Career Insights From Tech Leaders: Kicking off gdR Grow Events

Anna Starasts

October 20, 2014

On a warm fall evening recently, our office was filled with the smell of spicy southern barbecue cuisine – crunchy fried chicken, jerk chickpea and melt-in-your-mouth brisket sandwiches – from Toronto’s trendsetting barbecue joint Barque Smokehouse. Desks were cleared, replaced by a few dozen white folding chairs. The after-work quiet was replaced by a gradually building hum of conversation as a group of Senior Developers, Architects, Tech Leads, Development Directors, VP and CTOs from some of Toronto’s most successful startups and growth stage tech companies streamed in, all curious to discuss the topic that brought them to our Queen West office: what kind of tech leader do I want to be and how can I get there?

Our first event as part of gdR Grow, Career Insights From Tech Leaders revolved around a panel of four experts from our thriving Toronto/Waterloo tech ecosystem, each of whom was living their leadership abilities in a different way.

Zak Homuth (@zakhomuth) is a YCombinator grad and Founder & CEO of startup Upverter, a hardware design platform for developers.

Boris Chan (@borisc) is Associate Director at mobile development studio Pivotal Labs and an early employee at Xtreme Labs (acquired by Pivotal) who oversaw the company grow from 6 to 200 developers.

Jim Murphy (@jimmurphy) is the Founder of Waterloo software and mobile services shop Boltmade, a company he founded after extensive experience as a CTO at successful startups, including Demeure and PostRank (acquired by Google).

Brian Parkinson (LinkedIn) has 20+ years of experience in software, architecture, with extensive expertise in development & technical management, most recently as VP of Architecture of Algorithmics (acquired by IBM). Staying true to his hands-on roots, Brian’s currently on a tech sabbatical diving into newer technologies like Node, Angular, Swift and Arduino.

The panelists discussed topics like pivotal moments of growth in their careers, adjusting to the changes that occur a startup gets acquired and integrates into a larger technology company, how to grow by gaining exposure to market knowledge and doing customer discovery, progressing in the absence of organizational layers in a small tech company, and the choice of whether to remain a leader that’s technologically hands-on.

Some of the takeaways that resonated with our audience:

>>  Working in services at some point in a development career can be hugely beneficial; the variety of clients challenges you to understand a variety of different products, business cases and customers

>>  Startup acquisitions can be a challenging period of transition, but also are a huge opportunity; an opportunity for learning with the training resources and budget provided by many larger tech companies, or as a chance to expand your network by seeking out mentors from within the organization.

>>  As a developer, the value of your contribution to a product team increases if you understand other competitors in the market, the business case and how users are actually using your product – but very few developers do. Recognizing this can help you stand out from the crowd at your company, affirm your value to your team and help you view your work more holistically.

>>  An important skill for aspiring startup founders is learning to ask the types questions that will actually help validate the product you should build rather than the questions that confirm the product you think you should build (a very common mistake). Zak’s suggestion: pick up a great book on customer discovery called The Mom Test.

>>  One of the key roles of a great software leader is to help members of your team venture out of their comfort zone so they’re continuing to grow.

Our next gdR Grow event will be in late November. Upcoming topics include:

>>  The challenges of designing & developing for large-scale platforms

>>  Connected devices, M2M & the Internet of Things. What’s happening in Toronto & abroad?

>>  Growing your startup into a growth company (entrepreneur & VC panel)

>>  Front-end best practices (technologies, tools, testing)

The inspiration behind our events will always remain the same: help the tech community grow and connect with one another, support leadership development and enable high-calibre discussions. Follow along as we live tweet our events from @gdRtalent using the hashtag #gdRGrow.

What kinds of topics are you interested in having us cover? Leave your suggestions below or send them to anna AT grossmandorland.com.

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