Tag Archives: communication

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


John Thornburgh: When Nerds Go to Trial



Are you looking for free legal advice?  Tune in as Joanie interviews John Thornburgh, a patent litigator and principal at Fish & Richardson, about the people skills you need if you go to trial over your technology.  Whether you’re suing or being sued, you may end up testifying some day and it’s a totally different language in court.  They don’t speak in binary; interpreting the law lands you smack in the gray area.  This can be difficult for engineers and scientists who are used to being precisely correct or incorrect.  The lesson is that it takes a lot of work to prepare to explain technical things to judges and juries.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us about what you do.

“I’m a patent litigator, so I’m the kind of lawyer who helps to enforce patents in court and defend people who get sued.  I’m not the kind of lawyer who goes and obtains the patents.  We call them ‘patent prosecutors.’ They go to the patent office and file the patents.  Once people have patents, I go out and sue people or defend people.  It involves a lot of technology.  I have mostly over the years worked on computer cases both hardware and software, but I’ve also done all sorts of other things, like recently eye surgery and roller blades and all sorts of technical things.”

Q: What’s the major people challenge that you have to deal with in court?

“Lots of times we go to trial to enforce a patent and some of the jurors will probably have a college education and some will only have a high school education and they’ll be asked to decide which Ph.D. expert is right about some circuit design.  If that sounds hard, it is.  It’s hard for them, but they tend to take it very seriously.  One of our jobs as lawyers is to help our expert witnesses and our client witnesses explain these concepts to ordinary people in a way that will make sense.  We try to be accurate, but we try to focus on the key things that will decide the case and be understood.”

Q: How do you know if the juries understand your message when you don’t get feedback from them during trial?

“That’s really hard because juries are generally not allowed to ask questions or tell you what they think.  There’s a good reason for that.  In our judicial system, in general, we have rules of evidence so only certain questions can be asked.  For example, there’s the rule against hearsay.  You can’t say what somebody else said.  You have to say what’s true that you have personal knowledge of.  You can’t expect jurors to ask proper evidentiary questions, so that’s the main reason they’re not allowed to.”

“In general, it’s up to the lawyers to guess what questions the jurors may be having and ask those.  It’s not a complete guess.  We have experience with this, and we do a lot of tests.  We hardly ever go to trial without practicing in front of a mock jury.”

Q:  What kinds of people challenges come up for witnesses who have to testify in court, who may be engineers, coders, scientists, or inventors who are not expecting to speak to juries?

“We are typically working with engineers and scientists as witnesses, both as client witnesses and expert witnesses.  It’s a very alien experience for them.  Engineers are typically used to working in an environment in which truth is binary, that the circuit is either correct or not correct.  It either works or doesn’t work.  The shades of gray that are introduced by language and lawyers and litigation are oftentimes a challenge for them.”

“They are also challenged by how they may be treated by the other side.  They’re used to being respected and they’re trying to explain something and tell the truth.  Yet, the other side may look for ways to make them look bad and humiliate them.  They need to be prepared for how to deal with that.”

Q: How do you prepare technical people to go to trial?
“We practice cross examinations.  We subject them to the kinds of adversity they might experience.  We try to make them comfortable with the process.  We spend lots and lots of time brainstorming how to explain something complicated in simple language.”

To hear more advice on going to trial and entertaining stories that illustrate his points, listen to John’s interview.

Words of Wisdom:

“The truth is complicated.”

“A lot of times the jury may not understand the details, but they will understand the body language.  Don’t be argumentative.”

“You have to be careful about analogies.  Every analogy usually breaks down at some point.”

“It’s unlikely in normal technical work that anyone is quite out to twist their words as an opposing lawyer may be.”

“Lawyer shows on TV are not accurate.”

Contact John Thornburgh:

Email: thornburgh@fr.com

Website: https://www.fr.com/john-w-thornburgh/


Vidya Dinamani: Connecting with Product Managers



Joanie interviews Vidya Dinamani, founder of Product Rebels.  Vidya uses her impressive experience in product management to teach others how to do it.  She calls herself a fully qualified nerd, having started her career coding, with a physics degree in her pocket.  Vidya is quite articulate and has really nailed how developers and product managers can work together successfully.  She doesn’t go with the canned messages, but rather has her own that will no doubt resonate with you.

Highlights:

Q: What kinds of nerds do you work with?

“I have been very lucky to work with some really awesome nerds, some really smart people. I worked at Intuit for ten years. Intuit attracts great people—engineers, designers, researchers, product managers.  There really isn’t a dud among them. At Mitchell, I worked with product design teams.  I’ve worked with and coached hundreds of product managers.  We always extend to working with engineers as well.  You can’t have one without the other; it’s symbiotic.”

Q: What do you mean by product management and design being like a marriage?

“Think about it.  You spend more time together than you probably do with your spouse.  It’s like a marriage whether you like it or not.  When I think about a great relationship, a great marriage, I think about having someone on your side, someone who’s got your back.”

Q: What kind of challenges tend to arise in this relationship from the product management perspective?

“A product manager is the representative of the customer at the table.  People who are good product managers take that very seriously.  They take the solutions to make sure they really work for the customer.  When you get deep into your customer’s shoes and see the solutions, you jump into the ‘how.’”

“We’re all problem solvers, as nerds.  This is why we do what we do. We often throw solutions at problems.  That gets us into trouble when we don’t step back.  You’ve got to think about a problem in a way that whether you and your elegant product existed or not, the customer still has the problem.  That’s really hard to do.”

Q: How do you help customers understand they may not know what their problem is?

“A lot of time, asking the customer what they want isn’t the way to do it.  You have to watch the customer in their natural habitat.  You turn these observations into fully formed sentences.  Then the magic of product management happens.  You get “ahas.”  You create hypotheses.  Product managers spend a lot of time testing their hypotheses and then go to the engineers when they’ve figured out the problem. Then they talk through solutions.”

Q: How does trust break down between development and product management?

“It can feel like high-level business speak to say, ‘we’re all on the same team.’  It can feel like something different when you’re trying to get a product out.  The developer is trying to get the best, most elegant solution.  The trust breaks down when they’re being told what to do.  When the trust breaks down, the product manager feels like the only thing to do is to tell them exactly what to do.”

Q: How do you reduce barriers to trust?

“I like decision matrices.  I invite you into my world, but I am the decision-maker.  When it’s my world, I make the decision.  When it’s your world, I can contribute, but the engineer makes the decision.”

To hear more about respecting boundaries, setting roles, and trusting others, and much much more, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Share the pen.”

“You’ve got to be okay with others being wrong and turn it into a learning mindset.”

“You’ve got to be bold to try things you’re going to be surprised with.”

“Ask ‘why’ next time in a meeting.”

Contact Vidya Dinamani:

Website: productrebels.com

Email: vidya@productrebels.com

Twitter: @vdinamani


Slava Khristich: Communicating with Global Teams



Joanie interviews Slava Khristich, CEO of Tateeda. Tateeda provides clients with software development resources in the USA and internationally to extend teams, complete complex projects and solve challenging tasks.  Their model provides, among other things, improved communications between technical and non-technical people.  You can see why he’s a perfect guest for Reinventing Nerds.

Highlights:

Q: What is your background?

“My education is in economics and mechanical engineering. I got to the US in 1991 and I was heavily involved in the biotech field.  I used to work at the Salk Institute, in the research facility, and this is where I got introduced to computers. I started writing small code here and there and learned how computers operated and communicated. I fell in love and have been doing this for twenty years.”

Q: Where are you from originally?

“I am from Ukraine.  I came over with my family during the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Q: Where do you have offices and what’s the advantage of being international?

“We have resources in San Diego and in Ukraine. Instead of trying to stretch time, we try to shrink time and squeeze in as much productivity as possible in a single day instead of stretching it across multiple days.”

Q: What communication challenges do you run into?

“When you’re dealing with technical people, you’re speaking the same language.  When you’re dealing with business people, there’s a gap in communication and expectations of what the final product should be. We have constant communication daily with the client and with the team. That way we can address any question or any issue that is discovered daily.”

Q: How do you assemble a team of people who have communication skills?

“We tend to hire senior people who have experience.  We have them go through a series of interviews—technical and personality.  We do everything possible to keep our people.  Our turnover is really low.”

Q: What challenges come up with cross-cultural communication?

“Usually it’s a misunderstanding.  When a client gives us too much freedom, we try to do as much work as we think is relative to the problem, and sometimes we think it’s our way but it’s really a different way.  Those are due to cultural differences and experiences.”

Q: How did you decide to be a leader of programmers instead of writing the code yourself?

“I couldn’t scale what I wanted to do and that was my passion.  In being a developer or team lead, I could only work with a little team and one client at a time.  I wanted to introduce it to many, to almost make a movement.  When you outsource something, the outsource professional should be doing it better than you can.  When I hire a lawyer, I want to assume he’s doing a great job.  It’s the same with software.”

For Slava’s best tips on global communication and words of inspiration to entrepreneurs, listen to the episode…

Words of Wisdom:

“Poor communication leads to poor responses, poor performance, and a lot of money wasted.”

“It all comes back to communication.”

“If you cannot trust us, you cannot work with us.”

Contact Slava Khristich:

Website: Tateeda.com

Phone:      619-630-7568


Rich Yumul: Website Therapy



Joanie has a conversation with Rich Yumul, a web designer and CEO of Sage Tree Solutions.  Rich calls himself a “website therapist” because he helps clients have better relationships with their websites.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to start your own company?

“I started out being a freelancing contractor.  I got so much work, I started adding people.  That’s when it started to become a full-fledged company.”

Q: How do you find a customer like Comicon?

“They actually found us.  They were looking for somebody who could help them with a Drupal website.  That’s our specialty.”

Q: What’s a website therapist and how can people have a better relationship with their website?

“Often when we deal with clients, they’re in a state of distress.  Their budget has gone way over budget or time.  There are three things to have a good relationship with your website.”  Listen to the episode to learn more.

Q: How do you help clients decide what they want?

“I had to learn to translate…  Don’t assume because you’re using the same terms, you’re right.  The client’s paying the bills.”

Q: How do you bring empathy in to dealing with clients’ distress?

“I invested some time in learning about business.  Usually the people we deal with are business directors or marketing people.  Understanding business helped me understand how business problems create distress for them.  I help them get to a better place.”

Q: What kinds of problems come up in working with the engineers at work?

“One thing that served me very well was to learn to not take things personally.  When people are stressed out, they may be heated.  Have the awareness if you’re starting to feel triggered, to take a step back and really try to listen to the message.”

Words of Wisdom:

“Be open to being educated.”

“Be a vocabulary detective.”

“Email is the worst way to communicate because so much can be read into the words of the message.”

Shout Outs:

San Diego STEM Ecosystem: sdstemecosystem.org

Toys for Joy: toys-for-joy.org

Contact Rich:

Email: rich@sagetree.com

Website: https://www.sagetree.com/


Scott Krawitz: People Skills for a Technologist



Joanie interviews Scott Krawitz, the CEO of People Driven Solutions Inc (PDSI).  PDSI provides technology advisory services, such as the “virtual CTO.”  Scott has had many years as a technologist and a leader of technologists and he shares the people strategies he finds work best.

Highlights:

Q: What are the most critical people skills for a technologist?

In nerd parlance, think of it like a network communication model.  There are three stages: transmitting, receiving, and processing a message.

Q: What have you learned from your extensive world travel that has helped you develop your people strategies?

It’s an invaluable experience for any leader to explore different cultures.  Cross-cultural agility is key, especially in America.  You ignore cultural differences at your own peril.

Q: What do you mean by using the right “filter of empathy?”

Scott brings in research from cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien.  To learn more, listen to the podcast.

Words of wisdom from Scott:

“It’s always better to under promise and over deliver.”

“Show up and choose to be present.”

“Look for the words between the words.”

Scott offers shout outs to:

NFAR, the National Foundation for Autism Research, and 7CTOs

Contact Scott:

scott@peopledriven.co

619-908-1407

http://peopledriven.co