Interview with Daniel Dvorkin, Director of Engineering at Modern Tribe
Published on Jan 31, 2018
5 min read
Current role: Director of Engineering at Modern Tribe
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
I’ve had the immense privilege to be born in a pretty tech-savvy family. Both my parents were hobbyist developers in the early ‘80s and my dad even started a software development firm back then. Argentina in the ‘80s wasn’t the best time and place for that so it didn’t prosper, but nonetheless, I grew up surrounded by computers and programmers. I wrote my first few silly BASIC games at age 5 in my father’s lap, and I’ve been programming ever since.
I’m not the kind of person that will stay quiet when something bothers me, or when it makes me or my team unhappy. But I also don’t like to just complain about stuff without doing anything about it. This trait made me take extra responsibilities and do more than what was asked of me in pretty much every job I ever had, so very early on in my career I found myself in leadership positions and I discovered that I really enjoy dealing with human problems as much as I always enjoyed dealing with software.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
I’m going to be very unoriginal here, but recruiting is still one of the biggest challenges and frustrations I face. It’s a very competitive market and finding the right person at the right price at the right time is a delicate process that not always works like one would want.
A happier challenge is leading a completely distributed/remote team. There needs to be a lot of attention over communication and expectations to make sure the team is happy, engaged and efficient. Building trust and common culture across the team is more difficult and involved. I find this to be one of the most interesting parts of my job.
What is your approach to hiring?
In general terms, we look for Happy, Helpful, Curious, and Accountable. Those are our core values, and historically most people that didn’t last long in our organization had significant failures in one or more of these categories. Hard skills are obviously important, but these core values are pretty difficult to learn or significantly improve.
More concretely, I try to follow the historic data as much as possible and refine my process to improve our success rate. Some of the maxims I’ve found over time and try to correct in myself and others on my team are:
On technical interviews try hard to be impartial and make sure you’re not altering the complexity of the questions you ask depending on how much you like the applicant. I’ve noticed I (and many other people) would unconsciously soften when I really liked the candidate, almost cheering for them to do well. If you’re not satisfied with an answer, ask again.
Pay attention to people that claim to be good at “getting shit done”. GSD is great but has an inflection point when it becomes detrimental.
Beware of the people that reply with “I’m a fast learner” a lot. Make sure they actually have the skills they claim to have if they are critical for the role.
Practice hard at becoming OK with being uncomfortable on interviews. After asking a question if the candidate stays in silence for a bit, bite your lip and resist the urge to fill the silence by suggesting an answer. You’re going to meet people with different skills, backgrounds and cultures. You’ll get out of your comfort zone. That’s great.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
I have 3 tips that took me a while to accept for myself but have been pretty useful:
Stop coding and pay real attention to your team. Don’t skip 1:1s and remember that your new job is all about building trust.
Even if you think you’re good at delegating, pay attention. Chances are you’re “fake delegating” where you hide enough context from the team that they still need you. Learn to delegate for real.
Find your truth-teller. It’s very likely there’s at least one person in your team who’s extremely sincere and candid. You’re going to be annoyed at them sometimes. Learn to cope with that, because you need them. Getting feedback is difficult and you need as much as you can get.
Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
I try to run or exercise in the morning and start my work day around 11 am (one of the many benefits of working remotely from a nice time zone.) A big part of my week goes to 1:1s and other meetings with my direct reports, my boss or other directors. Then, a lot of my time goes to recruiting efforts (doing outreach, interviewing people, discussing applicants with the team, etc.) On the blocks where I don’t have meetings I execute on some of the work I need to do around the strategic goals of my org.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Bullet Journalling. It literally changed my life. After years of trying different methods to organize my notes and ToDos, obsessing with different systems, workflows and software I found this, and it immediately made a huge impact in my ability to retain all the important information and find it when I need it.
I must confess that after 2 years of doing it with pen and paper I’m now cheating and doing it on a Surface Pro tablet with digital ink using OneNote. It has all the same benefits but I have backups and can do text-search over it.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
Slack, Google Calendar and Zoom are pretty important to my life in its current form. But I’m going to give a shout out to Calendly. It’s made my life much easier by removing the hassle of scheduling most meetings and interviews.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
There are so many that made an impact that it’s hard to pick one, but I’m going to go with Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path. Packed with good advice, ideas, and no bullshit. And the fact that each chapter represents another step in the, well… manager’s path, makes it immediately useful for anyone regardless of where they are in that path. It’s almost an encyclopedia of management.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (linkedin, twitter, github, etc.)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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