On this week’s episode of Dev Interrupted, co-host Conor Bronsdon welcomes Francisco Trindade, Director of Engineering at Braze, to discuss strategies to improve collaboration and effectiveness within engineering teams. 

Francisco notes a shift in the tech industry over the past decade from focusing on rapid hiring and individual growth to a need for more effective team dynamics. Criticizing the tech industry's aversion to micromanagement, he argues that it has inadvertently resulted in a lack of focus on team effectiveness and proposes a renewed emphasis on fostering productive environments for engineers to fully realize their potential.

Episode Highlights:

  • (2:20) Managers can't be micromanagers
  • (4:40) Francisco's three key aspects to improving team effectiveness
  • (11:15) Creating the right incentives for your team
  • (14:00) How to work with teams around the world
  • (21:15) Increasing engineering team efficiency
  • (27:30) What is Braze?

Episode Transcript:

(Disclaimer: may contain unintentionally confusing, inaccurate and/or amusing transcription errors)

Conor Bronsdon: Welcome back to Lead Dev, New York with Dev Interrupted, where we are about to have an incredible interview with Francisco Trend. Yeah. Welcome.

Francisco Trindade: Thanks, Conor. Thanks for having me.

Conor Bronsdon: I'm very excited to have you on the show because I have to say, my wife is a huge fan of the company you work at Braze.

Francisco's a director of engineering there. welcome to the show and I'm excited to dive into your topic about how to make engineers work better together, which is something that I think we touch on, but maybe don't directly speak to. I'd love to start with that and see what the framework is that you think will help engineering teams work better together.

Francisco Trindade: it is an interesting topic, I think mostly because, I think there's been like a shift in the industry in the past, like decade and then we think we're, we are seeing another shift happening now. And just explaining my thinking. I think like we, as a, as an industry in terms of tech, I think we live this kind of I dunno, maybe 10 or 20 years of just Look, the search for talent, right?

So a lot of that was kinda like, how can you grow organizations? How can you hire faster? How can you hire train the more talent? And that of course led us to, a position where like we, have focused a lot of individuals in teams, like in how to create good environments for engineers to grow and how to let individuals flourish in teams.

And If you look into material from maybe a few years ago, there's like this quote just let the engineers of the work, that's all we have to do as a manager. and that's like kind of thing, some of the mentality that we had also think as an industry, I think, and rightly I think we have been very against, like micromanagement, right? I think if you wanna be a kind of. It's gonna be hired as a manager anywhere. Like the only thing you cannot end in the interview is that you're gonna be like a micromanager that's that doesn't get your job in tech at all.

Yeah. Which is good. but, I think like in that process and in that kind of like growth phase and in the process of doing it, I think we bend a bit to much to the kind like the kinda like the side I thing and we just. Didn't put a lot of attention or as an industry in general, I was like, how do we make teams be effective?

And I think we kind we think let go of some of the learnings in the past of the past, like to kind help like work around teams. So a lot of what I try to, to talk about and to kinda like work with teams that I work and like managers that I kind of work with are really about focusing on effectiveness.

How do you kinda like you as a manager. Become a leader that can like actually drive effectiveness in your team and then create an environment where your engineers can fuel their potential because they are in a very productive environment.

Conor Bronsdon: So let's say you are one of these, directors of engineering who have spent years now in an environment driven by, to your point, these enterprise companies like Google that have said, I'm gonna acquire all the talent.

I'm gonna really just bring in folks and hold on to them. And now you're realizing you need to make the shift where. Okay. I haven't spent enough time making my team as effective as it could be. How do you get started?

Francisco Trindade: I think there's three main kind of aspects that I think about. one you need to, draw, value team result of individual results. I think and that's

Conor Bronsdon: did we deliver the feature holistic as a team or did just did that PR to go well?

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, and I think like we, I mean there's ex, there was like, of course like everything on this topic is a spectrum, right?

There's not, that's not quite a wrong and it's just like you can go either way. But I think like there are companies and teams that focus too much in terms of has even like in promotions and rewards of like how do. You promote individuals is by individual work, right? So then you focus the idea that like you disincentivize collaboration, you say, oh, you have to have an idea and then write a doc and then implement it, and then do everything yourself.

And that is the path to be promoted. So if you do that, then of course, like people are gonna that famous quote of tell me how you're gonna reward me and I'll tell you how I'm gonna behave. So the first thing I would say for like this manager leader that's thinking about that is thinking, okay, how do you value and make your team understand that you value team results?

And I think to your point is saying, okay, if we deliver a project, like how have we worked together as a team to deliver the project and like how will we value the different roles in that team, right? Like maybe there is someone gonna lead, be the technical lead, or be the manager or be like the. Whatever function they're doing.

But all these functions matter, right? If you are the person just code reviewing what, but you're really good at that, but you're really good at that. That's value if you're like the sort of thing there's that concept like glue work, right? People talk about the thing like, yes.

And there are some engineers that are like, good at that. And they're good at making work move and like helping code reviews and helping the QA and helping you with pairing.

Conor Bronsdon: They help every other in here be 5% more, 10% more efficient.

Francisco Trindade: And they have, that's that's value, right? Totally.

So I think that's the first thing, like results and kinda like how teams understand that and engineers understand that. I think the second thing I like talk about is, understand, the system or the process they of the systems and the process in plural that your team has.

So any work goes from someone's been, it's an idea somewhere, like to then have a process that can take weeks or months or years in some situations until like it gets delivered. And all of that there's like time, there's people, there's work, there's bottlenecks.

And I think like the more you can, as a leader understand the whole picture and talk about there's a concept, like the value stream map, right? Like in terms of where does it come from? Where does it go to? And like, where are the other phases and how long it takes and what are the challenges there?

Like the more you become an expert on that, like more you can then as a leader, know where the bottlenecks are and where the, kinda like the challenges are because at the end, if you don't know that, like you could just be wasting your time. If I did consulting for a long time and like one common problem that we would face was like, They'll hire us to come and say, oh, like we need to improve the quality of the team.

And because, and here you come and do this particular thing, and then, and you realize this thing takes maybe a day or two. And thing you're doing before, like it's taking six months. Yeah. So if you wanna accelerate your delivery, like I can do, of course I can like.

Sharpen the ax here, but like it's really not gonna change much. your money is better invested somewhere else and as a leader, you like even in, within your team you have those options, right? Because the thing like your investment decisions. Yeah.

And even from time, like in focus, right? As a manager, do focus on like the technical aspect, your team or the people aspect or the process aspect. Like just no emerg with your time, is important and the thing. Assuming you, you do that and you become that expert and No, I think that the last thing is the third, not the last, I guess like the third part would be like, be active in leading a team.

I think like there is I've seen this point, like I think too many cases where like managers become like passive in how the teams work and they say the. Engineers think that's the best way to do it. I'm just gonna let them do it. Just even if I know it's not, and I'm just gonna be, I think like you need to kinda think about like how to, of course, like including people and like in a way that's inclusive and helps people achieve their potential, but like how to direct the team to being effective.

I think there is a, you look back into the kind of lean production system. There's a famous, there's a quote that sounds like you cannot be a change agent of a system that you are in, right? And that's The thing that we don't realize. The thing if you're an engineer and you gotta like picking up like a ticket and writing code and like doing that, your focus is that, right?

You're just like, yeah, you're doing that work. You're not thinking about is this the most effective way I have this process? Because there's things that you're not seeing just because you just, I'm not focused on that. Your focus is I need to write a code to solve this problem that I'm given.

as a manager, your focus should be like, I need to make this seem effective. and you have a better view. What's happening. So I think how driving that view in an active way is important. I think I, one way I kinda try to describe sometimes is saying every day is like, since we're in the US I guess the have the, American football kind of analogy is just every day is a new play, right?

Yeah. It's just like you need to make sure that your team is making the best play. They can, and that varies by day, right? One day could be like, we need to all be QAing. This project that we need to deliver next day could be like, we need to review this doc, or we need to collaborate or don't like, whatever that is but there are variations that you can need to use on a day-to-day basis

Conor Bronsdon: To follow along with your metaphor there's a famous coaching philosophy in American football about win the day, which is, look, don't worry about the game next week. Don't worry about the thing you have to do in the long run. Win today, whatever that task is today, and snack those wins on top of each other. And it's a process that I see be really successful in software engineering teams too.

Where you succeed in what you're doing and what's in front of you and you iterate on it. And that quick iteration cycle seems to be really crucial to make successful teams and to move organizations forward. And I love that you're thinking about the incentive piece of this too. So you brought this up, there's a lot of good nuggets to unpack, but I wanna zero in on the incentives and how we set them up in organizations.

Cuz I agree with you that there are, too often opportunities that get missed because an individual's incentive is a carry something through the whole way. And so maybe you miss opportunities to specialize people and actually make your whole organization more efficient. How would you zero in on that incentive challenge that you face in some teams and trying to fix that problem for your organization?

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, I think you're not gonna escape the fact that, you need to evaluate individuals, right? Of course some and individually, as well. 

Conor Bronsdon: But maybe not on like lines of code or something.

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, no, exactly. I think that's kinda like a thing.

The way I would like I've seen be more successful I think is just you need to focus on impact, right? I think that's like the driving force of the business and like the team should be like, I think the more you can connect your team to like, The impact that the team has, on the business.

the more that you can align everyone on that and interesting because I think that creates some, that model I think it feels sometimes a bit weird because you can say, okay, maybe someone did a lot of things right, but at the end the project wasn't delivered.

And that person like now is gonna be penalized by like the problem of others, right?

Conor Bronsdon: Even though they're delivering a lot of value to that team.

Francisco Trindade: Yeah. Even though they're doing some work and then you end up the question of what is valued, and and I think it creates some interesting aspect of like your point, like maybe someone was very efficient writing a lot of code, but that wasn't the code that needed to like the problem that wasn't the problem that needed to be solved.

Conor Bronsdon: Yeah. If you're going fast in the wrong direction, exactly. Not solve the problem.

Francisco Trindade: And also I think the interesting thing is that when you create this, focus on something that's like collective and value, like you create incentives to everyone to keep self correcting the alignment, right?

Because like it becomes now your incentive is individual to say oh, this going nowhere. I need to speak to someone about it and I need to raise this to like my manager or like my, like the. Wherever there is to come, they can take action. Because I know that if this doesn't work, like that kind of impacts me as well.

Might be like uncomfortable conversations, but they are like useful conversations for the team and for everyone to just succeed. And I think like my experience of that has always been like, it might be uncomfortable in some situations for an engineer to say, wow I'm now associated, my promise is associated to like the collective success.

that is a challenge. But then The thing is like the more you work in a productive environment, the more you are gonna grow as an individual, right? If I look back on my careers in like the.

Interesting part. We're like solving, we've had problems with a good group of people. And absolutely. And that's kinda what I thing. You try to reproduce, you wanna try to reproduce it. Like in any team, that's the effect.

Conor Bronsdon: And I know you have experienced working across multiple regions and cultures.

How has that informed your approach as you evaluate how to effectively increase efficiency for engineering teams?

Francisco Trindade: There's two points I think that are interesting talking about. I think one is maybe, so just like where I, I kinda just to clarify, like my career, like I, I started in Brazil and I was, I'm from Brazil and then like I started consulting for this company, ThoughtWorks in the UK.

And so I did that like for a few years. I moved down to Australia and then consulted that for a few years in Australia, but then also started my own company there and so I had like my own startup. Then I moved to the US where I joined, I guess like corporate America or like the technology industry.

Welcome. Yeah. Which is, but it's just the purpose. I think the US was like maybe the most like formal part of that. So I think like one is just like the common, I think what gave me insight is one is just the common ground. I think everyone's trying to all these countries and also working like other the countries for a shorter periods like.

There are like common elements of just like what makes a team effect just like you and software is is similar in different areas and different projects and different companies. And I think it's always when you're talking about just like maybe putting a caveat on this whole, conversation.

I think when you're talking about. Team is efficient or any aspect of teams, there's always gonna be the argument of no, every team is different. Every, and we have to adjust. And that is true, right? And there's different teams, different companies and stuff, but there is a large, see what my experience made me see there's a large group of commonalities of like when you're delivering software, like we know how software should be delivered, right?

Like you. You write high quality software, you elaborate on it, you test well, you kind inject what in the system you iterate faster and that kind of No, I would say the, a high percentage of software projects.

Conor Bronsdon: The general kind of concepts, we agree.

Francisco Trindade: Exactly. So I think answer your question thing, that's one thing.

I think the experience, of seeing that as commonalities across like different projects and problems and like cultures. I think the other aspect that made me, that I think maybe it's like a bit more interesting is just like when people think about efficiency and process, there's usually the stereotype of like restrictive systems, right?

So if you talk to someone and they say I hate Agile, or like Scrum or Can whatever they like, whatever the thing that they just like really have a strong reaction. They're probably talking about a restrictive version of that process. And they're probably they're probably work in this environment that like, that didn't work and that was too much, and they feel felt controlled and felt they couldn't do it.

I think the idea when, like talking about effectiveness is like you wanna create a system that is, that is well designed and can actually help people like achieve their best potential. And I think like the advantage of having that is that the more you make it open, like the rules and the far like the process around like the team to like the people, the easier it is to collaborate across different types of people.

The thing because one challenge that I see now, going back to your, to what I was saying about this not making teams effective, is that if your team doesn't have clear rules, like on how to work and like then the people that have like low experience Yeah. Low tenure that come from underrepresented groups that just don't have the connections to make things work. Because what, like a team that's not efficient usually becomes, is like a team where like you need to know how things are done and you need to know that tribal knowledge is too Yeah.

That's tribal knowledge important. And that becomes like negative product for specific groups of people. And I think like that clarifying how things work. It also helps you in like multicultural environments, right?

Yeah. Because like when, like you don't really have the social cues and kinda like the social, the common social or cultural grounds like, yeah. It's better to know and discuss how these things are working.

Conor Bronsdon: One example is like giving feedback, right? Like in the United States, we're a pretty direct culture overall, but when it comes to giving negative feedback as a manager, you have to do this like compliment sandwich, where I'm like, Hey, Francisco, you're doing a really great job with your coding.

Your PRS suck are too big. But overall you're really doing a really great job. whereas if I'm in, in Germany or the Netherlands, I can be much more direct about that potentially and say, Hey, you have an issue with your prs. Here's the problem. But depending on the makeup of the team and you know who your manager is, their style and also, the individual team members and the culture they come from.

That could come off really badly if I'm maybe US manager coming to the states and I try to say, oh, you're doing a great job about X, Y, and Z. There's this tiny issue. It's not a big deal. Oh, by the way, you get a great job. Are they really gonna necessarily focus on that? I say, oh, I'm doing a great job.

That's what they told me. That's just one, one example, but there's so much there within that kind of, Cultural applications across teams that I think is really important to understand.

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, definitely. And I think of course, like you have to be mindful of like cultural context and kinda who you're working with and who your teams are.

And I think that's like really important. But I think to your point, the thing is just like the more those rules are like in the open and are like shared and known by the team, the last confusion there is and the last kind of problems there are like kind of thing. And when you talk about that, I think you should talk, think about not only like making things explicit about how you communicate it and how, like how often you communicate, how often you make so that everyone understands and everyone like is on the same page, which kinda like at the end is like, one of the roles of the manager right?

Is just like the leader just like make sure that process understood by everyone.

Conor Bronsdon: I feel like technical documentation gets talked a lot about, but we don't necessarily talk about how to document the working relationships and workflows within your team. And as a leader, that's, it's super crucial that you take that approach because otherwise it's hard for new team members to come in and they have to rely on this travel knowledge, which they don't have.

and you have to rely on your onboarding process. Whereas if you can say, okay, here are our working agreements, here's how we approach things, here's how we resolve conflict, communicate. Yep. It can be a lot easier not only onboard folks, but keep everyone on the same page moving forward together.

Francisco Trindade: Definitely, and I think especially in a remote environment, I that's just comes out yeah. Just like course. Like it was useful thing in when, like at the office most of the time, I think like now it's just it's crucial, right? Like now it's kinda You join a company and you like literally don't know anyone, and you don't meet anyone and you're just like, You always see as like a computer screen or like some calls or you see some faces, if you don't have like that tribal knowledge that already was like a challenge. I think it becomes more of a challenge even now. And if you don't have like ways to. Share the knowledge, , more like formally or more like in the open.

Like it becomes really, a real challenge

Conor Bronsdon: Is Braze largely remote?

Francisco Trindade: Braze is largely remote. We have offices and we maintain the offices and we gonna, but like different departments pretty much manage their like remote policies. In engineering, we are, pretty much Every individual decides it's like they gonna be remote or at the office.

Conor Bronsdon: And I'm curious how you're applying some of these concepts you're talking about within the engineering organization at Braze. What have you done to increase efficiency? What has your focus been?

Francisco Trindade: I think a lot of it has been like of course just and maybe just to clarify the Braze part. I thing I, I manage like a part of Braze, not like the whole organization of course. So there's different in one thing that Braze has that. I think we do quite well is that we have this kind of we try to maintain autonomy around teams as much as possible.

Of course like with, with some limits, but like that means that every director has like their perspective on it and they can implement a perspective and that helps so teams work sometimes differently across the company. from my point of view, I think a lot of it is. One is clarifying with managers that focus, right?

And say, okay, the focus here is you need to make the team effective. And that's kinda like what we, work to do. And and that kind of is the thing that's gonna help you, give you freedom and the kind of like the context to innovate, which I think like one aspect of you just throw it out there.

We can talk more about that later. But one interesting aspect of this whole like, Effectiveness versus, being active at creating the effective teams or not? Is that the intentions are great, right? It's just like you, if you're looking at like for the managers that leaders that want to kinda like focus on individuals and focus on the people they want, they of course, like they have the intention make those individuals like work as well as possible and give them the freedom they want.

The challenge I thing I see and I say more often that I think I thought I would was when that happens, like sometimes you usually end upgrading ineffective teams, which is kinda like what makes people happy in the end. And then but then like ineffective teams lead to the company losing trust on the team and on Yeah.

Managers, which then leads to more oversight and less freedom. So like you by trying to create this space for individuals, you end up with creating a constraint space. Because like now everyone's asking about what you doing? What's this person doing? And like how and the reality is like in any kind, like organization, like there's enough problems to solve.

So if you can deliver effectiveness you're gonna create space where like you can have more autonomy and you can like, and then that means that the. The people on your team can have moral autonomy. You can drive that.

Conor Bronsdon: It's interesting you bring this up because we've talked a lot about this at LinearB lately where we've said you don't have to sacrifice efficiency and productivity for happiness.

Like these should go hand in hand when done right. An example is, we released a free developer workflow automation tool to help with PR automation. And yeah, it's great for managers because it's helping PRS move faster and cycle times move faster and the team becomes more efficient.

But almost more importantly, devs love it cause they're like, oh, I can help automate some of the reviews I need to do on prs, which is like a huge annoying sticking point for a lot of folks. And there's so many examples of this, right? Where, it could be that in helping improve or automate workflows for your developers, and, make clear the working agreements and how you're gonna apply them.

Is gonna help them be more effective because frankly, like most of us, I think as problem solvers we're, or and engineers, we're set. I like coding like that. There's a reason I'm doing this job. I like solving problems. I don't wanna just be on a team that's, yeah, you have a lot of autonomy. We're not doing anything.

I want to, I wanna solve something. I wanna do something fun. And so if you can help that team workflow, improve as a leader and say, okay. We're improving the workflows, we're improving how we collaborate. it's gonna go a long way towards improving your team culture and happiness. Which then to your point, enables autonomy enables you to take these steps you wanna do,

Francisco Trindade: It enables like larger challenges.

Yeah, just I think like everyone, I think one thing that we can, you can probably say about every engineers, like they want to solve harder and harder challenges. And the way to be given those harder challenges is to become good at It's obvious challenges, right?

It's just like that creates confidence and creates like space for the team and individuals just like tackle larger problems becomes a kinda like a positive kind of

Conor Bronsdon: Yeah we talk about it as this concept of compounding efficiencies when you succeed at one thing, you can just keep compounding it on top of each other.

And I think it sounds like that's something you are applying to your team at Braze as well as okay, how can we build a top each thing we do?

Francisco Trindade: Yeah. And I think like it's I think it is how to, the same way that, , I think about, myself, I think about like the managers that I work with, which is just I, they have autonomy to work, the way they won, as they build effective teams, right?

So because, and I think that is very like the compounding kind of aspect of it. I think because if you say, if you course we're constrained too much, then it becomes like restrictive. But I think if we, the way we, I try to think about is just like align the managers around, like effectiveness and like the, so like I talk to my managers.

The two goals that they have is just one is like build. Highly productive team and build a team where like engineers are fulfill, right? So yeah. So those are the two things that I care about and that we should care about. Great goals. And if you're doing that, like then the rest really doesn't matter, right?

Conor Bronsdon: All kinda works out because you have these two key pillars.

Francisco Trindade: Yeah. And how you're doing it. Then like it becomes, then you can explore as a manager, like what's your like style, what do you prefer? How do you achieve that? And that kind of leads to this compounding effect because like then, That hopefully gives teams like the freedom to adapt to the individuals they have.

Because they're gonna be like some managers that are more technical, some managers are less. There be some I sees they're gonna be like more focused in like different parts and stuff. So like the moment that you have that kind, like that basic level and the trust, established, and then you have autonomy within that, then it means you can experiment and you can like then.

Compound those benefits, right? Yeah. Then we say, okay, how can we actually become better and how can actually achieve better results?

Conor Bronsdon: Let me ask, are you recruiting at Braze? Are you hiring right now or is it more focuses on like internal compounding of those results? 

Francisco Trindade: We are. We are hiring a bit.

We have a few strategic roles. That we are hiring.

Conor Bronsdon: And we didn't mention it at all. Do you mind for the audience just describing what Braze is and what you're doing?

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, definitely. Braze is a customer engagement platform. So we kinda like help customers, help companies connect, engage with their customers.

From a technical side, I think we ingest our customers, which are companies of course, like our businesses send, data, behavioral data from like their customers and then they can build workflows to better connect to to their consumers.

Conor Bronsdon: I'll say when I've used it, I love the customization and the improved user interface over other CRM platforms I've had to deal with, and my wife's a big fan.

Francisco Trindade: Great. That's great. Great to hear. 

Conor Bronsdon: I had to pitch that for you. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Francisco. This has been really a fantastic conversation. I've enjoyed getting to know you a bit better and understanding how you're applying efficiency to your team.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Francisco Trindade: I think the closing thoughts are really, I think we are seeing, I guess like I, I started that at the beginning of the chat and I think we're seeing a new kind of movement. And I think like we are seeing this, I think we're in a very interesting place in technology, right? We're seeing this like shift towards, I think the efficiency about like how we do more with less.

Conor Bronsdon: And part of it's driven by macroeconomic climate.

Francisco Trindade: Yeah, exactly right. I think we are like, as engineering leaders, we are like an interesting position because there is a temptation and I think that we sing. We're gonna decide, like we are the ones deciding which path we take, right? Yeah, I think there's a temptation of saying, okay, let's go back to this.

The old tools of just get people to work hard or higher doesn't work long term. Like cheaper. Yeah. People like cheaper labor and stuff like, and that's not always a solution. I think so, I think like really thinking about, there's a lot of things that you can improve in just like, Focusing on how your team works and how your team efficiently team is, and I think like it's an interesting, an exciting, I think moment industry.

Conor Bronsdon: Well said. I think we have a lot of potential to get into a golden age of both productivity and efficiency, but also develop happiness and. Developer experiencing their job in a positive way. And I love the direction we're taking and I know it's definitely a goal for us at LinearB and Dev, Interrupted is to enable that.

So thank you so much for coming on and I'll say for anyone listening, if you found this conversation valuable, you took some nugget away from it, we'd really appreciate if you give a little value back and just give us a five star review on Spotify and Apple Podcast. Hope everyone has a great week and thanks for tuning in.

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