Finding Other People to Talk to about Challenges Is the Best We Can Do
Based on the interview with Nicolas Joseph,
Vice President of Engineering at Datalogue Inc.
Nicolas leads the engineering team of a small company that builds a platform that allows big enterprises to automatically clean up their data via Machine Learning. He started his career doing computer security at the Department of Defense in France. Realizing that his heart wasn’t set on working for such a big organization, he joined a company called Linkurious SAS then moved to the United States to complete a master’s degree. Nicolas even started his own company called GetLinks, but after eight months, he decided that it wasn’t working for him and joined Datalogue.
The role and roadblocks
His main responsibility at Datalogue is to drive the engineering team’s performance and make sure that people don’t have roadblocks.
“The overarching goal of my role is to maximize [my team’s] performance. I have responsibilities such as growing people, recruiting, [and] evaluating technologies. When we’re building features, we’re like, ‘Can we get something on board that will do most of the work for us?’ And since I have a background in that area, I got the security heart as well.”
Leading a FinTech startup isn’t always a smooth journey. Among the biggest challenges, Nicolas says, is finding the right balance between product output and speed. Datalogue’s product is based in Machine Learning, so it requires a great deal of testing, which takes time and money. Meanwhile, to be able to compete in the market, they need something that’s good to go ASAP.
“I think the biggest challenge that we have right now is shooting into the right spot in order to have reliability without spending too much.”
In search of balance, Nicolas and his colleagues emphasized early-stage unit testing. They achieved very good code coverage with these tests; Nicolas believes that it’s something like 90 percent or higher. This enables them to spend less time on integration tests and make more progress on the product. However, Nicolas states that he does regret not investing in integration test up front.
“The question is, would we be in the situation we’re [in] right now if we […] made that investment in the product instead of in the test? The answer is [that] I don’t really know. If I were to do it again, I think I would try to have an integration test environment up front because it’s easier to put in place once the product is smaller, and you have fewer dependencies.”
Managing team and corporate heartbeat
Datalogue has one big cross-functional team that works via Scrum. Nicolas has a team of experts in Machine Learning, but they should be able to contribute to another part of the stack, too, he says.
“They keep in touch with [the] product and have a very good understanding of how the different pieces should fit together so that they don’t develop something that doesn’t fit with the puzzle.”
At conception, Datalogue comprised two teams, each specializing in its own part of the project. But as the company grew, these teams proved to be isolated in terms of their own processes (planning, stand-ups, retros, etc.). This caused problems with synthesis, Nicolas says.
In order to decide what team structure is most appropriate, a leader needs to measure their team’s performance. For Nicolas, this meant evaluating what his engineering team said they could do and what do they actually did during the sprint. He didn’t want people to overestimate their capacity, so to balance that metric, he also took account of the average number of points per user story. That’s ideal for product organization as a whole because it starts building trust.
“What we [are] measuring right now is the number of stories we predict we’re going to do [versus] the number of stories we end up doing. ‘Hey, are we doing better than we expected? Are we doing worse?’”
For Nicolas, corporate culture is how you build your team’s capacity to react to different situations so that they can face problems. It’s worth building a culture wherein they can work together and find solutions.
“One of the things we do to inspire corporate culture is cooking. That comes from our co-founder, Tim, who is a very, very good cook. Usually, we get prospective employees or investors at dinner and cook together. It’s an exercise for interaction [among] the members of the team in a more relaxed setting. And also, we have a great time together.”
Driving personal success
Nicolas is constantly challenging himself to reach steady personal growth. His areas of interests include both managerial and technological topics. He likes reading audio books about management hacks such as the “top five dysfunctions of a team” and the line. Nicolas says he has read around twenty of those books recently and found them really useful for his practice. To keep up with the tendencies, Nicolas reads hacker news, TechCrunch, and is active on Twitter.
“It feels like a very good aggregator of the tendencies. It’s most likely very centered on the United States, Silicon Valley, and what’s happening there.”
Knowledge gained through self-growth can help with daily struggles in and out of the workplace. The most recent thing Nicolas found useful was a backlog review. Usually, developers don’t take part in backlog planning. During sprint planning, they usually ask questions about the features and what they need to do. But greater involvement on their part enhanced the entire process.
“When you get to the planning, everyone knows about the stuff that’s in the backlog. [Engineers] participated in the trading on the specification, so they know what it’s about and what they need to do. The planning goes a lot faster, and the quality of what [is] being produced is also a lot higher.”