As a mission-driven company with a global talent base, Intuit understands the importance of developing a strong engineering culture. To deliver the best for our customers requires assembling, managing, and motivating top tech talent to drive innovation.
At SaaStr Enterprise 2020, Intuit CTO Marianna Tessel joined David Ulevitch, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, to share engineering leadership lessons learned from the front lines in a fireside chat.
Following are highlights of the “Juggling People, Processes & Priorities” session, which you can view here.
How do you stay close to technology while leading a huge organization and multiple product lines?
Marianna Tessel (MT): My craft is engineering. It’s critical for any technology leader of any rank to be technical. But obviously I will do disservice for my role if I just come and sit on my laptop and hack all day, even though I would love to do that. My team and I hold weekly in-depth technology, from demos to actually opening the code. When we have engineering days, Intuit’s version of hackathons, I add myself to a team. It’s a sheer delight because I actually get to code.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is to ask a lot of questions. We have a big span of technologies, anywhere from AI to cloud, and to think that I could have in-depth knowledge in all of them is not realistic, so I’ve learned to be comfortable asking even basic questions.
How do you create an environment to attract and retain the best engineering talent?
MT: The competition for talent is fierce. You can’t limit yourself to the places where competition is impossible—go global and go wide. One of the things that I like about our culture is our unbelievable mission to power prosperity around the world for consumer, small business and self-employed customers. It’s a mission that resonates with engineers. If your mission, values and culture are strong, it’s like a glue. At the end of the day, it’s not just about making the money, it’s about working on something that is fulfilling—though you do also need to make sure your compensation is good. And you should also make sure you have a working environment where engineers feel they can be productive. They enjoy their co-workers, they can contribute, and they can move with velocity.
How do you recognize engineering talent?
MT: You always want to look for the hard skills, but I wouldn’t over-rotate on that. As engineers, we always have to be learning. You want smart people that know how to learn, but also with a history of delivering. And then there are the soft skills. Who are you as a person? Are you dedicated? Are you a hard worker? Do you care about the customer, or do you just want to do technology?
How do you keep your staff engaged and motivated, including people who have been with the company for a number of years?
MT: It starts with having a clear mission, not just for the company but for the team. Set expectations. Spell out the technology direction so it’s super clear for everybody: here’s where you’re going, here’s what we’re trying to do, here’s your role in that, and here’s how you can make impact in my eyes. You should also make sure you have an environment where people can be themselves—where they can speak their mind. I try to lead with energy and humor. And, honestly, I have to do it for myself because otherwise it’s just slides, slides, slides, meetings, meetings, meetings.
How do you measure productivity in a remote world?
MT: Above all, I prefer to measure productivity by the outcome: what gets into our customers’ hands. One thing we’re looking at is the frequency of deployments to production. Within that, we measure the breakages we have in our system, and follow metrics that help us understand whether we have the conditions to allow great velocity in fixing those problems. Is there enough automation? Are we merging at the same pace as we’re creating?
Ultimately, we focus on measuring the outcomes and not the inputs.
We initially thought that our productivity numbers were going to tank in a remote world, but now we’re seeing that our productivity numbers are steady, and some are going up. We still have a lot of videoconferencing, and there’s fatigue around that; you kind of stare at yourself all day. But there’s less time in meetings than before, so you can focus more. But I do miss the corridor interactions. I’d meet ten people just going from one conference room to another and we’d get so much done.
You can find the entire conversation here, in which Tessell and Ulevitch cover topics, ranging from the role of mentorship when building your career to the decision process for migrating to the cloud.