Ask Me Anything Highlights: Rashi Khurana
6 MINUTE READ
Questions for Rashi covered a wide range of topics – diversity in tech, reforming the education system, optimising supporting documentation, advice for new engineers, and technical vs non-technical leaders.
Below are some of the highlights from the event.
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Question from @ Claudia
Having a tech background myself and now being more part of the startup world, all I hear from everyone (startups, investors/investment funds, accelerators etc) is there is a horrendous lack of technical founders and surprisingly (or not) an unwillingness to invest in companies that don’t lock in a technical founder. My feeling is that the root of this problem is both in a generalised inability to match offer and demand on the tech recruitment front. But also, highly paid technical people tend to be quite risk-adverse, slightly comfortable, and sometimes lack the passion to look for anything beyond, well, code. Is there anything that can be done here?
Shouldn’t all these corporations hiring software developers be pushing them slightly to train in other aspects of at least their business. If not training them so they can eventually give back to the wider business? Down the line, the hiring business loses as well because there is unfortunately a gap in almost every company between development and other departments.
Great question. I have seen it in my career too when Engineering teams don’t align with business needs and sometimes get too set in the right process to not build in the flexibility. I think as managers it’s our job to bridge that gap and provide them with the context of what drives the business. Whats the need of the hour beyond just building good software? We do this by involving them in those aspects by making sure they get regular product walkthroughs and are a part of the user acceptance tests talking directly to the customers.
We need to recognize what they are good at and give them opportunities and encouragement so they can potentially open-source what they have built (we’ve done that at Shutterstock with some of our engineers). It’s also important to mould them into being a leader more than a doer, someone who understands how to pivot or connect the dots. Not everyone will be keen in developing that acumen but the ones who are curious will become the leaders. Recruiting is tasked with getting the best candidate for the role based on the job description, growing them is the responsibility of the company and the employee themselves.
Question from @ Caroline Carruthers
I’m really keen to understand the advice you’d offer to new engineers starting out and also what would you say is your work ethos?
My advice to new engineers is asking them to understand and appreciate what a unique position they are in. The world is in a very disruptive phase of technology; things are changing a minute a mile. It can be challenging, but my advice is to embrace it and enjoy it. Looking back the generation will be able to say – I was a part of that when mobiles didn’t exist and I’m still involved now when we send texts by typing in the air (if you will).
My work ethos is always give it your best and someone will recognise it. It may not happen immediately but if you consistently deliver good work, it’s only a matter of time. Some people are always there to pull other people up.
Question from @ Morgan Craft
As an engineering organization grows and the footprint of the architecture expands and changes, how do you maintain the internal documentation? Specifically, ensuring the developers understand the direction of the platform, how/why the decisions were made, how is new technology adopted (es6, react, docker), and also for your devops/support staff that might be on pagerduty how to operate with low stress to ensure they don’t get fatigued /burnt out? Afterall, I know from experience being paged at 2am to reset servers and troubleshoot infrastructure is a nightmare if there are no docs/runbooks.
One thing that has worked well with Shutterstock is an Arch review process we do. Before we start building a new product, architecture for customers or infrastructure; we go through an architecture review. The team taking the lead on the project does all the homework on what they plan to propose along with the relevant documentation and present it to the tech team (anyone can attend). After receiving feedback they then iterate and make their architecture designs better.
This helps as a starting point for some documentation that can be maintained as we iterate and build on the designs. We then have a place to go and see how these things are built and the whys. But that’s only one part of the documentation.
The others are runbooks etc and I must admit, at the speed we need to go, things like that tend to give in a little. Sometimes we do have situations where someone gets paged and then we need to page someone else because the instructions might be in the head of that person and not a document. We are enforcing applications to come with runbooks as we set up a Tier 1 on-call that’s lead by an 24/7 operation team. Its an active project and we are not fully there yet.
Question from @ Franziska Mattler
Leading a diverse team obviously means leading people who work and think differently from yourself – how do you deal with that and what would you advise others in that situation?
That’s a very interesting one and I’ll admit I haven’t got it right all the time. Being from a different culture, I would second guess if I did the right thing. It’s a learning and evolving process that gets better with experience. But what I have realised over the years is that behind every culture, race, background, gender, ethnicity is a human person. If we put ourselves in that common human space it’s much easier to see where the other person is coming from.
For instance in meetings, everyone has their own way of expressing they have something they’d like to say. Rather than quickly judging people for not engaging in the discussion, take the time to observe body language and make room for people if it looks like they are struggling to find a spot to speak.
Question from @ Squashie
As someone from an ethnic background, I have concerns that ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ initiatives can easily become box-ticking exercises if not approached correctly. I feel like some of these initiatives are rolled out to try and keep up with the societal pressures of today, and as a consequence the principle of hiring based on merit can be lost. I recognise there is great value in hiring people who think and approach problems in different ways, so I think more diversity is a good thing. But how can business prevent D&I initiatives turning into box-ticking exercises?
I think about the same thing very often. For instance being a woman engineer in NYC looking for a job isn’t too difficult, because many employers are actively looking for you. But does that mean a better candidate loses out? My thought is – it’s the end goal that’s important. We need more women and diversity (I’m just taking women as an example here) so that the products we build are catered to everyone and their is equal room for expression and entitlement. As a society we have stereotypes that have existed for so long, its dis-balanced. We are in a hard place where we are desperately trying to fix it so the future generation does not have to deal with this gap.
Question from @JamesDeeney
Do you have any thoughts on how education systems could be changed to encourage more girls to study tech-related subjects? It’s quite obvious the current system isn’t doing a very good job at that.
My thought it that the education system is influenced by the norms of our society. When we hand a barbie doll to a two-year-old girl and a superhero to a two-year-old boy, we are setting the tone for what to expect – there are different places for them in society. That continues in school with the courses that are offered and who studies what. We need to talk to girls about science, the universe, technology, and let them build things with legos at an early age to pique their interest in science. No more doll houses for them, they need to be playing with transformers!
Question from @ Kirst
I really enjoyed listening to your podcast and especially your story around your boss believing in you before you believed in yourself. What do you feel has been the key to your success in your career so far?
I think what’s worked best for me is to try and give my best every single day. That doesn’t mean continually outdoing myself, but simply giving my best on that particular day. Sometimes we want to take it easy which is fair if the work pressure is not a lot; but you can’t afford to become complacent in that “take it easy” mindset. Giving my best shot in the circumstances I find myself in has always been my biggest driver.
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