recently, I promoted her to VP of Engineering.”

Q: How did the non-technical project manager end up in such a technical role as VP of Engineering?

“She picked up enough along the way and she’s a phenomenal people leader.  She learned enough along the way to know when to call BS and when to bring in help.  She’s not going to architect the system, but I don’t need that.  I’m the CTO and I have people with strong software engineering skills.  I need someone as VP of Engineering that can drive delivery, that can manage the team, that can grow the team.”

To find out how they widen the funnel, find people from non-traditional sources, and screen them to know they’ll be successful at the job, as well as the unexpected benefits the company experienced, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“I don’t think we’ve ever made it mandatory to have a college degree.”

“I’m a big believer in the value of periodic face-to-face communication for remote teams.”

“What’s the cost of not diversifying?”

Contact Meetesh Karia:

Twitter – @tesh11
LinkedIn – tesh11


Vladimir Baranov: Startup Stressors for CTOs



Joanie interviews Vladimir Baronov, who is a Founder and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of AdvisorEngine.  They build powerful and intuitive technology for financial advisors. Vladimir oversees the company’s software development and technological operations. He has nearly 15 years of experience designing and building successful technology solutions.  Vladimir shares keen insights on the stressors that arise for CTOs and others in startups and how to manage them.  We also dive into overwork, how to talk about it, and how to maintain your health in a startup environment, and how to prevent burnout.

Highlights:

Q: What does a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) do?

“The CTO role is very differently implemented depending on the organization, but generally you’ll see a mix of technology strategy, software development practice, with the infrastructure, internal applications, data compliance and security.  Sometimes it’s shared with a CIO.”

Q: What does a CTO do differently at a startup?

“In larger companies, the role of a CTO is better defined.  In startups you have to wear many different hats throughout the day to be successful because you don’t have people in those roles to delegate that responsibility to.  At a startup, you also have to exercise hands-on skills more frequently.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up for CTOs in startups?

“Let me start out by saying that everyone experiences stressors in startups, not just the CTOs.  Where the stress is the most concentrated is in the product development process, interpersonal issues, the inability to delegate, and overwork.  I have personally experienced these kinds of stressors and I’ve seen others experience them too.”

Q: Let’s start with product development.  What stressors come up there?

“Scope and client needs get merged.  A lot of translation is needed for both sides.  Business speaks to the client, then business speaks to the CTO.  Then the information that flows through the business gets converted into something else then when the CTO takes in the information and shares it with the team.  That’s another step when it gets translated for the developers.  It takes a period of time to fix that.  Basically, it’s the case of a broken telephone.”

“In a startup, process terminology is very different because most people have come from different companies.  Different companies have different processes and bringing that terminology can lead to a number of misunderstandings.  People may think they understand each other but find what they have agreed to has a very different meaning.”

“Another one is roles and responsibilities.  In a startup, you’re oriented around a specific problem, not necessarily a responsibility and things may fall through the cracks if they’re not the responsibility of a specific person.”

Q: What kinds of stressors come up with the people?

“The personal conflict that comes up in a startup is different than in a bigger company because the conflict between two people is right in front of you and not in a different office, or in a different region.  In a smaller group, any conflict between two individuals is a conflict for everybody else.  Everybody takes part even though they are passive observers.”

Q: How did you get good at resolving conflicts?

“It’s a lot of pain.  As humans, we experience it on ourselves and we think, how can I get away from this pain?  I dabbled in a little self-education.  I’ve read books on negotiation, on self-improvement, on emotional control.  I’ve taken acting classes on improvisation.  I’ve read books in psychology and on peace negotiations.”

Q: Is this typical of CTOs or do you stand out?

“I may stand out as a CTO, but not as a leader.  All leaders require this kind of skill set or they will not be successful.”

To hear what books Vladimir reads on leadership, how he manages conflict, delivers feedback, and reduces overwork, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom

“A startup only has a certain number of attempts to get it right before the client walks away.”

“Most conflicts have three sides: one person is right, the other person is right, and they both are right.”

“I think all of us are running our own startup of giving feedback, experimenting on the best way to give feedback.”

“Any feedback has to come from a place of empathy.”

Shout Outs:

7CTOs and Etienne de Bruin (for good people!)

RescueApp (for reducing screen time)

Contact Vladimir Baranov:

Vladimir@AdivsorEngine.com


Alex Balazs: The Benefits of Inclusive Leadership



Joanie interviews Alex Balazs, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect at Intuit.  Alex shares the story of his transformation from being a quiet engineer to becoming a communicative leader.  He also shares his insights on inclusion and describes how he is supportive of women in tech.  Being inclusive is key for Alex and he shares why.  He is also on the Board of Lead Inclusively, Inc., a company that helps companies be more inclusive.  We cover a lot in this episode, so be sure to listen to the end.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us the story of how you came to work at Intuit.

“I was born in Ohio and was raised in the Midwest. I always had this feeling that I needed to expand my horizons.  Post graduate, I moved to Northern California and worked for Carl Zeiss.  My first professional program language was Assembly.  I went to work for a startup in Boston and it didn’t work out, but a mentor from Carl Zeiss had just bought a small startup called Intuit and invited me to interview.  I started at Intuit in 1999.”

Q: How did you branch out of being a quiet engineer?

“I was a total introvert growing up.  I was always confident in my personal ability but didn’t know how to communicate.  There was a dissonance between what I felt I could say and what I felt was coming out of my mouth.  And it led me to not say things.  I was afraid I would say something stupid.  I felt the need to be the smartest person in the room and if I didn’t feel I was then I didn’t say anything.”

“There were a couple of events in my early Intuit career where my leadership moved on.  This was the leadership that was responsible for communicating to the rest of Intuit and figuring out which projects we should be working on.  When they all left, I said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I felt really sorry for myself.  I was afraid. I was angry.  I was upset.  And suddenly I just said, ‘This is an opportunity for me, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to transform myself into someone who can communicate.’  Through that process I learned that I had to start putting myself out there.”

“The last part of the transformation for me was the transformation from hoping I was the smartest person in the room to expecting I was the dumbest person in the room.”

Q: How does surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you improve your leadership?

“I do think as you get into leadership roles, it is the only way to be successful.  I’ve seen leaders who’ve tried to be leaders and the smartest person in the room, and it doesn’t work.  Smart people don’t want to work for you.  Smart people with ideas don’t want to speak up.  As an engineer, your job is to assert and to take up space.  I realized as a leader, my job is to create space so that other people can step into that space.”

“And when I did that, the notion of introvert/extrovert became a misnomer.  It wasn’t necessarily about me becoming an extrovert.  It was about me bringing in diverse thought and viewpoints from everyone, including many engineers who are introverts.”

To hear Alex’s tips on how to bring in introverts, how he is inclusive of all diverse people, and how he supports women in tech, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Think of three concentric circles: your comfort zone, your learning zone, and your panic zone.  The only way to make your comfort zone bigger is to get into your learning zone.”

“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

“I don’t know how a company can survive without being diverse.”

“Working for tech companies, we actually have privilege.”

Contact Alex Balazs:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexgbalazs/

Twitter: @alexgbalazs


Lisa Kaczmarczyk: People Issues in Project Evaluations



Dr. Lisa Kaczmarczyk is an award-winning computer science researcher, educator and book author. She provides independent evaluation services for academia and the hi-tech industry.  These evaluations are used as evidence of project viability to secure funding from grant agencies and investors.

Her clients have included Google, Stanford University, the University of Illinois, Purdue University, California State University and the Broward County Florida Public Schools. Dr. Kaczmarczyk is also an Adjunct Faculty in the Computer Science Department at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont California. Dr. Kaczmarczyk holds advanced degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Oregon, Northeastern University and Tufts University. Dr. Kaczmarczyk was lead author on the 2014 ACM Education Policy Committee report “Rebooting the Pathway to Success: Preparing Students for Computing Workforce Needs in the United States” and is author of the book “Computers and Society, Computing for Good.”  She is passionate about working with clients who share her desire to use computer science to make the world a better place.

Highlights:

Q: Lisa, you recently received an award for the Top Computer Science Education Research Paper of the Last 50 Years.  What was this paper on and why is it so important?

“The paper is sharing the results of a research study about misconceptions that novice computer science students have.  Computer science is also a very abstract topic and the mistakes that students make are often baffling.  The paper reports on the misconceptions that students have and why they have them. It’s important because this paper was the first to apply rigorous research methods to investigating misconceptions.”

Q: How does this research fit into your current work?

“It does in that the ‘misconceptions study’ presented faculty with evidence-based information to help them make strategic choices about how to improve their instruction so it would be more effective.  The work that I do now in project evaluation is also about providing people in organizations research-based information to help them make strategic decisions about their projects.”

Q: What is project evaluation?

“Project evaluation can exist in any field.  I work primarily with computer scientists and engineers.  They may be in universities or K-12 school systems, or they may be outside of academia.  It’s when you have a project and you want to know that the project is having the impact that you hope it is having. In the case of the work I’m doing, there’s a formal research component that is being conducted by the people in charge of the project, but there are a lot of other factors that impact whether the project will be successful or not.  So, the evaluation comes in and takes a look at what are their needs, what do they need to know.  I develop a customized plan for whoever I’m working with to figure out the best way to gather information to help them with their project.

Q: Why would you need to do a project evaluation for an academic project?

“Nowadays it’s very difficult to get funding from the National Science Foundation if you don’t have a project evaluation.”

Q: What kinds of people issues come up during project evaluations?

“Very often I’m asked to take a look at complex projects where there are a lot of people involved.  Recently, I concluded a project with the Broward County Schools in Florida.  The project they had funding for was to integrate computer science into the elementary day classroom.  There was a research program to look into the effect on student achievement of the elementary school students.  It spanned across the entire district and there were about ten schools involved and there were a lot of different moving parts.  There were a lot of different people who needed to be on board for it to succeed.”

To hear more about the complex people issues that arise in Lisa’s project evaluations with schools, high-tech incubators, and non-profit organizations, as well as about Lisa’s surprising background, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Trust-building is what it’s all about.”

“The ideal scenario is that nothing is a surprise.”

“If I see something bothersome, I won’t wait.  I say, ‘Let’s talk.’”

Contact Lisa Kaczmarczyk:

Twitter: @lisakaczmarczyk
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisakaczmarczyk/
Website: http://www.lisakaczmarczyk.com/