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What 10 tech experts have to say about building software better

Satya Nadella said in Microsoft’s April earnings call that “we’ve seen two years of digital transformation in two months” since the onset of COVID-19. If software was “eating the world” before COVID-19, today it is absolutely gorging itself. That means the role and success of engineering teams building technology has never been more important to the future of business and society.

That’s why I’m starting “Building Software, Better,” a five-part newsletter to bring together smart minds in our industry and share visions for how we can build software better with a greater impact on our companies and the world—and how we can bring more fulfillment to the people making it.

In this series, I talk to engineering leaders, business execs and VCs and ask the question: How can we be better at what we do and feel better doing it?

Here are some of my favorite quotes from my discussions with these ten technology leaders.

Subscribe to the newsletter to read the full articles. 

Why CTOs Are Feeling Productivity Pressure More Than Ever:

What's evolved is customers who are now opting for cloud-based software and expect to see new features more frequently. Your release cadence is high, and that has created an immense transition in how we develop software and how teams are organized. It's not about just writing code.

The core thing engineers should have to think about is just writing software.

Ashish Agrawal 
CTO, ServiceMax

With all the tools available, teams can communicate much more efficiently and they're more productive but managing multiple tools can also be distracting.

How do you provide a holistic view on top of these tools that can normalize efficiency across different teams within the same organization? 

Neeraj Gupta
SVP of Engineering, Sift


Connecting Engineering Output to Business Outcomes:

It’s a real waste when software development projects lack clear business outcomes, and the experiments are not gaining traction in the marketplace.  To avoid this issue, it's really important that we manage every engineering project and product line with an ROI in mind.

Every single engineer can see their progress and see what happens when we shift features. It's right there in front of them. Absolutely corroborated down to the feature.
Greg Keller
CTO, Jumpcloud

We have to create this mentality that fast failure, in the context of thoughtful planning and experimentation, are essential factors of innovation. 

Steven Chung
 President, Field Operations, Delphix


How Engineering Managers Are Navigating the Current Day to Day:

So you need managers to be an evangelist for the work the team is doing.

Remote work is a test for managers because it’s on you to know what’s going on. And if you never had that skill to be on top of things in person, it’s not going to work now.

Cia Bernales
Product Manager, Condé Nast

One interesting side-effect of shelter-in-place is that now everybody is remote, and we all have the same level of communication

I think we need to prove that there are efficiencies gained from a consistent workflow, instead of tools across multiple teams.

The more tech that’s infused in people's lives, the more value I think there is on engineering skills.

Michael Goff
Engineering Manager, Uber
michael goff


Managing Developer Mental Health:

There's a sense that being completely responsive all the time is a good thing, but it actually puts pressure on your team that can be really negative. 

Unhealthy perfectionism leads to behavior such as staying at work really late and working heavily on weekends.
Beth Steinberg
VP, People & Talent. Chime

There’s a term that was coined a few years ago called 'psychological safety,' which is basically the concept of giving your team permission to make mistakes and to advocate for them to speak up and feel safe. 

When it comes time to communicate this with the team, it's important to both share the practical facts and justification as well as sharing genuine compassion.  
Dr. Ross Nelson 
Tech Industry Psychologist
Ross Nelson


The Impact of Improved Engineering Efficiency:

There are hundreds of thousands of critical infrastructure and societal problems that are bottlenecked by bad engineering that needs to get redone. Just look at the COVID response—there’s no interconnectedness among any of these agencies or states. The US operates as 15 different countries instead of a connected federal unit. That is largely a technology problem.

The engineering teams are the heartbeat of every tech company, and so having them operate more productively is like having your sales team be that much more productive. It translates to meaningful bottom-line results.
Ethan Batraski
Partner, Venrock

If you look at Tesla, it’s a tech company that happens to make a product that rides on wheels. I think you’re seeing that in every industry. 

How do we take the things that are working in our high performing teams and high performing individuals and look to replicate those across the organization? I think high performers want to be recognized and valued. They want the increased compensation, title, and responsibility that comes from being a high performing individual or team. 
Jeff Richards
Managing Partner, GGV Capital


Building Software, Better. 

With this series, my hope for you is to start a conversation about how developers, team leaders, founders, and CTOs can work together to achieve that next level as engineering teams. The stakes have never been higher and it's time we prioritize our work, our fulfillment, and our well-being as we build the next era of technology.

Subscribe now to get the full series sent directly to your inbox. 

- Jeff 

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