About This Episode
EPISODE 9 features Gabriel Bordeaux the Head Of Engineering at Confiant, a tech company committed to the removal of malware advertising. Gabriel shares with us his insight into growing from a young entrepreneur and leading with intention and preparation. Giving us his Top 5 Tips on creating a thriving environment that encourages challenges, and constructive criticism.
Gabriel’sTop 5 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 –
- Blameless Problem Solving
- Mindful Hiring
- Always Learn
- Help Everyone Be Their Best
- Give Constant Feedback
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. We’re excited to have Gabriel Bordeaux with us. Gabriel is the head of engineering at Confiant, a technology company, based on the east coast. We’ll let him tell you a little bit about the organization. Gabriel’s had a long storied career. As an engineering lead and a project manager and running several of his own businesses over the course of time. Additionally, Gabriel’s from France. So we look forward to hearing a little bit about the region that he comes from and how he got started in his career. So welcome Gabriel. It’s great to have.
Gabriel: Thanks, Ryan. Thanks for having me.
Ryan: Yeah. We’re excited to hear some of the stories you have and some of your tips on leadership. Maybe you can first tell us a little bit about your career and where you’ve been.
Gabriel: Sure. So currently I’m head of engineering at confound. So we are a 40 people’s startup that fights against the threat of malvertising. So what we do is we help publishers protect themselves against bad ads that can affect the people that visit. That makes sense. So we created an innovative solution that allows us to detect bad ads before they’re run out on the website in a matter of milliseconds, and we can even replace them with other ads to help publishers.
Ryan: That’s a really challenging area. I actually was involved in it a little bit earlier in my career. And I know, some of the engineering behind that’s pretty complex.
Gabriel: Yeah. It’s a fairly complex tax. So we have some automated tools to do that, that we, something also had confined is we have a pretty great security team and they help us, they can analyze suspicious ads and find security threats within them and then block them and report them to.
Ryan: It’s an industry that’s really filled with a lot of fraud. And I know that’s a big part of the challenge that all ad tech entities face over the course of time. I’m sure you have a few unique experiences within dealing with fraudsters, around ads, right?
Gabriel: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.
We are. So there’s about 1% of HOD. And it said, like all developers spectrum, and it’s a really big deal for publishers. So we work with large websites like Amazon, eBay, business, insider, like political, and many of those are large websites like that and we help them protect themselves and their users.
Ryan: That’s amazing. So where did you get started? How did you get into this? Okay,
Gabriel: So app. Pretty much. It all started at the time I was entering high school. So my parents, they bought me a really cool calculator called a T I 89. I don’t know if you know about it, is that the Texas instrument?
Yeah, it’s a Texas instruments and it was like, I think it’s discontinued by now, but it was one of the better models. And what you could do on it is you could program on it. There was, there’s a language. I basic, I don’t know how familiar you are with a basic. But TA base equals like the Texas instrument version of the basic language. And you could program on it, like using your calculator’s keyboard, using that small display and you could take full advantage of that 256 K or from it. I
Ryan: I love it. It’s like the iPhone
Gabriel: before the iPhone. Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, what was really cool about it is just like the Avon. You could connect it to a computer and you could upload programs from the internet and put them on the calculator. And that’s how I started my first website. When I was 15, I created a website to showcase the programs I was creating from ITA tonight.
Ryan: That’s amazing. Did people come visit the web?
Gabriel: Um, well, I talked to tell me that. So it was in the year 2000 and in the year 2000, the, you know, the analytics tool. It wasn’t what it is today, but I got some feedback. There was some forum and people were talking about it. So the, I created a game that was a slot machine and you could play slot machines on . And what people would download and use it. And what’s funny is I still have the calculator today and I still have the game on it and I can still play it.
And it works. It works pretty well. There’s a little design of a slot machine on it that they drew pixel by pixel on the calculators using the calculator. Skee-ball wow.
Ryan: Wow. Just the, yeah. , using every single character within the calculator itself to create a slot machine itself.
Ryan: amazing. Where was this? Where was this? When I was in university. I missed it earlier.
Gabriel: That was, yeah, that was in, uh, high school.
Ryan: That’s great. That’s amazing. So how did you build that into an actual career in technical?
Gabriel: Well, so what happened after that is I had a friend that was running a website called comedian TV, and it was a website about TV series and, it was a PHP website.
So we’ve had a real backend to it. you know, there was a form like TBD students, everything you would find on that kind of website back then. And I was 16 at that point and that website was doing awesome. It had a lot of visitors. And, I even remember one day I went to the library with my friend and we saw someone on the library, computer browsing that website. And yet I know it must not sound like much today, but I can tell you that nearly 2000, that was a big deal.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s almost rockstar status. When you see someone on your website without you telling them about it.
Gabriel: That’s amazing. Anyways, the nail, the work stuff. So, so, uh, then something, a little unexpected happened when I was 17. Okay. I was a customer of a startup and it was French thought that was offering payment solutions online. And I found some, I was pretty big into programming at that point and they found some secret TV abilities on their website. And so I sent them an email to report. And then on Christmas day I received a response from them. He was actually a CEO Darcie, that’s emailed me and he asked if he could call me. And, uh, so he called me, told me about the company and he explained to me that he wants you to, from your job. And so , I asked him, you know, I also follow. And then I was confused too. I was 17 years old and he said, yeah, and that’s fine. And he gave me a job as an engineer and I was 17 years old.
Ryan: Wow. It’s a great way to audition for something is to point out an organization’s vulnerabilities. , And, I, I think that happens to quite a few hackers as well.
Gabriel: Yeah, I think it was more common back then is now where people,, no days they go to college, you get to see a degree and that’s like the normal path to, to get into engineering.
Ryan: , awesome. Well, so then you started working for them and where’d you go from there?
Gabriel: Yeah. So from there it gave me the idea of creating my own. And so I created a small startup, so steel back in France. Right. And I was selling online ads and I was creating small games for non-payers. And so I was 18 at that point. And so when I was 18 years old, at the same time I was going to law school because my goal was not to be in computing. My goal was to become a judge. And in France, it’s not like in the U S for judges. In France, it’s a career to be a judge. So you go to law school, you more or less do the things that you would need to do to become a lawyer. And then you go to judge school and you stay there for a few years and you’re judged for the rest of your life.
Ryan: So , it’s like a specialty kind of like a surgeon would be to a doctor. Sure,
Gabriel: exactly. So at the same time, at some point I was going to school to become a judge. I had my own one-man startup and I was employed by a payment solution company and I realized there’s not something that’s sustainable. So I decided to resign from the job. And so I was going to law school and I had. And after a few months doing that, I realized that with my own startup, I was making more money. I was going to be a judge. Well,
Ryan: altogether you’d already hit
Gabriel: That home. Yeah. So it’s not as impressive as it sounds because judges in France don’t make much money.
Ryan: Somebody who’s in their teenage years, it’s pretty impressive. And it shows the power of understanding technology and how it works. Yeah. Yeah.
Gabriel: Fascia. So the company that I created grew little by little because I started hiring people. I hired a sales person first because that was my least favorite aspect of.
Yep. Then I hired someone to do customer success , to make sure we were communicating efficiently with clients. And so on. Then I hired a marketing manager and more people, and this was a self-funded company and it never lost money. And so I ended up at some point we were 10 or 12 and praised. And at the end I had almost 3 million in revenue.
Ryan: Wow. , and go, how did you keep it going? Or did you do something with it?
Gabriel: So I kept it going. And at the same time, I collaborated with a large French company called high media. And how the media was facilitating credit card payments online, which was similar in the business. The first company that hired me was doing. And so 10 years ago, at some point in time, I moved to. And at that point, I was still running my company and I was traveling every four to six weeks between Paris and the U S. It was pretty intense to deal with the constant jet lag. And I had employees back in France. So, you know, I’m pleased, we’re far away. There was a time difference. It was not very convenient. So in early 2014, I decided to sell the company and I took a few months off. And then I ended up joining confiance because a friend of mine had started confronting the main thing.
Ryan: And was that transition from kind of really running your own business to becoming part of a,, another team? Was that a hard transition?
Gabriel: Yeah, it’s a really good question. Yes. It was a hot trend and you’re the CEO, at your own company and, you call the shots you make all the decisions, right. And then you join another company. And I joined it as a technical leader, also in the technical team. And I had people above me now I had people that were making decisions and I had to work with them. So there was a bit of transition, but there are also some positive aspects to it. It’s definitely less stressful to be in engineering management and to be CEO of a company.
Ryan: Well, it’s pretty amazing. The way you have had to transition from one form of leadership to another, maybe you can give us some perspective on how you got to like how you learn leadership, how you got into it in the first place.
Gabriel: YeahWhat happened at some point is, that when I had my company, I was collaborating with another company. And it was like a large, French company that was a traded company with a big structure. And what did it mean? They built a website called photolog and photolog is, it’s kind of a website like tumblr, and it was a big website. They bought it for $80 million. And at that point in time, in 2008, it was one of the 50th largest websites in the world.
Ryan: And it was basically an image and media feed website, similar to Tumblr.
Gabriel: Exactly. Yeah. And so, the CEO of the company came to me and he told me about the deal that they were buying that large website. And he asked me if I spoke English and he asked me if I wanted to go spend a few months in New York. And so let me tell you, going to New York for a few months was great. So I told him, of course I told him, of course I speak English. I can go soon. You need me to go, I’ll
Ryan: go right now.
Gabriel: Let’s go. I’ll go right now. So me and one of the C-levels of the company, we went there and we stayed there for 90 days. And so let me tell you, my English was so bad. I could barely order food in a day.
Ryan: So, but he, but your boss didn’t know that at the time
Gabriel: was not aware of that. I went there and it was like a foot dog was a pretty large company. It was like 40 people or something. And, our goal was to go there to help, manage them and help them integrate our business and, you know, maximize our revenue. So I got into all these meetings with all these people and the era’s really difficult. It was at the same time, it was, there was a language barrier, but there was also a cultural barrier. And so I had to work with that and I really had to learn on the fly, how to do that, how to make it well.
Ryan: Yeah, I find that, a big part of technology and it makes it a unique kind of business where we tend to work with a lot of different regions and blend regions, versus a lot of businesses that are more localized. Don’t really kind of deal with that piece. But the culture differences can really make it hard for people. Not just to come together on the business vision, but to also just come together and the way that they work. Right?
Gabriel: Yeah, for sure. But P people in the tech industry are very accepting and they are very welcoming, so it was difficult, but at the same time, I could make it work.
Ryan: Were there specific things that you had to do to make that happen?
Gabriel: I got to know everyone and I went somewhere where they were coming from. What was your story? What was the story of the company? And frustration that they had at that point and how I could work with that to maximize our revenue, because that’s what our company wants you to do.
Ryan: So what were some of the things you did to overcome some of those cultural challenges and maybe any of the other kinds of revenue based challenges you were facing?
Gabriel: Yeah. So I talked a lot with the existing management of the company and they talked with everyone that had been there for a long time. And I really took the time to understand how things were working, how they were running an American. And then I spend some time thinking about how I could work with them and how I could work with them efficiently. And so, you know, working
in a company is that, , in what was back then a foreign language to me and we speak all, that’s had a very different culture than mine. It was challenging, but in a lot of positive ways, it was a real learning experience for me.
Ryan: Yeah, I can imagine that would have been a very interesting challenge trying to blend culture language, as well as very fast moving technology. have you had to do any of this, as you moved into some of the more recent years of your career, like here, a confinement or even another thing
Gabriel: between yeah. So, um, It’s not exactly the same story, but it’s a trial story as well. So a few years ago at confiance, we were launching a new platform. And at the same time, we were trying to hire a team of engineers to work. And so we had very tight deadlines and we weren’t getting severely delayed because our team was too small. And because we did not have the engineering resources that we needed. Yep. So what happened is I asked one of my colleagues if we could meet together to work on that project. And we both went to a city named Dayton in the state of Ohio, I don’t know. Are you familiar with the city of. No.
Ryan: Oh, Dayton, Ohio. Yes.
Gabriel: I am familiar with it. Yes. So I live here. I’ve been there, but it’s pretty distraction-free since. There’s not a lot of things to do there. I’ve been,
Ryan: I’ve been to Ohio. I have not been to Dayton itself. Okay. Yeah. So, you can focus on that city though.
Gabriel: You can suddenly focus very well in that city. So unlike New York and Paris, unlike New York and Paris. Yes. Right. So my colleague and I work together in an empty coworking space factor a week to make the project happen. So at night I would work on creating the management infrastructure. I needed to manage the people we were trying to hire. So confined for a going company at that point. And when I started, we were just five people and now we’re over 40. So I worked on a lot of different things at that point, like standardized process for interviews, onboarding documentation, and just like guidelines for technical procedures and things. So all this, it really helped us and looking back, everything fell into place very well. So we ended up with a working product and today we have the ability to maintain a product as a team because of this. In engineering and to work IDD management.
Ryan: I want to talk about this subject for a second, and ask you a couple of questions. So I read a really great book called Deep work. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that book or not. I recommend it to everyone, especially in the very busy world of technology, basically. The author goes into the need for people to be able to create moments of deep focus throughout there, especially in certain positions throughout their workweek. And oftentimes we as a culture do not reward that. So we end up in a position where. It’s hard for people to get the time and the focus to do it. I think engineering development, certainly any kind of strategic planning for teams. They’re incredibly important moments to be able to take the time and go to Dayton, Ohio, or wherever your Dayton Ohio is and, sit down and do that deep work. How important is that to you in facilitating your team?
Gabriel: So I think it’s really important. It was easier back then because we were not a lot of people and I was not managing a lot of people nowadays. it’s more difficult to not be constantly available, but in the world of slack where everyone can talk to you at any given time, it’s just difficult to take the time that you need to.
Ryan: Yeah. And the constant state of interruption is a challenge. I think that every business has and managing that interruption state, in a way that doesn’t, doesn’t completely eradicate or at least significantly damages employee productivity is a key thing. And even you, as a leader, need the time to be able to strategize and think.
Gabriel: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And it’s also a pot for non-manager, I’ll say for engineers, they say that they get in the zone where 10 need some time and to focus. And when they focus on design, they can just work and code no problem. And when you interrupt people, it distracts them and it makes it very difficult.
Ryan: I had a theory, a lot of developers I’ve worked with over the course of the years and I’ve worked with quite a number of them. Love to work at night, they work late into the night. They love it. It ends up being a career thing for them. And I really think a lot of it is because those are the time periods that become truly uninterrupted for people.
Gabriel: Yeah. So, nowadays in 2022, when you interview people, it’s harder to hire engineers. So . they, Feel more freedom to ask more things. And a lot of people ask if they can work at night instead of during the day, because they can focus better. Yeah.
Ryan:It’s a really common thing in this particular business. Yeah. So was there anything else, while you’ve been at confinement as a leader like that, grown out of that experience?
Gabriel: Yeah. , what happened is when we came back to the office, basically, we had a working website, so we continued hiring people. And when we were hiring people, we had plans that we were beta testing this website, and we were starting to., market feedback on the product. So based on the market feedback, we would put together all the maps and I would use all the infrastructure, the management infrastructure I put together. I would use that to implement the DOD map within our team. And, it’s always a work in progress. It’s not like I came back and I had the perfect. I’ve improved it and I improve it every day, but we ended up with something that’s working and we have a very good team today of people that are happy to work together. And that’s our happiness.
Ryan: Yeah. And I think that speaks a lot to actually pre-thinking your leadership. A lot of people get into it and do everything completely by feel, but they don’t actually sit down and envision what they want to have happen and move towards that vision. And then that sounds like what you took the time to do. And it’s been a really powerful experience to look at the company. It’s really blossomed from it.
Gabriel: Yeah. Yeah. It hasn’t confined his really good company. I’m very happy to be there. And I think everyone at the confines is really doing a great job.
Ryan: Congratulations on it. Thank you. Gabriel’s leadership journey started as many others have in the past tinkering with and hacking solutions until he developed a foundation to run a small team. From that point on whether he was running his own company or working as a technical leader in a fast growing company. He remembered that a big part of leading a team is diving in and understanding the challenges. Sometimes at the code level, listening to him share, I was reminded of the importance in pre-planning vision and then bringing people into the approach. This playbook. Ultimately saves time and money, and it also helps you engineer the best team for solving the challenges ahead. All right. Well, thank you, Gabriel, for that awesome rundown. It’s amazing to hear your journeys, both in France and the U S and really how you started at such a young age and got into tech leadership and figured it out and have been able to bring that work and that focus to a lot of your teams. But now we want to get into your top five tips here. Out of all of those experiences, what is some of the Sage wisdom that you have developed at this point that you’d like to share with up and coming tech leaders? What’s your perspective and let’s jump in. What’s tip
Gabriel: number one. All right. So tip number one is blameless problem solving. So it’s actually one of our core values at confound. So when you have a technical team, you always have problems and you always have bugs and we all have. Work to resolve issues without trying to blame whomever or what team is responsible for them. So when we have an incident, we never name which engineers are responsible for it. We try to assess what the issue is and we try to solve it and we try to figure out what are the next steps to make sure it doesn’t have. And
Ryan: That’s a legitimate communication challenge amongst team members, because it’s a natural state for people to want to become defensive to protect themselves, or they want to deflect the responsibility of something, so they don’t look bad. Did you have a hard time when you initially installed that or do you feel like it’s been an easy adoption?
Gabriel: I think it’s been an easier adoption. At some point we did not have officially COVID use at the company, but when we decided to have some, it just made sense to have this one, because it’s something we already have.
Ryan: That’s amazing. And it’s great that you had it from the very beginning. Hopefully you keep holding onto that for sure. All right. Let’s jump into number two.
Gabriel: All right. Tip number two is mindful hiring. So it’s very hard to hire people with the exact set of skills that you need. So your priority is to hire people that have the right soft skills and values. And so if they don’t know some tools or languages, you know, they can always learn them. I have heard of your co-founder files. He talked about candidates having the right foundation. And that absolutely resonates with me. You need to hire people that can work with your team as a team.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s a big tenant we actually have as well. Especially since we’re in a constant state of hiring people that we’re really thinking about. Can this person fit in as a learner? Are they somebody that’s going to be able to solve problems? And now hopefully naturally come in with your tip number one, ethos. We’re hiring for that instead of hiring, just purely specifically for the skill, because people learn all the time and they grow. And so, that kind of mindfulness in the hiring process is vital.
Gabriel: Yeah, for sure. And people, people can be different. People can have different cultures and everything. Just what matters is that they share the same values deep down, that they can communicate as a team. They can discuss issues in a positive manner. And, they are just.
Ryan: I love that. Awesome. That’s a really good one. All right. How
Gabriel: About tip number three. All right. Tip number free. It’s you know, it’s simple and to me , it’s always learning. And so it’s always learning because in my early days when I had my own company and I was a CEO, I was 18. And when you are at 10, you do not have a great manager. So I can look back at it and I can see all the mistakes that I made and everything I could have, and I should have done better. So I’ve gone a lot in the meantime, but I’m always learning from other senior people at confiance. I’m learning from the people within my team. I’m learning from the people around me and I’m learning from books and it really helps me be a better person. And it helps me be able to.
Ryan: Well, the good news is we never really stopped that process. Right? Like part of why we’re doing this is for the learning. I, and I think that you have to find people that have that same ethos that we’re trying to grow at a constant level, and they are flexible and they just enjoy the process.
Gabriel: Yeah. A hundred percent. And so there’s a book that I really like about management. It’s called managing the unmanaged. And so it’s written by a gay, calm Mickey mantle and someone called Han leaky. And it’s a great book full of advice that can help you be a better manager. So there’s one thing I don’t like about the title because it is unmanageable. It has the connotation that engineers aren’t manageable. And I just, I don’t agree with it, but everything else about the book is great.
Ryan: Awesome. Yeah. Thanks for the book tip. We’ve been collecting a few of those and we’re actually going to do a blog post with all of them. But this sounds like a good one. I have not heard of this one. So I look forward to going and checking out myself.
Gabriel: It’s a really good book. When people become managers at my company, I go on Amazon and Facebook.
Ryan: Amazing. That’s amazing. Okay, awesome. Let’s jump to tip number four. You, yeah.
Gabriel: Tip number four is to help people be their best. So if you want to be an effective manager, you need to have one goal. It helps everyone in your team be their best.
It all comes down to the fact that different people. They need different things. And there are some engineers, like you said, they like, for example, I like to work at night and they like to be by themselves and they like to focus. Some of them are engineers. What they did was they needed to exchange a lot. They need to brainstorm. They need to talk to people to be the most productive. And so As a manager, it’s also the difference between being right and being effective you might think, you know, what’s the right way to do something, but what really matters is what is the way to be the most effective and you need to adapt yourself to help everyone to be the best version of them.
Ryan: Yeah, and it sounds nuanced, but in its application, it affects the entire culture because you’re ultimately using that concept to harness the. The full power of the team versus just what you know individually. And I think that on a leadership level, having a keen understanding of that can make all the difference in actually, leveraging the entire group, versus just getting locked into the perspective that you have. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Amazing. So let’s get to our last tip. Tip number five.
Gabriel: What do you got? All right. So the last tip is to have ongoing feedback. So I learned from a coach that gave us communication training, that it’s very important to give constant feedback to your team. So I avoid purely negative feedback. I try to give constructive feedback. So when something goes wrong, I try to understand where people are coming from because people do things with good intentions, almost always. So based on that, I can discuss. Why it was not the best for the team and we can discuss together on how to go as a team. And then when there’s an issue, it’s very important to communicate quickly while serious.
Ryan: How do you do that communication? Is it like, immediately in the room or do you, or I guess on zoom these days, or do you wait and have a weekly structured meeting for that? What’s your approach?
Gabriel: Yeah, so it’s a good question. So most of my calls are remote, so it’s on zoom or Google meet, but I do it as soon as there is a part . The best time to discuss an issue is when you just had the issue.
Ryan: And do you blend that in with words of encouragement as well? Like when they’re really doing something effectively and great.
Gabriel: Well, that’s the thing is constant feedback is also positive feedback, right? And positive feedback and recognition for. Yeah, it’s very important. And if you want people to take your constructive feedback to heart, you need to also give them feedback when things go up. So I really try my best to credit people publicly within the company when they do good work and I try my best to reach out to them and tell them when to do good work, teammates should be recognized and feel appreciated for their health.
Ryan: I love that I 100% agree. , it, and when you’re in high pressure, fast releasing quick moving technology environments, sometimes it’s hard to take that break, give that feedback both good and bad and do it in a way that actually brings you tighter together. Yeah, for sure. And something we do at confront as well is we encourage 360 feedback where during the interviews I ask people about their own performance and I try to get their perspective about how they are. But also ask them for feedback on the performance of their colleagues and feedback on the performance of their management. And it really helps me understand how we all fit together as a team and how we can all improve and work together as best as we can. I love that. Yeah. 360 feedback is an amazing tool set. I think it’s probably under utilized, but I know a number of organizations out of built-in and even just getting that on a regular kind of quick ongoing basis is really important. Yeah. All right. Well amazing. Thank you for the five tips. Thank you for the really great stories of how you came up and worked in the technology business. It was, I learned so much from it. It was great. I think our listeners will enjoy this one. And, we urge you to check out confinement, especially if you’re in the ad tech space. It’s a great tool. And, thank you very much for being with us. Gabriel.
Gabriel: Thank you very much for having me.
Ryan: Looking back on some of Gabriel’s top tips, I felt inspired by his focus on helping facilitate success first. Additionally, he really hit home. That’s the right mix of soft skills that can formulate a recipe for long-term success. Having a team that is passionate about always learning as an investment in a life and evolution of the product and its company, something every great tech leader should keep in mind, especially when there’s a scramble to just close out an open role on the team.