Engineer Profile: Maureen Botoman, Director of Engineering at Pluralsight
Maureen Botoman is a Director of Engineering at Pluralsight, an online education platform that houses a variety of tech courses with subjects ranging from software development to data analytics. Prior to Pluralsight, she has developed and implemented code at CNE Media and Heschong Mahone Group.
In this profile, she outlines what is important to her in a company, how she grew into her leadership position, and most importantly, why she continues to love technology and its ability to improve the world we live in.
What is your favorite part about working in tech?
I love working in an industry where the goal is to constantly iterate and improve to meet users needs. We get to put the customer as the center of our process, talking to them every step of the way so that when we ship a product, we ship something that adds value to their life.
What is your typical work day like?
My day tends to start with stand up. I check in with my teams, hear about their accomplishments and understand their roadblocks. Once I get a feel for what is going on that day, I jump in to 1:1s to work with people on an individual basis, on career development, product strategy and personal goals. I spend some time every day looking in to our metrics and talking through experiments to make sure we are learning the things that we need to deliver the most value to our customers. I am constantly challenged with new problems to solve. At the end of the day, I know I am successful if my teams have the tools and context they need to start the next day roadblock-free.
What is important for you in a company culture?
For me, the most important attributes in a company culture are autonomy and alignment. I love working at a place where everyone understands where we are heading and what they can do to help us get there. Every individual feels empowered to do their part to accomplish the mission, and knows that they have the autonomy to do their part in a way that makes the most sense for them.
How did you get into engineering leadership?
I have always had a passion for improving process and making teams more effective. As a developer, I was constantly suggesting new ways to improve the way our team worked together, whether it was new ways to run our retrospectives or strategies to improve flow efficiency. I began working on my MBA at night and realized that I loved business process as well as people process. We began growing our leadership team at Pluralsight, and it provided the perfect opportunity to help grow and support the developers we have. I began by managing the teams that I used to be on and was lucky to have them to be my first coaches. The developers on the team gave me feedback as a new leader and helped me see my blindspots. I would not have learned as fast as I did without their support.
What do you think is a key ingredient to being a successful engineering leader?
The key for me as an engineering leader is trust. I hire professionals. I then trust them to act like professionals. I do my best to always assume good intentions from the people around me and when I don't have clarity, I actively seek it out.
What has been your favorite project that you worked on at your company?
My second year at Pluralsight, I had the opportunity to join a brand new development team working on a feature to help people find content better on the site. We decided to band together and release the feature to customers in 3 months. We wanted to deliver value as quickly as possible. We rallied on the project and were able to create something that met our customers needs from scratch in a short amount of time. The launch was a huge success. Three years later, the product we released (with plenty of iteration) is still one of the most used features on the platform. Every time I'm in a meeting where someone talks about how happy customers are with that experience I smile a little on the inside knowing I helped build that.
How do you balance people management and technical work?
As an engineering leader, my technical work looks different than it did as a developer. I am no longer writing code. Instead I am partnering closely with product leadership to provide a technical lens on the product vision. I think of it as our product leadership decides where we are going and it is my role as an engineering leader to think through how to get there. I am available to my team to talk through technical problems, and my role is to give them the tools they need to solve those problems rather than making the decisions for them.
How do you make sure you’re always in the know for the latest technologies?
I have a two front approach for staying up to date. My first line of information is my teams. I work with amazing, innovative developers who teach me new tools and technologies all the time. My second source is a combination of podcasts and Hacker News. I love the a16z podcast for emerging trends and themes and AWS Tech Chat for technical deep dives.
What technical projects are you and your team currently working on?
I am working with my teams on a series of experiments designed to increase engagement for learners on our platform. One of my teams has been trying to improve the experience for new users on our platform. I am about a week away from launching a small experiment to help users set incremental learning goals. We roll the experiments out to small groups of users and look at analytics to see which experiments have the impact we were aiming for.
What is one of your favorite resources for technical development?
I love Pluralsight for the hands-on interactive learning experiences when learning a new technology skill. The platform has products that give real time feedback on the code you are writing to help prevent that inevitable moment of being totally stuck when learning a new skill. Being able to write code in the browser also saves a ton of time not having to set up a new dev environment.
What is the best career/personal advice you’ve ever received?
At my first job, I called my mom really upset about some perceived injustice that I couldn't believe happened at work. The first thing my mom said to me was, "Could you see why a reasonable, rational person would do the things your boss did?" It forced me to take a step back and think about my boss’ intentions rather than just my own experience. I now think about the people around me using that framing, assuming they are making reasonable, rational choices, even if I don't love the outcome. It helps me come into discussions from a place of understanding instead of frustration.
Every individual feels empowered to do their part to accomplish the mission, and knows that they have the autonomy to do their part in a way that makes the most sense for them.
What is your leadership style?
I see myself as a leader that inspires trust in my teams. I create a clear vision of success and an environment that fosters collaboration. I lead with connections, empowering my team members to learn and teach each other. My team members do not fear failure because they know that it is an opportunity to learn. I see feedback as crucial to our work and readily give both praise and criticism with compassion and directness. I actively seek clarity and am ultimately accountable for my teams success.
What’s your favorite book/food/podcast?
Food: Pasta. All the pasta.
Podcast: Reply All
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be in a position that is having a positive impact on the world, leading innovative teams. I love seeing the application of technology to improve people's lives, whether that is teaching tech skills in the developing world like Pluralsight, solving urban challenges like Sidewalk Labs or reducing our consumption through the experience economy like Rent the Runway. We all have the opportunity to be forces for change, and I plan to be part of that.
Maureen will be sharing more about her experience at ModelExpand’s upcoming #WomeninTech Breakfast: Candid Talks with Technical Leaders. The #WomeninTech Breakfast Series provides a space for women to connect, inspire and uplift one another. Check out our upcoming events here or learn more about our sponsorship opportunities.
ModelExpand: ModelExpand is a diversity and inclusion advisory firm that helps companies attract and retain diverse talent through strategic consulting, workshops and events.