podcast • 42MIN READ
How to Scale Engineering Processes w/ Twitter's VP of Engineering
Maria Gutierrez is the VP of Engineering for Strategy and Operations at Twitter. She joins a special livestream of the Dev Interrupted podcast to share her career journey, her strategies for sustainably scaling engineering teams and the three pillars of engineering processes.
In a first for the Dev Interrupted podcast, Dan Lines hosted this episode live in front of a virtual audience during the INTERACT engineering leadership conference. Maria was a fantastic guest, sticking around after her interview with Dan to take questions from the audience. Her lessons on team management, building company culture, hiring and mentorship are not to be missed!
Maria has also been working and managing engineering teams remotely for over a decade and offers a great deal of practical advice for team leads everywhere.
Episode Highlights Include:
- Maria's career path to Twitter
- How to successfully scale engineering teams
- Why processes matter
- The importance of mentorship
- Q&A panel where Maria takes questions from a live audience
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Maria: [0:00] …and I remember one day hearing somebody is like, “Oh, don't worry if there's a problem with this code Maria will catch it before she pushes to production.” and that was a huge waking-up call for me. What have I been doing? This is terrible. I am a huge bottleneck. And that was the day that I was like, okay, we're gonna invest in our pipeline…
Producer: [0:18] 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. This is Connor Bronsdon, Dev Interrupted community leader and producer of the Dev Interrupted podcast. You might recognize me from a few ads around here. What you're about to hear as our first ever live episode of the Dev Interrupted podcast broadcast during our Interact conference on September 30th. We'll be doing another live podcast during our Interact 2.0 conference on February 3rd 2022. We hope to see you all there! In the meantime, send us in your questions and suggestions for the podcast, and we'll be trying to answer all of them in upcoming episode. Thanks for listening!
Dan: [1:07] Hey, what's up everyone? Welcome to Dev Interrupted. I'm your host, Dan lines, And today I'm joined for our live Interact podcast episode with Maria Gutierrez, VP of Engineering at Twitter. Maria, thanks for joining us.
Maria: [1:22] It's a pleasure to be here, Dan.
Dan: [1:24] Yeah, awesome to have you here. I'm super excited. One of the-the ways, my favorite ways, to get things going, our audience can get to know you a little bit better, is to understand your career journey. How did you actually get to be the VP of Engineering at Twitter? What did that look like for you coming up in your career path?
Maria: [1:46] It has been a very interesting career path and not a very traditional one, I would say. I have been an engineer for 21 years now, I have worked at different types of companies, public and private, really big and really small, collocated distributed, some very successful, some not so much. But I actually studied journalism when I was in Spain, which is where I'm originally from, but after moving to Edinburgh, in Scotland in the year 2000, I decided to go back to university. And that's when I started learning, software engineering, and halfway through the course, I was very lucky to get an internship at a financial institution here in Edinburgh. And after three months, they offered me a full-time job with a graduate position, And I took it because I thought oh, I might never get a job again, in this, you never know. But back in the day it was very difficult to tell how things were going to go, so I decided to finish my postgraduate deployment part time while working. So that’s a very kind of non-traditional way to get started, I sometimes I call it the original boot camp back in the day when there wasn't boot camps, there was just this career complete transition. And then I moved to a smaller games company where I had the opportunity to work in all aspects of building software from requirement gathering all the way to supporting production systems. And that's where I feel I really learned kind of the craft of work with a really great small team of engineers that were all brilliant\, and I was really able to learn how to build software end-to-end. A few years later, I had the opportunity to join the Adobe developer technologist team in Edinburgh. At Adobe, I worked on building the system that enables you to extend Creative Suite products. And back then it was a big deal, because with those extensions, you could add new functionality to Creative Suite products out of release cycle. And when-I'm talking back when you got a CD to get your creative suite, and there was eighteen to twenty-four months kind of release cycles between the different versions. So it was really exciting that we could actually, like, get changes done out of cycle and people could do new things with those products. But the real interesting part back then was I love that I got to work with a lot of customers internally and externally. We're trying to leverage that functionality, and that's what I consider a… to start my career in management again. But I wasn't quite sure I still wanted to be an individual contributor, so I stayed as an individual contributor until I did the change to working at LivingSocial and from that, kind of moving to LivingSocial is where-when my management career started after having my son, Ethan. So I was commuting back-and-forth from home to the office and I was feeling not great about leaving my little baby at home, so I decided to take a job remotely fully remotely for a company in Washington DC working from Edinburgh. And actually that was a great kind of decision because what I thought was gonna stop a little bit of my career at that point, in my personal life, it actually accelerated my growth and was when I started to get the opportunity to become a manager, then a leader of an organization, then I moved to other senior leadership positions at companies like Free agent and Intercom, and now Twitter, so that’s kind of end-to-end in a few minutes, the whole journey.
Dan: [5:24] Yeah, that's quite the career journey and honestly fairly rapid growth for you and ending up at Twitter and being a VP at Twitter, I think that's what a lot of, you know, people aspire to. You mentioned, I think it was around the Living Social time, is when you went from being a developer, and then I think you were a team leader, and then made the jump to director and usually what I've seen in people's careers, that's a very important moment going from the developer to leading a team. And then usually, when you get that director responsibility, that's where careers can really take off. Is there anything that happened to you during that timeframe that allowed you to accelerate your career during that, like, Living Social phase?
Maria: [6:09] Yeah, I think the business is the context around you, that plays a big part to play, and actually, that's something that I tell a lot of people, that in times of change when things feel a little bit unsettled and you're thinking, oh, should I leave a company or not actually, it creates a lot of opportunity, especially if a business is growing very rapidly. And that's what happened for me, when I joined LivingSocial, we grew very quickly to almost five-thousand people and the organization went from about twenty-four people, or so I think it was a little bit more when I joined, to hundreds of people. And that really creates an opportunity for some people that really are willing to take the challenge and go for it, to really step up and you have to learn very quickly, because you really get put on the spot, but at the same time in a year, you learn probably five years’ worth of your career in somewhere that is going a little bit slower. So whilst I joined us as a tech lead, and I still wanted to be an individual contributor, it was very clear to me that the most important thing that we needed for the group was somebody that could manage and grow the team, and really build it-processes for how we build, then tie it to the business, and that's when it felt right for me to move into a management position. And then as we continued to grow, the organization take that additional responsibility over time. So it was over five years’ time in that I went from running kind of the tech lead of a smaller part of the organization to running in the whole kind of merchant systems and internal tools for the business.
Dan: [7:45] Probably the lesson here is identifying when it's time to seize the opportunity. If you're feeling a little afraid, it's scary to change companies, it's scary to take on the management role, get that director promotion, but like you said, in a small timeframe, you probably learned like years and years of work experience
Maria: [8:06] A very important part to call out here, this is not just me. And this is where I really plug kind of the importance of a sponsorship from other people. I don't think I would have been in those positions, because I kept, you know, I had a brilliant manager that really believed in me and that every time that there was a new challenge, he would say to me, Maria, you're going to take that on, and you're going to do that thing. And I would be like, oh, no, I don't think I'm ready for that yet. I'm still trying to figure it out this part of the work and he said, no, I think you're ready, go and do it, and then we'll-you'll tell me whether you were ready or not. He kept on doing that every as he was moving up the ladder, he kept on moving me up with him. And it's so important, something that I think a lot about as a leader, as a manager, somebody that has that influence to really help other people grow and continue pushing themselves into new opportunities. And sometimes it's so-it's such an important role that we can play, is to give that confidence to people that don't have it themselves and show them what they can really do.
Dan: [9:09] Yeah, and that's probably a lot of your job now. It sounds like you had a great mentor that kind of inspired you and brought you along, up the ladder, and I'm sure you're doing that today. Can you tell us what's going on with your current role at Twitter now?
Maria: [9:24] It's a slightly different role than what I've played until now. Until now, I've been an engineering leader responsible for the delivery of large parts of a product, of an organization. But all through that time, the last 10 years where I’ve have had more senior leadership positions, especially in fast growing businesses that are scaling quickly, you end up spending a lot of your time as an engineering leader trying to manage the scale of the organization and you almost get a little bit sidetracked from like, the technical strategy and other things because you're having to figure out so how am I going to hire all those people? How am I onboard them? How do I manage my budget, my increase in costs? And you end up really trying to pay a lot of attention to the operational system of the organization so that you can actually deliver on the things that you have to do. So I saw early on that the more that I invested on those things, the more successful my organizations will be and the more clarity about how we work and remove kind of confusion and friction from the way that we work, the more effective we were being able to deliver in the goals of the organization and focus on actually making the technical changes that we needed, or the investment that we had to do. So I've been carrying those two cards, the operational aspects, and then the Engineering Leadership card as well. In my last role and Intercom, I had that dual explicit role doing-running the-my part of the organization building the support systems but I was also responsible for our whole engineering and product kind-of operations organization that was trying to build better systems around how we do product development. And I decided with Twitter to take the full-time kind of role. So I'm responsible for what we call the strategy and operations at Twitter, which is a support function for all of engineering, which is about three-thousand people associating for the first time. I'm not responsible for actually delivering a part of Twitter but helping hopefully everybody at Twitter to do their best work and that we are able to deliver on the goals of the organization. So I work very closely with the business functions and the support engineering. And then we work on anything from how we do our hiring and head-count management and how our planning process and systems to supporting more kind of our execution reviews and how we help teams drag their work and kind of coordinate between them to make sure that we are making the right investments in the right places. And we are standardizing a little bit how we operate, so we CCL then to collaborate and to get things done across the organization. And the reason sometimes maybe some organizations don't have an engineering leader in this positions, and one thing that I find super important for operations to function is to have domain experts that understand actually what it is like to be an engineer that is interacting with those processes and systems, or a manager or director. So I think whilst we should leverage kind of the experts, finance, people, team, talent acquisition, I think having somebody that can really represent the domain and make sure that those processes fit to how we want to build and who we are, as an engineering organization is super important for their success.
Dan: [12:42] As a growing engineering leader, you have one ability to run a large team, so a lot of people up for success and mentor them, grow them, but also the path that you're on now, the work that you're doing, it sounds like you have a large range of impact. Three-thousand engineers you're impacting, we will get into some of the processes that you're putting in place a little bit later on. I wanted to ask you something specific about Twitter, what have you found to be special about working at Twitter?
Maria: [13:14] It’s been only a few months, but by far, the thing that really got me when I first joined is something that I've never experienced before and that, like so much and is how incredibly motivated and attune people are to the mission of the business, kind of serving the public conversation. I've always worked in companies where the people are-really, really buy into the mission, and they're excited about what we're doing but Twitter is something else. The people that joined Twitter and are Twitter truly believe about the purpose of the business and what we're trying to do. We all use the product every day and can really see the impact that it has in the world, and it's incredible to see kind of the healthy conversation internally to this, kind of- that real mission and vision and values that really are believed in the company.
Dan: [14:09] Yeah, that’s awesome. Mission goes such a long way for the motivation and the decision making and it sounds like the culture at Twitter, everyone's really aligned to that mission. A little bit of an internal thing that I heard about Twitter, I heard that at Twitter, there's something called Focus weeks. Can you define those for our audience and share your viewpoint?
Maria: [14:33] Have you seen people tweeting about it from the company? This week is focus week [crosstalk] [14:37] and a little bit of a break in my calendar to meet together.
Dan: [14:37] Oh awesome, perfect timing!
Maria: [14:43] So Focus Week is something that we've started to experiment, like a little bit before I joined was kind of the first one, and it's a week where everybody clears the recurring meetings from the calendar. They really try to focus on work that they really want to push through, and then maybe they can do a little bit more autonomously. We don't dictate what people do, Focus Week is all about removing just more of the normal rhythm and just giving the space to people to do what they truly think is really important, and they want to clear that time. We started to introduce it for a planning week, so we are just now getting Q4 plans in place so we wanted to give time for people to really be able to focus on that and not having to balance all the other things day-to-day with planning. So that's one of the reasons and one of the motivations and this specific one why planning whereas Other times it might not be related, managers-the last one I used to get a lot of my check-in, some promotion package put in place, it's things that you really need to sit for quite a few hours and spend quite a bit of time getting that done, so that was super helpful. But we also-it doesn't mean you have to do it by yourself, you can be having, you know, working sessions with the people in your team just to move something forward quite quickly. This week, we are also starting to get prepared for end of year planning, so I've been having a lot of work in sessions with my colleagues and peers just to get that done, but you know that there's no other things that you're trying to push forward at the same time.
Dan: [16:15] How often do the focus weeks happen?
Maria: [16:18] We’ve started to do in them twice a quarter, but it's, as I was saying, it's a little bit of an experiment so we're getting feedback. Every time we do one, we get feedback, just to understand what might be the preference from people, and cadence, whether it's working or not, what things are working better, where things are not. We're still trying to do hiring, for example, because there's something that is very important for us to continue moving, so we ask people to please continue to help give people a great candidate experience and continue doing those interviews but it's a little bit at the discretion of the person and their manager. We also have Fridays, no meetings, Fridays. There's a few things that we're trying to do like Twitter, I don't know, if you're aware, we're trying to decentralize the organization, and we're hiring people across the globe, so we really want to get into a habit that we can very successfully work better async. And this is-Focus Week is a perfect example of where people are maybe producing more content and thinking-deep thinking, sharing their thoughts and strategies or things with their teams for feedback, and it's a way that we can really start building those muscles to enable us, as an organization, to work async as much as possible.
Dan: [17:31] That's really cool. And I take it as maybe an internal kind of process here that you all are trying out and iterating on and getting feedback, and I know you actually have some good articles, one of them that I checked out regarding sustainable engineering processes at scale, and it seems like this is something that you're fairly passionate about. What processes do you view as key to scaling engineering organizations?
Maria: [17:57] I think there's three types of things if you group them that, roughly, you need to be watching out for as a manager, as a leader. And it's like the processes that improve the quality of our execution, managing how we build and support and evolve our systems to our expected standard. So that's like, how do you deploy as your software development kind of process, or anything related to the craft of building and executing your products? And then you have the processes that help you align to the business, your ability to deliver those common goals. What are the things that you need to deliver for your customers, your revenue goals, your business sustainability targets, anything that is more business focused? Like how do we create a healthy and sustainable business and make sure that we're building not just things the right way, but we're building the right things as well. And then the third pillar for me is your people processes. How do we support a Twitter, our tweets, even like the people in the company, and with the aim of increasing engagement and growth of those people, and those are the processes that from my experience sometimes can be neglected, especially in smaller companies when you're moving very fast and you're trying to get your mark-your product market fit, which is the most important thing that you should be doing in early stage companies. But if you leave it too late with your people processes, actually those things can be-backfired big time in the future, especially if you unintentionally historically, introducing big biases and unfairness in how you treat and bring in your people. So that's something that I always ask people too, you don't have to boil the ocean you don't have to do a lot of things but just, always be mindful and be intentional and reuse frameworks from other people like whether it's career ladders, or just be more intentional about how you pay people etc. So there's back peddling for those from my personal experience working at very fast growing companies were maybe we haven't paid attention to those things is extremely painful and has a very direct impact to people's livelihood. So those are the three things. They are interconnected, you can't just work on one thing independently, because if you have great goals, and you have great execution, you're going to be building up potentially great things. But if your culture is toxic, you're gonna lose all the people that can build those things, you're gonna be in a bad situation, if you have a great mission, and you have great people, but your execution is poor, you're not gonna get anywhere, you're not going to be successful as a business. If you have great execution and great people, but you don't know what you're doing, and you're not going in the right direction, also, you're not going to be successful as a business. So those things, you need to see it as a system, and everything really supports each other.
Dan: [20:46] That's really awesome, and, honestly, I can totally relate to these three different categories. At LinearB, a lot of our audience either uses LinearB, or have heard me talk about LinearB, we actually talk about running a metrics program based off of three pillars. And what our three pillars are; The first one is business alignment, which I think aligns to your second pillar, what I jotted down in the note “align to the business”. Right. Our second pillar is what we call pipeline observability, which essentially allows aligns to your first, yeah, your first category, the quality of the execution, the speed of the execution, finding bottlenecks. And our third pillar is actually something that we call work-flow optimization, and that's something that we're, we have this like, really cool adaptive VOD that we're putting into the hands of all developers. And I could probably relate that to taking care of people because it saves the developer time, it allows them to reduce their cognitive load so that they can focus on what is the interesting parts of my work. So I can totally respect and appreciate the three categories that you mentioned there. And my next question is like, how do you go about implementing these? Of course, they all relate together, but what have you found from an implementation standpoint, with these categories?
Maria: [22:09] I think you really need to understand first and foremost, the context, ‘cuz what works-the operating system in a company is not going to translate 100% to another one. And that's something that we need to be careful as leaders that we don't try to just move our trusted processes from one place to another, without first kind of understanding is-are they going to play within the right context? And as the context changes, you should reconsider your approach and any side effects that can cause and that's to me what a startup needs. It’s very different from for example, needs, and you can get away, maybe if you have only five engineers, you could have a minimum kind of viable way of getting your pipeline going and automating things and unblocking people, when you have three-thousand engineers or in other companies, you might need more sophisticated processes and you might need to put a lot more effort into those things. So the same with the people process, all of them, you need to understand what is the thing that is more important for you, for example, if you are a very sales-lead business, you should probably start kind of optimizing how your engineering organization works with your sales and how you take the inputs from that group. If you are more direct-to-consumer product, you have different ways of getting those inputs. So the context is king or queen, you really need to understand where you are operating and then make sure that you're solving specific goals, like that you don't put a process for the sake of process and that you're thinking, okay, what problem am I trying to solve? And why am I trying to solve it just now? Before you go into trying to add extra complexity in how you work to not solve anything of perceived value for people. So those are the things that will be the key, context, and your goal for the process.
Dan: [24:03] I think a lot of the people in our audience, a lot of the pod listeners, they're working kind of up-and-coming companies, or scaling companies, or they're building software that is expected, like the value of delivery is moving at a very fast and rapid pace, the business is relying on the engineering team to create the next great thing. And so what comes to mind and where I've seen some challenges, I'll see if you have an opinion on this, sometimes it's difficult to align what the business is looking for, to also ensuring the quality of the execution. Have you ever seen how those kind of two pillars can relate to each other, the aligning the business with the quality of the execution?
Maria: [24:49] All the time. [laughs] I think you first have an idea of how, in a perfect world, everything should work and actually 80% of the time you can probably follow your system and your processes as they are, but there's going to be times that you need to make trade-offs. And you need to figure out, okay, do I really quickly deliver in this sales kind of request? Or what's going to be the impact of this team that suddenly you're going to have to completely change what they were working on, so that you can respond to these specific requests, and I know everybody's going to be very upset, and they're going to be disengaged, and potentially, we're going to cause some attrition, if we don't manage it properly. And for me, it all comes down to risk assessment and an alignment with your values and your mission. So if you have really good values, principles, then you can rationalize a lot of those questions and quickly, sometimes, come to a decision without having to kind of compromise it. “Yeah, I've got the answer here.” And other times is just that risk assessment it’s okay, I'm going to go outside this system, and I know these are the potential repercussions. So it's all about being intentional. It's not that you're doing things by chance and taking very quick decisions, it’s I know, I'm making this specific trade off and being intentional about it. I know this is the risk, and this is how I am going to potentially try to mitigate it. And so if you're putting the business before probably some potential impact to your team, you need to talk to them, you need to tell them about what your decision making process is, why you think it’s critical for the business that we do this thing, that you understand how it's going to impact them, and then how you're going to put it right, how are you going to make it up to them so that we can get back to a good place. So for me, it's all about transparency. It's about being intentional as a leader and be able to kind of balance the pros and cons and the risks that you're taking in any decision that you make. It’s when we are not-we don't think intentionally about that that kind of is when problems come and you lose the credibility because it’s “Wait, we said we were doing this thing, we said that we value this above all, why are we now going in a different direction?” You need to bring people along with you when you do those trade-offs.
Dan: [26:58] One thing that I've seen work really well in our community, when you're trying to balance a business alignment with the quality of the execution, a lot of it comes down to transparency. And but what I always preach, or what I've seen work really well, is you can use data to increase the transparency. Now, as an engineering leader, you're going to be always working with a lot of different stakeholders, a lot of the time they're not technical people, but what do they do care about? The business alignment. Are you executing on the projects? Are we going to get the new next best thing out for our customer? We have a two-million-dollar deal that we could land with a prospect that’s usually the pressures that are coming on to an engineering leader. And when you're thinking of your quality of execution, what I've seen actually go pretty well is if you do have the data, and you do have the transparency, and you are measuring, hey, I'm going to have a conversation with my CEO, maybe a particular project isn't going as well, or moving as fast as I'd like it to, you can bring some data to that conversation. One of the reasons that this project isn't going as good as this other project is, maybe our cycle time is a little bit slower here and we need to do some non-functional work on our pipeline in order to speed up the delivery, which is what your CEO will want. Now we're having a really like great open, data-driven, transparent conversation. And oftentimes, I see that kind of non-technical person there, they're able to understand, oh, the project isn't moving well? You're measuring it? you want to make a change? I have your support. Transparency goes a long way I believe with those two categories.
Maria: [28:35] That is super important, and they-I've seen that through my career many times where, you know, I've been an engineer and empathize, I want to create great systems that they're very easy to maintain, and that's, you know, the ultimate goal. But sometimes you find-we might complain as engineers or as a manager, and I've done it in the past as a leader or we're not invested enough in those things and it’s wait, why are we prioritizing new product development versus addressing this technical debt? And it's done to us it's our responsibility as engineers, engineering leaders, to demonstrate the value of why we think that is important and we just need to get used to do a little bit of our homework and bring it more in our business is big so that we can really compare different things, different inputs, and then say, okay, yeah, now we understand we’ll support you and say, yeah, if you do that thing, and you can solve all those problems, and then we're gonna get more of the things that I want done, done, they quickly buy in and they're very supportive and that's something that I've seen the more you invest in those conversations and in providing that evidence and rationale, the better and stronger those partnerships between product and engineering and the credibility with the rest of the business kind of comes quickly and more investment you will get even more investment into doing those things if they see that results.
Dan: [29:55] I've seen the same thing. So we've talked about the three categories, you have the quality of your execution, you have aligning to the business goals, and then you have taken care of your people, the people processes that go around that. That's a nice holistic approach, I love it. In your experience, if you are able to implement these three different pillars that relate to each other, what's the impact for an engineering organization if they invest into these categories?
Maria: [30:21] Momentum, you really get then the machine working in the right place. You're removing friction from the system. There's so many decisions we have to make every day and how do we help teams to really be able to spend all their focus on solving those various specific problems for our customers, those challenges that we're trying to do? They don't have to worry about, oh, I've got an interview, what questions should I be asking? How am I gonna size this person? Or, oh, how do I deploy to production? this system is different from this other system, oh, there's a now I need to learn a new way. Or I'm going to go and help this other team over there, oh, now I need to understand how their rituals work and how they keep that information. How do I get up to speed? There's so much that it-things that you suddenly need to do if you don't have a good system around that when you have it in place, you're removing all of that friction, and you really lead people to focus on solving the customers problems, which is ultimately what we're trying to do and what will make the business successful. So I think that's the thing, and not just that people are happier, because they feel like they're being productive, and they know what part they play in the system, so they feel like they actually know how they contribute and what they need to do to contribute. So overall, I see better engagement, better business results and customer happiness when you get those things in place. Because there's nothing worse than confusion and clarity and having everybody around the organization wondering what they should do, or why is this unfair? You want to remove friction. There's-I don't know if you've read the book I've read recently, Atomic Habits by James clear, in that book that really resonates how I think about organizational systems, like he says that you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your system. So you can be lucky, you can hit a goal, everybody works super hard to get to a goal, but would you be able to do the second one? Whilst if you invest in this system, you will be able to repeatedly and predictably hit whatever goals that you have, as a business, he talks about an individual, but I see it being applicable to a business as well. So how do we get that system so that you can repeatedly achieve your ambitions and your goals?
Dan: [32:45] Yeah, you said it perfectly. Momentum: move faster with less effort. And with these kinds of processes in place, you raise your floor up, and you keep raising your floor up, and that's going to allow you to hit bigger and bigger goals more predictably. Now, Maria, we're super thankful, you know that you've come on here, and you've agreed to take some questions from our Interact audience. We've been collecting these questions in advance as well as some are, you know, streaming in today, so let's go through a couple of them. I'll read them out here to you. Hiring is a huge part of being a successful leader. What's your approach, and how are you adapting to the current tight labor market?
Maria: [33:28] I could not agree more with whoever asked that question. It’s such a big part of our role, is hiring, is like we have nothing without a great team with us. So I'm always hiring, I spend at least quite a few hours every week in interviews, not just for my team, but also for my peers’ teams or even to hire peers. I get very involved in hiring people in functions we collaborate with. So just now helping hire in research in our talent acquisition team. And I think that's super important, because if you really want to foster that collaboration between organizations is get a mixture of people from different functions, those people that are going to be working together to make sure that there's a good alignment from the beginning. So any manager, any leader, that is not hiring, issue, even if they don't have open positions. I try to spend a lot of time with people learning about what they do it’s not just about hiring externally I think I consider hiring internally, we are-retention is a way of hiring. You should always be hiring your own people and convincing them that they are in the right place, and they want to stay and going back to your saying, what do you do in such a tight market? I think the strongest tool that we have as leader is retention. We need to start with making sure that you create a great environment that people don't want to leave and that they are not getting interested to go and do things elsewhere. If they do and it’s the right thing for them, I will always be super supportive of anybody that wants to take an opportunity that is really going to be fulfilling and exciting for them. So there's that aspect of hiring that you always have to be doing externally and internally, meeting people, you never know when they might go and join your team in the future. But then you also need to keep abreast of what's going on in the market, so I work very closely just now with our talent acquisition team, with our people team, our comp team to understand okay, what are the signals? What are we seeing? What's happening? How do we want to think about what is going on with the market because you need to be able to adapt, and during this time, since now, it's changing so much, that we all are having to be very aware of what's happening so that we can keep our teams and continue building them up.
Dan: [35:57] Okay, great. I have another one here. What's your perspective on remote work?
Maria: [36:03] I have been working remotely in a distributed fashion outside from the head office for ten years now, since 2011 was when I got the LivingSocial job that was a full time from home from here in Scotland, to working with Washington, DC. And then I had people all over the world. And that was, ten years ago, it was not a thing that most companies did. So it was quite pioneering for us to build that engineering distributed organization. I've always been a big supporter, I think, giving people kind of the flexibility of fitting their lives into their work, we're very lucky in our industry, and especially in engineering that our job can be done easily in this way. So giving people the flexibility of choice of how they want to better fit their work with their life, I think is brilliant. It’s not for everybody, I know a lot of people, and I've had people in my teams, where they really don't feel they are productive or it works for them, and that's perfectly fine. Like we should not be that everybody suddenly needs to accept when you have a pandemic and you don't have an option, you should have that flexibility. But as leaders, what I learned very early on, is that you need to be very intentional about how you set up people for success, because if you don't think about the implications, and you don't give people the same opportunities, and you, for example, start creating artificial glass ceilings for people that are working remotely, they don't get an opportunity to be promoted or to get to leadership positions, etc. you then will lose those people very quickly. So you need to think, how do you enable the whole organization to be able to benefit from everything that your company has to give, regardless of where they are and how they do it? And actually, the work around improving your operating system and clarity of how everything is done. And every system that everybody can use, there's no gates to get to information, and every system that everybody can use, there's no gates to get to information, and everybody operates in the same way, it really helps being able to decentralize your workforce, because then everybody has access and know how to operate, and you don't have to be guessing what's happening in the head office. So being intentional and supportive of the new reality for a lot of people. That said, the last year and a half, two years, has not been the same experience that I had in my previous years, working remotely, so we've all gone from a very different set of challenges. And even for myself that I've loved working remotely for many years, it's been challenging, and not being able to connect with people every so often has been hard.
Dan: [38:49] Speaking of challenges, the next question. What's been your biggest challenge as an engineering leader?’
Maria: [38:56] Biggest challenge, I think is different, different stages of my career, especially when I was earlier on a manager, you were talking about that transition from being an IC to being a manager and then more of a leader is a pretty tough jump because you're so used to be in the systems, how everything works, you can get things done and out of the way and then having to really learn to delegate and to invest in the system that is gonna help the team grow was quite, I remember back in the day, a challenge for me. And I learned the hard way because I remember when I was at Living Social and I was a technical lead of the team then became a manager, and I had the keys to production. So that was before, in the days when people were still like the only person that could push to production and then all my team were getting their pull requests, and then at a certain point, they were waiting for me to push things to production. I became a manager I still was doing that, and I remember one day hearing somebody is like, “Oh, don't worry if there's a problem with this code Maria will catch it before she pushes to production.” and that was a huge waking-up call for me. What have I been doing? This is terrible. First, I am a huge bottleneck. And that was the day that I was like, okay, we're gonna invest in our pipeline, we're gonna automate this thing, we're gonna make it safe for everybody to deploy, get monitoring in place, get good ways to deploy the code, and we're gonna diversify the responsibility. Everybody's responsible for their own work. And the quality, like the culture of the team completely change, and it's like, it might look scary, but you need to delegate and you just need to create some of the constraints, a safety net to protect the business because you don't want to do things that come to the team address, or the business address. But that's something that I've taken from that, it's like when I see myself being caught in the details “what's happening here?” you need to remember, no actually, I need to invest in the team, I need to kind of trust and then pass some of that responsibility and create safety in it. And more, later on in my career, the part that I've really learned is, as a manager, you normally start thinking that the world is on your shoulders, you're responsible for the-what's happening with your team, your organization, and you can get very fixated and just optimizing and making that part of the organization better, but actually, if the rest of the business is not working well, if you don't have a great-goals for the business doesn't matter how well your engineering organization is in writing code and deploying and doing all the things that you think a great organization should be doing, if we're not doing the right thing, or the other parts of the business are struggling. So I really learned to really be part of a team. At the leadership level, I'm a big fan of The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, so I don't know if you've read the book, but it's all about leadership cohesion, and really those common goals and supporting each other and helping each other to ultimately deliver what's more important to the business. And that's been the way that over the last ten years, I've really tried to approach my work every day as we're all in this together, and there's no best matter if my organization is running very well, if they're-if other ones are not and the other way around, if I have a lot of problems, and the rest of the business is doing well, but part of the work that I do is critical, you shouldn't be pressured to not go and ask for help and get other people to come in and help make a successful.
Dan: [42:24] Maria, thank you so much for coming on with us. It's been an awesome conversation, talking about your journey and how you became the VP of Engineering at Twitter, also giving us some internal insights to what's going on at Twitter, and of course, talking through your three process categories. Really appreciate you coming on today.
Maria: [42:44] Thank you so much for having me.
Dan: [42:46] Absolutely. I always like to give a little bit of an opportunity for you to say something or pitch something that's going on with you. So is there anything that you'd like to say to our audience?
Maria: [42:57] So if people were wanting to join serving the public conversation, we have huge opportunities across the business. We are making a lot of investment in our engineering ability to deliver fast and productively to the business. Probably all have seen that Twitter is moving, like product development and the things that we are experimenting with and putting out there is really picking up that momentum. So yeah, if people are interested in joining, they can get in touch and check out our career site.
Dan: [43:30] Absolutely everyone if you want to join a great working environment or come work with Maria, certainly seems like Twitter is always hiring and growing. You know, we'll include the links to the career pages. [Music fades in] Thank you to everyone who joined us live for Interact today. And for those of you who are listening to this later, in your podcasting app of choice, I hope you'll join us for Interact 2.0 on February 3rd 2021.
[Music abruptly stops]
Producer: He meant 2022
[Music starts again]
Dan: Now this goes for everyone, whether you're live for Interact or listening later, if you haven't already rated and reviewed the Dev Interrupted podcast, we'd really appreciate it if you rated and reviewed the pod. It's a huge help and getting our show discovered. Also be sure to join the dev interrupted Discord community where we keep the conversation going all week and discuss each episode. I also want to say thank you to more than the one thousand five hundred of you who are now subscribed to our weekly Interruption newsletter. We bring you articles from the community, inside information on weekly podcasts and much, much more. Thank you everyone and Maria, thank you again so much for coming on the podcast.
Maria: It was a pleasure talking to you Dan.