Alexis Monville (en)

Building and Sustaining Excellence with Bruce Wang (Netflix)

Dive into the world of tech leadership with Bruce Wang, Director of Engineering at Netflix, in the latest episode of “Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership.” Bruce shares his journey from developer to leadership, emphasizing the balance between building trust, seeking excellence, and driving customer delight. Discover his approach to cultivating engineering culture, growing and mentoring teams, and embracing the challenges of leadership. Bruce’s insights offer invaluable lessons on the complexities and rewards of navigating the tech industry’s leadership landscape.

Listening to this episode of “Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership” with Bruce Wang, you’ll discover:

  • Bruce’s guiding leadership philosophy and its three pillars: building trust, seeking excellence, and delivering customer value.
  • Strategies for balancing these pillars and the importance of trust in team dynamics.
  • Insights into Bruce’s approach to growing and structuring teams, emphasizing vision setting and team makeup.
  • Bruce’s reflections on embracing challenges and the mindset for overcoming obstacles.
  • His journey of learning and adaptation at Netflix, particularly during the transition to remote work due to COVID.
  • The significance of being a “humble gardener” in leadership, focusing on cultivating an environment for growth.
  • Bruce’s personal stories of failures and lessons learned, highlighting the continuous journey of self-improvement and team development.

Here are some references mentioned in the episode:

Here is the transcript of the episode:

Alexis: [00:00:00] Welcome to the podcast on emerging leadership. I’m your host, Alexis Monville. Today, we are diving into the art of leadership in tech, building and sustaining excellence with our distinguished guest, Bruce Wang, director of engineering at Netflix. Bruce brings a wealth of experience from the intersection of tech, business, and team culture.

His journey from a hands on developer to a leader focused on people leadership, culture cultivation, and mentoring offers invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of tech leadership.

Welcome to Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership Bruce.How do o you typically introduce yourself to someone you just 

Bruce: I’ll probably just say, Hey, I’m Bruce Wang. I’ve been an engineering leader for about 20 plus years two time founder. And currently I’m a director at Netflix.

Alexis: Excellent. Thank you. can you tell me about your key principles [00:01:00] and how they are essential to, to build an engineering 

culture? 

Bruce: Yeah, I have sort of this guiding leadership philosophy, right? I call it trusting team seeking excellence, driving customer delight. And so what I’m trying to kind of convey is sort of these three pillars for that. That every leader needs to balance, right? So how do you build a trusting team? How do you seek excellence and drive mastery? And how do you make sure you’re delivering customer value, right? And usually the challenges of engineering is keeping those in balance, right? And what I’ve learned over time as a leader is it’s all about the balance. You can’t get all of everything. You got to figure out how do you balance between these three?

Because sometimes maybe like you would break trust with a team if you have to do something on the seeking excellence side. Right. And so how do you balance that and make sure that you’re doing it well. And so all of [00:02:00] my sort of sub values and things I think about is under that principle.

Alexis: can you share your approach growing? A team of really starting something and, and help that team grow. 

Bruce: Yeah. You know, it’s funny. Cause I was like trying to think, do I have a formula and you know, it’s, and it’s interesting because just so you know, I’m actually taking on a new team in a week. And so I’m switching roles

and so I’m trying to think like, what do I do? Right. So this is, so I used to run a team called product platform systems. I’m sure by the time this releases, I will have the new job, which is a games platform and you know, it’s within Netflix, but it’s a totally different group. Right. And so I’ve been thinking about like, how do I, what do I do with this new team? Right? Like people know me but you know, not everyone right on the team. And so I think the first one I typically do with any team is. Set a vision first for [00:03:00] myself. So what what is this thing? I’m leading like what does this team do? What’s the essence their core, right? I think a lot of people think oh, this is the technology we build It’s like no no, but what’s the thing we’re driving at this goes back to the customer delight, right? Are we here for? Like our purpose, right? And 

I actually wrote this memo for myself to figure out Why are we doing what we do? And in this particular team right in the games platform team, right and it’s a newer team You know, I don’t I don’t know if people know but netflix actually have games and that’s a growth area for us, you know over the next several years. And so it’s very Interesting. Kind of a little bit like a startup, right? And so I think for me, it starts with sort of that vision of what the team is and could be. And then from that, the next is who do you have? Who’s there? What are you building? Like, [00:04:00] what’s your team structure, right? The other anchor point you know, building trusting teams is really around the makeup and diversity of your team. Who do you have? Do you have the right parts? Do I have enough managers? Do I have enough ICs? Are they focused on the right areas? And so here’s the thing is like, if you think about a leader, how do you decide the right team structure if you don’t know where you’re going? Right. And so that’s why for me, it’s like know where you’re going and then figure out the team makeup. Right. And then the last part,

I think this is the seeking excellence piece, which is, all right, what do we need to do now and do well, right. To deliver value. Right. And so it’s kind of like the vision, the team structure and our goals, right? What are we trying to do? And for me, I have a philosophy that I’ve written in my github page. And this is from a book called when now, when later, but winning now, winning later, which is like, you have to do tactical as strategic at the same time. Right. And so the goals that we have set is like, we have to deliver on 2024 goals. [00:05:00] We also have to prepare. For 25 and 26 and beyond. And so I think that that’s like kind of the, for me to get a team in a good place, you’re kind of building those sort of three things together. Now underneath all of that, you know, foundation to everything is trust. How do you build trust with the team? How do they trust you as a leader? Right? All this stuff does not work without trust, right? So that’s why trusting teams is so, is the first thing for me, is because, you know, I think you know this, if you don’t have a trusting team the vision is not going to make sense, they’re not going to trust you, right? The goals, they’re not going to push, and definitely hiring and conveying what the team structure is they’re not going to believe you. So I think that’s So, you know, like underneath that is constantly building trust with the team.

Alexis: help me understand that. So I’m a, I’m one of the engineers on your team, hypothetically, not I don’t know. You, you, you are the new [00:06:00] of that team. Do you believe, I will trust you like 

this. 

Bruce: So in this particular, no, you won’t, I have to earn your trust. Now I do have a slight advantage in the sense that I have been here for four years, so I’m not some random person coming in from the outside, you already have seen. Multiple outputs of what I do and how I think at the company. And, and so the good thing is my reputation precedes me. I hope in a good way. I think people, you know, I have team members who actually used to work for me who actually advocated for me. Which is always nice to hear. Honestly, as a leader, like that’s the only criteria, do they actually want to work with you again? And so that comes with some level of credibility, right?

So I’m not starting from scratch. But I’m doing actually something very early. I believe in vulnerability based trust, right? And so here’s what I’m doing. One is, you know, setting that vision doc early is to say, Hey, I want to learn more about the business, right? And I want to learn and [00:07:00] define a future that’s exciting for all of us to pursue. But the second is, The day I start, I have a town hall where it’s about me, right? Like, Hey, learn about me, read, read my leadership philosophy doc. You know, here’s my intro to me as a person, right? I live in San Francisco, you know, I have wife and kids, but, you know, like these are the things I like. I love food, right?

I love travel, all that stuff. Right. And then something I’m doing is have the people who used to work for me, that’s on that team now giving. Verbalize critical feedback. They’ve given me in the past. What’s wrong with Bruce? Right? And you now as a leader, you have to be careful because coming in new vulnerability also has to be earned over time, right?

If you just be like, I don’t know anything that’s not going to instill confidence, right? And so you kind of balance the like, I know what I’m doing, I think, but also I’m not perfect. You know, [00:08:00] I’m not infallible. I have, you know, I have weaknesses just like anyone else. So that’s how I’m doing it is right away. Try to build through that closeness of, Hey, I’m a person. And you know, I have flaws and then ask any questions and actually. I continue to encourage people, ask the spicier question the better, challenge me, question why I’m in this role, question what are we doing here push me hard, because what I’m trying to convey to the team is, I want the openness to discuss problems, I want us to be open about where our challenges are, you know, inside the memo that I wrote, actually I list out all the things I heard that is difficult for us as a team, And just wrote it out, like verbalized it and said, yeah, I know it’s really hard to be a startup in this giant company who’s been around for 25 years. Let’s not underestimate how hard that is, right? So that’s an example of [00:09:00] like, this is a difficult thing to do. And so that’s kind of like tactically what I’m doing as well is just introducing myself, but not not just, oh, here’s who I am, but like, kind of learn a little more deeply about me. 

Alexis: I have to admit I loved I, I would love to hear the segments wrong about Bruce. There are people that know you. I love the idea. I need to do that. The, the other thing is when you said you write the memo about the vision. Why are we doing what we do? That means you’re not doing that in isolation.

You’re, you are interviewing a lot of people probably the team and in the 

Bruce: well, and that’s the thing is I wanted to be careful, right? Because when I originally wrote when I started writing the doc It was for me to like write down what I thought this team was doing and I’m like, I don’t know enough so instead the memo became more like embrace hard mode It went from, like, specific, tactical, here’s the technologies we need to work on, to, [00:10:00] we need to embrace the challenges ahead of us.

So it became more of an inspirational, yeah I know it’s hard, but we’re going to have to do it. Because if we want to do, you know, I wrote something in the memo, I said, if we want to do extraordinary things, we need to overcome extraordinary obstacles. So. Anything worth doing is hard, right? Like, that’s just how things are. And so, the memo became more like, let’s embrace the hardness. Not overwork, but just like, yeah, it’s difficult. You know, you’re trying to build a new system, trying to establish product market fit, but you still need to integrate with Netflix. So how do you do it well? Right? That’s not an easy thing, right?

You got systems built for SVOD, not for games. How do you integrate with those systems? And there’s real technical challenge of that. And so I sort of shifted from like, here’s what I know what we want to do to like, I know how hard it is to be in the situation. [00:11:00] And then look, I still need to collect a bunch of feedback and, and figure out, you know, what’s wrong with it.

And, you know, I’m, I readily admit, like, look, I don’t know what should be in this doc. You know, I just kind of wrote. My initial version. But the, the good thing is, you know, the first few people I shared it with were like, Oh, this really resonates. So then I’m like, okay, I’m on the right track. Right. At least I didn’t write something and people were like, this makes no sense.

Why did you write it? Right. And so I think that’s also how I work too, is that I think a leader will put out a vision memo and they think it’s like written in stone, dude, we can completely change this however we want. Right. And actually more information I have will help us make this memo and this. Vision better, right? So that’s kind of how I’m thinking about it. And so yeah, definitely inviting people you know being transparent of what you’re trying to do. I think is really important You know, you kind of want to show I don’t know. I’m kind of like a show and doer at the same time You know what?

I mean? Like I you know, I don’t want you to just trust [00:12:00] me that I Am a trusting leader. I want to be transparent. I want to be open I want to be vulnerable like i’m just gonna like, you know Do it, not just say it. Right. And so I think that’s also important as well.

Alexis: Excellent. And the next question is also about doing and saying or doing and helping others. It’s about growing people. And I know growing people starts often with oneself. So help me understand how you. What is your philosophy about growing people?

Bruce: Yeah, I I think everything is about growth mindset, right? Which is just the idea is just because you don’t know something now doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. Like, right. The idea that you can get better and be better. Right. And so I think you said you start with yourself, right? You realize where your challenges are. You realize is where, where you, maybe your weaknesses are. And, and you, you want to like get better, [00:13:00] but the second thing about growing, which is also recognizing what you’re really good at, what you’re like exceptional at, right? Like what’s my superpower and how do I like do that more? Right. So I’ll give you an example. One of my superpowers is like connecting with people and networking within the company. And one of the challenges of games is that it’s sort of insulated and ice, you know, isolated. And so my job is using the connections I already have to start doing road shows, right? So that’s an example of like, how do I also use my own strengths to my own advantage, right?

And so that’s for me. And then, then about to the team, that’s where it goes back to earlier. I mentioned figuring out what you have, where the strengths are, you know, what can you push, right? Where can you help support and coach where there’s weakness or, or, you know, somewhere to improve. And so I think.

Growing people, I like what you said earlier is like, first it starts with yourself, right? [00:14:00] You have to be humble enough to know that, you know, you don’t know everything. And then I think when you work with people then you, you got to figure out as they. Build that trust, then they can open up to, here’s what I’m good at, here’s what I’m not, here’s where I want to grow. Now, also as a leader, the challenge is that, you know, I’ve had the benefit of leading ICs, but as I build up the team, I don’t directly lead ICs anymore, right? And usually I have managers who then lead ICs, so then how do you grow people when you’re not directly interacting? With the ICs, right? And so you have to grow your leaders, right?

You got to grow your people leaders and make sure your people leaders are reflecting sort of the vision and the ideals and pushing you as well, right? Cause my, my people managers pushed me all the time to get me to think, rethink and learn. And so I think that’s the other thing is as you move up, it’s really about scaling yourself, right?

You can’t meet everyone. You need to make sure you’re building [00:15:00] the scalable structures. So that the, your managers and their managers can like build strong teams. Right. So I think the growing also is about scaling out beyond just you personally, you know, one on one growing someone.

Alexis: Yeah, love that and it’s funny because I’m starting working with a new customer this week. And I always love when I’m able to meet with everybody on the team. And during the first call before we started, he told me, Okay, so there’s 800 developers on the team. And I said, okay, so that will not happen. I will not meet with all of them.

That’s for sure. So now we need to have a really good strategy to scale myself because I will not have 800 meetings during the first week. That, that not even during the first year, 

Track 1: it will probably not 

Alexis: happen. So, yeah, I am saying, and it’s, it’s really different to be directly managing the team of individual contributors.

And [00:16:00] starting to have managers will do that with you. ,

Bruce: By the way, that’s actually a really great tactical example of growing my team. If you look at my previous team, I, when I led Netflix, first team I led at Netflix was API systems, right. And it was just ICS, right. And the whole point was me coming in

to help. Establish like a team structure, but it was all ICs. And actually that was a real growth area for me is when I started getting, you know, man, engineering managers, it was this weird, like I had, you know, worked with a team to build out this vision, but then now I have managers who’s. Pushing that vision and changing the vision. How do I let go right? And so growing the team sometimes is letting you letting go Like you not being in it with you know, like because you feel like I felt obligation.

I felt like hey This is my you know, this is the team we built together I don’t want to let go and actually growing the team sometimes means letting [00:17:00] go

Alexis: Oh, I feel that’s important. Letting go. Okay. We’ll put bold at some point. So can, can you share a challenging project that really, really stretched your skills?

Bruce: Oh, man, they’re all challenging I mean When I first started, so I always tell my story of when I started Netflix because it was the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life, right? Times two, because here’s what happened first. I come into a dream company. Right where you you know, i’ve been following the culture for years I’ve designed my engineering culture based on the culture So you have an aura like I have no idea how it really is in the company I’m, just like oh my god They must know everything and they must be right on everything and they must be the best company everywhere, right? So you already have that first off you have deep imposter syndrome coming in then you have a memo that says

Keeper test dream team [00:18:00] a players, right? So then you’re always constantly worried. Am I gonna get fired like at any point? Right to then you come in and, you know, I’ve been mostly startup founder and, you know, worked at startups leading teams.

And this is a order is multiple orders of magnitude, higher traffic, you know, services much more complicated systems architecture, right? The technology is way harder than I’ve ever seen before. Right? So you got that. And it mixed all that together. COVID hits in March of 2020, right? So I start Jan of 2020, I get two months in the office and then it’s locked down. So you also are facing with an existential crisis within the world and Netflix. Cause Netflix was built to be a in person company, right? I still remember early on attending meetings with you know, we had this major API migration project, [00:19:00] right. Dot next to edge pass. So NEXT is this, you know, API platform that we built over many, many years, and EdgePass was kind of the new GraphQL like graph language API, and it’s been already going on for multiple years, right? And in the check in meeting, everyone was in the room. Right. Like literally all the engineers and I’ve never seen that before. I was like, Oh my gosh, everyone’s here. This is amazing. I’ve never, you know, like mostly work for startups where it’s all remote and distributed. It’s like everyone’s in the room and we’re talking about this project. And so you go and lock down everyone’s remote. So you’re also dealing with like the companies aren’t even prepared for that, right? Like, like we’ve never done that before. And so to me, that combination of just, do I know what I’m doing? Am I going to get fired at any time? Plus. You know learning an environment that like, you know, everyone was dealing with right?

Not just us was just super super hard and I don’t know how I got through it Honestly you know [00:20:00] i’m like I tell people it took me Nine months to really understand nine months to a year to really understand what the team did right? And then took me really two years to feel comfortable. And so that journey Here’s what’s interesting.

It’s not one difficult thing, right? It’s like 10 20 difficult things. And actually what was really hard about that situation was even after I built up, you know, good rapport, I actually fell down like a year and a half in where it’s like, Oh, I felt good. And then like I made a huge mistake with the team and lost some trust. Right. And so like, you have to then rebuild that and figure out, Oh my gosh, what did I do wrong here? And so the building out API team to be this more scalable team So the vision that I came up with was hourglass to turbine So hourglass is what everyone tells API is right? It’s in the middle layer between two huge [00:21:00] groups like UI and back end teams So, you know, we’re the middle layer that like a hourglass right that that That choke point. And we want to become more of a turbine or engine for innovation. So it took many, many years to figure out how to do this thing, right? This really complicated piece of the ecosystem and moving it to a more scalable architecture and team structure. And not everyone was happy about the move. Right. And so it that’s another

example of trusting teams and seeking excellence conflict with each other. Right. And so, so this journey was really a multi year journey that had come with many difficult up and down. Right. And so it’s not a single event that I can say, Oh, that one thing was really hard. It was just like the whole journey. Was really hard. 

Alexis: I love it. And the context was definitely how say, interesting or really challenging. When when I listened to what you said [00:22:00] about your, your leadership philosophy, I was wondering how the, how the system, how the, I understand the organization is really important, but I owe the system, the processes, the tools, are they, are they important in what you are doing or?

Let me understand how you you deal with that.

Bruce: Yeah. So when you say systems tools, do you mean like technical tools or do you mean like pro like JIRAs and Kanban boards? Like, I’m just kind of curious, how do you mean?

Alexis: I I mean everything I I want to leave it as much open That’s up. That’s all the things you you know that there’s a deming We’re saying always that a bad system will beat each time The system is really everything That people will interact with. And so I’m, I’m curious about what is in the system you and what you feel you are to 

Bruce: Right. So, so here’s, what’s really interesting about Netflix is that Netflix is well known for a culture [00:23:00] aspect called people over process. Right. And so actually, we’re like very shall we say, like, not anti process, but just like, oh, process is bad. And like, that’s actually a culture meme we have to break, right?

Like, process is not bad. I mean, deploying code, CICD, that’s a process, right? Like, you know, running offsite is a process. Like, you need processes, right? Like, and so you can’t treat it as a dirty word. And so actually, the thing I had to fight was how do we introduce some lightweight processes? Right. Can we just use Jira’s to track what we’re working on? Right. Can we have like a lightweight Kanban board, you know, to just see what the team was working on. So what’s interesting is what I’ve learned over time is that everything you learn, all the tools you learn, you have to apply for the situation and the problem on the ground that time. So what I had built before of like building Kanban, for instance, I, you know, [00:24:00] built Kanban processes.

And I, I, I’m kind of like. That’s kind of a strength of mine is when I read something about a process, I can kind of synthesize it pretty quickly and get to the core of why you do it, like OKRs or Kanban boards or whatever, right? And so those are easy for me to implement in a good way. Like Kanban is all about limited WIP, right?

Work in progress. Right. And you’re trying to stop the line when you’re having a problem, right? It’s not about filling it with a billion things. It’s about actually filling it with less things and

doing Right. And so those things I can do and so implementing some lightweight process when there was no process or very little, because at Netflix process was actually considered bad. Right. And so that was actually, the challenge is that you have to kind of take into account the team you have, the org structure and culture you have. And then figure out how to like integrate into that. I actually got feedback early on. It’s like You [00:25:00] know, I was trying a bunch of different things I read and they were like, Oh, my team was worried.

Like, Oh my God, this is some like guy who read a bunch of blogs and I was trying everything. And, and, and it was funny because, you know, I was doing that. That’s what I was doing. I was like, Oh, I read, this is a good structure. Let me try that. And it’s like, I had to adapt, right. And what happened, what helped. What helped the team realize is, look, I’m a startup person. If something’s not working, I’ll just throw it away. I’ll try a different thing. Right. I’m not going to try to force feed some process down your throat until I make it work. Right. And so that was my process is like seeing what worked with the team. Trying, what were the things that resonated? Didn’t, you know, I try to put stuff in air table. That didn’t work. Okay. Throw it away. Do Kanban boards. Okay. That worked. Cause we’re mostly using JIRA. We were doing sprint planning and we’re switching over. And so that’s the example of just. adapting to who you have and the company you’re in and being able to implement some things to put more structure [00:26:00] to just organize you know, the team a little bit.

And so I think for me, it’s not about a set thing, like implement these 10 things and it will work. Right. It’s about like, it’s kind of like that growth mindset mentality of like, what are we trying to do right now? And how do we make it better? So it’s more of a philosophy of how we get better. That’s seeking excellence. Making the system work better rather than a specific thing. So I’m more principle based on that than like a formula of things.

Alexis: I love it. I, I would love more people to answer that question with a more base. I just think that way would be more probably interesting for them to, to realize that implementing a framework or adopting best practices is not necessarily the best option they can pick. That really are reflecting on the core principles is probably 

more important to adjust and adapt.[00:27:00] 

The current 

Bruce: Yeah. I’ll get, I’ll give you a quick example here. Is whether we like it or not, I think Netflix has influenced the industry on like graph QL, right? Because my team, my team’s actually wrote blogs about sort of our federation technology and stuff like that. And I always find it very interesting when teams say, Oh, Netflix is doing it.

So we must do it, but why Netflix has very specific reasons why they’re doing it. You know it, it’s not just. Like because we want to you know, and I think that’s also very important like where I find it people like want to copy success Right, like oh this company’s doing this. Let’s just copy what they’re doing without recognizing what they actually need.

Alexis: Yeah. It’s a very, very dangerous do. It’s harder to really understand the core principles. So it can be off. Ah, that’s a, that’s good. You, you went from being an individual contributor to a [00:28:00] higher level leader in a, in a new large organization. And as you said, a dream company what, what is your perspective of what makes, what makes a good, a good people leader?

Bruce: Man, that’s so so there’s, there’s a book I read called Team of Teams by General McChrystal.

And he, he had one of the best lines. He said he looks at himself as a humble gardener. And it’s like one of my favorite images. Is like being a humble gardener, right? So one is being humble. Like don’t assume, you know, everything and the gardener piece is more about for me It’s the image of in the dirt with the team figure out what needs to be done clearing the brushes Making the environment in which everyone can grow right?

So I like that mentality of like Your job as a leader is to make sure everyone else grows and gets better [00:29:00] and sometimes it depends on what the situation sometimes you have to take a much more hands on approach Right given the you know the current team Structure or current experience of the team and other times you just need to let go and let let it shine Right, and so it’s it’s very dynamic, right?

It’s based on the situation so I think those those two things really speak to me like if I think about what kind of leader I want to be. It’s that it’s like that humble gardener approach of like being, you know, able to work closely with the team, but also knowing what you don’t know. Right. And honestly, I think comes down to just curiosity as a leader. Like, you have a lot of experience, right? Great, but maybe you don’t know everything, and that’s okay, and being okay with not knowing everything, and learning, and that drive and thirst for learning, and being better, like just being wanting to learn more and [00:30:00] get better, incorporate more concepts. Don’t think you know everything I think is just like a key attribute of any leader whether you’re a people leader.

IC leader

Alexis: Yeah, I love that. I love that. And a really good reference. I love that book. And I was about to say that there’s a, there’s a lot about curiosity, but you said it. That’s perfect. I will put the link the comments we are about to, to be at the end the episode.

What is the question I should have asked you?

Bruce: Well, that’s a good question. you kind of addressed it which I think you could have pushed more is the failure modes Right? Like you asked, like, Hey, what was the hardest thing? So I think that was good. But maybe even digging deeper on like, what were the failure modes and like, what did you learn from them? Because I feel like it’s not about the success that defines us as a leader. It’s about how we dealt with the failures that defines us. And so I think if [00:31:00] like, maybe it’s more like drilling down into where are some of those points that you learn from a failure or some situation like, you know, I mentioned to you like I had a problem with the team that I thought I lost some trust.

I had another one letting go right to my managers. I think those are always the, what I don’t like about the world of, you know, whatever you want to call influencing leadership, you know, talks is it’s, it paints too rosy of a picture sometimes, right. You’re, and you’re actually seeing a lot more practical discussions of like, what’s hard about leadership, not what’s easy everyone could talk about being a leader, but it’s actually pretty hard to actually be one.

Right. And so I think that would probably be, you know, a good question is to drill down in some of the failures more deeply

Alexis: do you want to, try the for us? 

Bruce: Sure, sure, sure. Many. I can’t, I can’t even pick all the mistakes I made. Let, let, let’s [00:32:00] pick the failure mode where I think this one is important because this is where I had built some confidence with the team. So this is when I lost some trust with the team. I had already built some confidence on like knowing what I was doing. And that’s actually, it’s funny because that’s kind of where hubris kicks in, right, where as a leader, you’re not being humble anymore, and you’re sort of like, Oh, I know what I’m doing. I’m just gonna push forward. And so the situation was that we had a new VP and we want to present our strategy for Consumer Edge, right?

So Consumer Edge was our new federated GraphQL API for the consumer product. We already established it for our internal enterprise within the studio applications. But we want to move towards consumer, which is the Netflix app, right? The product itself. And so I spent time with one IC who is a big proponent of that vision, right?

And we wrote the vision doc together and it was great. And I actually even said, let’s write it without even using the word GraphQL in it. [00:33:00] Because what are we trying to do, right? The vision is unified API, democratized edge, right? So what that means is you unify all the APIs together. Because, you know, before we used to have like per UI based APIs. With BFS or backends for frontends. And we want to unify on a single GraphQL API, but then democratize in the way that it’s unified. But the people that own it are actually the domain owners, right? So the identity graph is owned by the identity team. Not managed by an API team. So really excited. And we presented to the VP and, you know, I think it went okay.

And it was fine, but my team was like, what are you doing? Like, why are you talking about this? Like, we’re not even sure if this is going to work. And it was like, like multiple senior engineers in the team really pushed back on the concept. It’s like, we don’t even know if this thing will work. And why are you talking about this thing?

And, [00:34:00] you know, what are you trying to do? Like, it was almost like, are you trying to like dismantle the team on this new vision? Right. And I was like, whoa, what, you know, because of my push for speed and push for like, Hey, I want to get this in front of this leader. Who’s new. I actually didn’t take the time, right.

I used. My confidence hurt me here, right? I thought I built the trust of the team. I pushed fast and I didn’t collect enough information. And so when I presented it, it wasn’t a cohesive vision that the whole team supported, right? And then I had to go back and

really work with you know, the more senior leaders to define a more cohe I mean, I remember, I even remember us, cause it was lockdown, and we had to like find a room outside to like meet the four of us, right? To just like talk through the vision and be like, okay, what is really underneath this? What’s the meat of it? How do we really make it happen? [00:35:00] Not just write a doc. Right. And I still remember sitting with the four of us like outside discussing, you know, in person, cause you know, it was also remote. Right.

So that didn’t help. And we were like social distancing and trying to discuss this vision together. So that was, that was a key moment for me because I felt really bad and the team was just like, you know, we’re like, I’m really disappointed. You know, I was like, Oh my gosh, how did I mess up this bad? 

Alexis: thank you for sharing because it’s, it’s very interesting and it shows the other face of that. spoke about the humility that is needed and I love the way you presented the vision doc and the fact that it was really a collaborative document that you refine each time you meet with someone.

And then, yeah, you’re confident in that vision and you want to take a shortcut and Boom, doesn’t work. And it’s very interesting. Each time you, each time we take a shortcut, [00:36:00] should think a little bit about, is it worthwhile? Is it really a shortcut?

Bruce: yeah,

Alexis: And yeah, 

Bruce: yeah, yeah, no, that’s a great one. Yeah, I liked that term. Is it a shortcut you took? And absolutely it was a shortcut because it was speed, right? Like I wanted to go fast and like present quickly. Right. 

Alexis: Thank you very much, Bruce. Thank you for, for joining me on the podcast today. I really appreciate 

Bruce: No, it was great. It was really fun. Yeah. We’ll do it again.


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