The Engineering People Show, Episode 27: Leonid Movsesyan
“People are generally happy with their work, with their job, if they feel impactful, if they understand how their career trajectory is going to progress and if they are compensated fairly. These are the most important things for us to retain the talent that we have in the organization, and we have a very distinct program to achieve all three of them.”
Today on Engineering People:
Leonid Movsesyan is Vice President of Engineering at Cadre. Before joining Cadre, he was a Senior Engineering Manager at Dropbox where he led teams responsible for reliability, efficiency and performance of their services. Leonid has also worked at Yelp as a Senior Reliability Engineer, and at Yandex as Co-Head of Infrastructure, managing teams responsible for common infrastructure components and tools. He received his Master’s in Computer Science from Moscow State Industrial University.
(Original episode released on September 19, 2018)
Jobs at Cadre
Transcript, edited for clarity:
Ryan Carson: Welcome to Engineering people, the show where we interview the world’s leading engineering managers so we can learn from their experience and ideas. I’m Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, and I’m your host.
In case you haven’t heard of Treehouse, we have experience creating over 850,000 new developers and designers. If your company is struggling to hire enough developers or product designers, we can help — just had to teamtreehouse.com/go/talent.
Let’s get started. Today I’m joined by Leonid from Cadre. Thanks so much for joining us.
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Ryan Carson: Really appreciate being on the show. So tell us a bit about you, what’s your job title and what does Cadre do?
Leonid Movsesyan: So I’m the VP of engineering at Cadre. I’m leading the entire engineering team over here. We’re building the first online marketplace for institutional, commercial real estate investment opportunities that are available for individual people.
Ryan Carson: When was it founded?
Leonid Movsesyan: It was founded three and a half years ago, so it’s a fairly young company.
Cadre’s org chart
Ryan Carson: I’m really fascinated by the different kind of org charts people have and how their reporting structure works. Can you tell us a little bit about yours?
Leonid Movsesyan: Sure. So our CEO, Ryan Williams, who is also one of the co-founders of our company, is leading the entire organization. Then we have engineering reporting to him as well as product as a separate pillar within the organization, finance, people team, and then the investment team, the team that actually is building the business product. They’re all reporting to Ryan.
Ryan Carson: Are you hiring a bunch of developers in the next 12 months, how many and where do people go if they want to apply?
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah, so we are hiring full stack software engineers, site reliability engineers and data engineers in our New York location — cadre.com/careers is where you can go and apply. We want to hire about nine people until the end of this year.
Ryan Carson: How many people do you directly manage?
Leonid Movsesyan: Directly I manage eight people, and the entire engineering organization is 30.
Influences on managing style
Ryan Carson: I want to dig into your inspiration and the kind of things that have helped you. What is your favorite book or a course or person that’s really influenced you as an engineering manager?
Leonid Movsesyan: I would start with the person because I think it’s the easiest for me to answer is actually my first real engineering manager because he taught me the main principles of, in my opinion, a good engineering manager. In my opinion again, a good engineering manager is a person who will support you but at the same time would not micromanage you. So ability to delegate was something that I’ve learned from this person, and that was a really, really good tool in my toolbox.
Ryan Carson: What’s one tactical thing you learned about delegation? How can our listeners do that better?
Leonid Movsesyan: The struggle that I see with a lot of recently promoted engineering managers is that they know how to solve the problem. They know that they can solve the problem faster than their report and they know that they can possibly do it better. And having this three things sitting in your head and still letting it go and letting a person do their thing is a very important tactical issue — like always trying to catch yourself when you’re stopping your report from progression I think is a very important thing.
The path from car mechanic to VP of Engineering
Ryan Carson: As I mentioned before the call recorded, we really want to encourage the listeners to continue their journey up the ladder in management and it can seem discouraging when you think, “Gosh, you’re the VP of Eng, you always had it figured out,” so I’d like to know what the funniest, worst or most interesting job you had outside of tech was?
Leonid Movsesyan: Well, I didn’t really work a lot outside of tech per se. The funniest furthest away from what is considered software engineering twas a data center technician. It’s actually how I started. I started as a data center technician was because I was a car mechanic who was studying mechanical engineering.
Ryan Carson: Oh, that’s awesome.
Leonid Movsesyan: Worked with computers and that’s why I went to work in the data center.
Ryan Carson: That’s amazing. Wow!
Leonid Movsesyan: So that was pretty crazy, and I’ve learned a lot of things about infrastructure and networks and network gear and equipment and servers, because I had very little perception of this.
Ryan Carson: It’s interesting how you got in on the physical side, “hey, this is how to connect things and set things up,” and then worked your way up to actually be a VP of Eng leading a large team. So, that’s awesome.
Ryan Carson: We talked a little about this before the call as well, but we all are focusing on creating diverse teams, hiring underrepresented people of color and women. I was just curious if there’s anything you’re doing at Cadre that is working that you could share.
Leonid Movsesyan: I think that to this point there are — to me, at least; I use this framework for myself — two very important streams that are actually separate. One of them is diversity, like you can put it under umbrella term of diversity, and the other one you can put under umbrella term of inclusion.
You have two different streams of work: One, how to make sure that your hiring process is extremely unbiased, being conscious about bringing diversity to your team. And the other one, which is also extremely important but can sometimes be forgotten by the team leaders, is how to make sure that every single team member actually feels like they belong.
I feel like Cadre is doing a really good job on both fronts. So we’re constantly adjusting our interview process to make it as unbiased as possible for the folks — like taking the feedback from people we interview, studying the modern research about how interviews should be conducted.
Ryan Carson: What’s one thing, for instance, that you’ve tweaked?
Leonid Movsesyan: Industry in Silicon Valley is heavily leaning towards the whiteboarding interviews. We actually cut most of the whiteboarding interviews to only one — where we give you an open question of building the design of certain system, and you may or may not use whiteboard if you want. You can do it on a piece of paper, but we give candidates actual laptop to write their software so people are not actually threatened by the seating, the person who evaluates them on a regular basis, which can be extremely threatening. What we want to do is we want to build an environment in which people feel comfortable going through an interview because we don’t want to scare anyone off, a comfortable environment in which you can be the best version of yourself as a software engineer.
Ryan Carson: I love that. That’s so smart. Good. I always thought whiteboard interviews were really unrealistic anyway.
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah. It’s a separate skill set that does not represent your quality. So yeah.
How to find and then retain new engineering talent
Ryan Carson: How do you then find new product designers or engineers? What’s your current method in the talent war?
Leonid Movsesyan: We are trying to be both reactive and proactive when it comes to finding the talent. Obviously, we are represented on all the platforms where people generally are looking for a job, but we also have an extremely strong sourcing team within Cadre that are reaching out to the fullest. And to me it’s very important because I’m a software engineer myself and have a lot of friend software engineers and when they’re getting this soulless, cold reach out from a recruiter, it seems that way towards the person. That’s why sourcing on our team are building the narrative that actually fits a specific person. We’re trying to be extremely targeted with the people we’re reaching out to, and making sure that we definitely understand that their skillset or interests is actually aligned with the role we are trying to pitch them for. This is very important.
Ryan Carson: How do you generally work on retaining your team longer? What are some key things you do as a VP of Eng to do that?
Leonid Movsesyan: You can basically boil it down to a few points. People are generally happy with their work, with their job, if they feel impactful, if they understand how their career trajectory is going to progress and if they are compensated fairly. These are the most important things for us to retain the talent that we have in the organization, and we have a very distinct program to achieve all three of them.
So for the first one — we’re a small startup, only have 30 engineers. Everything you work on is the most important thing for the company. It’s really hard for us to work on unessential stuff.
For the second one, we have a very specific career framework for software engineers and engineering managers. Basically, no matter what level you are coming in, you know exactly what you need to be doing in order to make it to the next level.
Then we have the compensation framework that is attached to the career ladder, so everyone understands that they are compensated fairly within their level.
Cadre’s parallel career ladders
Ryan Carson: Do you hire junior talent, and do you have a level for that?
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah. We have two separate ladders that are going in parallel — one for individual contributors and one for engineering managers, because one part of our philosophy is that an individual contributor could be as impactful as an engineering manager, and you don’t need to try to force yourself to manage people in order to grow as a professional.
So our first two levels are actually only for individual contributors: Level one is basically somebody who is a new grad or a person who is coming out of Treehouse or something like that. A person with a very small amount of experience in the industry that needs a lot of day-to-day guidance. Then the level two person is more of like typical software engineer that can work on sprint goals and deliver fairly independently. Then the level three is a senior software engineer, more of a person who takes some leadership decisions and the technical design decisions. And then starting level four the ladder becomes becomes bifurcating into the engineering manager track and the individual contributor track. So you have the staff software engineers, individual contributors and the engineering manager, at the next level is director of engineering versus senior staff engineer, and the top level is VP of Engineering versus principal engineer. So everyone in the company knows exactly their career trajectory according to their personal goals and what they’re working on.
Ryan Carson: Interesting! So your corresponding job title, VP of Eng, would be a principal engineer?
Leonid Movsesyan: Yes.
Ryan Carson: That’s fascinating! Do you have any of those yet?
Leonid Movsesyan: We actually only have one senior staff engineer, David Grochowski, who’s our most senior engineer in the team. He has a tremendous amount of impact on the architecture and even things like company direction and what kind of products we’re building. We want to power everyone in the team to be actually impactful.
Ryan Carson: How cool! I love that. So you’re hiring nine people, but let’s say you’re hiring 10 and it’s a fresh hiring class so you don’t have to think about your current projects and how they’d fit in. We want to augment the capacity of the team by 10 people. What percentage of that 10 would you try to hire for each of those levels, if you could? Is it, like, two level one? Tell me about that. That would be kind of cool.
Leonid Movsesyan: At this point we want to move our levels mostly to level three. I would say six would probably be in the level three, senior software engineer position. Probably three would be level two and we’ll have room for one new grad to accommodate, because I think there is a tremendous amount of responsibility that you have when you’re hiring someone super junior. They need direction and they need guidance and they need support. As an organization, we want to be very honest with ourselves and if we’re committing to the person like this, we wanted to deliver on our commitment.
Ryan Carson: How do you deal with the fact though that the war is so brutal for those level threes? Because basically everybody wants them, right? So how do you deal with that?
Leonid Movsesyan: So we do two things: One thing is we promote from within. We have a fair amount of L2’s in our organization and we want to make sure that every single one of them is set up for success. Once we have this group of people stepping up, we can start hiring more on the lower levels. Number two is a lot of folks out there are extremely motivated by impact and this is something that we can guarantee to everyone who joins the company, that you are going to be impactful. This is our competitive advantage.
Finding the balance between innovation and shipping
Ryan Carson: How do you deal with trying to balance giving your team time to innovate but also ship what they need to ship?
Leonid Movsesyan: Within this ladder, there is a bifurcation of levels, but there’s also a bifurcation of responsibility. Every software team within Cadre has basically two leads: One of them is an engineering manager whose sole responsibility is to make sure the team delivers and everyone is happy, and the team is aligned with the global company priorities. Then there is a tech lead, whose job is to make sure that we’re not accumulating technical debt and we are making correct engineering decisions. They both report to their manager and they have similar level and similar sort of mandate. So that creates this back pressure of building a right thing but also building a thing that is supporting the business.
How to build a proper engineering team
Ryan Carson: It feels like your framework around all of these questions is fairly mature and set. Was there a source that you learned from, “this is how to run a great organization,” or is this a cobbling together of all your experience? Like, where can you point people to learn some of these?
Leonid Movsesyan: I’ve seen a few very high functioning organizations and I’ve seen a few very nonfunctioning organizations. [laughter]
Ryan Carson: I think we all have. Right?
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah.
Ryan Carson: More of the latter sadly.
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah. And my past experience, things that we’ve done at Dropbox and Yandex, were to me sort of the blueprint of how to build a proper engineering team. I feel like I was empowered to implement the best of these practices at Cadre, with support of an amazing engineering team and the amazing engineering leadership that I have. We’ve built it together.
Ryan Carson: That’s cool. Have you blogged about it? It’d be cool to say, “hey everyone, this is how you build a great organization,” because you’re describing it very clearly. I talk to a lot of people and they have a lot of good ideas, but I like how you’re describing it.
Leonid Movsesyan: Yeah. It’s actually something that we want to be doing more, to spread the word out there.
Ryan Carson: Get it out there. Right. Because it’s interesting because I know we’re learning this in general, that the more we talk about our process internally and how it’s healthy and mature and we’ve thought through it, we actually are attracting better talent.
How long have you been at Cadre?
Leonid Movsesyan: About a year.
Ryan Carson: When you came on board, did you have to install a lot of these systems or had they been set up?
Leonid Movsesyan: There were parts of this kind of framework, but there is a very strong desire to make it very consistent. I can’t take obviously all the credit for that, but it was a very big collaborative effort of the entire engineering leadership with the support organization because they knew that in order to sustain the organization, it needs to have a consistent framework. It wasn’t a hard experience in any way.
Ryan Carson: I know one of the biggest challenges is coming in and then trying to install these new systems and get buy in and manage across the organization, so it’s cool that you’ve been able to do that.
I’m impressed with what you’ve done already in a year! Where can people can get in touch with you, or where you want to point people to?
Leonid Movsesyan: Cadre.com/careers, and if you have any questions or you want to talk to me it’s Leonid@cadre.com. I’m always open for a chat.
Ryan Carson: Okay, great! Thanks for joining us and we’ll catch up with you soon.
Leonid Movsesyan: Thank you so much.