podcast • 48MIN READ
Why 1 Good UX Is Worth 5 Engineers w/ Toast's Brad Pielech
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Few companies have mastered making products consumers actually want to use like Toast.
A $30 billion giant in the tech-food business, Toast faced their worst case scenario during the pandemic when the restaurants at the heart of their business were all forced to shut down.
Toast rose like a phoenix to become one of the best success stories of pivoting during the pandemic by making users love using their food delivery systems.
To understand how Toast became one of the great success stories of the last 2 years, we spoke to Brad Pielech, the company’s Director of Engineering.
An amazing conversation that’s informed how we think about product at LinearB, Brad made a flawless case for the importance of UX - and why the alliance between UX and devs at Toast produced a market-beating pivot that took the company from unicorn to brink of collapse and back again.
Episode Highlights Include:
- (1:13) Dan & Brad's history at Cloudlock
- (5:48) Secret to building & maintaining relationships in a remote world
- (10:21) Why engineers should make friends with their Legal Dept.
- (18:00) One good UX is worth 5 engineers
- (20:29) The Triad Team Model: Eng + Design + Product
- (33:08) How Toast survived the pandemic
- (37:57) Change can be scary for engineers
- (45:51) Support local restaurants!
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Dan Lines: Host
Brad Pielech: Director of Engineering at Toast
Brad: [00:00-00:16] At Toast we have hundreds of microservices, dozens of engineering teams, a hundred deployments a week. Toast moves really-really quickly here. But the user experience team at Toast keeps a lot of that together. Common language, common design patterns, common approach, good handoffs between areas.
Sponsor: [00:17-00:36] This episode is sponsored by LinearB. 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.
Dan: [00:37-00:51] Hey, everyone, welcome to Dev Interrupted. I'm your host, Dan Lines and today I'm joined by Brad Pielech, director of engineering at Toast. Brad, thanks for joining us, and congrats on the IPO last year.
Brad: [00:52-01:12] Thanks Dan, really glad to be here, been a longtime listener of the podcast. I really appreciate the content you put out there and I'm so pleased that I get a chance to participate today and talk about a number of topics of interest. And yeah, the IPO was a big deal for us. A lot of people worked a lot of years on this, got to a really great stage in our journey and there's so much more ahead of Toast.
Dan: [01:12-01:34] Yeah, that’s so cool. That's awesome that you were there and got to the stage. Now for our listeners, you and I; we go back a little bit. We're friends, you know, off the pod, we worked together at CloudLock. I remember hiring you or bringing you in very early on in the core engineering team, I would say of CloudLock. Does that sound about right to you?
Brad: [01:34-01:43] Yeah it-we're actually coming up on our ten-year anniversary Dan, do you know that? I don’t know what you’re going to get me this year for it, but I believe I was hired in about May of 2012.
Dan: [01:44] Yep.
Brad: [01:45-02:13] And yeah, I remember where-initially, I think when I was interviewing, you were not a manager. And then by the time I had given notice and joining you had just moved into management or team lead. I think I was actually your first hire. I just remember the first time I met you. And I was like, you know- “Hey, what's going on Brad?” big handshake and super familiar. I’m like, “Who is this? This guy?” Like-it's really great to see, you know, how we've each grown and where our careers have taken in the last 10 years.
Dan: [02:13-02:55] Yeah, I mean, so when you're at a startup, you get all of that opportunity, you can be individual contributor, then you get to be a team leader really fast, if you get the opportunity. I remember when we brought you in thinking like, “Wow, our talent level is going up now, we're getting some seriously good engineers.” And your career I think is really interesting, which I want to let you get a little background on. But the thing that I think is interesting is like you're a phenomenal engineer. And then you went a little bit into, like the CTO team and building relationships and using both engineering and kind of, I would say soft skills. Can you give kind of a proper background on your career?
Brad: [02:56-03:56] Yeah, sure Dan, happy to walk through. So, you know, I think that that a lot of ways I'm the embodiment of our friend, Charity Majors, engineering pendulum. Pendulum between management and individual contributing. So, in my first eight years, you're sort of going up from sophomore, junior to up to lead software engineer at a defense contractor. At that point, I sort of felt like well, management is the way to go. That's the way to get ahead in your career. So, I went did a stint as a manager web development for a couple of years, grew the team, you know, from two or three up to about eight or so, took an architect role there. And then said, “Okay, I did my two years, I want to go back and work in engineering.” I joined Cloudlock with you, I remember the opportunities we had, the growth that was going on and a couple of times in the path, you know, you're like, “Do you want to go back to the management? Or do you want to stay in the tech side of things?” and you know, rode the tech side of things to gig in the CTO team, or, you know, stayed on there through acquisition, hired a couple of folks to sort of amplify what he's working on. And then I moved over to Toast Fall of 2019.
Dan: [03:56] Yeah.
Brad: [03:57-05:08] Went there is a principal engineer and a team lead. And spent the time at Toast-really fortunate I was able to join when I did. Help to build up a team work on food delivery. Maybe we'll talk about that a little bit later, worked on some product led growth things. And just again, we think of cloud lock was a very early-stage startup. I think when I joined, we were about Series B. Maybe yeah, you know, I think the entire company was twenty people then join-when I joined Toast, do you know what I mean, Toast already raised-they- they were already a unicorn by that point and engineering team in the hundreds and sites all over the world, and-but the growth was still really there. So, things can rapidly and managed a couple of teams. And then this past fall, I got promoted to director of engineering, running the supplier and accounting business unit, helping to lead engineering for the company we acquired this past summer called XtraChef, whereas at Cloudlock, I get to grow up and go into a big acquisition, like at Cisco. Here, I'm now sort of-I was part of Toast proper. And now I get to shepherd in this new freely great, really strong group of engineers and team members into this broader group and find a way to, to scale this group.
Dan: [05:09-05:56] Yeah, that's really cool. It's a definitely an impressive career, which is why I wanted you to walk through it. And one of the things that I know about you, and kind of when I was referencing, when you went to the CTO team, you have this ability to form relationships, I think, better than most, like much better than maybe an average, you know, technical person, I see you kind of-and you did it- you did it at Cloudlock I'm sure-I'm sure you're doing it now. You know people from different departments, you know all the engineers, you know what people are working on, you’re friends, you know, on a personal level, and can kind of translate it to a professional level. So, I want to start off, what's the secret to maintaining relationships for you, especially now, in a more of a remote setting?
Brad: [05:56-07:29] Yeah, it's-you’re being way too flattering Dan, way too flattering, I appreciate it. One of the things I've found is, you know, as you-as you start getting into leadership roles, whether you're a tech lead, architect, manager, etc., the purview and the scope of your work starts to really scale rapidly, right? You're inevitably going to be working a ton more with product management, ton more with the user experience team, product marketing, you might work with sales directly, support, sometimes you work with legal, and all these different departments, it can be very foreign area to work with, if you just been working engineering. And so one thing that served me well is to just to find a way to seek out folks in those different areas that I was collaborating with, sometimes it was initially a transactional basis, you know, we had to get these terms and conditions approved, we got to get this hire approved, something else, and start to form just, you know, some personal connection there with a group, which has really paid off. One benefit is you're able to really build empathy for the individual. So, what they found is, with engineering, you know, if you stay too introverted, you sort of-within your own scope here, it can feel like a lot of external things are put upon you for the company. Right? Why are we pushing to get this thing done? You know, this, this feature’s not ready, why are we going out here and sell it to customers? Why is it- and you can feel very much like this is happening, and I don't have control of it. But as you build those connections around to the different departments here, you start to really understand more of the why and more of the context. And then you start to influence a bit of how things happen. And so, it's been really valuable in my career to build those connections with those groups.
Dan: [07:30-08:27] That's actually a great point. I remember maybe being a little less mature in my career early on, and kind of having this like developer mentality, I don't know, it was like us versus them. And what I mean by that, it's like, there was the engineering team, and I was really big into the engineering team. But then to me, like sales and marketing, like these are different creatures, I don't understand them. And yeah, I actually think it added stress, because it always felt like, oh, sales is making us do this, or like requirements are being put onto my head. And when you don't understand where it's coming from sight and understand the business when I was younger, yeah, that's kind of like a negative feeling. You don't feel-you don't feel good about your development. Now, on the flip side, when I've seen like, you start building these relationships, like you're saying, get some empathy, oh, I can understand the business now. Like, what is sales going through, I can make a better feature, I can feel good about the work that I'm doing, right?
Brad: [08:28-09:49] Yeah, it pays off in so many unexpected ways there. And you never quite know where connections will go over time. Because the thing is, your career is forty plus years, if we're all gonna be so fortunate. And you pick up sort of these connections along the way that will-will sort of manifest in some way down the line that you can't always see at the time. Another great example here is, you know, when I joined Toast I was-I was hired to work on online ordering activation, you know, how to get more people to start really pushing online ordering, you know, using online ordering. This is pre pandemic, when everybody was just going to restaurants all the time. And I start doing some data analysis. And I found out almost through pure serendipity. There was a customer success team looking at the exact same problem. And we started talking together and we basically build a common language around we both really into SQL and writing these hard queries to figure us out. And we work together or just no one told us to build a cross functional team here. This was a no this customer success team over way over here. I'm this engineering group. We built this together and uncovered such valuable insights that paid off, you know, real compounding interest for-for toasters went through a big growth period there and having an empathy for what they were trying to solve. We're able to bring that directly into the products to make their lives easier, and in turn, we can provide more insights that then made their job easier, and the end of the customers really benefited.
Dan: [09:50-10:43] I think as an engineer, when you start doing stuff like that, that you describe, and think about if you want to go the direction of being either a manager or leadership. Listen, I mean, people talk like, “Hey, should we promote Brad? Let's ask around a bit. Oh, Brad did this really interesting thing with customer success and engineering and found a problem and you know, tied it together.” People are gonna say, “Yeah, let's get it. Let's give Brad more responsibility.” But like something that consider it as an engineer, I have a question here in my notes, could be off topic, but I have an anecdote about it. Why would an engineer want to form a relationship with legal? So that's like kind of a way out their group, right? You might think, okay, customer success or sales or support, that's closer to engineering. Legal? That's like way, I don’t know, way out there.
Brad: [10:44-11:54] Yeah, legal-legal is fascinating, because legal can be the ultimate, you know, sort of put-upon. “Boy, legal is blocking me from doing this.” But as you spend time, you know, with your corporate attorney, depending on the size of organization here and you are that person, you realize that they can actually be a great enabler for things, they can actually enable more things to happen, like, “Boy, it would be great if we could capture more guest data, for each online ordering transaction, like what can we capture, because we could, if we had this information here, that'd be great.” Well, technically, there's, you know, there's a whole lot of signals we can get. But when you work with your-your legal department, have that relationship there, they can walk through exactly what you need to do, to do this stuff in a way that complies with umpteen different privacy compliance laws you're not aware of, that you can bring to light. Well, you got to allow someone to opt out or forget themselves or this. And it really adds a lot of efficiency to the process. Because you're-you're fighting this stuff up front, when it's far easier to fix. The last thing you want is to release this killer feature and have to pull it back later, because you didn't comply with something you had no visibility into before.
Dan: [11:54-11:59] Right? That's a-that would be maybe an embarrassing moment. If that [Crosstalk 11:58] were the case. Yeah.
Brad: [11:58-12:00] It is a very embarrassing moment.
Dan: [12:00-13:18] I have a-and that-that makes sense. I have like a little story of my own, I formed like a pretty good relationship with our legal department at Cloudlock, didn't have any intentions of where it would go. But then something happened. I was trying to get-like, purchase something for us around Kafka, I think it was a combination of services and consulting and help us with our data pipeline. And it was pretty expensive. It turned out to be very expensive, but worthwhile. And the person I had this relationship with legal helped me out a ton in a few ways. One, she worked on the contract with me, and made sure all the things that you're saying, “Hey, it's done in the right way, I'll help you push this through.” Two, she actually gave me a lot of, and did it on the call with me, negotiating advice to bring the price down. So, I could go to our CFO and say, “Hey, we've worked on this contract together, we think we've gotten it down by like 20%, all the language is in there, that helps us more than it helps them.” And at the end of the day, like our engineers wanted this Kafka services, and I was able to say, “Hey, I got this done.” I don't think I would have been able to or would have been very difficult without having any relationship with legal, I might have been stuck.
Brad: [13:18-13:55] That's right. And so, you know, you think of the job of manager, it's removing obstacles, and so much, there's no blueprint. And so, it's up to us, as the edge leaders here to find the path to make these things happen. And so, yeah, I remember this example, you wouldn't at the time there and, you know, having that relationship helped a ton. I probably numerate half a dozen times, we've had similar circumstances of that at Toast, you know, pay off for us. And so that's the thing you know, is as edge leader, you want to get out of your, you know, you got to get out of your department and start, you know, working with your peers across the org here. Doesn't matter the size of the org.
Dan: [13:55-14:03] Now, both-both of us have been hiring a bit. Have you think these kinds of relationships help you with hiring and recruiting?
Brad: [14:03-14:54] Yeah, absolutely. Of course, that's the most obvious one is, well, I can put a job up and I can pull someone from an existing network that, you know, I work with you before, let's work together again. You know, those are the-those referrals are great. Of course, the referrals are can always be a double-edged sword that if you always sort of pull from the same monoculture of folks, you can end up really excluding more diverse candidates. And so, you want to balance sort of how much you bring in those referrals. But when you work with sort of these networks you built up, they can find other folks they can recommend so and so, they can help you to say, well, you should be recruiting in this other area, because this worked well for us, or this group of folks, we work with this agency, and that helped out it's all these other things you don't know ahead of time, right? You're you-you have to see where things go and, you know, mind your network there and you'll end up with a different spot.
Dan: [14:54-15:51] I totally agree. I mean, first off finding good agencies is really difficult. There's a lot of them out there, a lot of them suck only some of them are good. So, getting a referral, they're super important. And the other thing, HR, the concept of HR, I mean, that terminology is a little old school now, like, for example, at LinearB, we have a great people and strategy leader, actually, it's Jess, we worked-you and I both work with Jess. Now, if you have a relationship with your people and strategy person, they're going to help you a lot with recruiting. Are we asking the right questions? Are we disciplined to a process? :et me help create a process that gets the best candidates through in the most efficient manner. That's really hard to construct yourself as an engineering leader, where you're responsible for delivering all these features, and whatever you need to do. Plus, like the concepts of bringing in great talent partner with your people leader on that, right? I mean.
Brad: [15:52-16:41] Absolutely. I work a ton with-with people success partners, right? Yeah, we've-we've kind of moved away from an HR catch-all term. So, I work with PSPs, I work with talent acquisition folks. Where are we going to go after what, you know, universities are we going to go after to, you know, look for talent? What academies are we going to look for folks? And the thing I've appreciated more and more is there's-there's so much depth in these related fields, it's easy sometimes as an engineer to think, well, I can understand this and go do an okay job there. And maybe you'll get, you know, 20-30% of the way through. But when you find, you know, partners that are-they're really spending expertise in this area, there's so much more riches there. And in turn, you can actually offload a lot of the things that might have been your own plate, offload to folks that know much better. And with much better results.
Dan: [16:41-18:12] We could probably talk about this for the entire pod, I have one more thought and then I'll then I'll move us on when you're interacting. So as an engineering leader, or anyone in engineering, when you're interacting with another department, or like someone from another department; One thing to keep in mind, I guess this is with any relationship is what are you doing to help them? Like how can you mutually benefit? Because then they'll come back to you. And like I hear, here's an example with like, hiring and people leaders, you know, like for us, Jess in our organization, so she's leading our people in strategy. She has a new initiative that she wants to put in place, that gives us more discipline in the hiring process and ask questions that suit the behaviors and the culture that we're trying to drive at LinearB. And so, you know, I'll go to her and say, “Hey, I want to be your guinea pig for this initiative, like the engineering organization will be your trial for how can we ask some of these right up behavior questions?” And then she's super pumped. Okay, yeah, let me work with you. Like, let's do it together now, like our candidates are much better, we were the first ones, and she got her initiative to be pushed. So just, you know, every-everyone keep that in mind. I will switch gears on you a bit here, you have an interesting quote, Brad. You have said, a good UX is worth five engineers in terms of productivity. What makes you say that?
Brad: [18:13-20:28] So I don't know, if I said three or five, maybe five is a bit high. But the idea being that, you know, we've talked-we've been talking about partnerships and different departments here you work with, what are the sort of magical productivity levers I've come to really appreciate, probably the last five years of my career, is the role of the user experience partners. You know, whatever it’s called designers, user experience. And what is the user experience, you know, that career path has evolved beyond just do pixel perfect mocks for me. Right? And so, I've had a chance to work with a number of talented designers here. I've learned through osmosis; I can't claim to-not going to claim a full expert in what they do at all. But what I found with-with the user experience, folks, is there's so much depth and complexity there to really understand what makes an experience actually work for a customer. You know, who's the customer that we're targeting? What's-what's unique about them? What's the mindset of this customer when they're coming in to interact with this particular piece of technology we're building here? What are their care abouts? What are things not even happening with your platform that are relevant for them, and they're able to really understand and synthesize that load into coherent design languages and systems throughout the whole product. I mean, look, Toast we have, you know, we're talking hundreds of micro services, dozens and dozens of engineering teams, deploying code, you know, hundreds of hundreds of deployments a week. Toast moves really, really quickly here. It's very easy to start to diverge in key user experience things. But the user experience team at Toast keeps a lot of that together. Common language, common design patterns, common approach, good handoffs between areas and you know, coming back to my original comment there about one, a good UX is five engineers. You know, think of all the time, and how big of an engineering team you need to go experiment with design patterns in the field, how to experiment with design journeys that, you know, onboarding flows that don't actually meet the customer because we haven't gone and interviewed three dozen customers in two weeks or done a massive, quantitative analysis, right? One designer, or part of the user researcher here provides all that context, all that uplift so we can understand things.
Dan: [20:29-20:35] Yeah, I mean, does the UX team-are they in the engineering org? Are they in the product org are they their own thing at Toast?
Brad: [20:35-21:24] So-so one thing at Toast that's worked really well is we have common reporting structures, so edge through edge, product through product, design through design, but we operate at a triad model. So, I had a real pleasure in working this model, where for each group, you have the designated design lead, product lead, engineering lead, and they together run the group, it serves as a great system of checks and balances. And so, it's a great way to bring out the strengths of each here. It's like the ultimate three-legged stool. And so, I partnered myself with a Senior Director of Design, I was Senior Director of Product, and then my individual edge teams have, you know, corresponding product manager, designer, and tech lead. And getting that relationship between the three of them is just the-the key to really unlocking productivity.
Dan: [21:25-21:35] So for Toast, I don't know if I fully understand the motion, but the way that I think about it'll just say PLG for Product-Led Growth. PLG is very important for Toast. Yeah?
Brad: [21:36-23:00] Yeah. PLG is paramount for us. So-So, Product-Led Growth, the-the sort of dictionary definition of Product-Led Growth is that you, you want your product to speak for itself. So, you want to give-have your product, you know-through your product have-have your customers learn to get better with it, learn to discover new features, you know, move at their own pace, discover value with it, identify areas where they might want to upsell to something else. And you want to deliver that all for your product. Instead of say, you know, every quarter, you just do a sales Blitz and have sales reps call up and try to upsell something else to the customer. And so, I think Product-Led Growth is it's, there's some really good books out there that define this, I think Product Plan does a great job walking you through the foundations of this. It's evolved rapidly in the last few years. I think initially, it was used as this this engine to generate upsells in the product. Like, let's give away-let's give call to actions, right? I'll use on the dashboard. Let's do a panel that says “Hey, go buy this other thing here. And you know, then you'll get some better outcome.” But PLG has become this. How do you show this is doing, how do you train customers better? How do you get better at product adoption and show like, by doing these behaviors, you're gonna get a better outcome? Yeah, that in turn makes your product stickier and a better relationship.
Dan: [23:00-23:46] Well, you know, one of the reasons that I was asking I guess about your setup of who's and what org like, I had always found it fairly difficult-like it-you said something like UX, like, I don't know, back in the day, they would make I guess, mocks right, then that would be their rule. I always had-and then there's like a gap to engineering like, “Who are these UX people? They just tell us what to build.” And that's not the right way-way to do it. I always felt like there was too much separation between UX and engineering. And wanting to know, like, do you have any tips? Like, okay, I'm a PLG company, I know we need we need to do this. One thing that's really essential to PLG is this incredible UX, but this partnership with UX and engineering, like do you have any tips of how to bring them together?
Brad: [23:47-24:38] Yeah, so great question, Dan. One thing is-is, in the era of transparency, we want all the work that the stakeholders are doing on our sprint board. So, our designers have tickets on the JIRA board for what they're researching next. Right? We always want the design team to be out, you know, a couple of sprints at least. And have that visible so that engineers can start weighing in when it makes sense. So okay, you want a new navigation, because this is going to show better retention. Okay. First sprint, design is doing some initial research on this. They're doing interviews, etc. Second sprint, now we're moving to the prototype, now engineering comes in and starts partnering on that. And that way, all along the way you're sharing this context of why this is important, what you're doing with this, and then all the way down to when it's handed off to engineering. It's a much more natural progress all the way through. And again, it feels less like, “Go build this specification.”
Dan: [24:39-25:00] Right. Yeah, you got to get I think that's the key. I mean, you got to allow engineers to, I guess, understand what you're trying to go for, from a UX perspective, give feedback, maybe reject something, because like, the bad situation is when it feels forced upon you and you're just like implementing. I don't know a UI. Doesn't feel good.
Brad: [25:01-25:29] That's right. The last thing you want to do is feel-exactly what you said Dan like, “Boy, I just got to go do this thing.” Because then the feedback you could get from engineers is “Well. Okay, I got this pixel here, I got this.” But engineering is now sort of subordinate in things and we've lost what engineering brings. Engineering still needs to be there, equal seat at the table, to talk about timelines, complexity.” Okay, you're doing this new setup here. While you're not considering the-the role-based access controls we have.” “Did I? Oh, okay, well, let me go iterate on that for a bit.”
Dan: [25:30-26:12] Right. I actually don't know if you're doing this or not doing it. But I'll put you on the spot and ask you. I've seen some, I guess, advances with metrics as they relate to user experience, you know, things like, “Hey, let's share with the engineering team, from a data perspective, maybe where our customer’s getting stuck when they try to get set up with Toast or where they start going through a particular flow that they're trying to get done. But data shows that actually 70% of the time, they're not making it through.” Do you all talk about metrics or show anything like that? Because I think engineers can relate to the data and then say, oh, that's what's happening. Let me like, make this number better for us.
Brad: [26:13-27:00] Yeah, this is this is really music to my ears, Dan, and thanks for bringing it up. You know, when you talk about metrics, you can get so many metrics that are not helpful. Pageviews reach a little, you know, have sort of a ceiling on things. You know, if you have an onboarding flow, steps completed on the onboarding flow, that feels okay for a bit, but it can end up being a vanity, right? You-you need to work with the team to really align to “What are the outcomes we are trying to get to?” Right? Our goal is not to get people to complete the nifty onboarding flow we put together; the goal is to get people operationalized with Toast within a certain timeframe. And the best approach we're taking today is through this onboarding flow, the way we track success with the onboarding flow is looking at completion here. But if we can't see the other signals here, then we're getting some of the drop off, and we need to make adjustments.
Dan: [27:00-27:01] That's cool.
Brad: [27:02-28:22] And so the design team has been-and again, this is the ultimate partnership across departments so, on one hand, the design team, you know, we instrumented a lot of our flows with a tool called FullStory, which enables you to do sort of, you know, redacted like screen captures, as you're using the application, just records mouse movement. So, you start to see like, are people actually making through and doing the steps we want them to do? Where are they going? Are they like distracted, or somewhere else? What the errors look like, that gives us great insight at sort of micro level, we built a great analytics platform. So, you know exactly what have users done at different stages of their entire customer lifecycle. Right? They completed the site, you know, they got the email to sign up, they logged in, they change the password, they got to the first step. And our challenge with that becomes how do you take that data, and distribute it across the company, different departments that need it, as quickly as possible? So, when a customer calls up and says, “Hey, I'm having trouble with this setup screen, I can't do blah, blah, blah.” the customer success person is right there and can say, “Oh, let me bring up.” and they can see exactly what the customer has done and know that full picture. So later when a sales rep wants to check in on their customers, they can look ahead of time and say, “Okay, boy, they've set up this module, this module, haven't done this one yet.” So, they can tailor their conversation.
Dan: [28:23-29:03] Oh, that's nice. What I always appreciate about metrics, I guess, or data is that kind of, there's a transparency to it. There's this leveling of the playing field. And I'll describe what it means. A situation that I did not like to be in as an engineer is when someone from UX would come to me and say, “Hey, we like the users aren't doing well in this area that you built.” like I was the one implementing it. So, I felt like they built it. “And I know that we need to do this other thing better. So, let's go and do that.” Now me as an engineer, like I can't contribute to that conversation. Like I just have to I guess take UX’s word for it that-
Brad: [29:03-29:04] Yeah, you’re sitting there as an order taker.
Dan: [29:04-29:36] Yeah, yeah. So, it doesn't feel good. A different approach that I would, like, appreciate as an engineer or something like, you know, the UX team or us all together, “Hey, let-let me show everybody that data of what's happening. The users coming in, and again, like 75% of the time, they're actually getting stuck here. Okay, now we're all on the same playing field, like everyone can understand that.” Now I feel like I can actually contribute as an engineer and maybe give a good suggestion. So, I think metrics is like, it makes everybody a little bit more equal, like in the conversation.
Brad: [29:37-30:01] Yeah, it's such a common language, because now designers think,” Oh, well, the reason they didn't complete it is because you know, the button’s in the wrong spot and people are having trouble with this.” and engineers look at and say, “Well, they didn't complete it. Because when we do it on mobile, all the things get messed up and we missed the responsive design.” And then you go out, do the fixes. And now you look at where things went to and, you know, turn things around quickly and now you look and say “Okay, this week now you got this much better.”
Dan: [30:02-30:22] There was a-another quote that I have you here saying. So, when thinking about customer experience, you said something like, “Delight your customer or antagonize them every time you interact with them.” It's a little bit of a provocative statement. What is that? What do you mean by that? [Laughs]
Brad: [30:22-30:55] Yeah, so-so there's so much. So, in terms of particular, when users are interacting with our platform, you there's such a rich sort of context that you have to understand for where the-the person using it is at. Okay? So if you're, if you're setting up if you're onboarding a new customer, they could be opening a brand new restaurant, okay? Which means they got a million things going on, they got a million contractors coming in, they are trying to hire staff, they're trying to build out the restaurant, trying to get the website up, and setting up Toast-
Dan: [30:54-30:55] Stressful, very stressful.
Brad: [30:56-32:48] Super stressful! And Toast is like item seventeen on their-on their list there or completing your onboarding flow might be item twenty-four on their list. If they're an existing restaurant that's moving over from a different system to using Toast, they have an entire business that they're running, they're trying to find time to carve out a significant sort of migration in their operations to your platform. Third case here is they're an existing happy customer of Toast, they have two locations, they're opening a third, so they're already familiar with that. And when customers start interacting with this, if you don't have that context, and can't bring that to bear, you end up creating a, you know, almost this way of antagonizing them. Like if that customer that's opening their-their and restaurant, if you say, “Hey, welcome to toast, let me treat you like a first time you've ever seen this.” That's not going to feel good to them. If you if it's the first time ever seen your platform, and they're doing this new opening, and you say, “Hey, here's this massive To Do List, here's these forty-five things you just got to do. They're all important.” They're gonna be overwhelmed, and they're gonna get pushed back, and you're never gonna get it done. And so, you have to understand where are the customers at, like, mentally, what's the context of their profile? So, you can shepherd them along the way, the most effective, the effective approach. And this is hard. It takes you know, this is where, as I said, the designers are worth their weight in gold. Because engineering, we're full on with the frameworks to use, how to scale this, how to plug into umpteen different systems here, how to get just new front end technology, designs over here synthesizing those profiles, providing the language and the journey maps for us. And at the end of the day, if you-if you nail it, you-you'll know because you’ll look at the metrics and say, “Boy, this journey we customized for this type of customer. They're really sailing through. Look at their-their outcomes.”
Dan: [32:49-33:50] Yeah, very, very cool. It's awesome to hear how you know you all at Toast kind of think about the user journey, different people at different stages. It seems like you're really-really connected’ UX and engineering. It's like a refreshing story. I love it. I do want to get us into a little bit about kind of like how the pandemic has impacted Toast. Typically, a lot of the actually a lot of the SAS companies that usually come on this pod, the pandemic has been actually an amplifier, in a lot of cases. We're going to do more on our computers more online. And now with the restaurants and how Toas is related to the restaurants maybe my first thought is “Oh, this is not good. I mean I see restaurants shutting down.” and I like some of my favorite ones in L.A. had to close or whatever, like, can you talk us through what happened with the company and the pandemic and how it affected everybody?
Brad: [33:51-36:03] Yeah, it was it was a massive outcome and again, you know, Toast we service restaurants of all sizes. Our sweet spot is the SMBs right? The locally owned, the, you know, one to five locations here. And we have you know; we support-we have restaurants in pretty much every city in the entire country here all around. And so, as the restaurant industry goes so does Toast. So, if the restaurant industry is profitable, so is Toast and that deep relationship provides a lot of sort of positive reinforcement, positive incentives for us to do the right thing and support customers the right way here. And so, when the pandemic started, it was such, you know, if we think back like two years ago, nobody knew what was going on here. It was such a terrifying time and we watched at Toast where overnight 80% of our business evaporated, restaurants shut down right out and people locked in their-their homes. We were scared, we didn't know what was going on. And you know, again, we are directly connected to that, and we really struggled. We held on the best we could for about-about a month or two. We you know, we cut bonuses we cut hiring, we cut back our expenses, sent everybody home. But when it was apparent, this was not a four-week thing, the company made a really painful decision to lay off half the company. It was-it was gut wrenching. I mean, I was-thankfully I was not involved in those conversations, it was just like the decision had to be made around, you know, how are we going to emerge from this with a stable growing company again? One of the ways we went through this is deciding if restaurants are going to recover through this, what are they going to need to recover? What's going to help them do this? And we really lasered in on digital ordering, and delivery. This also leads in it in that that, you know, previously Toast would-was built on relationships in terms of with a customer. So, a new customer signs up, they do on-site training, they do on-site configuration, installation, follow on visits, and that sort of high-touch interaction. We couldn't support any more post layoffs. Right? I mean, every group of Toast got impacted engineering was hit really hard.
Dan: [36:03] Every group?
Brad: [36:04-37:47] Yeah, every group was, you know, no group was spared. And those services that we provided, like we just couldn't do any more. So, we said, “Well, how are we going to still give this this warm, toasty feeling to restaurants, that's when we really start investing in this self-service really understand what's happening.” Automate a lot of things that we just didn't need someone to be doing anymore in this setup. We dropped SAS fees, we gave away a lot of our product for, in some cases, up to a year. We launched a product called Toast Now, so Toast is-Toast is a very hardware company too. So, hardware than software layered on and so we do all the hardware in restaurants. But with the pandemic, we launched a software-only product called Toast Now. So, restaurants could just use an iPad or whatever tablet they had around and get a full online ordering presence linked up really quickly. And so, we just put these things out in the market and-and business started to recover. The pandemic was-was received by different parts of the country very differently. So, some areas kept locked down longer and more mandates other parts opened up quicker, as you saw this very uneven recovery. But across the board, you know, we made a number of good decisions. And we will sustain a lot of businesses through this. They were community food kitchens that stood up, that were basically built using our technology. So, farmers had trouble getting to farmers markets. So, they had an iPad, they took our software, and they set up like a meal delivery program using our software. And morale was-was of course really hard through this. But as we connected to our community and saw these ways that folks are being resilient, it in turn made us more resilient. And then we kept at it here. And here we are two years later still continuing to innovate and-and adapt.
Dan: [37:38-38:52] Yeah, it sounds I mean, it sounds like you got some really smart people at Toast, I mean, you gather, you adapted, basically change, think about what the customer is going through, how are we going to maybe not do what we're doing before do something different, which is sometimes scary for engineers. And a lot of engineers like-like, let's stick to the same plan, like I'm going step by step, you know, CEO comes in and says, “Hey, we're going to do this thing, the service that we used to work on, we're shutting it down, we're doing something new.” And I would just say to our listeners, that's usually actually a good sign that, you know, the company is willing to change. Companies that don't change usually die out at a certain period of time. But a tough question that I do want to ask you, Brad, you said there's a lot of layoffs and it hit engineering and I know you're-you're kind of seen as a senior leader there. You're a director now. Did you have to have any tough conversations like people coming to you? “Hey, Brad, should I stay? Or should I go? I see my friends getting laid off. I don't know what to do.” Like, how do you handle that situation?
Brad: [38:53-39:58] Yeah, there were a lot of conversations there a lot of-you can get survivor's guilt, right? Why was I-how am I still here? I just watched my entire team lose their jobs. And of course, you have, you know, we were all super stressed with the pandemic, we were adapting to working remote or do all-adopting this. And you know, we were already doing our best suddenly now, half our colleagues are gone. It just added a lot in and so it's been a lot of time chatting with folks about you know, just a lot of listening, a lot of empathy. A lot of really giving space to folks to-to take time they need for things. At Toast, you know, we-we've, you know, a lot of-a lot of companies do the unlimited vacation, which is sometimes you know, “It's unlimited, take all you want!” but people don't really take it. We've been really pushing that consciously, give folks that time off with things really sort of keep an eye on-on hours that folks are working and make sure we could we could reach a sustainable work pace, but it was-it was really touch and go for about six months there and a lot of our conversations and-and thankfully, as business recovered, we're able to bring back a lot of folks
Dan: [39:59] Oh cool!
Brad: [40:00-40:11] We had furloughed a number of folks, they-they came back we hired folks to new roles here. And-and in the end, we emerged a much stronger company, I-we were able to serve much more customers than before.
Dan: [40:12-40:32] That’s awesome. Sounds like you know, a great place to work to be honest with you. I want to move us to our final topic, just a little, like, leadership style question here for you. Let's see where it goes. So, if you could only hire people from reviewing the resumes for an hour, or having a one-hour phone call, what would it be?
Brad: [40:33-40:43] That's a good one. So, is it so I can look at a stack of resumes for an hour and decide I'm gonna hire these folks, or I can hop on a call and talk to someone for an hour?
Dan: [40:43-40:51] Yeah, I mean, one of them, I think, takes a lot more time. Yeah, you can hop on a call for each of them. Take your time, or you could look through, you know, resumes and you know, maybe figure it out.
Brad: [40:52-41:46] Yeah, great question. For me, it's the phone call. And on the phone call, I'd really focus on behavioral. Do a more behavioral style interview. Understanding how they handle past situations, because one of the things at Toast we've really pushed is this behavioral style interviewing, competency-based interviewing. Right? Here's the traits that we need for someone to be successful at Toast. Things like; deals with ambiguity, you know, customer empathy, highly collaborative, you know, data-driven decision making. And so, if I had only an hour with the candidate, I'd want to focus on questions around that that are going to show, you know, tell me a time that you hit a wall technically, and how do you find your way around that? Right? It's less about, do you know, Java? Do you have six years React? Or have you done SQL Server and Oracle? And it's more how do you handle these situations before? Because it's a great predictor for how you'd handle in the future.
Dan: [41:47-42:20] Well, that actually leads-so I have two thoughts that goes back to what we were saying, like partner with your, you know, people strategy person, because in order to understand those or like, ask the-it's difficult to ask the right question that will draw an insight about behavior. Like, it's easy to ask, “How long have you used Python before?” “Two years.” “Okay.” But I don't know that tells me anything. To ask the right question that gives an insight about behavior, that's a great time to bring in like your people director, right?
Brad: [42:21-42:30] That's where that's where we work with our TA partners, our PSPs because if you do these unstructured interviews, without a script, you really let bias creep in.
Dan: [42:31-42:37] Yeah. Yeah. Like this person. They're like me, or they're similar to me. I feel good talking to them. Like that's not like-that’s a bias.
Brad: [42:37-42:41] Oh, yeah. We had an hour but-we had an hour, but we chatted fifteen minutes about football.
Dan: [42:41-42:44] Yeah, we both like football. We should-you feel good.
Brad: [42:44-43:00] But yeah, what we do is we structure interviews down to segments. So, we have a schedule ahead of time. Five Minute intro. Ten minute this question. Ten minute this question. Five-minute this question. Ten-minute question at the end, for the candidate. Follow the script through. And this is all stuff we've done with our PSPs and our TA partners.
Dan: [43:01-44:20] Yeah that's cool. You know, I there's one thing that I've been trying to do more, and-so we both like sports, you and I Brad. We like football, some other some other sports. And when you're building a football team, you get to pick players from a draft usually like-like college players, right? That's how it works. And picking the right players for the team is really correlated to the team's success or failure. And one thing I've been seeing in the sports industry, and I'm, you know, trying to apply it to some of the things that I'm doing at LinearB, it's not necessarily about where the person is today, in the career, what you're trying to get at is, what is your ability to get twice as good as you are today? So, so asking questions that show what is your ability to improve, especially at like a startup or high growth company like Toast, like it's about getting better? So, like, hey, you might-you might have two candidates one is better today, and one is not as good today. But the one that's not as good today, what if you knew that last year from last year to today, they got twice as better, and the other candidate stayed the same? You want to bring in you know, someone again, especially if you're like, very innovative growing the company that's gonna get twice as good every year.
Brad: [44:21-44:27] Yeah, and that's a great-great-great call out Dan. And this also helps to as you start to look for folks from different backgrounds.
Dan: [44:28] Yeah.
Brad: [44:28-44:57] And so this growth mindset is something that, you know, if you can start checking for that in an interview, you know, you can-we've really opened our talent funnel to folks from academies, the coding academies, where, you know, folks that work professionally in other fields for three, four, five, eight, ten years are just moving over. They might only have, you know, three months of React experience, but they have a whole wealth and a whole demonstrated history of growth.
Dan: [44:58-45:04] Yeah, hungry to learn. If you're coming from an academy, right? I'm-I'm in that mindset already.
Brad: [45:05-45:20] Exactly. And so, by opening up your-your recruiting to those areas to you can also reach a lot more diverse population. Then if you just go like let me hire from the so many top engineering schools or so many Fang companies or something else.
Dan: [45:21-45:26] Cool stuff man well yeah, it's been an awesome convo’ Brad, thanks so much for coming on the pod today.
Brad: [45:27-45:30] Thank you so much Dan. I really appreciate the invite and the chance to talk about this.
Dan: [45:31-45:50] You know, one thing that we'd like to do at the end here is see if we can let you give a shout out to anything. I know, we talked before the pod started about like two topics. I think your team is hiring a little bit and Toast is definitely hiring. And then you know, something around supporting local. So, what do you what do you have for us?
Brad: [45:51-47:11] Yeah, thanks, Dan. First is, is support your local restaurants. They're the backbone of your-of your community, it doesn't matter where you are in the country or around the world. The local restaurants they’re-they're the greatest driver of business from-from folks, it's easiest, you know, the most direct path for folks to start their own business, control their own destiny, they integrate with the community that builds such a, you know, a real fabric in there. And so, as you're as you're looking to eat out and get some food, support those places. Doesn’t-doesn't matter if you're a Toast customer or any of that-anything else, just go support those businesses, they do contribute so much to your community. A second is I have-I have a couple positions on my team, a couple of-a couple of lead engineers, lead/staff software engineers, one’s a more architect position, one’s a more tech-lead, working on a new team there. Just looking for, you know, we touched on earlier here, individuals can navigate you know, growing your area here, navigate complexity, ambiguity, or Java tech stack, you can look at our careers page, find out more there. Were cars hiring all over. If you're an entry level software engineer or principal engineer, we have roles, product managers, designers, all across the board. So, take a look there. Hit me up on LinkedIn, if you if you're interested. I can sort of help you navigate the different groups to help you find one that matches what you're looking for. It's a good spot to work.
Dan: [47:11-47:45] Yeah great. So, you know, we-we’ll include all of the information that we talked about today. You know, it sounds to me like, well definitely working for Brad, but that Toast’s an awesome opportunity for engineers. [Music fades in] A quick reminder for our listeners, if you haven't already rated and reviewed the show on your podcasting app of choice, particularly Apple pods, please do so. The reviews really help us 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 Brad, thanks man. It was awesome talking to you today.
Brad: [47:46-47:49] Really appreciate it. I'll see you on Discord too.
[Music fades out]