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Lead Time Chats, Episode 2: Duretti Hirpa

Duretti Hirpa speaks to Jean Hsu for Lead Time Chats

March 11, 2021

Note: Lead Time was recorded to be watched and listened to in video format. We recommend you watch the video if you’re able to. Our transcripts are automatically generated using transcription software and include limited human review so they may contain some errors.

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Jean Hsu: Hi, Duretti.  Thanks for joining me for Lead Time Chats.

Duretti Hirpa:  I'm excited to be here.

Jean:  You’re a principal engineer and you've spent your career working your way up. Congrats by the way, on your new role at Zipper, they are very lucky to have you, which I’m sure you know.

Duretti: I feel lucky to have them.

Jean: Now you're at a point—and we talked about this earlier—where you're really passionate about supporting and coaching your level and mid-level engineers. Can you just talk a little bit about what's behind that desire for you?

Duretti: I think it's two-fold one. The promotion to principal didn't happen that long ago so it's very fresh in my mind what I had to do to get here. I also  come from a more community-oriented culture where it's not success if I don't bring people with me so if I'm the only person in the room that looks like me, then I'm just evidence of structural exclusion.

It's not like things are actually getting better. So for me, it's like my job as a senior engineer is to make more senior engineers. That's the name of the game. I've experienced a lot of gatekeeping and I want to be the opposite of that so there’s  a lot of emotions and just a lot of observations.

And since the tech sector is highly segregated, both by race, gender identity all this stuff so it just feels like if we want it to be at all better or different or reflect the actual populace, this is the kind of work that has to happen.

Jean: Yeah. And I hope that we work in a tech industry where a lot more senior staff, principal, engineers do look like us agree. So being  that you've worked with a lot of junior and mid-level engineers, what do you think they most need that they're not getting right now?

Duretti: I honestly think just somebody to level with them. You know what I mean?  I've touched a lot of hot stoves in my career because nobody warned me it was a hot stove or shared ways to preserve one's energy, ways of being a little bit more strategic. No, one's going to tell you don't do that thing, but I'm just going to let you go for it. Sometimes you can pull it off; it's great. If you're doing some sort of project or there's some initiative you care about, but I honestly do feel like it's just no one is telling you the parameters. A lot of people I know did.  I did. I stumbled around in the dark trying to figure out what I was interested in, what kinds of things I cared about. So I think just someone who would say, “actually don't do that. That's a bad move.”  Sometimes it's team specific. You could be in an engineering culture where the reason something isn't fixed is on purpose, right?

Because you can't get the support for something and maybe it's not worth dying on that particular Hill.

Jean: Someone to look out for you and have the straight talk and not just say, “oh, you're doing fine.”

Duretti: Yeah. I think that can be pretty harmful and I think certain people do get that. I remember early in my career, I was looking for technical mentorship and I was like, okay,  I observed somebody a couple of years younger than me and people were falling all over themselves to help him whereas I'm asking for help specifically and couldn't get it. I finally had to go to the CTO to be like, “Hey, Kim. I would like some mentorship please. I know there's ways in which I could level up and be better.” He assigned me to the only other nonwhite person in engineering at the time and that didn't end up working out because the relationship wasn't based in anything. I think people  mentor people who remind them of themselves.

Jean: The one phenomenon that I found is people really are eager to mentor women and people of color and sometimes they're not the best mentors for them because they come at it with their own intrinsic motivation where  they want to feel good about themselves.

Duretti: Yeah. A hundred percent. Or the advice they give, I can't take a lot of the advice that some of the well-meaning white men in my life give me:  just do it. I'm like, I can't just do it. I have to care.

Jean: I'm going to be questioned. I'm going to be right.

Duretti: All of this stuff. So it's all I think any of the success I've had have all been because of relational aspects in my working life, I've paved the way by making friends with certain people across the organization and then that's the way that I can get things done, just going off, doing things, Oh, I did this thing on. I shipped it. Woo. But that's not something I can do.

Jean: So what do you see as the ideal path of a junior and mid-level engineer? Do you feel like the manager is an external party and if the manager is at the company, what do these processes looks like?

Duretti: It's tough. You don't have to get mentorship inside of your company. That's for sure. If you have a particular career goal inside of your company, that makes sense. To your earlier point, I do think that women, people of color, gender minorities are over mentored and under sponsored. So they're not necessarily given. Here's a stretch project that I believe you can do. I think there is some like project allocation stuff that can be tricky. I think project allocation can be a vector like a bias vector because sometimes it's the loudest person raising their hand.

That gets the most interesting projects. So there's that piece. But I definitely think There could be more coaching from managers or if mentoring had the band, like a company can be like we don't have the bandwidth to actually coach you. And we're sorry, but here's, you can use your professional development to find yourself a coach to help you.

Cause sometimes the manager being your coach can be tricky depending on how political your engineering organization is. I had a friend once tell me that I should consider my manager like an agent that gets 10% of the cuts.  They're trying to help you and that's their job and everything, but if you do really well, then it reflects well on them. So they get like 10% of the shine and I was like, no, that's a really good point.

Jean: Oh, that could be a good selling point for them to invest in external coaching if that's what's best for you.

Duretti: Yeah. But I think that it also, especially in the high growth startup space or in the general startup scene, everyone's just moving super fast. So sometimes there's not a thought towards investment.

Jean: Especially for junior and mid-level engineers, they really like managers. Yeah. Like leaders exacts. And this, I saw a lot of this when I was doing coaching, like kind of the mid level and below it didn't get a lot. Especially I talked to one company who they were like, yeah, it'd be great.

If you could coach, our one out of 12 engineering manager who's a woman. The only, the only woman I was like, Okay. And then I was like, down for it. I was like, yeah, I want to support her. And they came back and were like, we don't have a budget for coaching because we spent all of our diversity budget on sending people to Grace Hopper.

I'm like, that is totally different, that's totally different, like, why is this coming out of a diversity budget? Just because she's a woman.

Duretti: Yeah. Maybe that's, maybe. Everything about that story baffled. Doesn't it make sense? Yeah, that's wild, but then that also revealed the thinking around this kind of stuff too.

And I think everyone is so eager to hire senior people because they won't need support. And it's not to say that senior people don't need support. But where do senior people come from? They don't just come out of the womb, and some people who are really ambitious will take on that training for themselves, when I was coming up and felt more insecure in my technology skills, I spent a lot of evenings at meetups.

Studying, things, reading blog posts, going to conferences and trying to get that information that I couldn't get at work for myself, but not everybody is like that. Nor should everybody be expected to be like that. That's not something that should rest on my shoulders, but because I wasn't where I wanted to be, I felt that it was the work I had.

Jean: Yeah, I particularly liked to mentor and manage junior new grad hires because they're just so they're so eager. They're like pretty malleable and there's just some basic things around like, how do you be an employee? We like to analyze people's PTO.

We're like, they're not taking PTO because they always have their breaks built into their school schedules. And so we had to go and be like, Hey, like you should take PTO and plan a break and go somewhere. I have a staycation. I was like, no, like you just get them on the right trajectory.

It's you who catches them early. I find it really rewarding.

Duretti: I had a mentee. Tell me, ask me, how do I leave a job? And I was like, Oh you haven't done it before, just some of these basic things. And that's fine. And I also think one of the things that's nice about people who are coming up in their career, like you said, they are eager, they're hungry and it reminds me of what I liked about the sector because I was that way once before the jaded stuff set in, and it does remind me like, oh like people do want to be here. And this is an interesting and dynamic industry and seeing it through the eyes of others, newcomers can reignite that love and interest.

And so that's also what I get out of it in a lot of ways, too, more than just being who I needed when I was younger.

Jean: If you think back to when you were a junior and mid-level engineer, is there anything meaningful that someone did for you or said to you or supported you?

Duretti: The thing that comes to mind is actually when I got the bump from the staff. Mark Hedlund I was interviewing a MailChimp and I was like, oh, I need to find a new role, whatever. He'd been a manager, recruitment is a long game. So he was trying to recruit me for years at that point and I was like no, I'm going to stay here and figure it out, which is very much my vibe. I'm like, let me stay here till I can't in a particular role. I don't like I don't like interviewing. One of the things he did was. I was like, okay, like I'm a senior engineer now. Senior in the tech sector is the mid-level title and it makes me that's the middle level title staff is the actual senior title or at least one of them, because you got to give

Jean: Because you got to give people something to work for  when they’re a software engineer.

Duretti: It's just, oh senior title. I'm like, that's just a level. So when I was a senior engineer at the time and I was like, okay, like I'm, let's apply whatever.

And he was like, great, I'm going to put you on his staff. And I was like, woo, you're there doing the work and I can see it. And so it was like the first time where I felt. Not gaslit that I had expertise that I did know what I was doing because today no one had said you have, you're really good at X and as a manager or someone who has been around the block, so it was really affirming.

Jean: Yeah. A lot of people actually have the opposite experience where it's you've been at this level, let's bring you in at this level and you can work your way into this role.

Duretti: Which is such a trap. It's such a trap. It steals time from people. Time is not a renewable resource and then a lot of times people don't make that next leap and have to go and make a lateral move into a company just to be leveled to where they should have been coming in.

Jean: And then you're going through the leveling, like checking off all the boxes rather than. Oh, this person just came in interviewing for this level and yeah sounds good.

Duretti: Yeah. Different levels setting. And I think one of the things I experienced in my career was promos became highly charged and highly political. And I worked at a place where. Managers wouldn't put you up for promo, unless it was a slam dunk. Like they didn't want to expend any of their social capital for things they might need later by just putting up anybody.

So only when it was beyond obvious to other people, would they? The only person I know that didn't do that at that particular company was like a woman. Person of color, who like, nah, whatever I'll put you up. I don't care. We'll keep going until you get it. Which is great. And because of that, she had such a, like a loyal throng of engineers who reported to her and people would fight to stay in her reporting chain.

Wow. Wow. And people didn't get it. And I was like, I get it. That's someone who believes in you. Why wouldn't you go to the ends of the earth for this person, if I would work for this person. And again, I reported her for a little while, so yeah, for

Jean:. Yeah. So it sounds like Mark Hedlund really sponsored you and whatever social capital like that comes from a different bucket of social capital, then.

Duretti: Sure. I'm putting you up for promotion. Yeah. And it's yeah. And to him, he was like, Oh, that was really small. I just made sure that they weren't going to do the right thing. And I was like, okay. But then later I found out he pre-negotiate my offer, Mark Hedlund, the guy. You all time grades.

So I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mark. Yeah.

Jean: What about So there are like individuals, have you seen any company processes or things that are like not, the Goodwill of one person that you feel would really benefit junior and mid-level

Duretti: No, everything I'm seeing to date has been grouse, grassroots stuff by ICS or one or two people who are like, I'm empowered enough to do X thing.

It's never been like, Oh, we're a company doing this. And to be fair, I have not worked at every place under the sun. I'm sure there are places that. Do have these kinds of programs, but generally, no, it's always been like a group of concerted effort by individuals or individual contributors.

Jean: Yeah, it seems like a huge area. That's there are a lot of junior and mid-level engineers and they're doing a lot of the work the brands are doing, they're doing a lot of work. And so it's a really high impact. If you can find some way to support them

Duretti: I was working at a place where a  person would come in as a staff engineer and like wanting to talk to me when I was a senior and I was like, sure, you can talk to me.

I'm just a puppy on the internet, but sure. And things that she said, she was like, Oh, the senior engineers here, hold up the sky. Yeah. We're there doing that work because we are hoping to get noticed and hoping to make it to that next level. And then once you get to staff, which has been I've been, I've heard it as a career sustaining level, people are not as hungry or putting it, not work. And so it's definitely. It's definitely disheartening because I think those are the people that if you just give a little attention to can really thrive and it just seems so short-sighted to me, but I also worked in an industry that isn't necessarily thinking about the long term and yeah.

Yeah. It's really hard to tie, “oh, I mentored this engineer” to say business goals, impact whatever.

Jean: Especially since mentorship is often, it's not ma management. Like I, I was managing this person and they did this mentorship is often this dotted line, like probably meeting every once in a while, or like I had an eye out for this person and that might be good and it's hard to like really quantify that .

Duretti: Yeah. So it's, which is, I think so many things that aren't easily quantifiable, I think in this particular sector. Just get thrown out.

Jean: For engineering managers who do have junior and mid-level folks on their team, which most do, and they want to better support and coach and advocate for these folks what advice would you give?

Duretti: Just remember that they don't know. They don’t. I've reported to people who have a ton of time under their belt, and I think it's really easy to forget. What it was like to be in that position, what it was like when you were first coming up. And if, I think a lot of times people don't, Oh it's like having spinach in your teeth and no one telling you, and so yes. And maybe it'll come across as condescending, but sometimes people just need you to be like, Hey, do you know to do X thing? I don't think. Or like being people are not purposely doing badly.

Jean:  Everyone's trying their best in their own way.

Duretti: Everyone's trying their best. And if they need to be redirected, you've got to figure out some way to do that.

And I think people are like I told them I'm like, did you tell them in a way that they could hear you communication doesn't happen at how I speak? It's how this person hears.

Jean: Yeah. Or even if you see someone do something. Yeah, their behavior is weird or something to say something, rather than if it's a super senior person, you might think Oh, that's kind of behavior that like they're ill intentioned or whatever you're saying for more junior folks, like just assume the best they're trying their best. They may just not know that what they're doing is like not okay.

Duretti: Yeah. Or needs to be slightly shifted or maybe it isn't required right now. I think there's just A real, did you see that thread from like Marco Rogers, where he talks about not everybody has the concept of real talk where you just dropped the premise and you just say what's happening.

I think there's been, I've worked at like nice. Engineering organizations where people won't just level with you and be direct. And so I come from a culture where, you know, being direct critique. Okay. My dad used to tell me if I didn't love you. I wouldn't tell you. So there's not a lot of room for it.

Like I view a critique as a loving action, and I think there's not as if I didn't care. I wouldn't say anything, we're just, keep moving.

Jean: Yeah, I think it's the difference between being kind and being nice, used to just try not to rock the boat, but being kind could be like, look in these areas you're doing great.

And this is the one thing that's holding you back. And this is the perception people have of you. And so just try this thing instead.

Duretti: If someone had done that to me, like three, four years ago, I would have appreciated it so much and I wouldn't have modified my behavior. I would have responded well to that.

But that's not always the intervention that you get. .

Jean: Yeah. I think people are afraid of having those difficult conversations for sure. So more training perhaps. Yeah. And

Duretti: Also the more you have a difficult conversation, the more you're like whenever at least for me, I'm like I, for a long time I would avoid conflict, but now I'm eh, whatever, I'm going to wait into it. It's fine. Yeah.

Jean: People appreciate it. I think people really recognize that even if you're like me,, I'm a little bit nervous to have this conversation and I'm not sure how you're going to receive it. And that kind of helps take off like smooth, smooth over the conversation though.

Duretti: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. And I don't know. I don't you want people to do well, I don't know. I feel like I'm also maybe cut from a different cloth where I am. I try to be highly engaged at work. I know not everybody is highly engaged at work. Some people are discontented. Some people are actively spreading that discontent, but in my mind I get one time on this planet, so I'm doing something I want to be doing.

We don't it's time. Isn't a renewable resource. So yeah.

Jean: Thank you so much. Yeah, I love your vision, it's not success if I'm the only one there. So yeah, no, I hope to. Yeah. Let me know if there's any way I can help you or more people. And I definitely share that.

Share that vision.

Duretti: Yeah. Just bring a gang, bring a squad. . Yeah,

Jean: Yeah, for sure. Okay. Thank you so much for joining today.

Duretti: Of course. It's great to be here. Yeah. Have a good rest of your day. You too.

Lead Time Chats, Episode 2: Duretti Hirpa
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