“Good meetings can be really important for building trust, for building collaboration, for building connectivity with folks that need to work together. And if they're in different time zones, and we have to accommodate for that, and how we schedule our meetings to make sure that we're not negatively impacting people's abilities to have lives outside of work.”
In this episode
Whenever something is unclear, there is always an element of risk.
Leaders can de-risk situations by getting extremely clear on the goal and purpose of the project.
In episode #136, Tamar shares her approach to mission-critical projects and how to approach high stake changes.
Tamar Bercovici is the VP of Engineering at Box, where she scaled the cloud content management and file-sharing service to handle millions of queries per second searching hundreds of billions of records.
Tamar shares her story of rising through the ranks at Box and her experience throughout different levels of leadership.
Tune in to hear all about Tamar’s career journey and the lessons learned along the way!
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
Giving clarity as a new manager
Rising through the ranks
Communication across time zones
Setting mission critical goals
How to solidify your management learnings
- Join the Supermanagers community
- Connect with Tamar on LinkedIn
- Follow Tamar on Twitter
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 00:38
Tamar, welcome to the show.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 04:48
Hi, thanks for having me.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 04:50
Yeah, very excited to have you on you have been. You’re currently the VP of Engineering at box and you’ve actually been there for close to two 10 years, right?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 05:01
Coming up on 13 In February, so Oh, wow, that’s endemic time has like shifted all of our perception. So I’m good with that. 10 years. But yeah, it’s been a while.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 05:11
Yeah. So you must like it there. So 13 years is you’ve probably had lots of great moments and very excited to talk about this year also named business Insider’s Most Powerful Women in Engineering, tech, and Forbes, top 50. Women in Tech. So lots of outside recognition there, too. But let’s start from the very beginning. So do you remember when you first became a manager? What were some of the early mistakes that used to make back then?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 05:38
Yeah, so I joined box almost 13 years ago, as a software engineer, when the company was in a sort of very different phase of our growth, we were at around 130 people total around 30, and engineering. So you know, kind of small team, you know, what everyone’s working on, I ended up working on building out our initial scalability layer for our database tier. And once that project was complete, we had a somewhat more complex infrastructure. And it was clear that we needed to build a team to start managing that. And I kind of raised my hand and said, Hey, I want to do that I want to try my hand at managing I had played various sort of leadership roles in the past at other companies, but not as an explicit sort of people manager. And that was actually part of the pool. For me, I wanted to explore that path. I like learning new things. And I thought of that as sort of a way to stretch my growth and my learning. And so I shifted into a manager of this what was initially like a three person team, owning that piece of infrastructure that I had just worked on. And I think, like many first time managers sort of that, that navigating that change from contributing as an individual, to managing a team of contributors, how you think about what your value proposition is, like, I think that first time that you sit down to write your self evaluation, as a manager, it’s like, Well, what did I do here? Like all of this work, other people did, it almost feels like you’re, you’re taking credit. So I think there was definitely that, a little bit of that mindset shift of realizing that you are delivering through this team and how you set that team up for success, and how they’re able to ship that work. ship that coach ship that impact, like that’s the lens, you need to stop start adopting. And so that definitely took a little bit of time to adjust. But specifically, maybe mistakes.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 07:35
Yeah, let’s talk about the mistakes.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 07:37
Yeah. So I think one of the things that was difficult for me, you go into being a manager, you want to be a good manager, hopefully. And you think, well, what would I want, I would want to be included in decision making, right? I don’t want to be dictated to. And so I see this also with sort of subsequently managers that I’ve coached as they enter this role. And you have decisions that need to be made for the team, and you almost take this sort of democratic approach. It’s like, well, what do you all think? And what ideas do you have, and it’s difficult, because sometimes being very clear on which decisions you are going to own and you want to be informed by the team’s opinion, but you’re going to make the decision, versus which decisions you’re giving to the team to decide as they see fit. And having that clarity, I think is very, very important. So I got stuck in these sort of situations of not having made that clear, and then finding myself needing to sort of pitch the team to convince them of something they didn’t necessarily want to do. And then overriding what they had decided, which is not sort of a good trust building exercise. So taking a step back from that, and realizing that you always want to get the perspective of the team and you want to bring them along on the journey of making the decision. But being very clear on who’s going to make the call up front is important for actually establishing that trust and for making people feel heard so that they know what their role in the conversation is. And so I think that was definitely something that was an important early learning.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 09:05
Yeah, I really liked this idea of being clear about who’s going to make the decision on something. And I’d love to get a little bit more tactical about this, because I think this is a thing that I think this is a mistake that gets made often. And, you know, maybe part of it is because, you know, there are new decisions or new areas. And you know, people haven’t been explicitly clear on it. So how do you go about asking a team, you know, for their opinions and their inputs, but also making it clear that this is ultimately a decision that you’re going to make, like how do you word that to them?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 09:42
Yeah, I think transparency works best, especially when it’s done with good intention, right? And so, if you basically say, we need to decide something, or I guess to my point, I need to decide and what way are we going to report our results to the broader leadership team, whatever it is. So you sort of start with that, like I have a decision that I need to make clarifies making the decision, I think it’s very, very important to then share the context or sort of what you’re trying to accomplish, what are we solving for? I’ve gotten feedback that there isn’t enough visibility into what the team is working on, we’re seeing that we have friction and aligning with some of our stakeholders. So I want us to put together a process that will give better visibility and help simplify some of those conversations. So you explain what you’re trying to sophomore, I’d love to get your perspective on what you think would be successful, so that I can put the best plan together for the team. And of course, whatever we do, we will iterate on, I would love to get your ongoing feedback on how you think it’s doing and so forth. So just clarifying it, I think saying, plainly, you’re gonna make the decision, clarifying what the goal is, so that when people are making suggestions, they’re making it in a way that actually ladders up into what you’re trying to accomplish. Because a lot of disagreements often happen on tactics when the actual misalignment is on the goal that both people are trying to solve for. So like, most important thing and clarify what we’re solving for how we’re going to assess whether we’re doing well gather suggestions, then circle back and say, here’s what I’ve decided, and leave the door open for we’re going to iterate on this provide your feedback as we go along. We’re going to measure it in this way that we agreed to, and have it be an ongoing conversation, and then I think everyone feels fine. And for what it’s worth, if they feel very strongly about this not being reasonable thing to even undertake, if you’ve laid that foundation of a good open trust based relationship, they’ll tell you that anyway. So I think just starting from clarity on on where you are, we’ll enable other people to engage with you more effectively, whether they report to you or whether it’s sort of a cross functional stakeholder or someone in your reporting chain even. Yeah, it’s interesting,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 12:00
because there’s also, you know, a ton of I mean, there’s framework approaches to things like this on just you know, being very explicit on who the decider is, but I think a lot of conflict usually arises from, it’s not super clear, who will take on this decision. I love that phrasing, I need to make a decision. Starting point, it’s hard to be less clear than that. So yeah, that’s excellent. So I think that’s a really, really good lesson and insight there. Let’s talk about rising through the ranks. So you get this first management position? I mean, did you get it? And you’re like, Yes, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I love it. So how did your career morph and, you know, over the course of time,
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 12:42
so it was definitely initially an adjustment, but it wasn’t a negative one. And I actually found that process of trying to understand a new mode of working a new mode of engaging to be fascinating. Again, that was a little bit of what I was looking for, I think I enjoy trying to sort of stretch myself into new areas. And this was definitely one. And I pretty quickly learned that I loved it, because I am the kind of person that likes to be able to look at a lot of different angles of a problem. And the people angle, the team angle, the organizational angle, like that is another facet of delivering value through, in my case, an engineering team. And it just enabled me to look across all of those different elements. And I learned that it was something that I enjoyed and something that I was good at. So I think pretty quickly, I did decide that being on this engineering management path was a good fit for me. And all roles have this element. But management in particular, I think is very explicitly opportunistic, you need to have a scope to manage there needs to be humans on a team that require a manager that you can fill that role. So it’s sometimes hard to chart forward looking exactly what your path at a particular company is going to look like. But through the years through a mix of growing the scope that I had at the time, and also just various sort of organizational changes, taking on new teams, over the years, kind of built up that progression from sort of frontline manager managing a scrum team to maybe Senior Manager, managing a few related teams to director or managing more of a domain, and senior director, and now VP, and it’s actually been really interesting to see what each of those roles requires and how the job actually shifts as you go between them in terms of how you deliver value, how you accomplish impact, and what skills you need to bring to bear. There’s similarities, but there’s also some pretty clear differences on that path.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 14:45
Oh, I’d love to talk about that and dig into what are I mean, for each one of the stages, let’s say when you go from a manager to a manager of managers the first time around what is different, like what do you have to learn and what’s diff And about that rule,
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 15:01
it’s, again, I think a perspective shift just like we went going from individual contributor to manager, you have to sort of shift your perspective to think about delivering through a team, manager of managers now takes that one level further and, and it removes your direct visibility onto the day to day of everyone on the team. And so it requires readjusting? What data sources do you need to have available to even know that the team is functioning well? And then also, how do you establish that partnership, that relationship with the managers that report into you so that you can empower them to lead their teams in a way that aligns with what you want for the broader organization? And at some point, if you have multiple of these, how do you get them to function effectively as a leadership team with each other, otherwise, you’re going to be managing a kind of a siloed group of teams as opposed to a larger function, if they’re not actually partnering with each other. So it’s definitely a shift, I think it is usually most of us will first kind of grow a manager internally. So we have someone who’s reporting directly to us as an individual contributor that is starting to show more of those leadership capabilities. And we kind of grow them into an associate manager, manager, whatever the path is at the company. And I do find that to be a more natural progression. Because through that lens, you have a good knowledge of that person, you’ve already established a relationship, they’ve already shown that they have a leadership capacity of the team. And then for them as well, they have that technical expertise in the area that they’re managing. So that is, I think, a more natural way to grow to sort of incrementally ease into that motion of managing through someone else. I think there’s a an additional specific kind of milestone of the first time you need to hire a manager externally. How do I even interview for this role? Like, what questions do I need to ask? And then when someone like that comes in, on day one, they know less about their team than you do? Right? And so how do you? How do you give them enough space to ramp up while also not letting the team derail? I think that that’s an interesting challenge in and of itself. But fundamentally, the role is still the same role. So I had a past manager of mine that said, something that I found useful as sort of a rule of thumb, like a lot of companies have sort of a title and then a senior version of that title. And so the senior version is just like expert mode for basically the same role, it means that you’ve had more experience in that role, you can do it for a more complex scope. Or in the case of a manager, you can start training other managers to do the role. And that’s the like managers that report in to you. But fundamentally, you’re still sort of managing that team, your perspective is still the same. And then I think when you shift from senior manager to Director, there’s an explicit change there, where you need to start thinking a lot more explicitly about how your team fits in with the broader organization and the broader organizational goals that you’re trying to deliver, and start driving strategy for that area, and start influencing that sort of broader strategy within the leadership team, that’s a lot more of a requirement at the director level, where maybe at the senior manager level, that’s not as explicitly needed. Yeah, it’s
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 18:23
interesting. One of the things that we you started out by talking about was this idea of, you know, you really like the problem solving aspect. And it almost seems like once you are a manager of managers, it does get into hard mode a little bit because you have less information, and you’re trying to maybe help solve problems, but with less perfect information, um, you always don’t have perfect information, but it becomes compounded in that way. What have you learned around problem solving when trying to do that, and you know, today as VP, it becomes even harder, you’re trying to troubleshoot things, with even potentially less information, like any interesting anecdotes, or things that can be useful for people trying to understand how to do this better.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 19:09
I think if we tried to replicate the level of information that we had, at the smaller scoped role in the bigger scoped role, we get very frustrated, because it’s impossible to do. And because it actually leads you to not think about your role in the right way. So for example, today, obviously, I would have no notion of even trying to think about well, do I need to be on everyone’s code reviews, right? Like that you sort of, at some level, it forces you out of that, but it also makes you realize, well, what mechanisms do I have then to influence this broader organization to to deliver value through it? And what data do I need to drive that? Right? It’s a different set of data. So if you’re managing managers, it’s not that you’re going to have The same information just for a larger team that you did before. And in fact, if you do, you’re in the weeds too much. It’s more about what do I need to assess as sort of this broader team in terms of the team operating in an effective way? And do I have enough signal to know where I need to go do a deep dive and get more into those details, if there’s a problem, perhaps, or something that’s not going well, that requires more detailed attention. And so if you’re managing through managers, there’s also something actually that’s easier in it, because you’re coaching people that are doing the same role that you are at some level. So there’s less of that distance, when you’re a manager, and you have an engineer reporting to you, the two of you are doing very different things. And sometimes that can introduce some distance there. But when it’s a management team, we’re all sort of doing the same types of things using the same types of tools. But then can I provide the context so that they’re able to better do their roles successfully? can I provide some consistency and sort of take some of that process and toolkit and things like that out of them needing to worry about it and figure it out, and basically introduce that for the team as a whole. And then I also have a consistent view on that data that they’re showing me that will help me assess whether something’s D railing. So those things that are perceived sometimes as a tax of working in a large organization, okay, now, we all have to do planning in the same way or whatever, yes, it is a tax. But it’s also that those mechanisms that let you align to a certain degree, how the team is operating, so that you can get that signal so that you can then sort of iterate with your managers on how they improve and get better results from their teams. But the way in which you’re trying to influence is different, hence, the data that you need is different.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 21:46
Yet, when you said that, it’s almost like, like you said, it’s a different structural type of data that you’re getting. It’s not the same information, but just more of it. And I think that really, really clarifies that if you are still using the same information, but more of it, then, you know, perhaps there’s an opportunity to reevaluate, because I feel like that’s how you get to a place of almost, I feel like that’s how people can get to burnout, where they’re like, how is it that you know, I have so much to do, and, you know, not enough time, and I think like part of it is you have to understand it’s a different problem, different data, set different systems to solve those same problems.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 22:25
Something that I’ve said, Actually, often to folks, that reporting to me, because I had to learn it for myself. Imagine a situation where you’re managing a larger scope, say, a senior manager scope that normally would have maybe a few managers reporting into you. But for whatever reason, you don’t have those managers right now, they’ve someone resigned, or we haven’t had a chance to grow someone into the role yet. Sometimes you go through these, like rapid growth cycles. I remember there was one end of your performance cycle at box where I had 19 direct reports and for the way that we do management at box, that’s way too much. And it was, it was sort of so extreme that it forced me to reevaluate, well, what am I actually going to do here to best support the team. And that’s something that I can I’ve then gone back and told other managers going through this process where it’s like, sometimes you kind of need to be a bad first line manager to be a good Senior Manager, right? If you think about everything that you could be spending your time on, so you don’t even have that person to do the role. Is it more valuable for you to have a weekly one on one with 30 people? Or are they actually going to get more value from you figuring out some more strategic elements of how the team is going to operate, that is actually going to empower each of them to do better. And maybe you’re doing a bi weekly for an hour or even less, if needed. So it’s like, if we look at everything we could be doing for the team, and stack, rank it based on impact, and then carve out the work that you actually have capacity for as the one human that you are, it will tend to naturally push you towards those more strategic areas of investment, that take you a little bit less out of the weeds. Again, unless there’s a particular area that requires attention. I do think it’s very dangerous for managers to get too disassociated from the business that they’re running. Like you need to be able to dive in, where and when needed, but not all the time as your only mechanism of operating. So I think if you look at again, just prioritize like if I do this, what value is going to have to the team and operate in priority order just like we do with our roadmaps, that’s going to be better for the people on the team. It’s going to be better for the business and it’s going to be better for your own personal sort of capacity to not burn out.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 24:45
Yeah. What I really like about this is that, you know, oftentimes we’ll take some advice, like everybody should do one on ones, I mean, sounds rational, but even for the most rational of things, there’s always an except if except if you have 30 direct reports. In that event, do not do those weekly. So yeah, I think the idea of prioritizing figuring out where you can add value, what is the given the limited amount of time where can your time best be spent is, is a really, really good way to look at it. Let’s talk about, you know, something that I know that you have a bunch of experience with recently, you’re opening up a new office in Poland, and working across time zones. So what are some things that you’ve learned in the process? I mean, how many time zones like do you have people in today? What is communication look like for you across the team.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 25:37
So pre pandemic box was actually still operating very centrally for our engineering and product organization centered around our headquarters. So even though the company had been around for a while we, we hadn’t pulled the trigger on opening another engineering location, we had a small number of folks working remote. But by and large, we were all co located, we had already had a plan underway to open our first new engineering location in Warsaw, before the pandemic hit, but then obviously, in the middle of that, we also all like the rest of the world got thrown into fully remote. And so we actually started that office, I think, a couple years ago, and have been ramping it up quite rapidly. And then at the same time, I think our US team has gotten a bit more distributed, we also have a smaller location in Amsterdam. So we’ve definitely, we have a couple of sort of Europe time zones, and then everything within the US, which is a max of three hours, but can still impact. It’s been a big shift, or our culture, we used to be a bit sort of later in the day, and we’ve had to shift our hours up to earlier to give ourselves more overlap with folks that are located in different time zones. I think it also requires a lot more thoughtfulness on which meetings we need with which attendees and sort of how you how you structure that in a way where we’re inclusive of everyone being hooked into the information streams they need. And also having the I think we sometimes get into these overgeneralization about meetings being bad, and we need to optimize them. And it’s not I think, like anything, you can have a bad version and a good version. I think good meetings can be really important for building trust, for building collaboration, for building connectivity with folks that need to work together. And if they’re on different time zones, and we have to accommodate for that, and how we schedule our meetings to make sure that we’re not negatively impacting people’s abilities to have sort of lives outside of work. At the same time, I think we all acknowledge that when you’re ramping a new location, then there’s this sort of incremental process of building up enough of a center of gravity there locally. So I think getting to the point where, for example, a scrum team that needs to communicate at a minimum on a daily basis, but likely multiple times during the day because they’re really working together to deliver an outcome, getting them to be co located or at least close in timezone. So we consider us to be sort of one timezone for that purpose, but not throwing like an eight or nine hour time difference into the middle of how a scrum team operates for the way that we work, we find that that’s better. But then when you look at sort of functional areas, and maybe areas that are close, but not with that level of day to day, actually having them spread, helps us create more cohesion across the team as a whole, because it’s not like one location is just working in an insular way with each other. And another similarly, and we only meet at like some corporate level all hands once a year, right. Like I think it’s nice to have sort of connectivity at different layers within the organization. But making sure that it’s the type of connectivity that doesn’t have to happen, you know, all the time every day, because then it’s just going to slow down our ability to operate.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 28:59
Yeah, I mean, this is really interesting. And it kind of reminds me back to the conversation of if you have 19 direct reports, how do you operate? And now if you have different locations, like you said, different time zones, then some of the the old systems don’t work? I am curious, tactically speaking, what is something that maybe you stopped doing? Or, you know, process that you had to change in order to accommodate like this new type of working?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 29:25
Well, I think, first off just the shift to remote since we had not had a lot of again, we were mostly co located. So most of the meetings we were having were just in person meetings. And it was interesting when we first went 100% remote again, at the beginning of the pandemic, I realized that my schedule was impossible for me to maintain because it was completely back to back the whole day. And somehow when you’re walking between meeting rooms, that’s fine, but when you’re seated in one place, they was just not something that I could do. But at the same time, I had this realization that a lot of the meetings that we were having were actually becoming more effective. I think for certain types of meetings, the fact that everyone can see the slides easily, and that the conversation is single threaded. So the same thing that makes it so difficult to like network and have easy overlapping conversations like we can do in person. For a work oriented meeting with a larger group, the fact that everyone sort of needs to take their turn speaking because you can’t speak over each other in video conferencing actually makes that conversation so much more effective. So I realized that I could take a bunch of meetings and just make them shorter and accomplish the same amount of content and sort of free up a little bit more time during the day both for myself and for my team to not just be glued to our seats. So I think that was a good foundation for then when we threw in the timezone element with our new friends in Poland. I think for that, it’s definitely the thoughtfulness and time zones is the main thing. So just shifting our hours, and the really thinking about every meeting, who are the attendees in these meetings, who do I expect the attendees to be over time and shifting them in the day to be at an appropriate time, in terms of where so again, box as a whole, we’ve been growing the team in Poland now for a couple of years, for my particular organization. Last year, it was sort of our zero to one year. So my goal was for a lot of my directs to have their first handful of hires in Poland to just sort of it forces them to put together a plan for how they want to grow their organization in a healthy way. And it rips the band aid off on just getting that motion going and starting to gain some experience in hiring folks in that office location. And then the goal for this year is more about getting those teams to be self sustaining healthy, localized teams. And so one of my big focus areas is on building out the leadership layer there. Because I think for every engineer, just like you want your scrum team members to be local to you, you want your manager to be local to you. And so that’s sort of a focus. And then when you have those managers, how do you make them effective? And how do you make sure they’re plugged into the culture and values and ways of operating that we have is the focus for me for this coming year.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 32:18
Yeah. And it’s very interesting, like up until you said it, this idea that it is your right, it’s very difficult to talk over each other during a video call. And you know, side conversations are harder to happen. I mean, they still do it, but it would be much harder, you’d have to be chatting across the system. So I love the
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 32:37
hand raising feature. It’s so useful, you see who wants to chime in, you have the sequence of where and what order they raised their hand, it just has forced us all to be a lot better participants in group meetings. Still, there’s certain things that are best in person, like I’m not, I don’t think virtual is always always better. But really leaning into the work, everyone should be able to be as productive no matter where in the world they’re operating from has been a core tenant of what we’ve been focused on. And then as we’re now able to come together in person, how do we layer that in with more intentionality around investing in community and building trust and certain types of activities that you know, work better, like brainstorming or networking or things like that, that you want to be able to do in person. So I think it’s, I think we’re sort of heading into a new direction to redefine these ways of working together. And it’s definitely shifted, what remote office locations even mean, because they’re not in a way not as remote as they used to be because we’ve all gotten a lot better at working in that digital first environment.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 33:45
Hey, before we move on to the rest of the episode, if you’re an engineering leader, whether manager, director, or VP, all engineering leaders know that one on one meetings are a powerful tool for team engagement and productivity. However, not all leaders know how to run these meetings effectively. That’s why the fellow team just released a comprehensive guide on the art of the one on one meeting. For engineers. It has over 60 pages of advice from engineering leaders and organizations like Apple, MailChimp, Stripe, GitHub, Intel, and more. We’ve also included expert approved templates for you to play immediately to make your one on one meetings that much more effective. So head on over to fellow dot app slash Resources to access the guide and the exclusive templates right now. We’ll also link it in the show notes for you to check out there. But you can go on over to Fellow.app slash resources to get the guide and the templates today. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. Yep, yeah. So one other thing that I know that you you’re very passionate about, you’ve done talks about this is just doing or taking In charge of high stakes projects, I know that you’ve, you’ve done a lot in the, you know, infrastructure world, things that are really mission critical and making changes to, to those sorts of initiatives. What are some, again, like you could probably talk for hours on this one topic. But when people think about mission-critical projects, that everything depends on, what are some things that you’ve learned, or mistakes that, you know, people should watch out for?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 35:28
Yeah, it’s been really fascinating for me to somewhat get thrown into this, like, now multiple of these types of programs or projects that I’ve had the opportunity to lead at box. And I found it to be a fascinating learning experience, and also something that I think has a lot of carryover into just leadership in general, I think the number one most important thing before venturing off on any big investment is to have clarity of goal. And that requires work. I think, we all tend to jump too quickly to feel like we’re like, yeah, there’s clearly a good direction or like, Oh, this is obviously a problem, we need to dive in and fix it and not having, especially if it’s going to be a large investment, and especially if it’s very critical, like why is it critical? What exactly is the thing that we have to be able to deliver. And if we don’t, we’ve failed, having a very succinct, very clear, very easy to communicate way of speaking about that is table stakes for being able to accomplish anything else. So you have to start from that you can’t have two goals. You can have goals and a nice to have, you can have goals and constraints but or goal and constraints. But you have to have sort of one clear outcome that you are aligned on that whoever asked you to do this project is aligned on and that you can align the team that’s going to be working on it around it. And then I think the second part is usually, if it’s high stakes in some way, there’s some unknowns that are associated with it. Like if we had a perfect view of exactly what we need to do and exactly how to do it in exactly the timeline that it wouldn’t be that high stakes, right? If there’s, there’s something where it’s like, we have to figure something out on a timeline, or we have to figure something out, that’s not clear how to figure out, there’s always some sort of element of risk or uncertainty that I think is can be uncomfortable. But I have grown to find it fascinating, because I think it makes you realize that anything we set off to do has a lot of risk and uncertainty associated with it. So sometimes when you’re forced to sort of work on the very amplified version of it, it gives you some some good takeaways for just sort of more normal ways of leadership. But if you’re looking at some path that seems very fraught, that you’re stressed about, I think actually doing the work of unpacking what that risk is, what concretely like what could go wrong, what are you worried about, and then figuring out an incremental way of de risking that risk, like risk is always going to happen, there’s no such thing as setting off to do something important that doesn’t have risk, right? That’s just, there’s no risk, it’s not important that can go together. And so just having risks should not be a sign that something is wrong. Quite the contrary, it’s like, okay, we’re doing something important, we have work to figure out. But then, for every one of those risks that we’re calling out, what are we doing about them? How can we de risk them? Can we run an experiment? Can we build a prototype? Can we validate with a customer, can we do an incremental deployment to tests on a small sliver of traffic, and you know, the like, the mechanism of de risking is very, very context specific. But just taking that, like, here’s the goal that we need to deliver. And then the breakdown of how we deliver that goal is actually a breakdown in terms of risk reduction, I think is incredibly clarifying for how to approach executing on that path. So that you don’t just set off without an accidentally sort of discover a complicated things later on. And then you fail the program. If you think ahead of time on how you incrementally de risk as you go through, then as you progress, you have more information, you have more confidence, you have more ability to predict when you’re going to be able to deliver, and then you can sort of turn it around at the end. So I think, clarity of goal, and then plan and execution plan oriented around risk reduction are two very important components for leading programs like this
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:30
show on the clarity of goal part. Is there an example that you can think of say what might not be a good goal that is not clear? And you know, where that might fall apart?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 39:42
Yeah, absolutely. I think as engineers, we look at our systems, and we see all the problems and we see all the things that aren’t working as well. And I’ve seen many cases and myself been in this position, where you know, an engineer will come and say, this service, this platform In this component, whatever it is, has accumulated a lot of technical debt. Obviously, it’s so problematic, maybe it’s even recent, maybe they could say things like it’s not performing well, or it’s hard to make changes or, and you know, there’s a lot of bugs. And there’s like a laundry list of things that are wrong. And no surprise, because here’s a laundry list of things that are bad about this architecture or this implementation. Our goal is to fix it. That’s so unspecified fix what? Why? Like, what of all the things you listed out is actually important enough to go spin up this effort? What is the concrete? Like? What’s your definition of being done? I think a lot of these like definition of Done and these little sort of agile phrases get thrown around a lot. And sometimes they almost lose their meanings because we say them so often, but but if you’re venturing off on a big effort, what is the concrete way in which you assess that you’re done re architecting. To make something better is completely amorphous, it has is it is a continuum, there’s no such thing as a perfect system. As soon as you ship code, it starts aging, that is a natural part of technology and how it works. And so you have to get a lot more crisp, for example, to say, we are not meeting our uptime guarantees for this component. Our goal is that we can hit those with consistency, right. And so now, if someone comes back to you with a proposal to improve the performance, you can say, okay, great idea, but not related to that goal. This is not about performance. This is about availability, right. And so it just lets you focus in the work and make sure that everyone is making decisions that are aligned with that same goal, because actually, you know, if you want to capture what leadership is, you can’t control what every person on the team is doing. It’s just, that’s an impossibility from a scale perspective. And also, if you tried, it would be an incredibly limiting bottleneck on your organization, right. So you’re gonna have a ton of people that are working on this shared effort. And they’re gonna be making independent decisions at their scope, whatever that scope is, every single day. And those decisions are either going to align together and be synergistic to deliver an outcome, or they’re each going to be pulling in slightly different directions. So if you set off on a, make it better project, and you have one person who mainly is looking at performance, and one person who’s looking at clarity of code architecture, and how readable it is, and one person that’s trying to impact availability, and one person that’s optimizing cost, who knows what you’ll get as an outcome? And who knows how you’ll assess whether that’s good? And who knows if they’ll even realize that they’re working on different goals? And so getting very, very concrete, what is the measurable business outcome that you are going to deliver? Why is it critical that you do that? Like, why does it even make sense to spin up this effort? And how are you going to assess that you hit it? Ideally, again, measurable, is a definition of a clear goal, as opposed to a directional theme of making something better, or improving something or just something that’s a bit more amorphous? Yeah. And just
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 43:08
to like, hit the point home a little bit on this one, and maybe relate it to even folks that maybe are not on the, you know, directly in the engineering world. But, you know, we need a new website. Okay. You know, this is, again, it’s a very amorphous goal, like you said, or the one that I know about companies, you know, that have nearly killed themselves, because they needed to do a replatform. And re platform that was supposed to take six months, right? So this is a lot more important. And it’s not as obvious as people think. Because every day people make this mistake.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 43:46
And those two examples that you gave are actually fantastic, because they make that mistake of setting the tactic as the goal. We need a website. Why do we need a website? Right? Maybe we don’t, it says sort of sounds like it makes so much sense. Obviously, we need a website. But it’s not because it’s not framed as a particular thing, a particular aspect. It makes it difficult to scope the work. And I think that’s where it’s important, like you want to replatform something, yeah, any migration, any change in sort of the stack of something is always a complicated endeavor, you have to be really good at understanding what’s required, and what can be pushed out. Otherwise, it never completes. You’re basically scope creeping yourself as you go through. And also potentially having people pulling in different directions. And your ability to actually steer that to a conclusion that delivers value is close to impossible. If you don’t have that very, very, very clear rallying call. This is the same thing that companies do in terms of corporate strategy. Like do you have clarity on what we’re all trying to deliver together? It’s the same thing at all levels and all functions, the more you are clear on the outcome that you’re trying to deliver. The more you can then assess whether the things you’re doing are laddering up into that outcome. And you can make trade off decisions on whether they should or shouldn’t be in scope at this point in time. And that’s how you can focus and align execution across broader groups of people.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 45:14
Yeah, it’s so relatable. And you’re right on the corporate strategy front and applies to all different functions. So I know we are getting close to time. So the final question we like to ask all the guests on the show is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft, are there any final tips tricks or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 45:36
I think management and leadership they very much are, there’s an element of experience in them. Like, the more you see examples of things, the more you are forced to deal with challenges, the more you build up your own sort of toolkit and approaches and what did work for me what didn’t work for me, because it’s also very personal to you know, how we each lead as individuals, you need to lead authentically as who you are. For folks that are looking to maybe fast track that a little bit, definitely being open to learning. And we each like learning a different way. So listening to podcasts like this one is hopefully useful to learn from other people’s experience, or obviously a lot of books on leadership that you can get some kind of maybe more frameworks or ways of thinking about things or approaching problems or thinking about strategy, or whatever it is that you’re trying to learn more about coaching and mentoring from people that that you work with, all of those are good mechanisms of basically pulling in from the expertise of others so that you can sort of power your own growth more rapidly. I think the other half of that, though, is to contribute back to present on what it takes to be a good manager to write a blog post to give a talk to, you know, participate in a podcast, even if you’re not very advanced in your career, I think a lot of times we think like, Oh, I’m not, I’m not important enough to talk about something or I don’t have enough experience in that, I find that usually what you have to say is relevant to who you were where you were a year or two ago, right? That’s an audience. So like, yes, there is someone for whom that perspective will actually be very valuable. But the trick is that just the exercise of you needing to clarify your own thoughts in a way that you can communicate them to someone else, is, in my experience, the best way to solidify sort of a step in your learning, there was definitely a difference between I led this program, it was good, I kind of have a sense of what I did. But if I now need to sit down and craft a talk or a blog post on Well, how would I convey that knowledge to someone else, the benefit is that it is now clarified in my own head, and I can more readily pull from that experience. The next time I take on a bigger challenge. And sort of I have that that learning solidified in my toolkit. So I think being very open to learning from the experience and expertise of others to turbocharge your growth path. And then as you’re able to solidify learnings by communicating them to others, I think is is a great mechanism of speeding up that path of growing as a leader.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 48:20
You know, it’s such a great point. Otherwise, you have disjointed memories and experiences. But you’re right that in order to solidify the learning, and I love the phrasing you use there, it does require that path like that extra little bit of work. And so it’s very interesting, and I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but makes all the sense in the world. Tamar. This has been awesome. We’ve talked to so many different topics. Great pleasure to chat with you. Thanks so much for doing this.
Tamar Bercovici (Box) 48:47
Yeah, thank you. It was a lot of fun. And thank you for helping me solidify my own growth journey as a leader by getting to talk about these things. So was a lot of fun. Thank you.