Frankie Nicoletti, senior engineering leader, speaker, leadership coach and competitive powerlifter has extensive experience across many industries including fintech, martech, e-commerce, social media, and big data. At our CTO Craft Conference she’ll be hosting a talk about Debugging People Problems.
Hi Frankie, welcome to the CTO Craft Spotlight Q & A. You’re a day one speaker at the CTO Craft Conference in November and VP of Engineering at SoLo Funds. Can you give us a teaser about what you might share with our audience at the CTO Craft Conference?
The concept is to use case studies with both positive and negative outcomes to highlight common experiences and tools for resolution: tools like mediation 101, building psychological safety, delivering critical feedback to peers, creative problem-solving, and design-thinking sessions I’ve used to bring departments together, etc.
Software is a people problem, whether we like each other or not, we need each other to get the job done. I want the audience to leave feeling empowered to explore their next interpersonal issue with curiosity and optimism.
In your opinion, how have the ‘traditional’ ways of dealing with people problems changed over time?
We are privileged to have a better theory of mind, and we have better tools than previous generations did. We can become trauma-informed and inclusive; we can offer better support to our disabled and child-raising workforce and anyone else who needs more flexibility.
I don’t think that the average “people problem” has changed, people still disagree, people are still competing for promotions, and egos still exist. Our tools are better if we learn how to use them!
You’ve said that you think ‘tech is a team sport.’ This is brilliant. Can you elaborate for us?
It is almost impossible to create a tech company by yourself without help. Even if you were to do this, you would be relying heavily on vendors and open-source software written by other people. The vast majority of tech businesses require a team of people working together. If product and engineering don’t collaborate, they can’t get on the same page, and the company will fail. Learning how to work well with others is a first-class skill.
Do you think the pandemic has changed the way leaders manage their people and if so how?
The pandemic really pushed us to trust each other. Compliance, participation, and success can’t be measured by whether there are butts in seats when everyone works from home. It rendered some amount of line management obsolete and showed us what people were capable of when they didn’t have to commute or work in an environment that wasn’t optimal for them.
Remote leadership requires different expectations and success markers. Companies that kept a foot in onsite work struggled to hire over the last year. You have to evolve.
Psychological safety is a term we hear quite a lot, but do you think enough leaders really understand how the concept works (or should work) in practice and why?
No, I don’t. I think people attending events like CTO Craft Con are more likely to understand it because this community is actively seeking to improve their leadership knowledge and skills.
On average, psychological safety is deeply (and sometimes willfully) misunderstood. True psychological safety requires action from leadership. This is a hard pill for some leaders to swallow. In a previous role, a C-level told me that he forbade anonymous questions because “anonymous criticism of leadership was bullying.” Yikes.
How would you describe psychological safety and its impact in a few sentences?
Psychological safety is the shared understanding that questions or criticism can be shared 1) without fear of retribution and 2) that there will be an appropriate response. You must have both the protection from retaliation AND the expectation that leadership will be transparent and take corrective action.
You’re also a leadership coach. How high on the challenge/s agenda are people problems for the leaders you coach?
Even things people don’t describe as people problems are people problems. People don’t usually bring true technical challenges to a leadership coach (things like choosing the optimal db), but basically, everything else boils down to people.
People aren’t communicating, people aren’t showing respect for each other, and people are not supporting each other. Humans are complicated creatures, we bring chaos wherever we go.
Can you tell us more about what you do in your role at SoLo Funds?
I lead an organisation of over twenty engineers building the future of community finance. I recently joined in October, and I’m very excited to see what incredible things we do.
As a woman in tech, how do we ensure that underrepresented individuals who haven’t had the same opportunities as peers are given fair and equal access to new roles and opportunities in tech?
The answer to this question is an entire talk in itself. The shortest answer is to hire leaders who have a track record of building diverse and inclusive teams and follow their example. I believe that DEI has to be built into the foundation of the company and the culture and that it is incredibly difficult to add later. If you do need to add it later, hire a professional, pay them a lot of money, and do what they say. You have to do the work.
Finally, can you recommend a book or a podcast that every technology leader should read or listen to either in the space of coaching, learning and development or leadership in general?
One day (maybe soon) I will recommend my own book. Until then, I would recommend Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Thinking In Bets by Annie Duke.
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