On this week we’re sitting down with Nelly Yusupova!
Nelly is on a mission to help entrepreneurs minimize technology mistakes. She teaches the roadmap to successfully manage technology teams and projects like a CTO…WITHOUT being technical or learning how to code. She’s a speaker and presenter for many organizations and major industries events including: Women’s Enterprise Center, NY Entrepreneurs Business Network, Small Business Summit, BlogHer, Social Media Jungle, Women 2.0, BlogWorld, and has been featured in INC Magazine, NBC Today Show, Fast Company Magazine, NewsDay.com, O’Reilly, SmartMoney, SmallBiz, TechRepublic, Women’s Radio.
Nelly’s Top Leadership Tips:
Below is a summary of the Top 5 Leadership tips shared during the interview this week. Take a listen to the episode to learn more about the thoughts behind these tips.
- Be More Effective When Hiring
- Know When To Lean In And Out
- Create A Great Network
- Grow Your Communication Skills
- Be A Good Manager
We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here:
Ryan: Hello everyone. And welcome to this week’s episode of the full stack leader podcast. This week, we’re here with Nelly Yusupova. She’s the CTO startup tech advisor, and founder of tech speak.co. Welcome Nelly. It’s great to talk to you.
Nelly: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. Ryan,
Ryan: excited to chat with you a little bit this week about some of the stuff that you’ve done in the past to grow into a CTO position.
I see you’ve been doing it for over a decade and you have lots of great experience in leadership and tech and would love to hear a little bit about where you come from and how you got to where you’re at now.
Nelly: So I have a very nontraditional path to being a CTO. Actually learned how to program and in college I had actually no clue what it was to turn on a computer, even I thought originally I’m a first generation immigrant.
I came from Taji. And, you know, we didn’t grow up with technology. I never had a computer. And when deciding what to study in school, I decided to major in computer science because I knew that the. I was gonna get a job when I finished school. And that was really a big motivator as a first generation maker.
And time is so compressed and you feel like you don’t have a lot of it. So I wanted to make sure that I had a great paying job and technology was the way to go. So I majored in. Peter science and thinking that they were gonna teach me how to use Microsoft word and Microsoft Excel really well but that’s where I got my start eventually.
Wow. Yeah. Yeah.
Ryan: I have more question. I have more questions on this in a minute, but that is amazing. Keep going.
Nelly: Yeah, it was a Rocky start because I really wanted to. Succeed, but everything was hard. I had no idea that you could type commands to a computer and it would run a program.
So it was a rough start. But what was exciting is that once I started getting it, I really understood the power of technology and was so like, I really got into. I actually finished my computer science degree in three years instead of the standard four, because I was just taking lots of classes, wanted to finish really quickly so I can get a real job doing this stuff.
Ryan: Wow. That’s amazing.
Ryan: So before, before we go further, actually, let me ask you this. So when you say you did not have a computer, you grew up in a home that didn’t have a computer accessible, but were, did you learn anything about it, in your schooling or anything like that?
Nelly: So this is before the internet.
Yep. We had typewriters in, in, in school. So we had a bro, I remember a brother typewriter. You turn it on. Yeah, you just type, so it was mostly about typing. It would never had like LCDs and I never grew up with computers. So if people. Back in the early days had apple Macintosh computers and they wrote programs and games.
I just wasn’t exposed to that. I didn’t even know that existed. So when I went to school, we only had brother typewriters that we used to do the required schoolwork. So I knew how to type, but that’s about it.
Ryan: How long did it take you to, once you were in university to like get the basics handled so that you could even get into the more advanced computing methodologies?
Nelly: So I think it, the very first class was the computer science 1 0 1 or 95, whatever the number was very tough because I had to get familiar with all of the concepts. But once I understood that, so that was the first, I guess, semester. The rest of it was relatively simple because I think I came from the former Soviet union and our level of education, I feel like was much stronger in terms of math and science back then.
So it was easy for me to make the leap. And understand, like what’s required of me once I understood like you write code and you make the machine do what you want. That was really exciting to me. I like, I got that. Got, and so the rest of it was just learning syntax, understanding more concepts. And then I really accelerated and took a lot of classes.
Ryan: And I think it’s like such a great example, referring back to leadership a little bit of like even early in life, jumping into something you didn’t know very well and kind of fearlessly getting into it and picking it up quickly. I think that’s, I think we faced that a lot when we’re in tech leadership in general.
Nelly: Yeah, absolutely. I think every, and as we go through my story, you’ll see a common thread. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a first generation immigrant failure is never an option for me. And time crunch, like getting somewhere quickly is really important to me. So I think going in knowing that I can’t turn back has a lot of value.
Because you will persevere despite the fact that it’s difficult or it wasn’t what you expected, because I did not know anything about tech, but I fell in love with technology once I gave it a chance. And I think a lot of people kind of gave up before they get to experience the. Other side of it, where it becomes so much more enjoyable, right?
Like once you get past the difficult parts and
Ryan: Resilience is an undervalued part of maturing into anything.
Nelly: Right? Absolutely. I’m mentoring a very young female tech leader and she was just not used to it. Like , she went in and she started doing something and she said, well, this is too difficult.
And I’m out was about to give up. And it’s the same thing that I have. I told her to go take a boxing class. . You know, and it was just like, Hey, when you are in that high stake situation, I used to do a lot of martial arts as well. Later in my career, which I think really prepared me for these types of high stake situations.
And she went in and she was like, well, this is too hard. Like, I don’t wanna do this. And it’s the same kind of mindset. You have to give it a chance until you get past the hard part and really start to enjoy the euphoria that you get from either learning something new or making a connection or making a program run, or actually being able to be fit enough to be in a fitness class.
You know, all of these things take time and. Persevering through that initial hardship is so, so, important to get through
Ryan: yeah. To, you have to do it, to get the mastery. Okay. So you got your computer science degree three years really fast. That’s amazing what happened next? After that,
Nelly: So while I was in school, I got to meet the startup life.
right. I never thought I was gonna be an entrepreneur. It was never in my card. I grew up in a very traditional family where we all believed that you gotta go get a job at a big company. And that was success. That was the definition of success for me. And when I was looking for different opportunities that were related to my computer science work, I.
Got an internship at a company called web girls international. The mission was to get more women online and our, we were building tools and technologies back then. This is early nineties we had to build the tech. Wow. Yeah. Um, and I walked into this office. And I couldn’t believe the energy.
I’ve never seen people being so happy at work and that’s what really got me excited to work there. I started as an intern, two months later, I became one of the developers one of the three developers that were there and the two guys that were the developers that I worked. they left throughout the next six months.
And I became the default tech person who kinda started to take over and do everything because I was the one that knew everything there was to know about running whatever systems that we built at the time. So that was kind of a lucky break for me because. For the next then year and a half while I was still in school, I was running almost all the tech there.
I learned a lot on the job and talk about persevering through hardship. yeah I did a lot of that there too, because everything was new. And in school you know, you learn the concepts, but you don’t actually learn practical stuff. So a lot of the early. Hardships in learning new tools, new learning, new technology, new concepts, et cetera was very tough.
But I did have great mentors. We were working with an outsourced team of kind of like CTO type people who were helping me figure things out. And if I had questions, I were able to tap into them. I also use Google a lot to learn a lot of information. It was a lot of fun because I had the keys to the kingdom.
If you wanna say it literally everything was at my disposal and being able to have that responsibility so early was so exciting for me. Very, yeah. And it’s
Ryan: to have that. That’s amazing. And it’s such a great example, too, of being able to learn the more advanced theories on a theoretical level, but also like having a place to actually apply them and like probably how much faster the education sings in and, you know, you’re like, oh, okay.
I just learned about this recently and here we go.
Nelly: Absolutely. It was. And so much of it was brand new because I feel like, you know, this, the school education was teaching us one thing, but here I was learning new technologies. The web was just coming around and we were, what technology was evolving so quickly.
Like literally every day we were implementing something brand new and we were doing, you know, we were building communities technology, community tools. Back when community didn’t really exist online. Yeah. So everything was brand new and I got to experience that as technology was evolving.
So yeah, that was a very interesting and pivotal moment for me because , When I got hired out of school to work at a big company, which was the dream yeah, I took that job. I took that job mainly because I had to experience what it was like to work at a bigger company. I feel like in a startup, everything was exciting.
Everything was new, but I always was questioning, you know, what would it be like to work somewhere where resources were unlimited
Ryan: and what’d you, what what’d you find? What was the difference? ,
Nelly: it was a stark, like kind of culture shock for me coming in from a startup environment where I was literally running everything to becoming a very small fish in a big pond and very bureaucratic lots of red tape.
I just wanted to leave there literally the first day that I came, because. you know, the stark comparison of me walking into an office where I saw everybody was super happy to be there. To looking at the guy across from me every day, who’s been working there for like five years. He literally wa watches the clock at 4 59 he’s.
He has a smile on his face at as soon as five o’clock hits. He was already ready. Like he’s like ready to go at five o’clock. He was out. And that was just not how I saw my life after experiencing the startup experience. I just thought. That’s not for me. And I always say like, I lasted 11 months. I even started school I started like, I did my, I started my master’s degree there and I looked at, they, you know, they actually trap you a little bit in there because they stretch your program that your two year program into five years.
So they can keep you there longer. And I’m like how would I do that? Like, I could not last here for five years. So I Actually worked part-time at web girls while I was still there and kept in touch and really did a lot of development still on my off time. so I think 11 months later, I talked to the CEO at the time and really told them how I felt about working at this big company.
And they offered me an opportunity of a life. Early in my career, I was offered a CTO position in a startup. And that was a really big pivotal moment. Like I just, I felt to me it was a no brainer to say yes, but everyone else around me thought I was insane to give up a secure job to go work in a startup.
Ryan: Did you feel like you understood what that meant? Being a CTO at the.
Nelly: Probably no, I am obviously not the person that I am now with all the experience. Right. But I knew that, and I had the confidence in myself to be able to figure it out. I’ve already done it so many times that just, I was, I felt like I was lucky to be given the opportunity and I knew that I would, I could put in the work to actually earn that.
Ryan: That’s a, yeah, I think like the amount of, kind of self starting and kind of fearlessly adventuring into the next unknown thing allows somebody like you at that stage in your career to even make that kind of a leap otherwise it’s it’s like, do I even know what I’m doing? Am I supposed to you just get in and figure it out right.
And learn it.
Nelly: Yeah. And I think I, I share this story a lot because I think it teaches you about. This notion that when you go into a specific title and you think you, everyone else in that titles knows what they’re doing. And I knew that wasn’t the case because when I came in earlier on as a intern and six months later, or a year later was running the whole thing, I had no idea what I was doing and I learned it on the job.
Right. And so. Knowing that everybody doesn’t have all the answers, even though they have the title is a very freeing thing for everybody in tech or any position, because going in and saying yes, before you’re ready, I think is a superpower that anyone can implement right now and just have.
A relationship with yourself to know that you will do everything, to be able to figure that out, that you’re not gonna just give up because it’s hard or whatever else. So I knew I had the confidence in myself and I knew that I had the resources and the connections to be able to figure it out. Yeah. And so I didn’t do you think all the answers.
Ryan: Do you think it was especially challenging, especially during that time earlier much earlier in the tech industry, it sounds like, that you as a woman had to go into that role and maybe didn’t see as much of that from women at that time. Like it, there wasn’t the availability of that as much.
Did you notice that.
Nelly: It’s a great question. I think I was lucky because I was working in a company like web girls, where we had a mission of getting more women online and I didn’t face a lot of A lot of what’s going on in tech, which I know does happen. And it’s funny because when I was going through my computer science curriculum, I had a, one of the few women there who was a computer science teacher, data structures and she was always kind of telling me, Hey, you keep going and don’t let anybody discourage you or whatever else.
Right. She was. Telling me all of this stuff, and I never actually understood what she was doing until later in my career when I realized how few women are in tech. And I think because I was so focused and a first generation. Immigrant. I didn’t even know that I was one of the few women in my computer science classes either.
It was just a blind kind of ignorance, which was a blessing for me. Right. And until I came to work at web girls, I didn’t realize that women were facing these things. And so there were a few. Obviously quite a few areas where I still had to go and prove myself. Like if I’m walking into a room full of guys they’re always question marks.
What are you doing here? Are you really a CTO? And you know, after I start speaking and explaining and being a part of the meeting, usually that goes away, but I still have to go over that initial hurdle of proving myself.
Ryan: I think it’s really interesting that you really were kind of working in an environment especially as long ago as it was that you really were protected from having to face like the discrimination practices or anything like that, that have been known to exist in the industry.
And it allows. You know, growth into leadership positions just fearlessly you just go. So it’s really amazing. I’m interested to see how that keeps developing over the course of your career. What, what happened? What happened next once you were in there?
Nelly: Yeah, so, I got an opportunity to build my team and we were building a lot of tools and technologies for the.
Global membership of about 30,000 women at the time who were very tech savvy, professional women. The pressure wa to execute was tremendous. And I felt that pressure to be able to give them the tools and the experiences they were seeking. Through the online community that we were building.
And so pretty much everything that I’ve learned as a CTO. And a lot of the things that I teach founders now is through my work at web girls over those years. And a pivotal moment was , I’m sure we’ll talk about it. Is going from traditional way of building things to to the lean way of building things that.
Made me change a lot of the processes that we were implementing, but it was everything that I did over those years of managing teams, pulling the software practices into and the processes that I had to develop to make sure that the teams were successful were learned on the.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s amazing.
And yeah, you were really right there during that transition period from kind of very traditional waterfall approaches to things, to, to a much more kind of lean discovery process and startups. What was what were some of the hardest parts of moving your infrastructure from that initial to the new version?
Nelly: Yeah, I think I started making the realization when. we were so excited. I still remember this day, it was back in 2008 we discovered that, Hey, we needed to build these set of features that will completely change everything for our members. We were so excited internally to be able to build them.
We knew that if we delivered on them, that it would catapult the members to success so much more. and we put all the resources nine months of development time to build these amazing features. only to discover that nine months later when we launched. We got really next to nothing. In terms of reaction, we did all of our marketing strategy, execution connect, like all of the things that we usually do.
And we were so wrong on all of our assumptions. We committed nine months. Time money and resources. And after we got the feedback, we discovered that this solution that we spent the last nine months of was not a problem worth solving. And that really was the initial kind of push into the. Thinking what is going on here?
Like, why didn’t we just go and talk to our customers, our members, right. We had a community of 30,000 members that we could have really understood what are their problems and build a solution that directly solves those problems. And so from that point on. The a lot of the processes that I started looking into how to remove the guesswork and assumptions as PO as much as possible before we build anything and be optimized for learning.
Ryan: you working with a product partner during that point? Or were you kind of serving both. Technology and product.
Nelly: So I was doing technology and product. And so the difference in a lot of startup teams is that startup teams versus bigger companies is that in a startup, a lot of people do multiple roles.
So I was always doing CTO slash product role. And that was my, you know, I’m a very strong product. Focused CTO. Yeah. I care about product. I care about users and I think that is such an important thing that a lot of technical leaders miss out on. And they don’t necessarily get how important it is.
To get connected to the customers and really understand the problem first approach to building tech because technology in my mind is supposed to solve people’s problems, not the other one around. So I don’t like building technology for technology’s sake. So that was a big evolution in my thinking and EV evolution of me as a leader and really understanding how do you take these.
I coined this phrase, learn early, learn often learn cheap kind of mindset to, to getting the team to think that way as well. Whereas traditionally, a lot of technical people are not you know, they don’t have the characteristic of I’m gonna experiment constant uncertainty and change customer focused, you know, it’s not something that we are taught traditionally to do in school.
Ryan: It’s really hard because it also takes a leap of mindset, especially when you’ve been kind of baked and just build whatever you wanna build. It takes a leap of mindset to like actually open up the conversation and hear what people need and ask them in a way that you can actually. Build off it and understand it.
And I do think that around the time period, you’re talking about 2008 in, in that range, there was a big push for a lot better communication between technologists and customers. And it sounds like you were right, right in the middle of
Nelly: that. Yeah, it was a pivotal moment I think, and really loved the transition.
And then they lean start book for anyone who’s not familiar with Eric Reese concepts and yeah, Eric, Chris Reese really popularized this whole movement. And so happy for that because a lot of people started to understand that, Hey, if we. Understand the problems better by talking to customers, right? We’re never asking them, do you want this thing?
If I build it because they’re gonna lie, right? It’s not the, it’s not a good question to ask, but really hyper focused on the problem rather than the solution. If you have that approach, you’re gonna be so much more efficient at solving those problems with technology. And sometimes, you know, the best.
Solutions may not be technology focused. right. Technology helps you optimize something, but maybe there’s a faster, better way to solve that problem. That is not technology. And so that’s why it’s so important to understand the problem. And then figure out what is the best way to solve that problem?
Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. So where did you go from there? How did the teams they did, they ultimately evolve and were you able to get them to a place where you had this new kind of structure moving in the organization?
Nelly: So this is a, this is I think a story that is going to be very important for other people to hear.
Okay. As we started to transition from the traditional way of building to the lean way of building. I had to reassess the team. So the first thing you need to do when transitioning is to train the team, but what, one of the most kind of eye-opening things that happened for me was realizing that there is a few people on my team that just couldn’t make that leap.
Even after the training, they weren’t built that way. They were not okay with uncertainty and change. They wanted to build something very defined and wanted to build it perfectly and wanted to use the specific technologies that they wanted to use, not what was required for the specific project. So the painful thing that you need to realize. is that you have to let those people go, because if you are implementing a process that requires certain types of characteristics that I call DNA qualities then and you already have a team in that transition. You haven’t hi, you haven’t hired that person or that team prior for those DNA qualities.
So you may have people on your team that just wouldn’t be a fit. And so one of the mistakes that I made was keeping someone, one of those people was a key developer who had a lot of skill and knowledge about a certain part of our product that wasn’t very well documented. It was technically very algorithmically, very advanced.
So he was the one who wrote it had the most amount of knowledge. And I had to. Make a very painful decision to let him go be just because it was just not working out in that scenario.
Ryan: Yeah. And sometimes when somebody holds that level of knowledge, it’s incredibly difficult to make that leap.
How did you How did you communicate this to him? What was what did that conversation, how was that?
Nelly: Well, yeah, it was many months of communication and taking on the responsibility to train them and. explaining, you know, this is what we’re doing, why we’re doing, and it was just not working.
So the cultural fit at that point, it was almost counterproductive to keep them there. And. I wasn’t experienced at the time enough to like it was, I took on this role of maybe I’m just a bad manager and I can’t figure out how to manage this person. You know, it was me being insecure in my position at that time and taking on the responsibility and the burden of this person, just not being a good.
That was a big lesson for me. At some point I just needed to say, like, I needed to realize myself that it wasn’t me. It was the person. And so once I made that realization, it was a very easy decision. And actually my team was. Wondering why it took me so long to make that decision
Ryan: yeah. It’s surprising how supportive they are, right.
Like, because they see that same challenge. Yeah. That was the thing I was gonna ask you is how did that change the dynamic of the team after you did it?
Nelly: Oh, it was affecting the one. When they, when people say one bad apple can affect the entire team. That was exactly the case. It was affecting team morale.
It was Very many many years later I found out that the team was conspiring to quit. because of that. Wow. Wow. And I fired the person in time because the what happens is that when you’re in a leadership position, you are responsible for showing and showing up in a certain way. And when I wasn’t doing my job, They kind of started losing faith in me as a leader and, you know, very, would’ve been a very expensive lesson.
I’m glad that it didn’t happen. But it’s something that I think as leaders, you have to be mindful of because these types of decisions that you’re making and other people looking up to you, they are looking to see that you are going to preach what you teach.
Ryan: Were you getting direct feedback from some of those team members?
Do you like to have open lines of dialogue with them?
Nelly: Absolutely. So one of my most important tips for any leader is communication. I think, right. The reason why teams don’t work or things fall apart is because there’s a lack of communication on so many fronts. Right. And to be a good leader, you need to be a great communicator and also a great listener, but also create a culture where you are encouraging this type of behavior.
And as a leader, Especially as a CTO, your job is to create a culture where people feel safe, encouraged, excited, you know, being there, doing their best, supporting the team. And if you are treating one person differently, then the rest it’s unfair to the team, you know, and other people can feel it.
They start to lose faith with, in you as a leader.
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. So where did this take you? Where are you in more recent years?
Nelly: So back in 2010, this is another part of my career that started evolving as me being at the helm of we girls is going out and speaking at different conferences and events and.
I’ve really enjoyed that part of it. I actually realized that I was a born teacher. awesome. Loved I loved teaching and training as well as sharing some of my experiences. And when I went to startup conferences, I started getting kind of pulled in this direction of. hearing a lot of horror stories from founders and entrepreneurs who were doing this for the first time and They could manage teams or didn’t understand the processes that they needed to put in place to be able to increase their product philosophies of their team and their startup. And after hearing that for many years, I decided to solve that problem and decided to start. That’s how text speak was born.
I called the text speak because I wanted to teach people a lot of the things that I’ve learned over the years, give them the step by step processes that they needed to use using this lean agile methodologies of like quickly iterating and learning early often in cheap. Those are all the pillars of a lot of the processes that I teach.
And so that evolved into text speak, which I used to. Actually teach us a bootcamp over a weekend for many years. And then now it’s on online training, paired with group coaching and one-on-one support where between the group coaching and the frameworks and the content that they get in terms of processes, they start to implement that in their startups, in their teams to get them more efficient at executing.
Ryan: Do you find that you’re training mostly CTOs or are you also working with CEOs and like, engineering directors and things like that?
Nelly: It’s all across the board. It’s funny because I initially started with the startup founders, but what I’m also finding is a lot of technical people who are not well versed in this type of thinking.
Like, I wish somebody had this training when I was you know, transitioning into the. From the traditional way into the lean way of building product, you,
Ryan: you were helping invent it though. You were helping
Nelly: yourself. Yes. Indirectly I was doing that, but it was, it would’ve been so helpful for me to make that transition and have somebody who already figured it out.
Like, I feel like you can read the lean startup book, understand some of the concepts and that’s kind of the danger that I see nowadays. People are familiar. All the methodologies in, from a book, but they don’t know how to put it into action. And so, my goal is to or,
Ryan: Or it becomes risky for them to put it into action and they jump back or they view it as risky.
I’ve seen a number of times we’ll start like really lean projects or jab in oriented experimentation, things like that. And people will start like wanting to do it, but then they’re like wait. This process is not comfortable. And they quickly jump back to just do it like this.
Nelly: And that’s why , the evolution of tech speak went from just a bootcamp to paired it up with coaching that I think is so important because you need to be able to get back to someone who has done it before, ask them questions.
All of the teams that I work with have different structure, different dynamics, different types of people. Like if you’re in a startup, some people are doing the role of three people. In a big company. Yeah. You know? And so they need, they, even though the process that they use is the same. They need different to support and different structure in terms of connecting all the pieces and helping them implement it.
So it’s been working really well when it’s paired up with coaching. Yeah.
Ryan: Well, that’s amazing. I’m really excited to share with everyone that you do this kind of coaching. And I think it’s it can offer such great insight into an area that people, like you said, like they get into, but they don’t always finish or they don’t know the next step or path.
So make sure everyone and check out Nelly’s website. And she talks with a lot of great conferences as well. So, make sure you get to find her. Thanks for taking a run through this part of your career with us. It’s been really insightful and again, I’m so appreciative of the way that you have fearlessly jumped in to learn things and used resilience to get through them.
Nelly: Thank you. It was a lot of fun. I have to say.
Knowing when to step into entrepreneurship is never cut and dry.
And it’s often a tough decision to make, especially when your job security could be at risk. Nelly details, her experience about taking that leap from an enterprise environment to delving into the startup world. She talks about having to redefine her perspective of success. Even when colleagues might not understand the vision from an early age, Nellie understood that the self starting.
itself is what allows a leader to learn, grow and be successful. Once the first step is realized a leader is then able to demonstrate the qualities that actually inspire.
Ryan: All right. Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Nellie USVA and we are going to head into her top five leadership tips. We’re really excited to hear what you have Nellie. So why don’t we jump in with tip number one? What are you at?
Tip One (Be More Effective When Hiring)
Nelly: So the first tip for any leader. Is to be more effective at hiring.
So I have two things in the hiring space that two, two tips that I’d like to offer the first one is to hire for DNA. DNA qualities are typically things that you can’t change. So you can’t make a non curious person curious, or if somebody doesn’t love to learn, you. Can’t teach them to love to learn.
And so those are the qualities that essentially you can come up with. And first for every candidate that you. Want to hire, create a DNA quality list that you wanna hire against. And I love that idea. Yeah. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t match those qualities. And also, you know, every one of your companies should have a company values or company DNA as well.
So you have to be able to hire for both. So both for each person, the type of position and for the company DNA. Because you could have the best candidate that has the best technical skills, but if they don’t match either the type of DNA that you want them to be like a great learner working in an uncertain environment, that’s something that we brought up in the first part.
You know, those are all things that you need to make sure that they match before you hire them. And that is going to save you a tremendous amount of time and money to making somebody successful. .
Ryan: Yeah. And I appreciate the pre-planning of going into the hiring process as well. So you’re not just kind of like guessing, ah, this might or might not fit.
You’re actually thinking about what the fit looks like and guiding towards that as you go through hiring.
Nelly: The second tip for hiring is to hire slow and fire.
Ryan: Fast fire. Yeah. And why is that to explain that that process for you? Why so.
Nelly: I always look for DNA qualities. I always do the background checks and making sure that the person is who they say they are and that the experiences that they’ve had, and the successes that they’ve had in their past work are actually due to them being involved rather than being on the trajectory, like a ship that was taking off.
And they were just there at the right time at the right place. So I do a lot. Work when I hired to make sure that I have the best candidate because a hiring mistake is so expensive. It’s 30% of a person’s salary. I don’t know if you knew that. And so I wanna be able to make sure as much as I can, that the person is actually successful in their job before I get them.
Yeah. But then my job as a leader is to watch. To make sure that the person is actually a good fit. So continuously giving them, you know, actually what they need, but watching to make sure that they are at an actual fit when they’re starting to work. It’s like, You dating and then you get married and you just start to discover a lot of things about the person that you didn’t know about.
Right. And it’s the same thing at work, right? And so that’s why it’s important to take your time when you’re hiring. But as soon as you see that someone is either not working out or you made a mistake or whatever else, I think the big mistake that a lot of leaders make is keeping someone who once they realize that they made a mistake, keeping them for way too long.
And what it’s costing you a lot of time and money. And the longer you keep that person in that job, the more you’re affecting the rest of the team, this is especially catastrophic for startups, where every person in the team has to pull their weight. I guess in, if you’re working in a bigger company, there’s a lot more padding for failure like this.
But I think if you have a small team and you have 1 person who doesn’t. The rest of the team can feel it, know it. And your job as a leader is to make sure you address it. And of course, give them the training if they need to mentor them through a situation, if they need to. But if they’re ultimately not a fit, it’s your job to replace them.
Ryan: Great advice. Great advice. All right. What’s your next tip?
Tip Two (Know When To Lean In And Out)
Nelly: so the next tip is to know when to lean in and when to lean out as a leader, that’s a good one. As a leader, when your team comes to you for help, the inclination is to dive in and solve the problem for them because it’s faster. If you do it yourself, right, you have a lot more experience.
But what you’re creating is dependence rather than independent thinkers and problem solvers. And you’re actually taking away the. The experience for someone else to learn. So you also creating a bottleneck where you are the person that everybody comes to. So if you guide rather than solve, you will be in a much stronger position to not be a mentor, right?
So you’re being a mentor to someone rather than taking away their ability to learn constantly. So, there is a balance as a leader that you need to know. To have to know when you want to actually get in and get your hands dirty and actually help rather than mentoring the people who are working for you and getting them to learn and grow as people who, as your team members.
Ryan: Yeah. And it also allows you to leverage so much more of your workforce. Cuz if you don’t do that over the course of time, you just run yourself into a limitation of the amount of people who can actually do the things you need them to.
Nelly: Yeah, absolutely.
Ryan: All right. Tip number three. What do you got?
Tip Three (Create A Great Network)
Nelly: So tip number three is creating a great network and this is especially important for technical people who a lot of them tend to be. introverted. I
Ryan: think you in
Nelly: the code in code, but it’s so important, your network. Going to allow you to grow professionally, whether you need to start a new job or your own company, or you need to bounce off of ideas of someone or get advice, your network is going to be your greatest asset in your career.
So if you are not, if you don’t have a network of just the three people that you talk to all the time, it’s something that I think you can intentionally. Work on build those relationships. Don’t treat them as transactions because you never know when you’re gonna need someone else’s expertise. And so I think focus on that early in your career.
So that by the time you’re in the midst of your career, you have a lot of great people you can tap into to help you with whatever it is that you need. Help.
Ryan: great. Great advice. It’s actually a unique one. I haven’t heard people say a lot in here, but it’s an absolutely vital one because it’s not just about like what it can do for you.
And I think you kind of said it as transactional, which I think is a great phrase, but it’s about how you can create support across all the different people that you have, especially in a field where you’re , innovating and creating new ideas all the time.
Nelly: Yeah. And it helps you so much with hiring.
If you have a great network people that you’ve worked with in the past or people that you’ve already established trust with, you know, anywhere you go, if you need to hire great people and put, pull together a team, you can actually tap into your network and bring them in with you. It’s such a superpower for a lot of people.
So if you’re a leader, that’s something that I would highly recommend that you focus on because I agree, Ryan. I don’t think a lot of people talk about it enough.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s great. That’s a great tip. All right. Tip number four. What do you got?
Tip Four (Grow Your Communication Skills)
Nelly: so tip number four is all about communication skills. this is another thing that I think technical leaders struggle with.
And here it’s important to not just communicate, being able to communicate on a technical level, but also being able to communicate with non-technical people. So. Being having the ability to speak clearly, speak confidently, speak persuasively, and also empathetically become self-aware enough and avoid assuming that the audience knows what you’re talking about and being able to know when you’re talking to the technical people, you know, you can speak to them at their level, but if you’re talking to non-technical people.
You need to get down to their level and explain things to them in a way that, you know, not talking down to them, but in a way that they understand and will actually be successful at wherever they are.
Ryan: Yeah, this is a more common one that I hear. And it’s absolutely vital because it is a trait that’s often learned later in the career of an engineering leader than earlier.
But it’s an extremely powerful one that you can’t be a leader without it.
Nelly: Absolutely. And I think every single person who wants to be a technical leader should. Go out and like join Toastmasters or something where you can actually be put in a position where you’re speaking or teaching or something where you’re constantly communicating ideas and making sure that how you speak is clear and concise and inspiring.
If you wanna be a leader, you wanna be able, you need to be able to communicate effectively.
Ryan: Yep. I agree. That’s great. All right. Final tip number five.
Tip Five (Be A Good Manager)
Nelly: So number five, tip number five. I’m gonna just state the obvious it’s. It’s learn how to be a good manager. And I think
Ryan: it’s valid. I guess
Nelly: that’s a good one.
It’s it’s it’s an obvious one, right, but it’s. So important. And I think like overlooked because being a good manager is actually like all the, a lot of the things that we talked about are all put together. So you need to be able to have great listening skills, learning skills, empathy, understanding, and caring about what motivates each.
Individual team member. And I’m gonna underline like individual team member here because not every person on your team is going to have the same needs same requirements, same desires. And so your ability to really tune in, into, and seeing your. Team as a, each as a human being, right. And tuning in to what their needs are and being able to communicate effectively with them, getting them to be successful.
That’s how you get people to. Go to bat for you to come to work excited and being a productive member of the team. And so it’s again, not transactional. It’s really like I’m so anti small talk, but really getting to know people. And I. Understanding what motivates each one. Here I can share an example of one person that I wanted to keep in my team, and I really wanted to do something special for them.
And I was gonna give them a raise. and then I talked to them and they were so excited about going to that year, going to three specific conferences and all they wanted was to be able to do that, to have the time off and have all of that being paid for. And I’m like Yeah. And so, so it wasn’t just that he was learning and wanting to learn.
And also as a result, be a better productive member of the team, but that was all, he needed to feel happy and seen and fulfilled. And so it was like, you know, me throwing money at him may have not been the thing that would’ve made him as happy. Doing this. So it’s so important to, and to listen and just tune into each individual need.
Ryan: That’s it. Yeah, exactly too. I like, I really like how you just said tune into cuz that is it. If you take the time to actually go underneath and hear the thing you often discover that whatever your preconceptions are around, what makes work happy for someone or what fulfills them in their career.
It’s often that’s our own projection onto it, of what it is versus what actually matters to them and how you’re gonna meet them. That’s a very like. It’s a very important skill for leaders to develop. And I think it’s also related to how you look at how your product fits with a with a consumer as well.
Yeah, cause you’re thinking about them and you’re working on that, so absolutely. It’s a great tip. It’s a great tip. Well, Nellie, this episode has been as good as I expected to be. You were amazing, and we appreciate all of your insight and your feedback. It’s great to have you here today and thanks for sharing with us.
Nelly: Absolutely. It was so much fun. Awesome.
Each of Nelly’s tips are essential for great leadership. Creating a great team starts with the hiring process, knowing what to look for in a hire and the DNA qualities that make them an excellent fit are just as important.
The process is amplified when it comes to your management style. And she helps us remember that. We need to know when to let go of the reigns and when to empower our team to take on the challenges that might otherwise be daunting. More importantly, we, as leaders need to understand that leadership itself is just as much about your own growth as understanding how to grow a team.