Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

523: The Art of Leadership with Francis Lacoste

May 2nd, 2024

Host Victoria Guido connects with Francis Lacoste, a seasoned VPE and CTO coach. He details his unexpected journey from an aspiring cinema professional to a key player in the tech industry after honing his remote-first work culture skills. He delves into his move toward coaching, emphasizing his commitment to developing engineering management talent and his dedication to building strong engineering cultures and leadership within organizations.

Francis discusses the psychological aspects of leadership, such as the importance of psychological safety and the role of trust in organizational effectiveness. He also reflects on the nuances of transitioning from hands-on technical work to strategic leadership roles, emphasizing the critical soft skills necessary for effective leadership.


VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Francis Lacoste, VPE and CTO coach. Francis, thank you for joining me.

FRANCIS: My pleasure, Victoria. Thanks for having me.

VICTORIA: Thank you. Well, it's a beautiful spring day today. And just to get us started and warmed up a little bit, I wonder if you could tell me about what is your favorite winter activity?

FRANCIS: Cross-country skiing without doubt. I did a lot of alpine skiing when I was a kid. Could still do it, but really I found alpine, just skiing through parks and the calm of winter, is a very relaxing activity. And I use that as basically my workout. There's a park nearby the school of one of my kids. So, I drop him at school, then go do a few laps in the park near the river. It's beautiful. Unfortunately, this was a winter without almost any snow. So, I could only do four outings this year, which I need to do other workouts because that's not enough.

VICTORIA: Wow. That's really cool. How long have you been cross-country skiing then?

FRANCIS: I started doing that as a kid, but regularly only in the past, I'd say, four or five years. I bought some skis. Before that, I would only rent. So, that allowed me to do it more regularly.

VICTORIA: That's interesting. I am cross-country ski curious because I've tried regular skiing the last couple of years, and I've found that it's way too fast for me personally [laughter]. So, I'm not sure. I think I might like it.

FRANCIS: Yeah. I mean, cross-country skiing is more like jogging in a way because it's very cardio, unlike Alpine skiing, downhill skiing, where if you don't work hard, you can go very fast. You know, if you want to go slow, it's have to put in a lot of effort in downhill skiing, but cross-country skiing it's kind of like jogging. You're gliding on the snow and getting some momentum. I mean, if it's not flat, then it becomes a little bit more fiddly, but I do mostly flat courses because if you have, like, some slope, then it requires other technique, and it's actually harder to control than Alpine skiing.

VICTORIA: Ooh. Well, I was going to say it sounds like my type of thing until the last part you said there [laughter]. I was like, oh, that's the part that I'm scared of. Well, I don't know, I don't get a chance to go skiing too often down here in San Diego, but I should go up to, like, Mammoth Mountain and things like that more often. But we got a ton of snow this year, so you'll have to come West and visit us sometime.

FRANCIS: [laughs]

VICTORIA: Well, wonderful. Well, Francis, tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to your coaching career here.

FRANCIS: I've been working in software forever, basically. Fun fact: I wanted to go into cinema, and that's what I studied at university, but kept ending up in programming job basically, or programming endeavors. And this was, like, the beginning of the commercial internet, end of the '90s, and was very much into free software and open source, and that's how I got started as a software engineer. And eventually ended up at Canonical, which is still is; they celebrated their 20 years this year; the company that founded Ubuntu, the Linux distribution, which was very popular and still is to a large extent.

That's where I kind of left, transitioned into software management, engineering management over there. I didn't know at all what I was getting into. I was on parental leave at the time, and my boss left a message to say, "Hey, we're thinking of creating teams, and we think you'd be a good fit for one of the team lead. Let me know what you think." And I said, "Yes," really, not knowing that this was a totally different job.

Fortunately, I got good mentors and found out I enjoyed that. And then, after Canonical, I moved to Heroku, which I joined to help build a remote culture there because, at that point, the company was hiring more and more remote. And Canonical was a remote-first company. I mean, I've been working remotely for 25 years, almost, at this point. So, kind of had a good experience there, and at Heroku, really that, I kind of discovered coaching.

I joined as a director, and then a few years in, there was a reorg. I ended up again with a single team to manage, which was, okay, I can do that. That's fine. Fortunately, I mean, by coincidence or luck, there was a guy on the team who wanted to become an engineering manager. He was already running most of the ceremonies of the team. And I said, "Oh, great [laughs]. What I love about being a director is growing engineering managers. So, I'm going to mentor you and help you de facto run the team, do the things that you're not in a position to do yet but eventually will transition that," which left me with a lot of time.

My VP was supportive of this, and we had a lot of new first-time engineering managers at the time, so we didn't have a lot of people who had experience as engineering managers. So, I offered to mentor and coach internally. A lot of people took me up on that offer. So, I ended up doing that and eventually ended up with, like, running a large org again, but continuing doing that part. And this was the part that I kind of enjoyed the most [laughs] in my role, in a way.

So, I think it was 2019. So, five years ago, I was running seven teams. It was the largest department, engineering department at Heroku. Things were fine, you know. But when I was stopping for summer vacation or winter vacation, I realized that the day before going back to work, I was kind of not looking forward to it. That was kind of a sign. And it was very subtle because, like, a week later, everything was fine again, you know, loved the people and the company and what we were doing. But there was something, like, deep down, I was not, like, fulfilled by the role.

I did some soul searching and then realized, okay, what I really like is not running the organization but more, like, the mentoring, the nurturing of the culture. I was also doing a training at the time, working with groups, group facilitation, and so, like, working more, like, with advising leadership teams, that sort of thing.

I went to my VP and told him, "Look, I realize this is not fulfilling for me. Don't freak out. I'm not quitting [laughs] yet, you know. I can do this for a year again. But if there is...then my next role is going to be consulting around engineering culture. But if there's a role, you know, where an organization is large, more aligned with this, I'd be happy to continue working at Heroku and Salesforce," because Heroku was part of Salesforce ever since I joined.

So, he and the SVP were kind of thrilled by that idea. So, I became Chief of Staff for Heroku and start working with the whole engineering exec team. And that was great for six months. And then Salesforce did a big reorg, and I ended up...all the exec left, and Heroku engineering was kind of split apart and refactored into the normal Salesforce engineering. Fortunately for me, the EVP I had a relationship with him, and he knew what I was doing. And he took my role and said, like, "We like what you did with Heroku culture. Can you help us do that across all of platform?" So, I ended up doing culture work for one of the largest departments at Salesforce. At the time, it was 1,500 people.

It was very scary in a way, in the sense that I knew this was the next step, you know, after Heroku, but I went from 150 engineers to 150. There were more engineering managers in platform than there were engineers at Heroku. So it was kind of, okay, I need to rethink my strategy and stuff like that.

And then, that lasted until last year, and then there were the layoffs at Salesforce, and culture is one of the first thing that is usually cut. So, I got cut, which was fine because I kind of knew, okay, my next step after Salesforce was consulting around engineering culture. So, that's when I launched my business and decided to focus on coaching because that's what I had continued doing in the meantime and was finding the most fulfilling.

VICTORIA: That's really interesting. Thank you for sharing all of that context. I have a lot of questions to follow up, but to recap a little bit, it sounds like you started as a software developer. You worked your way up to engineering management and then focused on coaching other leaders throughout your career. And now you're doing that as part of your own business. So, you founded your own company to just do that, which sounds super interesting.

FRANCIS: Exactly. Yes. So, my focus is on I coach VP of engineering and CTOs at scaling startup. Like I said, I started coaching engineering managers at Heroku, and a lot of them eventually became directors. And at a large organization like Salesforce, after director, the next steps up there are a few opportunities in a way. So, you need to be at the right place at the right time, but otherwise, there's not just a lot of opportunities.

And meanwhile, they get hit every week by recruiters on LinkedIn say, "Hey, come join our startup as VP of engineering," or CTO and things like that. A lot of them actually jumped ship to such role, and I continue coaching them in that capacity. And that was really just rewarding seeing the impact that these people have.

So, last year when I started, I had a question around, okay, what is my offer? I want great engineering culture, but what is the offer? Then, looking at what I did, it's kind of, oh, well, this work I've done with all of these folks, this was always pleasurable and fulfilling to me. And coaching is a known offering, so there's probably something there. So, this was kind of what's kind of the business aspect of it.

And the mission aspect is that...and I do other things than coaching. I do workshops and things like that. But my experience is that unless the executive, you know, the founder, the top leaders are not committed and bought in in creating a great culture and personally working on themselves, because that's required, you can bring, like, workshops to the team. You can...great process in place. You can do a lot of great things, which has an impact, but then it's not built on solid ground in a way because at the first reorg or the first, like, change [inaudible 10:31], then all of this work becomes very shaky ground. So, to me, it was kind of, oh yes, I need to start with coaching the CTOs and VPs, and that will ensure that there's actually potential for a great culture there.

VICTORIA: That's really interesting. So, yeah, the coaching part is the key part and, like, the culture is number one. So, if you were talking to a new CTO, what kind of questions would you ask them to kind of gauge where they're at with their engineering culture?

FRANCIS: The first question I always ask is, well, do you have, like, principles or values around that? And it's surprising. I come from Salesforce, which is a value-driven company, and there's a lot of startups that [inaudible 11:11]. It's kind of the playbook, you know, defining your company values. But still, there's a lot of people who've done it or who've not done it or done it, but it's kind of more like an exercise, and it's not, like, integrated.

So, really, this is where usually I start when we're looking at culture is kind of what are your values, and are these values enacted, you know, manifested in your organization? Are they part of the day-to-day decision-making, the hiring process, the performance evaluation? And not just that, you know, also, when you're designing something internally, we're putting in place, like, a code review process. Well, how is that related to our values or not?

And this is something I was fortunate because Salesforce it's a huge corporation, but still, they're serious about values there. And it is used, and they are living their values, not perfectly, I mean, it's still humans, and it's still a business. But these day-to-day decision-making values are definitely taken care of, and it's not just words on the wall.

VICTORIA: Yeah. I think the second part of what you said there is the hardest part, not just what are your values, but how do you use those values in your everyday decision-making?


Mid-Roll Ad:

As life moves online, bricks-and-mortar businesses are having to adapt to survive. With over 18 years of experience building reliable web products and services, thoughtbot is the technology partner you can trust.

We provide the technical expertise to enable your business to adapt and thrive in a changing environment. We start by understanding what’s important to your customers to help you transition to intuitive digital services your customers will trust.

We take the time to understand what makes your business great and work fast yet thoroughly to build, test, and validate ideas, helping you discover new customers.

Take your business online with design‑driven digital acceleration. Find out more at or click the link in the show notes for this episode.

VICTORIA: I'm interested in what it takes to be a CTO and go from that startup mentality into starting to think about how you're going to scale this organization. Because what I see a lot of times a CTO in an early-stage startup is the main developer also [chuckles] and has built the whole app. So, how do you think about that? What kinds of things do you start to delve into after the values, and how a CTO can transition into that role, into the scaling and leading larger teams?

FRANCIS: Yeah, no, you're totally spot on here, Victoria, because CTO is one of these...somebody asked me once why the VPE coach and not the CTO coach. And, to me, it was, well, actually, because CTO is one of these multi-dimensional variable scope word, which means a very different thing. And often, at a startup, the CTO is basically the founding engineer. He is the person writing the code, building the product. And that's good.

But as you grow, then the role change, and many of my clients are technical co-founders who actually want to scale with the org and not become, like, a chief architect, even though many of them will still keep the CTO title. And then, they will hire a VPE to actually build the organization and do what the role of the CTO is from my perspective.

The CTO role, if we define it, it's really you're part of the exec team, and the exec team whose responsibility is to align technology to the business objective. So, can we use technology or build a product to actually deliver our product objective? So, it's kind of a strategic role, and at some point, you don't necessarily run the day-to-day of the org. But at a transition point, you need to focus on the org management and the org building.

So, I often say, one, my ideal clients are these technical co-founders who want to switch from a product builder identity to a product development organization builder identity. That's the transition point. And then, it requires all the leadership skills somebody who leads an org needs, which are, like, being able to...empathy being one of the most important one, you know, being able to understand people, to inspire them, everything like that [chuckles].

VICTORIA: Yeah. All the easy stuff, right [chuckles]?

FRANCIS: Yes [chuckles]. Yeah. It's called the soft skills [laughs], but we all know that it's not because they're easy [laughs].

VICTORIA: Right. Yeah, they're hard.

FRANCIS: It's actually more because they are nebulous, which is very hard for somebody who's technically minded, you know, people; it's not like there's an on and an off, and logic gate is not what this is about.

VICTORIA: Yeah. And, mentally, it must be challenging for someone who has poured their heart and soul, and time, and energy into this product to then turn around and say, "Okay, I'm going to let a bunch of other people get in there and start doing stuff [laughs].


VICTORIA: And take it over. And, like, I'll just be involved from..." like, you know, when you say executive position, what does that mean? Is it, like, budget and strategy? And, you know, sometimes it's really hard to be effective in those conversations, and it really becomes about educating other people in your organization more than anything else.

FRANCIS: Yeah, I mean, a lot of it is about budget and that sort of thing. To me, it's more like boring, and it's not the most critical part. I mean, your role as a leader is really to set the context for the people to execute them, you know, so that they have, like, the clarity of direction but not the control of the execution. You need to let go of control. You need to move much more on the influence side than the controlling side, especially the larger the org gets. You probably have managed folks. You need to lose the idea that you're in charge and you're making the decisions because otherwise, you get frustrated very fast.

VICTORIA: Yeah. How would you refer to that? Is that like the inner game, like a mental game you have to shift into?

FRANCIS: Yeah, I mean, to me, the inner game is all about the self-awareness, emotional intelligence, developing these capacities, which enables you to be a more effective leader. It's not just about being an effective leader. It's also about feeling good about your role and who you are in this context, you know, and that's the inner game. What happens externally, how you act, is a reflection of these inner capacities in a way.

VICTORIA: That makes sense. And if you want to create a culture of psychological safety, you may want to start within yourself, right?

FRANCIS: Yes. I mean, psychological safety it's one of the essential dimension of team performance. There's the Aristotle study that was done at Google, which they analyzed Agile teams and, okay, what is the most important factor in team performance? And what they came out with is, oh, it's this thing called psychological safety.

Psychological safety as a name, as a concept was kind of coined by Amy C. Edmondson. I'm not fond of the term because I think it leads to some. I mean, it's a technical term, but because psychological safety and safety has a lot of, like, day-to-day meaning, it skews a little bit what it is. I much prefer...this is the same thing what Patrick Lencioni was calling out as the first dysfunction of a team, you know, the lack of trust. And it was defining trust as vulnerability-based trust, which goes with the technical definition of psychological safety, which is the perception that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

So, it's kind of, A, here I'm not sure how this is going to go. This is risky a bit. I'm being vulnerable. But I perceive that the team...I trust that the team will receive that respectfully in a way. And that connection to the inner game a manager, if you want to create psychological safety, you need to lead by example, which means you need to show that you can be vulnerable, you know, that you trust the team that they're not going to hang you to dry if you show a weakness or say, "Hey, I don't know here," or things like that. And this is very hard as leaders because we want to instill confidence and things like that. But that often comes with, like, masking our vulnerabilities, and that's actually detrimental in fostering psychological safety.

VICTORIA: Yeah, we actually did a facilitated exercise on psychological safety at thoughtbot last year. And I brought up an idea I'd had where I wanted to see if I could say something obviously wrong on my team calls [laughter] and see if they would correct me. Like, are they going to correct me? Do they feel safe enough to, like, give me that correction? Like, you know. And I can say that my team does feel comfortable [laughs]. They crack me a lot [laughs].

FRANCIS: Awesome.

VICTORIA: But that's great. You hire people who hopefully have, you know, expertise and security that might be greater and deeper or more recent, and yours that you have to do that. So, that's really interesting.

Talking about all the reports, it reminds me as well as, like, the DevOps research, DORA report, where they say that security as well, like, the biggest indicator for a high-security organization is trust as well. So, it's really interesting to think about, like, how you as a CTO create that culture and create that culture of, like, trust, and compassion, and empathy, and vulnerability, and that will lead to performance, which may seem counterintuitive to some people.

FRANCIS: Yeah. So, I'm kind of a model collector. I'm someone who loves different models. They're all good, you know, and that's the problem [laughs]. All models are good, but none of them actually exhaust reality. In one model, in a way, it's kind of simplification of The Five Dysfunctions Model and others. But there's two dimensions that are really important for team performance. So, the first one is kind of the, to me, this is kind of the ground, the horizontal layer. It's kind of how people relate to each other, so psychological safety. And then the vertical dimension is the clarity of the North Star and the mission.

We all can relate to each other as human beings and trust each other, but we're here to do some work. And what is this work about? What is unifying us that we're here and not someplace else? And that's kind of the clarity of what we're trying to achieve, the North Star or the mission. And those two create the space for high performance because if you just have psychological safety but there is no clear mission and accountability to that mission...once you know clearly what we're here to do, we can hold each other accountable to delivering on it. And if you're the only person holding accountability as the leader, then you're far from high performance.

Really, you get high performance when everyone is in it together. That's given by the clarity of what is it we're trying to achieve. And if that's not there, you have, like, a great group of people, but there's no direction. And if you have only direction and, you know, a mission, then you can get, like, in a very authoritarian thing, which, I mean, everybody's aligned to do something, but everybody is kind of afraid and not showing up fully. And you're not getting the full engagement of everyone, so there's a lot of heat and friction that's being lost.

VICTORIA: Yeah. And you mentioned accountability. And I'm curious, what does that look like in your experience, like, holding each other accountable? What kind of ways can leaders do that?

FRANCIS: To me, the most interesting question is how can leaders foster shared accountability on the team, mutual accountability? And how it looks like...and I'm a big fan's kind of the virtuous cycle between team agreements and retrospective, you know, in agile, another word that can mean many things. But this idea of continuous improvement after every sprint or regularly the team gets together and reflects on what went well. What could we improve? Those sorts of things. This is kind of the collective space of where the teams exist as a team, you know, really kind of where there's something very important in the retrospective where we're showing up as a team and reflecting on the team.

And what I like to do is use that moment to not only, like, how do we reflect about the first layer of, okay, we missed that feature or that sort of thing but also reflect on the norms of the team, which can be written down ideally, you know? And this is a team agreement part. And the output of the retrospective is modification or experiment around "Oh, we could try this or this other way of working." But the idea of team agreements is this is how we are holding each other accountable, too.

And how it manifests in practice is you know you have, like, mutual accountability when it's not only the manager that is reminding people of, hey, this is our norm, you know? So, for instance, I don't know, example could be trivial, but still, you know, we said we need two reviews to commit code, and then, like, somebody didn't do it or something like that. The manager could go and say, "Hey, you forgot about this agreement."

But really, where you want to be is that it's other people on the team say, "Hey, Joe, why didn't you ask me for a review here? You know, I could have been that second review you needed," or things like that. And that really means that everyone is kind of bought in on the norms. So, that, to me, what is mutual accountability about is when it feels confident enough to challenge each other and remind themselves accountable to the team norms.

VICTORIA: Right. And facilitating that development of the team norms together, too, right?


VICTORIA: Wonderful. Do you have any questions for me?

FRANCIS: So, I'm interested to hear about your story this time where you got called out [laughs]. You said okay...I love the test you did, you know. I'm going to say something here that I know is wrong and see if people feel confident enough, how did you achieve that, you know?

VICTORIA: Lucky for me, I don't have to test it because it just happens naturally [laughs]. So, in my role of managing director, I have to talk to clients, come up with estimates for the work, when will the work start, who is the right person for the team. And so, sometimes, you know, I'll put the proposal together, and I'll hear my team members say like, "Why are we doing it like this [laughs]? Do it this way instead. Like, I think this person's a better fit."

And, you know, when I see them engaging in the proposal and not just saying, "Yeah, it looks good," that means that we're doing a good job, and they're actually reading it, and processing it, and thinking about the client's requirements and yeah, giving me real feedback. That's what I want, so that's what I like to see.

And, you know, when I do my one on ones with my team members, at least every three months, I try to do a retrospective style where I ask, "In my role, what should I continue doing that's helping you? What should I start doing, and then what should I stop?" I do it in that order specifically, so we start with the nice stuff [laughs].

But yeah, and then I make sure that when I give that feedback back to my team members, I say like, "Make sure you feel like you can speak up and share and hear your voice. Like, it's maybe more of a start than a stop or a continue. Just try to, like, get your feedback in there. I want to hear from you. I want to make sure you feel comfortable giving feedback to me also."

FRANCIS: Right. So, that's kind of demonstrating listening and enacting a feedback culture because you are asking for feedback and listening to it, and that fosters trust, you know, vulnerability-based trust. So, anything else you did that helped create that psychological safety on your team?

VICTORIA: It's really important how you react to things in meetings, like in retrospectives, especially if, like, you're trying, in my role a lot, I'm trying to represent the business and talk to my team about what's the strategy and what we're trying to do. Like, if someone asks you a question like, "Well, why are we doing it right that way? Like, I think that's, like, what [laughs], you know, like, what are you guys even thinking? That seems random."

I think the emotional work, like you mentioned, like, taking a breath myself and, like, calming down. Because, like, part of me could get really annoyed and be like, "Well, we've been talking about this for three months, guys [chuckles], you know, like, this isn't new information." But then, you know, thinking about it, like, you know, taking the time to calm your own emotions and put yourself in their shoes and think about, well, how much time have they really had to, like, look at any of this stuff? And, like, maybe they need it in a different format, or in a different way, or, like, written up somewhere else and not just, like, briefly covered in a call.

So, opening yourself up to alternatives and staying curious about, well, what is this feeling behind? Like, what's really needed to clear? So, it's, again, coming back to listening and acting on it. So, maybe that's part of it. So, to create more psychological safety on the team is that part about managing your own emotions and not overreacting if somebody doesn't like your idea is a really important part of it.

FRANCIS: Yes, so true. You said something very interesting there, which is how you react to things. And this is true, you know, you want to be graceful in your reaction and not react from a place of frustration or anger. There's the saying that psychological safety is fragile, you know, trust can be lost easily and easy to lose. And I think this is actually, while there is some truth to it, it's actually just partially true. From my perspective, when you have psychological safety, basically, there's an anti-fragile aspect to it in the sense that you self-heal. But to self-heal, you need to recognize the breakage and heal.

So, I see the occasions where we want to be reacting gracefully listening to feedback. And then, somebody asks a question, like, say, "Why are we doing this?" You know, and then, well, because [laughs] and you answer, "Yes, well, because we've been talking for three months about this, you know, get to the page." If you stop there, yes, this is detrimental. I mean, people will say, "Oh, this was weird, and I'll think twice next time before asking that question."

But if you are committed to psychological safety, you realize that, or somebody might make you realize that. And then, you can repair saying, "Hey. Hey, sorry. I messed up here. This is really not in line with our value of listening to feedback. I'm sorry. I'm under..." and that's the healing part, and that actually strengthen psychological safety more than it was. I mean, this is the idea of antifragility, you know, a bone breaks, and when it rebuilds, it rebuilds stronger because you've shown vulnerability and kind of, okay, yes, when they make a mistake, I can see that they are able to correct in the moment.

And that's the safety part that I don't like, you know, the common day word meaning of safety that I feel is misleading is that it makes the seems very fragile. People walk on eggs. You know, we have this sentiment that, oh, I should be cautious about what I'm saying and things like that, where, actually, if you have a psychological safety culture, you can be a little bit more spontaneous and candid. And if you mess up, well, there's enough safety that you can repair and recover from there.

VICTORIA: Yeah, I actually, I mean, I did say that in the moment. And the way I recovered was that I said, "You know, I didn't want it to come across as an admonishment, like, why haven't you been listening? But more about back to our values, how can I make you all more bought into our goals from the beginning and make sure that you're connected and we're on the same page? Because it felt a little disconnected for me [laughs]," right?

But yeah, no, I like that you put it that way. Like it's also about how you repair. And I think that's true as well. When I think about whether or not you're safe with someone, it's also like, are you safe enough to tell me when I made a mistake? And the way you're going to feel safe is if someone tells you that they make a mistake, they're going to apologize, and repair, and figure out how to do better next time.

FRANCIS: Yeah, totally.

VICTORIA: And then, I think about how much my, like, leadership learning fits into my, like, regular personal life [laughs] also, right? Yeah, that's wonderful. If you could go back in time to maybe when you were that engineer about to take your engineering management position, what advice would you give yourself if you could?

FRANCIS: Hey, you do realize this is a totally different path. You're going to need to develop different skills that you add to. That was fine, you know because I kind of navigated that very seamlessly in many ways. But what I didn't highlight is that there was a transition, actually. And I think this is where the advice would come in.

So, I was an engineer, so thinking with systems and system thinking. And I realized very rapidly this is a different role. I'm not programming code anymore, you know. And what I told myself was I'm programming the system in which code is being written. And I think that's a good working metaphor or thinking for a while. And that's where the advice would come in. It's kind of, A, this is not, like, an engineering system. This is about humans.

So, in a way, I would kind of nudge myself toward developing the soft skills much more rapidly because I think it took me a while to really grok that, hey, I need to understand how to relate individually and personally to people and not just to ideas, roles, and process. Because you can have, like, an engineering perspective on management but that's lacking in empathy and...mainly the empathy [laughs]. So, do pay attention to empathy. I think that would be the fifth advice [laughs].

VICTORIA: Isn't that great advice for all of us all the time, right [laughs]?


VICTORIA: I love that. Yeah, wonderful.

FRANCIS: I'm always happy to connect with people. You can find me on LinkedIn, Francis Lacoste. I think we don't talk to each other enough in these digital times. And so, we all network a lot, you know, on Slack and LinkedIn. And one day, I was connecting with someone on LinkedIn, and the guy offered me...said, "Hey, happy to connect. Are you interested in doing, like, a short call just to get acquainted?" And I said, "Oh, that's actually a good idea." I talked with the guy and decided to do the same thing myself. So, I'm always happy to have a conversation with folks. So, I invite you to try it out, you know, there's a lot of people out there, interesting people, and have interesting conversations.

VICTORIA: I love that so much. That's really nice. And people can do that to me, too. You can always...people talk to me, come talk to me on my podcast [laughs]. Thank you so much for being with us here today, Francis. I really enjoyed our conversation.

You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at If you have questions or comments, email us at And you can find me on thoughtbotmastodonsocial@vguido.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

Thanks for listening. See you next time.


Did you know thoughtbot has a referral program? If you introduce us to someone looking for a design or development partner, we will compensate you if they decide to work with us.

More info on our website at: Or you can email us at: with any questions.

Support Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots