Podcast Episode: Fundamental Learnings for Engineering Managers

1 April, 2020

This week’s episode of Decisive Moments is titled: “Fundamental Learnings for Engineering Managers” featuring DocuSign’s VP of Engineering, Loïc Houssier.

In this episode, Loïc takes us on the roller coaster ride that is his career. From his earliest mistakes as a new manager in France to his transition out of the software industry; from his journey back into engineering management to his move to the US. Loïc shares compelling stories and insights about lessons he’s learned along the way as an engineering leader.

We’ve gathered some of our most memorable moments from the episode and shared them below. You can also listen to the whole episode yourself here!

How are things going for you during the coronavirus outbreak?

Loic: Some folks in the US are freaking out while my family back in France are totally chill and calm. It’s a crazy situation. You need to respect, though, whatever reaction someone is having. Understand where people are coming from and be empathetic about their circumstances.

What are challenges you’ve encountered as you were learning and growing into the engineering manager role?

I remember one particular task I asked an IC to complete. It was a quick 2-page document on the team’s processes so that I could educate myself on how the team did things. It ended up taking him one month and he returned to me a 20-page document. I took this as a sign that he wasn’t a good worker. When I complained about him to my boss he pointed out two contributing factors:

  1. I wasn’t explicit enough in my request: what I wanted and why I wanted it.
  2. This IC’s personality and working style was very different from my own. I’m an extrovert who speaks a lot and probably makes a few mistakes here or there. He was an introvert who aimed for perfection and took time to think about the words that he used.

The combination of these two aspects led me to the realization that just because people are different and work differently than I do, doesn’t mean that they are bad workers. I didn’t recognize his strengths and how they would affect what I had asked of him. Lesson learned.

How do you build relationships with new teams?

For me, I have a natural curiosity that came from seeing my father work in steel mills. That curiosity has carried over with me through my career and onto any new team I work with.

I am genuinely interested in what you are working on. I authentically care about what you’re doing and how it works. That’s how you build relationships, whether it is with your team, counterparts, or people outside of the product engineering area, have a genuine interest in another’s work.

What have you learned from the mixed experiences in your career?

They have forced me to think differently about the “how” of a product. I’ve learned that I’m an operational excellence engineering manager. I rely on my teams to define the technical strategy — architecture, infrastructure, the design patterns, and how to do distributed systems. Rather than focusing on technical architecture, I put my center of gravity in operational excellence.

How was the experience of being acquired by DocuSign?

It wasn’t a full acquisition, but it was definitely a successful one! Basically, we had to cut our company in half. Half would stay working with the government industry in France while the other half would be integrated into DocuSign. We had to split everything.

To smooth out the transition, I convinced a friend working at DocuSign to move to Paris for one year so that we could work together more easily! We were lucky enough to have him on location to explain things. Also, because he was respected in the U.S. office, everything he said about us was respected too!

What are the differences between working in France and working in the U.S.?

  • French do things for the beauty of technology, whereas people in the U.S. make customer-oriented decisions.
  • Interacting with people is different.
  • France is very patriarchal and we have a direct way of talking to people.
  • In the U.S. they want to be acknowledged and celebrated for all the good work they do.
  • In France we are not very respectful of the hierarchy. You first go to your manager, but aren’t afraid to go to your managers manager, or all the way up to the CEO if necessary.
  • In the U.S. I’ve had the experience of people being afraid to come to me. They think I don’t have the time, I’m too busy or too important. I had to throw away the assumption that people would naturally come up to me. I also had to break people into knowing that I am open and not at the top of the hierarchy but at the base of the pyramid, supporting them.

We want to once again thank our guest Loïc Houssier, DocuSign’s VP of Engineering! You can hear more thoughts and insights from him in an upcoming episode of Decisive Moments.

Until then, join in on the conversation! Have you transitioned in and out of engineering? If so, what other industries have you explored throughout your career? And what have you learned or taken away from those experiences? Share your story with us in the comments, below, or share your thoughts and opinions with us on Twitter.

This podcast was produced by the mentorship platform Plato. Visit us at Platohq.com.

Written with help from Ashley R. Bentley

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Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.