podcast • 41MIN READ
Building a Culture of Trust - with Metrics - at Slack
Rukmini Reddy, VP of Engineering at Slack, has a truly inspiring origin story. As a student growing up in India, she hated that all of the girls in her class were forced to learn sewing. When she was offered the chance to go to her school's computer lab instead, she never looked back.
She joins the Dev Interrupted podcast to talk about her journey into software engineering, how she transitioned to a leadership role and what it was like to onboard at Slack during the pandemic. Her and Dan also have a lively discussion on engineering metrics and how data can provide a "shared view of reality" when it comes to making tough decisions as a leader.
Episode Highlights Include:
- Her journey into software engineering
- Conquering self-doubt and imposter syndrome as a woman of color
- Slack's culture and core values
- How high trust enables hypergrowth
- Data as a way to provide a shared view of reality
Join engineering leaders from Netflix, Slack, Stack Overflow, American Express & more at LinearB's virtual engineering leadership conference, INTERACT on April 7th, 2022.
1 day, 20 speakers, 1,000s of engineering leaders - all driven by the Dev Interrupted community. If you are a team lead, engineering manager, VP or CTO looking to improve your team, this is the conference for you!
Dan Lines: Host
Rukmini Reddy: VP of Platform Engineering at Slack
Rukmini: [0:00] I wake up every morning, get my coffee and look at some dashboards. That's the kind of [crosstalk] [0:05] user I am.
Dan: [0:05] Oh my God, you're like my best friend now.
Producer: [0:07] This episode is sponsored by Linear B. Accelerate your development pipeline with data-driven engineering metrics, continuous improvement automation, and project visibility while cutting your software development cycle time in half. Sign up for your free demo at linearb.io and mention the Dev Interrupted podcast discount for one month free when you sign up for an annual pro membership. Have you heard about Interact yet? Our first Dev Interrupted conference is built by engineering leaders for engineering leaders. It takes place on September 30th. Learn more at devinterrupted.com/interact.
Dan: [0:41] Hey, everyone, welcome to Dev Interrupted. I'm your host, Dan lines and today I'm joined by Rukmini Reddy, VP of Engineering at Slack. Rukmini, thanks for joining us today.
Rukmini: [0:55] Hey, it's great to be here. Dan. Thanks for having me.
Dan: [0:57] Awesome to have you here. Super pumped to have you here. Now, you've been a VP of Engineering for several years now what led you to become a developer and now an engineering leader? How did you even get on this career path?
Rukmini: [1:14] That's a great question. Eight, that is how old I was. I was sitting in my convent in India, in needlepoint, and I hated it. And I remember a teacher coming over and saying, “We're opening a new computer lab, and do you want to try it out? And you don't have to do needlepoint. If you go there.” and I raised my hand, I was the only one of the sixty girls who raised my hand to do it and I've never looked back. I love Logo that was like my first introduction to programming. And that's when I knew I wanted to be an engineer. So being a developer, being an engineer has always been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid.
Dan: [1:57] What a great opportunity. So, needlepoints, like you're sewing something, and they said, “Who wants to leave this sewing area [Laughing] and come and work on the computer?” Good thing you raised your hand.
Rukmini: [2:08] Yes, I did. It just opened the door to so many more opportunities for me. And I just kept going, I did my bachelor's in computer engineering back home in India, and that's how I moved to the United States to get my graduate degree in computer engineering, and that began my career as a developer. You also asked about how I became an engineering leader, which was maybe like an accident, or maybe luck. I really loved being a developer. I was a senior engineering contributor in my organization, and a CTO I reported to them came to me and said “You seem to be good at this people stuff. Do you want to try to be an engineering leader?” and I went through all the stages of grief ICs usually go through when someone mentions the word management. I was like, I don't know. I'm going to lose my technical chops. I'm going to lose my technical skills. [crosstalk] [3:00] I’m going to become irrelevant.
Dan: [3:00] Yeah, it’s scary.
Rukmini: [3:03] It's scary and people stuff is hard.
Dan: [3:05] Yeah.
Rukmini: [3:07] He assured me that if I hate it, I can always go back, which looking back now was quite advanced for the time in which we were living then. And I tried it and I never looked back, and I find this combination of people and product and engineering and technology to be so fascinating. So, love it. That's how I got into this.
Dan: [3:27] Yeah, you never looked back, you only went forward. One thing that I see with successful people that come on our podcast is, when they're presented with an opportunity, it seems like they're always saying yes, even though they're afraid to do it. And that seems to be resonating with you as well, for your career.
Rukmini: [3:46] A hundred percent I think it's really hard, like most of us feel a lot of fear and a lot of courage at the same time. It's when you have new opportunities, in my case when I moved to this country as an immigrant, and I got on a plane, my very first plane ride just was a plane taking me away from everything, and everyone I had known. It was all-it's crazy, but scary, but in moments like that, like you lean into the opportunity, and you push through and that's when like you learn, and you grow and it's-growing is uncomfortable.
Dan: [4:16] Yeah, very uncomfortable. The whole time, it feels painful. Until you get to a certain plateau and you back and say, “Oh, I've just grown”. But the whole time it's-at least for me, I'm a little bit afraid, it hurts a little bit, I don't know what's gonna happen, are people thinking I'm doing a good job? I've never done this before. But yeah, you just got to push through. I think I read an article where you talk about this.
Rukmini: [4:43] Yes, I do. I think it's so important, especially to the next generation out there, to know that most successful people have been very uncomfortable for most of their lives. And especially as a woman and a woman of color, I think good old imposter syndrome rears its ugly head every single time I am in an uncomfortable situation, and it's okay, it's okay. It's something that we all have to work with every day. And I hope-I write the blog and hope that somebody is reassured, knowing they're not alone when they read saying that “Oh, you've been through something similar” and hopefully inspire a few next generation engineering leaders.
Dan: [5:21] Yeah, it's a great blog, we can put the link to it in the pod. Are you doing any mentoring or anything like that for like up and coming women or anyone?
Rukmini: [5:30] I actually, in the past pre pandemic, have mentored at Hackbright Academy, which is for non-traditional women who are trying to break into tech, I have mentored at Women Entering and Staying in Tech, which is an organization where you mentor early career engineers, I was a Plato mentor for engineering managers for a long time. And this last year and a half, I have concentrated all my efforts of mentoring within Slack, so.
Dan: [5:56] That's great. Yeah, we really appreciate that awesome job supporting the community, I'm gonna fast forward us to your time at Slack. So last July, you joined Slack, it was obviously mid-pandemic, I think some of your previous startups, you were also a remote first or in remote first company. But what was it like joining Slack? You joined as a VP, so you're joining slack leadership position and fully remote world, whoa!
Rukmini: [6:25] It was interesting! And I had been a remote first leader for the previous two years, so I joke now it's like I had a premonition of the time to come, [Laughing] but I-clearly none of us did. But what's interesting even in that position was I got to meet the founding team, and several key members and the board in person. So, in the interview process, I actually met real humans, and then we transitioned into a kind of a semi-remote world, the team was still located, we had a office in San Francisco. So, I would go in there once in a while. So, while that was remote, technically, it was a very different kind of environment. And then fast forward to last July, when we were all, like-I think dealing with a crisis after crisis. I know, right before we began recording, we were discussing orange skies in California.
Dan: [7:15] Yeah, the fires. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rukmini: [7:17] It was complete insanity, so much trauma in society and injustice. And it was so hard to wrap our head around all of this. And here I was interviewing for a leadership position. And what I found so unique, I was interviewing at multiple places at the same time, and what I find unique about Slack was, the humanity of the people I was interacting with was second to none. And I was like, this is interesting. And obviously the challenge of the platform, the product, the scale, I'm a huge Slack fan. I'm like a fangirl of Slack. I've used Slack for six years, and there was once in my past life where I put Slack for my entire organization on my credit card. And then my CFO was like, “Did you just buy an SAS software without asking?”, I was like, “You’d have to pry this out of my cold dead hands, because it's changed the way my team communicates.” and so had a lot of like excitement about the product itself. And when I joined, the-that humanity that I experienced coming in, was just amplified and magnified on the other side. For example, like one of my team members created an emoji for me on my first day [Laughing], and I show up and everyone is like “Rukmini is here, and there’s a Rukmini emoji. It's such a small gesture. But when you're joining as a leader, we talked about imposter syndrome, you're nervous, you have met nobody in real life for all [you know] somebody will be six foot tall, or maybe they're a hologram, who knows.
Dan: [8:47] [Laughing] It could be, we’re not sure everything that I'm doing is remote so I don't even know if I'm really taught like you might be.
Rukmini: [8:54] Yeah, that was real and it just-there was so many gestures with this community, just like “you belong here” is something they say at Slack. And it was a wonderful experience. Difficult? Yes! Because I think it was difficult for all leaders, and especially as you're onboarding, you have to be so intentional about how you're spending your time, how you're building relationships with people. So there are a lot of challenges as well. And I think I flex muscles, leadership muscles, I didn't know I had, like, when you go skiing for the first time and your legs are awake, and you're like, “What is that? I didn't know that existed!” It was-it's been wonderful, it's been absolutely wonderful.
Dan: [9:33] That's amazing. You wouldn't-I don't know if you're gonna know this, but how do you think that Slack kind of built that culture? Like the type of people with the great welcoming, humanity driven, is it-do you know, is it in the hiring process or?
Rukmini: [9:47] Yeah, it's Slack’s core values, I think, we read a lot about core values in other companies that-you read it on the careers page and it makeslike you join them and you're like, “What it doesn't exist?’, but I think a lot of people embody that-those core values. So, empathy is one of our core values and it really comes through, right? Humility, being smart, being collaborative, these are our core values. And I think they're embedded into all our processes, our hiring, our onboarding, and our culture.
Dan: [10:16] Yeah. Okay,yeah. Makes sense. To learn a little bit about your organization, you joined as VP Engineering for the Platform. Is there multiple VPs or?
Rukmini: [10:27] Yes, there are. Yes. So slack is organized into the product engineering organization, the platform engineering organization, the security organization and the infrastructure-core organization, code engineering organization. So, I lead the developer platform engineering organization.
Dan: [10:42] Okay, developer platform. So why don't-just so you can get a mindset around it, what value do you provide? I’m using Slack all the time, obviously to probably everyone listening this, is I like using Slack to talk to my family, like my parents want to talk to me “,Can you just Slack me? I have a work thing.” wo, what like for a platform, Slack platform engineering, can you give an example?
Rukmini: [11:03] Yeah! I lead team-so every time you interact with the bot, like that’s Slack platform, right? You use workflow builder, that’s Slack platform, so I lead teams that provide like, first party developer experience. So, a first party is defined as you're in a large enterprise organization, and you're building integrations, custom code, to make your business processes efficient on Slack, that's first party developers. So, I lead teams that provide value and product for first party developers. I also lead the team that builds Slack’s, or no-low code workflow builder. And then I lead teams that provide third party integrations and partnerships. And for our third-party developers, so the pager duties of the world and Miro and Paulie and Donut all these apps that we've all come to love. That's basically the purview of the team that I lead.
Dan: [11:53] And LinearB! No, we-Yeah, so we have a Slack bot now, we were calling it WorkerB that goes out to all developers and basically helps developers get work done and save time. So, I think in that situation, we'd be-would we be a third party? We're interacting with your third-party team to make that bot?
Rukmini: [12:11] Yes!
Dan: [12:12] Okay, cool. So, when you joined, how many were in your organization? Because you're taking-that's a lofty title.
Rukmini: [12:18] We had sixty engineers last year, and we grew pretty significantly in the past
Dan: [12:23] Where are you at? Now?
Rukmini: [12:25] I think we've grown about thirty, thirty-five percent in the past year.
Dan: [12:27] Yeah. That's awesome. How did you approach that growth in the remote hiring? Like, how do you go about it?
Rukmini: [12:36] Yeah, it's hard. There's so much competition for great talents right now. I think it's top of mind for a lot of engineering leaders, and I think, especially in remote hiring and onboarding. Some principles are like being intentional, being empathetic and being data-driven, are super important, because some of the pre-pandemic processes just don't hold. For example, I just read a post on Blind a few days ago that said, someone was complaining about, “Oh, I need to interview” and you- it’s hard to believe this, “They're asking me to come in for an in person five-round interview!”
Dan: [13:12] Oh my God!
Rukmini: [13:13] And I'm like, how and why when there's so much demand for talent with somebody would be willing to do that? And this is how you-it just makes no sense. And-
Dan: [13:24] Yeah, it's a surprise you'd get any candidate.
Rukmini: [13:28] Yeah, that you could get any candidate. And if you think about it, like having a digital first interview process is extremely critical, and if you don't, you're just going to be a laggard and lose out and all this exceptional talent that's out there.
Dan: [13:39] Yeah, yeah. Is there anything, like any tricks that you've learned or anything in particular that you could share about the Slack engineering interview process that you found noteworthy?
Rukmini: [13:50] I think, very data-driven, and just the practices are very data-driven. I think we check ourselves for bias at every stage of the interview process. We have the extensive interview training for our people who wouldn't be interviewers, we are I think we embody our core values, when we show up to interview like, we're empathetic. We do share PRs with you to see how you respond and how you collaborate. It's extremely important to us.
Dan: [14:12] Oh, that's cool. You go back and forth on PRs?
Rukmini: [14:14] Yes.
Dan: [14:15] Oh, that's awesome.
Rukmini: [14:16] Yeah, so-and most importantly, like giving a data-coordinator process, right, like Slack is where we do our work. So, we have offer channels, we talk about how we can best support our candidates through the process, and we are very welcoming. The minute you sign an offer, like, you will receive just a love bomb from us, in a way, that we are so excited for you to join us. And these are the small differences. Yes, we are a great organization to work with and you want to join Slack engineering. And culture really comes through that process. And I've had interviews in the past year where people are like, I'm sorry, my child is just cartwheeling in the back. [Laughing] So, being human in that process is really important.
Dan: [14:58] Be human and send love bombs, I love it, that's-that's what we need to do. [Laughing] Perfect. So, a little bit about how your engineering organization works. So, let's say, I just like doing math, maybe you have seventy or eighty on your team now, maybe [crosstalk] [15:15] eighty on your team, something like that.
Rukmini: [15:15] Yeah, just above eighty yeah.
Dan: [15:17] Are there any practices that you're imposing? Are people working in Kanban, or Scrum? Is there anything that you're saying, “Hey, we need to work a certain way” or not? Like, how do you approach that as a VP?
Rukmini: [15:33] Yeah, I think something about how you work is so personal to an individual team. And they're-I personally don't-I agree with structure overall. I think data is at the center of everything I do, so I love me, some like, JIRA metrics, and dashboards and analytics, that's my jam.
Dan: [15:52] Okay, you're gonna love LinearB, okay, we'll do a whole thing together. Okay, you love you some metrics, great.
Rukmini: [15:59] I love me some metrics. I wake up every morning, get my coffee and look at some dashboards. That's the kind of [crosstalk] [16:04] user I am.
Dan: [16:04] Oh my God, you're like my best friend now. Okay, we're gonna hang out in zoom after this, great.
Rukmini: [16:09] Yeah, I’m a data nerd. While I need that visibility to understand how productive we are being and where blockers are, I think it's the goal of finding this is not to be like, I impose something on my team. I don't care for that word, in a way, that it's so much about bottoms up on how the team executes and how they like to work with each other. You asked a question about are we Scrum or Kanban
Dan: [16:32] Yeah, or?
Rukmini: [16:33] Some IC’s choose to do Kanban because it works better for them, and some choose to use Scrum. However, the end of the day, the metrics they report on like a burndown chart, or epics, or tasks or bugs, that doesn't change. So, it's-we actually have-our team is really good about shared view of reality, that's what we call it, and our engineering leadership team and engineering managers on platform, we actually spend our weekly sync first actually reviewing metrics that matter to us. So, for example, were there any recent incidents, like what's the status of those reviews, like there are security tickets, is there something that we need to focus on? How are we doing with our bug backlog? How are we doing with our Zendesk support tickets volumes, and how we need to respond to our customers? How are our project burn downs? And that's where we begin, and then we continue the conversation. But the data is not used in a way saying, “Oh, my God, your team's not doing well” it's more, “There's a pattern here, which is interesting. Can we explore this together to understand more?”
Dan: [17:32] I’m a hundred percent with you, data that's used for performance management does not work.
Rukmini: [17:38] Oh, hundred percent, data is only half the story, the other half is context.
Dan: [17:43] Now, data that's used for transparency, and aligning on a reality and making observations at a team level works really well. And you-and of course, I think Slack has the right culture, you have to have the right culture to back up that data-driven approach, I've seen hundreds and hundreds of companies do that now, and it really does work. Now, do you have a favorite set of engineering related metrics? Do you have your favorite metric, anything like that?
Rukmini: [18:15] One of my favorite metrics, and it's a metric that matters, because in the end of the day, engineering organizations are so-our sole responsibilities and service of our customers and a metric-one of my favorite metrics is cycle time, right?
Dan: [18:27] Yay! [Laughing]
Rukmini: [18:28] Yeah. The time it takes for the product and software we’re building to get into the hands of our customer. And it's a great metric, because again, you're driving business outcomes that are enabling our customers, and that's our role as engineering. And yeah, that's one of my favorite metrics. I love created versus result charts.
Dan: [18:46] What is that one, say it again?
Rukmini: [18:48] Created versus results charts, for example, how many-it can be used to like deduce trends, so how many bugs have we created? Was this resolved? So [crosstalk] [18:59] number of bugs in our system getting ahead of us? So the green line needs to stay ahead of the red line.
Dan: [18:59] Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Dan: [19:07] Yeah, yeah. Sometimes people call it like a CFD, a Cumulative Flow Diagram, which is showing how much work is coming in progress, how much are we completing, and you're looking at a rate, it's a rate and very important one, because if it gets-you can see if it's getting out of control before, oh, my dad, there's an explosion, where-
Rukmini: [19:28] So much of it-sometimes it's this indicator that the team has too much on their plate, you need to focus, and you need to maybe actually have a really tough discussion about what are we dropping? Like, what are we not doing? And that is a really hard thing to discuss, like because we all want to do all the things right. And it's hard on product teams to say what are we not doing but, that's how what we use that metric for to figure out, are we doing too much do we need to take a pause and actually start doing some of the things?
Dan: [19:55] well, saying what you're not going to do, I found to be a key trait in great product engineering leadership, everyone wants to do it. We're developers, so it's like fun to take on more. But what you do see in terms of that metric, cycle time will actually get worse as your WIPs, or your work in progress increases, because “ Ah, I got too many things. I'm jumping around, I can't get anything done”, it clogs the system. So that-
Rukmini: [20:24] And actually the other metric I have is Epics for engineer work in progress for engineer is the other favorite metric.
Dan: [20:31] Yeah, WIP-WIP per engineer?
Rukmini: [20:32] Yes!
Dan: [20:32] We're tracking that in LinearB, again, from the perspective of okay, we can go have a conversation now, and let's take work off your plate, so that we can be more effective. I love it. I love that you love metrics, this is awesome. What we're doing, I don't know, if you looked it up, you can look at linearb.io. It's actually all these interesting metrics for engineering leaders, and for developers to improve productivity. So everything that you were talking about around cycle time, and time to merge and PRs. And that's exactly [crosstalk] [21:06] what-
Rukmini: [21:06] Oh, that’s awesome, and I’m curious to see how engineering metrics are being, like, recorded, and what's the behind the scenes, so.
Dan: [21:12] I think we have something pretty innovative going on.
Rukmini: [21:16] Especially your Slack bot, I'm really curious to learn about.
Dan: [21:18] So we call the slack bot WorkerB.
Rukmini: [21:21] Okay.
Dan: [21:22] And we have three pillar approach to how we're talking about LinearB, and what we provide. The first pillar is, how are you doing on your projects’ investments? So how many people are working on each project? Is the project on time? The burndown charts, the CFDs. What type of work are we doing, whether it's new value or bugs? So, you have this project pillar. Then the second pillar is all of those observability type metrics, the single pane of glass. Are we all on this? Do we have a shared view of reality, as you would say? So, cycle time, Change Failure Rate, deployment frequency. Where are bottlenecks within our delivery pipeline? We'll provide that for every single team, in-all of your teams, and for you.
Rukmini: [22:10] Can you connect to it last?
Dan: [22:11] Yeah, we connect to all different Git providers, project management systems, of course Slack for communication.
Rukmini: [22:17] This is really ambitious.
Dan: [22:18] And then our third pillar is the Slack bot, the WorkerB. And all that is, like every alert that we do or action is saying, for the developer, how could we take work off of their plate or make them more effective?
Rukmini: [22:31] How many users do you have on WorkerB?
Dan: [22:34] Thousands?
Rukmini: [22:35] Okay.
Dan: [22:36] Yeah, the-so the WorkerB’s cool, because they just automatically sign up. It just spreads throughout the organization.
Rukmini: [22:43] That’s great.
Dan: [22:44] Ah, so moving on to our next topic around leadership, and management, and I wanted to dive in there a little bit with you, because you know, you've had a fan-let's be honest, like a fantastic career so far. Let's see, you know, I think you're gonna do probably many more things, but you're at an unbelievable company, mow. What do you believe makes you a successful engineering leader?
Rukmini: [23:11] Yeah, engineering leadership is so complex. It's not one thing. It's not like you can be a good technologist and be-necessarily be a good engineering leader. I think, if you think of it as a Venn diagram, right, like a love diagrams and data that-so you can tell I'm an engineer at heart, so you start plotting out a Venn diagram, and then you have a Venn diagram for technology, and product and process, and people. And I think good engineering leaders are ones who put people at the center of everything. And it's having a people-first mindset, and those who are-I think so much about my role is to cascade purpose and cascading vision, I think that's what makes a successful engineering leader.
Dan: [23:56] Yeah, I agree how complex that Venn diagram can be, because it always feels like you're trying to balance so many different things, but you're saying people at the center. Do you- is there any like intentional things that you do as a leader, like either day to day or week to week that say, okay-that are like, people-first initiatives or what does that mean to you?
Rukmini: [24:19] Oh, yes. People are like-I think I talk about this to people in mentoring. I've done this exercise for several years now. Like, I know what my core values are, as a leader. I love Brene Brown and love her store of books, and she recommended writing down your core values, and when I did write them down several years ago, love and courage were my core values. And that's how I embody-like that's how I show up at work and so much about what I do is rooted in deep care for my people that I lead. I take-take it as a significant responsibility. Things I do, for example, if it's your first meeting with me, I would ask you questions like; What does support look like for me? What is respect mean for you, in this working relationship? And I ground myself in that in that conversation. How do you like to receive feedback? How do you like to give feedback? How do you like to be celebrated? These are things I ask everyone I-either who report to me, or I'm going to work closely with. And I think they're so important to establish like, rules of engagement for that one-to-one relationship, because you meet people where they are. And then magic happens, high growth, high performance comes through a foundation of trust. So, trust building is extremely important for me, when I joined new teams, I make it my highest priority. So, in Slack, for example, I spent sixty days just meeting everybody possible, and then asking everyone say, who are five people you think that should meet. And then we met, and I spent most of my time relationship building and understanding the context of why things exist, or why people are doing a certain thing and who they are, before I come out and say, “These are my grandiose ideas and vision and technology and product that let's scrap everything you're doing” which is I feel still some of our leaders approach it that way. And it's not healthy, and trust is at the center of everything.
Dan: [26:20] The-what you mentioned, the questions that you asked during the one-on-one that's coming from a framework that you've read before? Is it your own? Like you-what was it?
Rukmini: [26:33] So I have two different templates that I use. One is the first meeting template, which is when you meet someone for the first time, what are some great questions to ask. It's I think, published on my blog. That's a lot of me learning, writing down things that have worked for me and reading-like reading blogs, like picking up good questions from different blogs. So it's culminated over several years, however the one-on-one template that I have which also works really well, and that is very effective, I read this book called Fierce Conversations many years ago.
Dan: [27:04] Yeah, that was it, Fierce Conversations. I read that on your blog.
Rukmini: [27:07] Yeah, it's a brilliant book, and they had this template in there, and I've taken it and used it so successfully, so highly recommend that book for those who are willing to like, make candor at the forefront of all their conversations. And let me warn you, it is uncomfortable. But that's where growth happens.
Dan: [27:26] Gotcha. Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Let me hit you with harder questions. What's the worst mistake that you've made, as an engineering leader. that you were able to then learn from?
Rukmini: [27:40] Oh gosh, so many mistakes, I’m trying to figure out which ones. This is hard, because I have a big Rolodex of bad mistakes.
Dan: [27:51] Of mistakes. Try to pull one out that you think someone could learn from that-that is listening here.
Rukmini: [27:58] I did make a mistake several years ago, and this one struck me hard because it was something about people. And I felt blindsided by how I showed up. There was an engineer, several skip-levels down and he was not performing well. I was just like, I'm very data driven. I can sometimes be very execution focused, which was a blind spot. And this was like a few years ago, and I was just like, yeah, performance management, let's go. And I just was encouraging the manager to just go through with it. And this was a team in Ukraine, and I used to visit them every three months. So, between my visits, and this person's performance dropped, and I didn't speak to them, I didn't reach out, I didn't-I think I was busy. I didn't-she didn’t understand context. And then I showed up, and then they were getting better, but not getting better and kind of getting better. So, it was like, like all over the place. And then I sat down with them. And I'm like, “What am I missing? What am I not seeing? Why are you struggling?” and that person just broke down and said something like, apparently, in Ukraine, the government was trying to like take them out of their home, the father came from the military, and the government was trying to seize that home, and he was going to court every day to keep their home. I just, I just felt terrible. And I thought that was a mistake I learned a lot from and something I did was extremely apologetic, I missed it, I could have been more empathetic. And that's where I'm like, the note I took to self was like, assume best intent and learn to ask more, and we overcame it. We said you know what, let's support you maybe let's get you a leave so that you can go focus on your problem right now. And not actually magnify it by putting pressure of performance improvement on your work and the person stayed, and they flourished, and they did incredibly well. So, all's well, but it was a mistake, and I learned a lot from it.
Dan: [29:57] Yeah, thanks for sharing that. First off, I love Ukraine. I've also had an engineer-some great engineers are there. I had an engineering team over there. But I think the lesson is the one that you told before where if you ask the right questions, you make room for them to come with that information. Because that person was hiding-probably didn't want to share that. I don't know if I should share what's going on in my personal life, you found it out, now you addressed it, and they flourished. That's fantastic. I want to move us to an area around scaling. So, you've scaled a few engineering organizations, you're scaling your current organization at Slack right now? What advice do you have for engineering leaders who are building and leading teams while trying to aggressively Hyper Growth scale?
Rukmini: [30:45] Yeah, I think I alluded to this earlier, high performance comes from trust. So, if you want a high performing, super scaling organization, you need to make sure you have a foundation of trust in your organization. Because trusting your people to hire, right, trusting your people to do the right processes is extremely important as you hyper scale. So while you’re-especially in a hyper growth startup, you may be like, what I don't have time for trust building, then you can keep going and your pack of cards is just gonna fall, it's not gonna last because your foundation is not strong. And people can get stressed out in these like supercharged, hyper scaling environments. And if you have high trust, and you can take a pause and be empathetic for your people, I think your organization can scale really well. Because when you operate from a place of trust, you empower so many others to be able to make decisions and move a lot faster.
Dan: [31:41] Yeah, you need other people to do the work for you a little bit. And trust goes a long ways to enable them to do it, and I love how you said that's the foundation because I did it-when you were talking, I had an image in my head of like crumbling a house like the foundation's not good, but you're trying to build on top of this crumbling house, it's never gonna work.
Rukmini: [32:02] And that's what data also comes in having data because emotions can run high when you're trying to go really fast and rooting yourself in a foundation of trust, plus having data that can actually bring about a shared-shared view of reality. Again, I keep going back to this because I have some experience of like successful cross functional partnerships, successful organizations, and one of them is having a shared view of reality. Do we all agree that things are great? Or do we all think things suck right now?
Dan: [32:30] Yeah. [crosstalk] [32:32] I love that.
Rukmini: [32:32] How do we come back?
Dan: [32:34] Yeah, so I've been saying we-a lot of what we're doing at LinearB is around data. We run our company in a data-driven way. I knew-I never had those words together of a “shared view of reality”, but it totally makes sense, because a lot of meetings that will come to-okay, let's say that we're having a problem in a certain area of engineering or the business. Okay, I'm going to align us around a meeting, the first thing that we do is align around the data to say, let's present the data that shows what's happening with this problem. Does everyone agree that this data does represent it? Yes or no, because sometimes there's some context there. And when you get a yes, around the room, then I find the next part of the meeting is so much more productive. But if you're in a situation where-because you have that shared view of reality, if you're in a situation where oh, someone's looking at some data over here, this person is looking at another piece of data, the third person's not looking at any data. How do you come-It's harder to get to a resolution.
Rukmini: [33:37] Yeah, I think you know, what you said applies to meetings but can also apply to a relationship that you're building at work, right? So, some things that-I've had amazing relationships with my product partners, my entire career, like, I remember being in a conference a long time ago where they were like, “How many of you have had bad relationships with your product partners?” and almost everybody raised their hand, all the engineering leaders. And then they said, “Okay, let's reverse the question. How many people had great relationships with your product partners?”, and I think it was one of three people. And I think some of-because it's hard like that, healthy tension between partner engineering it's-it's not easy. And one of the things that’s worked really well for us is even if you’re off track is like having a shared view of reality. Do we agree we are doing too much or too little together? The second thing is flow of information. Flow-give me your context, I give me-I give you my context. Together the end state is shared success. It's impossible for an engineering organization to be-especially in product engineering, to be successful without the product itself being successful. Shared success.
Dan: [34:42] I-when you said that had that small story that comes to mind. So, I'm a co-founder, I'm one of the co-founders at LinearB, I'm in LA, Ori is in Israel. Ori is our CEO and the other co-founder, so my partner and I have a founder marriage and there's a lot of things going on in the company and we're trying to quickly align with each other and just remember, like, for example, we were talking about the Cumulative Flow Diagrams before the WIP, I was saying to him, “Hey, the support issues seem to be increasing here. And I don't know that we're keeping up” and I was saying, “Hey, I think we need to hire more.” And he was saying, “Oh, I don't really know but I believe that I don't think we do need to hire.” And we decided to align around the CFD that was showing support issues coming in, how quickly were we responding and addressing them. And it turned out there was something in between, like the data showed us that they are increasing. But I don't know yet that we need to have a hire, and for example, we decided, hey, let's open a wreck. But we're gonna hire next quarter, three months from now, that's when we think the data shows that person could be fully utilized. That's just like a small example of how to align really quickly around data. Because before there-it was a little bit argumentative is like my opinion, his opinion, what should we do?
Rukmini: [35:57] Oh, a hundred percent, it’s like data plus context, right, equals success, because you're able to meet people halfway and a lot of it is compromising, but also being able to, I think, prioritize. Like you are operating with-you know, a startup does it-like ruthless prioritization, it doesn't change no matter what scale you're at, you are going to want to do a lot of things and you can’t do all the things.
Dan: [36:20] Yeah, you can never-choosing all the things is always the wrong move. If you're saying-if you're not saying no to something, you're probably gonna get yourself [crosstalk] [36:27] in trouble.
Rukmini: [36:37] Oh I think saying no is extremely important.
Dan: [36:31] Yeah, last-last question in this area. So, another thing that we're pretty big into at LinearB, you were talking about Slack workflows, but we have a lot of automation that helps our developers, I guess, get that single pane of glass. And what do I mean by that? Showing where the code is at the development, in the development lifecycle. Is someone waiting for a PR to be reviewed? Has someone requested changes? It all flows, we're using LinearB on Slack, it all flows through the bots through Slack, keeps every engineer in loop. This automation, it really helps with cycle time. And I was wondering at an organization your size, like, what are you using for automation? Or do you have anything that's helping your developers as you scale?
Rukmini: [37:18] Yeah, we have an incredible developer productivity organization. So, there's a lot of people in Slack enabling our developers to go ever faster every day. We have a really great development release team, like we measure-I think one of the core metrics, which is it based on our culture and what I told you, is PR merge time. Like, yeah, how much time are our colleagues waiting on us?
Dan: [37:41] Yeah, from PR open to merge?
Rukmini: [37:45] Yeah, open to merge, like, how much time are we waiting on each other? And considering life is happening to each one of us, and there's sometimes, in this last year, there's so much trauma that they're all dealing with. It’s hard to know who's depending on you and if you’re unable to get to them, how can you tag somebody else, and so the PR can move forward? And that's enough metric that I think-we have a lot of automation built around into our entire development lifecycle. Yes, obviously, there's always room to improve, and always room to go faster, but we have a pretty incredible team.
Dan: [38:16] Yeah, and you kind of mentioned trust is one of the foundations for scaling. I think on like the technical side, having that automation in place is also foundational for scaling. So that as you're adding more and more developers, you have this kind of foundational infrastructure that will help get work done. And you don't have to be as afraid, “oh, it's gonna break if I add ten more developers”, no, it's gonna-you have all dimensions gonna keep working.
Rukmini: [38:43] Yeah.
Dan: [38:44] Yeah, that's really cool. Thanks for sharing on that. Our final topic here is around Slack. So Slack is obviously like a massive leader in technology, asynchronous communication. So, I want to be sure we have a chance to talk about what's next for the slack platform? I think everybody wants to hear. So, what are you working on? What's going on in Slack?
Rukmini: [39:04] Yeah, it's a really exciting time to be in Slack and on Slack platform. In Slack Platform we're always investing in our developer community and our builders, and we recently relaunched slackcommunity.com And we are embarking on-we are in our largest ever rearchitecting of the platform. So, you'll be hearing more about these, we have exciting amount announcements coming up this October at Slack Frontiers. So, stay tuned to see all the exciting work happening in Slack Platform.
Dan: [39:35] Okay, great. And I think everyone knows there, you got the Salesforce acquisition going on here or finalized. Can you talk at all of what that would mean for the future of the Slack platform?
Rukmini: [39:48] Yeah, this is an exciting milestone for Slack and for Platform. I think it presents an incredible opportunity to create a digital HQ to connect our employees, customers and partners with each other and apps they use every day. This digital first, work from anywhere world means that we all have a once in a generation opportunity to rethink how and where we work. Together with Salesforce, we are creating an open an extensive ecosystem, that we will deliver the next generation of digital first apps and workflows. And this should enable our developers to work quickly and efficiently and then develop the tools they need for this new way of working.
Dan: [40:27] Is there any like semi-secret or interesting project that you're-so your team, you're doing the third-party apps, I think you said first party-that you're doing the plat platform stuff, Is there anything like cool that you're doing there for developers or for-anything interesting, you could share?
Rukmini: [40:45] You know, the acquisitions only just been finalized. So, we’re all getting in, and we’ll have a lot more to say in the near future.
Dan: [40:52] Okay, what we'll do is we'll have to bring you back. Once the information is disclosed, we can then dive into-it won't be as secret, and you can come on and tell us some of the inner workings here. Does that sound fair?
Rukmini: [41:04] Sounds fair.
Dan: [41:05] Awesome. This has been a really great conversation. Thank you so much for taking us through not only your career journey, but some of the practices that you're doing in Slack and scaling, and thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge with us.
Rukmini: [41:21] Oh, thank you so much for having me, Dan. Again, it's an absolute pleasure. And we are hiring across many roles in Slack product design and engineering. So please go look up our careers page, you can always follow me on LinkedIn or on Medium and my blog to learn more about practices I have to share. But we are hiring for a lot of open roles. And we'd love to hear from our developers. Thank you.
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Dan: [41:47] Absolutely. I think we learned the amazing technical culture that's going on at Slack. So, everyone, make sure to check out the careers page. And I'm sure Rukmini you would not mind if people reached out to you with questions on LinkedIn. So be sure to do that as well. A quick reminder for our listeners. If you haven't already reviewed the show on Apple podcasts. Please take sixty seconds to do so. Reviews are super crucial for our show that get discovered. Also be sure to join the Dev Interrupted Discord community. That's where we keep this type of conversation going all week long. And anything that we discussed on the pod today, you can find in the links in the description below. And thank you one more time for coming on the pod. It was awesome chatting with you.
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Rukmini: [42:34] Thank you Dan.