Protocol - This CTO puts arguing on his calendar

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Protocol | Workplace

By Michelle Ma
June 16, 2022


Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today: how a busy CTO spends his Mondays and encourages debate within his engineering teams, how crypto culture war, and the state of tech hiring according to engineering leaders and hiring managers.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

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The big picture

 

Arguing at work is healthy

This is the latest installment in Protocol's Calendar Series, where we take you inside a day in the lives of the world’s biggest tech execs: the meetings on their agenda, how they manage their time, their best productivity hacks and what they prioritize in a busy day. Read the rest of the series.

Marcelo Cortes is a co-founder and the CTO of Faire, an online wholesale marketplace connecting mostly small brands to independent, local retailers. It’s also a rare Series G company, with a $416 million funding extension to its latest funding round in May that put its valuation over $12.5 billion.

A lot of Cortes’s meetings are about fixing growing pains. “With our growth, things break very often. Processes that worked for 100 people stop working for 200. They definitely don’t work for three or four hundred, which is where our engineering org is right now,” he explained.

This philosophy extends to his office hours, which are open to anyone at the company. If nobody has any questions for him, he’ll turn it back on them: “What’s not working?” he’ll ask, adding that he can only help fix problems that he’s aware of.

As a leader, Cortes doesn’t shy away from conflict. His weekly meeting with the rest of Faire’s executive leadership team is called “Debate,” because “we want to send this message to the company that debating is a thing that we should be doing.”

I spoke with him about a typical day in his life: in this case, Monday, May 16.

His schedule has been edited for brevity and clarity.

8:30-9 a.m. | Carolyn/Marcelo: Weekly kickoff

Carolyn is my EA. Every Monday, the first thing we do is meet to go over the week: anything that’s very important that we need to accomplish. We resolve conflicts in the calendar; there are usually two or more conflicts that we need to figure out what to do with. Which one do I keep, which one do we postpone, or can I replace myself with somebody? There are always conflicts, because people add things to my calendar that will overlap with something else.

9-9:30 a.m. | Planning block

The planning block is me cleaning things up on my own. Especially Monday mornings, there will be a ton of messages on the weekends, emails, Slack, texts. I won’t answer them all, because there is no time. But I look through and pick at least the ones that are very high priority or important, and I try to deal with those.

This is also the time I have for myself to think about if I’m presenting something at one of the meetings that I have later in the day, to prepare myself to [do] it, think about what I’m going to say, write it down or something like that.

9:30-10 a.m. | Ryan/Marcelo

Ryan [Fioravanti] is one of our directors of engineering. At Faire, we have what we call pods, as well as pillars that encompass pods. Engineering, product, data science and design. Ryan currently leads two of our pillars, and I meet with him every two weeks. We always discuss, if something is broken, how to fix it or how to improve processes.

10-10:30 a.m. | Mark/Marcelo

Mark leads our brand pillar, so the same meeting with another person.

10:30-11 a.m. | Jeff/Marcelo

This could have been Jeff [Kolovson], our COO, or Jeff [Hodnett], one of our engineering leaders. More likely on Mondays I meet with one of our engineering leaders, like our head of engineering, Paul Poppert. But typically, I go over any People issues that we’re having, or we’ll discuss, for example, our feedback and promotion cycles.

11 a.m.-12 p.m. | CTO office hours

During COVID, we kept growing, and we hired a lot of people. After two years of not meeting people in person as often, I started to feel disconnected from the org. Before COVID, I knew every single person in the office. I had met them in person. We had spent at least some time together. I felt like I lost some of that connection.

Office hours is one experiment to try to close some of that gap. It’s very random. Anybody in the company can join. I don’t send the invites to everybody in the company and don’t advertise it too much, only to Engineering, though everybody’s welcome. People might ask about fundraising, about engineering strategy, about problems that we have, something that is not working or working well. They might ask about the interviewing process.

The number of people who join goes sometimes from 10 people to 20 or 30.

12-12:30 p.m. | Lunch

When I do have a lunch break, I will make sure to eat in the lunch room, because, again, I will find a spot that I can see people I haven’t interacted much with before, so I can get to know them and spend some time again with random people in the office.

12:30-1 p.m. | Weekly Leads

Weekly Leads is when cross-functional leaders from around the company meet. We pick a few random people to talk about personal things, how they’re feeling as well, if there’s anything top of mind for them that they want to share with the group. We don’t have time to do everybody, but we pick four or five people every week, and then Max [Rhodes], our CEO, shares his top-of-mind, the things that are most concerning to him, his priorities for the week. It’s also a venue that we use to communicate to the company any important information that we need to share or something that’s happening or coming.

1-1:45 p.m. | Debate

Debate is my most important meeting. This is the core team — our executive team — and sometimes a few other people join. It’s the weekly meeting where we have a very long list of topics that we keep that are important for the company that we discuss how to handle — from fundraising to big media events — or if there’s something that we need to address with the whole company, we will discuss there.

We know one of our values is to be kind, and we are very kind and respectful of each other. But we think having open debates, people exposing ideas and debating, discussing, arguing about them is a very healthy thing that we want to promote. In the early days, it was just three or four of us getting into a room and debating any topics that people would bring up, and we kept that name.

1:45-2 p.m. | Think break

Usually this time gets taken over by something that I need to deal with, an employee who needs to talk with me or some urgent issue or something’s on fire, and I need to deal with it. But if not, it’s my time to go to the washroom.

2-2:45 p.m. | Zoom interview: Director, Engineering

I usually do, on average, five to seven interviews a week. We haven’t slowed hiring, and we have very aggressive hiring targets for this year. We interview a lot. It’s hard to keep up.

I have a framework for assessing people at this level. There are specific areas that I try to ask questions to see how they score: One is how they think. The other is how they execute, how they lead, how they influence and their EQ.

Basic questions I ask include, “Tell me something that you did that you’re very proud of. And why are you so proud of it?” Or, “If I were to meet with people that report to you directly today, what are they going to tell me about you? What do you need to improve on? What do you do very well?” Or turn the question to say, “What if now I were to meet with your leaders, executives in your company? What would they tell me?”

2:45-3 p.m. | Interview buffer

3-4 p.m. | Zoom interview: Senior front-end engineer

I don’t do too many of these anymore. Only very rarely if we’re really on the fence about the candidate, or if it’s someone very senior, I might interview them myself. But that’s a very technical coding interview.

4-4:15 p.m. | Sync: Neervi/Marcelo

There probably was a topic that we needed to deal with, which could be engineer compensation bands or some People issue that we have. I meet with Neervi [Shah Patel, Faire’s head of People] almost every week for about half an hour to go over everything that’s happening in HR, People or the Talent team.

4:15-5 p.m. | Bi-weekly engineering all-hands

This is a venue for us to communicate with the whole engineering team. We will introduce new hires to the company, do shout-outs, recognize great things that have been achieved in the past two weeks, and a manager might highlight an example of somebody living our values or building something really cool. HR might have something to tell the whole company about some adjustments or some change. Usually I close it with some topic that I want to bring to the attention of everybody.

6-7 p.m. | Family dinner & PM workout

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Work spot

 

The latest crypto CEO is tweeting his way through a culture war

Amid the crash, crypto exchange Kraken says it’s still hiring, as long as you want to follow its 10 “Tentaclemandments” outlined in its latest blog post about company culture. The post touted “diversity of thought” at Kraken, but CEO Jesse Powell also reportedly said that those who disagreed with the culture could quit and opt in to a program providing four months of pay if they affirmed that they would never work at Kraken again. The crypto culture problem doesn't seem to be limited to Kraken. Coinbase has also published similar mission-driven culture statements saying that workplace conversations about social and political issues are not allowed for employees.

Read the full story.

​A MESSAGE FROM APPDYNAMICS

Full-stack observability with business context enables companies to digest IT performance to easily identify where they can prioritize performance and tackle issues that strategically impact their bottom line. This correlation of technology and business data allows IT leaders to make smarter, strategic decisions based on actual business impact.

Learn more

Today’s tips & tools

 

This Fast Company article offers five tips to improve your memory using neuroscience. In short, try walking backward while attempting memorization, eat fruits and vegetables, use better lighting, practice intermittent fasting and don’t stress. The tips make it all sound so simple.
 

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email | twitter)

By the numbers

 

Hiring engineers in a recession

OpenComp just surveyed 500 engineering leaders and hiring managers from high-growth companies about the state of tech talent in 2022 — amid all the market chaos we’re experiencing — and here’s what the compensation benchmarking platform found:

  • 42% of pre-IPO companies are still looking to hire between five and 10 engineers this year, with another 22% needing up to 20 engineering roles this year.
  • 70% of engineering leaders surveyed believe cash compensation matters most to candidates
  • The top reason cited for candidates rejecting offers was too low of a base salary

Making moves

 

Indeed has appointed Priscilla Koranteng as chief people officer. Previously, she was the vice president of Global Human Resources and Talent Management, as well as the chief equity diversity officer at Kellogg.

More stories from us

 

Here’s the real reason tech companies don’t like unions (and what happens when they call in the union busters).

GitHub asked its DEI head to “open source” diversity. But first, she had to figure out what that meant.

U.S. Coursera learners are taking more classes in human-focused business skills. They’re also focusing less on tech and data science courses.

Twitter’s AI ethics director is locked in a legal battle with the CEO of the startup she founded. It’s messy.

When it comes to enterprise CEOs, bravado and salesmanship might mean more than deep tech knowledge.

​A MESSAGE FROM APPDYNAMICS

Organizations that have already started the move to a full-stack observability approach are seeing results and clear return on investment (ROI). In the AppDynamics research, 86% of technologists reported greater visibility across their IT stack over the last 12 months when implementing full-stack.

Learn more

Around the internet

 

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

Research shows that the way you talk about diversity matters. Here’s what makes marginalized candidates much less interested in working for your company.

What’s the world’s $7.8 trillion workplace problem? Unengaged employees.

Opinion: Tech CEOs have forgotten that employees are their biggest asset.

Despite what you may be hearing, the tech job market remains red hot.


Here’s Great Place to Work’s list of best workplaces in the Bay Area. (Yes, it’s mostly tech companies.)

 

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great day, see you next week. (We’re taking Sunday off for Juneteenth.)

 

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