#101 - My Engineering Leadership Story & 100 Episodes Reflection - Henry Suryawirawan

 

 

“As a servant leader, your number one job is to serve the people around you. You succeed together with your people, and that’s why serving them first would give you the best opportunity to succeed together."

Henry Suryawirawan is the host of your beloved podcast. In this episode, hosted by Jerome Poudevigne, we uncovered lessons from Henry’s career journey and from running the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Henry shared his career turning points that included multiple transitions between individual contributor (IC) and management, being part of retrenchment, working in a failed startup, and his decision to leave Google and join a scaleup. Henry then shared how he prepared and grew himself into his current leadership position by being a problem solver, exercising the servant leadership mindset, building culture intentionally, and a few tips on doing remote work effectively. In the second half of the conversation, Henry shared why and how he first started the Tech Lead Journal podcast, as well as sharing moments and lessons he learned from releasing 100 episodes in the last 2 years.  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:06:10]
  • Career Planning & Progression - [00:09:40]
  • Leaving Google - [00:13:34]
  • Taking a Plunge to Leadership - [00:16:14]
  • Servant Leadership & Difficult Conversation - [00:18:07]
  • Preparing & Growing Leadership - [00:21:07]
  • Building Culture - [00:26:29]
  • Tips for Remote Working - [00:31:08]
  • Career Failures - [00:37:08]
  • Starting a Podcast - [00:38:51]
  • Finding Guests - [00:42:17]
  • Learnings From the Podcast - [00:44:02]
  • Nervous Moments - [00:46:39]
  • Relationships With the Guests - [00:47:35]
  • Personal Learning - [00:49:21]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:52:15]
  • Credits - [00:59:13]

_____

Henry Suryawirawan’s Bio
Henry Suryawirawan is an experienced engineering leader and an avid personal growth learner. He is the host of Tech Lead Journal, a podcast about technical leadership and excellence.

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Quotes

Career Journey

  • I didn’t actually understand why people performing well could actually be part of retrenchment. That actually brought me a lesson that, hey, this job, nothing is secure. So you really have to perform yourself and also find other networks or maybe other opportunities that can actually lead you to something more fruitful.

Career Planning & Progression

  • Over the time, I realized that even though you might have some kind of vision about what career that you want to do, in this kind of modern days, it’s really hard to have a career that is well planned.

  • Sometimes these opportunities came at a sudden time, and you just have to decide at that point in time whether this is a good opportunity for you to take or this is not right, and then you move on.

  • To me, it’s all about growth. So every new opportunity that you have, no matter it’s an IC, no matter it’s a management, you should see yourself: Are you going to grow in that particular role? Are you going to be challenged? Or are you going to just do the same thing, which means slower growth? And don’t forget as well that you can actually make some changes like I did. I went from IC to management, back to IC to management again.

  • Your career, if you think about it, is pretty long. So many things can happen.

  • And I would just love to say that it’s not just growth that you should think about. You should also think about your fulfillment. At the end of the day, you spend the majority of your hours every day working. If you don’t feel some kind of fulfillment out of it, I guess you are going to waste a lot of time in negativity and this kind of frustration, and it will impact the other parts of your life as well.

Leaving Google

  • In the startup, everything’s different. You have to be the one who takes initiatives most of the times and be the problem solver. Most of the time, you can see the impact that you do. Maybe you’re doing some kind of project. Maybe you build some kind of features in the product. You can actually see the translation to the customer impact almost immediately.

Taking a Plunge to Leadership

  • I learned this a lot when I was in consulting. So in consulting, many of the times, you were brought to the customers without you actually knowing the answer. I brought the same spirit to anything that I do these days.

  • No matter what journey, no matter what knowledge that you have, you’ll never be ready. If you think about it, almost every VP out there starts from somewhere. They were not VP themselves.

  • You are not going to feel ready and you just need to improvise and use any kind of knowledge, experience that you have to assume the role as best as you can.

  • You deal a lot with ambiguity and especially in a scale up, there are so many things that are being thrown to you and you just have to find solutions over solutions, either business challenge or people problem, but all this is something that you have to deal with. And you always have to be a problem solver.

  • Essentially, being a problem solver, taking ownership. At the end of the day, I think VP is a management kind of role. So you really need to take care of your people, and you have to have an interest in managing people.

Servant Leadership & Difficult Conversation

  • If you want to consider management track, you really need to love working with people. That means managing them, taking care of them, being able to understand different personalities. To me, as a leader, you are not there just to set direction, achieve goals and party. You are there actually to help people grow as well. So they should grow through you, and it’s not just you achieving some kind of goals.

  • I like this concept called servant leadership, where you actually, as a leader, your number one job is to serve the people around you or reporting to you. No matter what, if you want to succeed, you have to succeed together with your people. And that’s why serving them first would actually give you the best opportunity to succeed together.

  • When people say it’s a difficult conversation, it is really difficult, because it’s not just the topic or the content itself that matters, but it’s also the emotions, the feelings of the different individuals involved in the conversation.

  • Even though it is called difficult conversation, you should not shy away from having these difficult conversations. Because the more you try to avoid difficult conversations, over the time, it is like time bomb, where suddenly it just explodes. From difficult, it becomes catastrophic.

  • Difficult conversation is something, as a manager, you really have to hone your skills. It is not easy in the first place, where it was probably your first difficult conversation. But over the time, you embrace it.

  • Always have the empathy. So you have to always consider the other party as a person, not just an object or some kind of blockers that you have to solve. You have to put them as your first priority. Know why certain things happen, and maybe they were not intentionally doing the things that probably are the topics of the difficult conversation.

Preparing & Growing Leadership

  • People learn through two ways, mostly:

    1. Kensho means you grow through pain or you can think of it grow through failures. Sometimes you think that failure is bad, but failures actually teach you something more. So it’s not just the failure, but actually the experience that you go through.

    2. Satori means you grow through insights. Maybe you find a good mentor or coach. Maybe you learn from books, online course, or maybe you just learn from something that gives you enlightenment.

  • Nothing teaches you better than failures. So that is one thing that I want to take as a key lesson here.

  • No matter what you do, no matter what you have learned in the past, you’ll never be prepared. So you’re never ready.

  • I was not prepared to handle so many problems, but hey, you just have to improvise, like I said. You have to be a problem solver. Always try to attack problems from the perspective that you have, from the experience that you have. Just choose. Make decision that you think is best.

  • In a startup, one of the most important thing is about culture. Especially when you’re working fully remote, building culture is hard. And I think you really need to be intentional about building culture.

Building Culture

  • Culture is always hard. It’s abstract, anyway. You cannot measure it. You cannot say, “Oh, I’ve done my culture”.

  • One of the best example if you want to have a good culture in a company, people will just refer to it as, hey, this is our culture. Because if you live and breathe of it and you use that as your north star in everything that you do, that’s when you know that the culture is good.

  • As a company, especially in the startup, the culture should start from the founders. How (do) they want the company to be? What kind of values do they want to bring to the company?

  • You have to be intentional about building your culture. You have to think really hard. What kind of values? What kind of principles that you want your team, your engineers in the company to always think as the first principle?

  • People may have different interpretation. People come from different background. People come from different company. They will bring that kind of experience and culture. And again, intentionality matters because you have to try hard to inculcate this mindset to everyone.

  • We can have values, principles, probably sent to everyone’s email. Once in a while, have an event about culture. But I think you have to live the culture. You cannot just say, okay, here is our culture, but in real life, you behave differently.

  • The behavior of the leaders tells. For parents, even though you tell kids, “Hey, don’t do this!”, but if you as a parent do that thing, the kids will actually learn from you. It’s not from the things that you say, but actually they observe what you do. And they will take that as the truth. Not the things that you said.

Tips for Remote Working

  • Being remote, the first challenge is about personal relationship and communication.

    • You can’t really build a personal relationship by looking at the screen. So many things that are missed, for example, body language, the tones, or maybe the physical touches, and things like that.

    • If you have to do things remotely, just don’t forget about this personal touch. Maybe you can have casual chat, open camera, jokes. Don’t forget to throw jokes. Getting to know each other. Taking time to want to know the other person’s, maybe, challenges at that point in time, or maybe the celebrations that they have. So don’t forget about the personal touch because at the end of the day, we are human. We want to have contact with each other, communications.

  • The other thing that I learned a lot throughout this remote work is about time separation.

    • One thing that is very key for everyone working remotely is that you do have to build this kind of transition. You have to be conscious about separating your time. Working remotely at home, sometimes you really don’t have these kinds of rituals.

    • Building these transitions is very crucial because otherwise you can easily get burnout. You can easily lose track of time as well, because you feel that my day is super long simply because you haven’t been detaching yourself from the day-to-day work. So building this kind of time transition is very good to avoid burnout.

  • Another thing, again, coming back to communication is that sometimes we interact with other people a lot through documents and also chats.

    • As we all know, words, they don’t have emotions. And sometimes the worst part of reading is that you misinterpret somebody saying something with your emotion.

    • One key message that I want to say here is that even though you read chat, always assume good intent. If you do have a different kind of interpretation that you think is bad, always ask the person, hey, do you mean something like this? So always assume good intent.

  • And lastly, people always love to say synchronous versus asynchronous. Which one do you prefer?

    • If you want to do synchronous communication, it’s only when you need a strong consistency–taking this concept of technical thing. If you want to have strong consistency, opt for synchronous communication.

    • But if you feel that eventual consistency is fine, then maybe you should do more asynchronous type of communication.

Career Failures

  • Especially in early startups, you do need to focus a lot more on your product market fit first. So don’t think about modernizing your architecture/design, because it all doesn’t matter in the end if you don’t have customers, if you don’t have users, and especially, if you don’t have a business model.

Starting a Podcast

  • These days, there are so many great podcasts and they are free. So it’s almost like Netflix, but it’s free. You just curate or sometimes binge listen to some of your favorite podcasts, and that actually blows my mind. How come so many things that I can learn for free, and it’s available out there for you just to choose?

Learnings From the Podcast

  • Every episode is an opportunity for me to learn firsthand from great thought leaders. I curate the guests and the topics myself. So that means I get a chance to learn from them firsthand.

  • And not just listening and learning from them, there are so many things in a startup are messy. You can actually find many opportunities to apply what they share to you. Be it the management, leadership things, technical excellence, or just some insights from their experience.

  • To me, it’s a matter of selecting what problems and how to apply which best practices. There are plenty of opportunities there and I never run out of opportunities.

  • Even though I have 15 years of career experience, it’s never enough. There are many unknown unknowns that I do have. Some of the episodes uncover that for me. So it’s like a blind spot or bias.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. You always have to start from yourself first. And to me, the most important thing about yourself is about finding self-awareness and also self acceptance.

    • Self-awareness is how an individual consciously knows and understands about their feelings, their character, their desires, their strengths. Self acceptance means that after you know all that, you acknowledge and accept that is who you are.

    • Of course, I’m not saying this to say that you should feel defeated, “Okay. This is me and I cannot change.” But you should use that as some kind of baseline. You start from there. You are aware of yourself. You accept it. But then yeah, you follow by knowing where you want to go or what you want to do. It starts first from your internal rather than external motivation.

    • You always have to start from your internal. When your internal is stable and fixed, that’s when you can try to expand that to more external stuff.

    • This is also very important as a leader, because if you don’t have good self-awareness and self-acceptance, you’re a different type of identity. If you have some kind of problem with your internal, sometimes what tends to happen is that you affect other people.

    • There’s this phrase saying, “Hurt people hurt people”. If you yourself are feeling hurt, maybe unconsciously, you will also bring that to other people, so you will harm other people.

    • Start from yourself, know about yourselves, and accept it as who you are, but then you continue to grow from there.

  2. The second wisdom is about growing. It’s called 3Cs. It stands for consume, create, and connect.

    • The first C, “consume”, is consuming knowledge. You read, you listen, you watch YouTube, for example. That will give you a lot of knowledge. But knowledge itself is not enough. It’s a potential power only. So the only way to make it a real power is that you have to translate from that knowledge to something more practical.

    • This is where the second C comes in. It’s called “create”. Maybe you want to create a content like a blog post, podcast. Maybe you want to teach it to some other people. Because by the time you teach a particular topic that you learn, you’re actually learning it twice. So it’s not just once that you read and you understand, but when you teach it to some other people and that people actually also understand, you learn about it twice, and even better, because now you can synthesize the learning and make sure that other people also understands.

    • After you do this creation, you interact with other people. That’s when the third C comes, which is “connect”. So I think it’s very important these days to build a community, to reach out to various people. Because no matter what, that will open a lot of doors for you. That kind of network means more opportunities for you, more connections, more people that you probably don’t know before, and somehow they now become your friends.

  3. As a leader, I think it’s always important to put yourself as a servant leader.

    • Your job is not just to achieve goals, targets, and make sure people follow your orders. But you want to serve your people.

    • “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

    • Always bring that kind of emotion, feeling, empathy to other people. Build that kind of psychological safety so that people feel safe with you. People feel they want to work with you genuinely, not because of trying to achieve some goals. And I always try to use that as a moral compass for me in my day-to-day job as a leader.

    • Always try to serve the people working beside you and along with you. That’s been something that I really feel other leaders should also follow.

Transcript

[00:01:09] Episode Introduction

Henry Suryawirawan: Hello to all of you, my friends and listeners. Very happy to be back here again with a new episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast, the show where you can learn about technical leadership and excellence from my conversations with great thought leaders in the tech industry. And this is the episode 101!

If this is your first time listening to Tech Lead Journal, make sure to subscribe and follow the show on your podcast app, and on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram where every day I post interesting quotes from each week’s episode there to inspire us and to spark a discussion within the community. And if you’d like to support my journey creating this podcast, subscribe as a patron at techleadjournal.dev/patron.

In this special episode 101, I’d like to go back to the basics and share my own engineering leadership story and also my story starting and running this podcast for 100 episodes. If you still remember my very first guest in episode 1, Jerome Poudevigne, in this episode 101, we switched our roles and he was kind enough to play the host this time and interviewed me.

I shared my career turning points that included multiple transitions between being an individual contributor and a manager, being part of retrenchment, working in a failed startup, and my decision to leave Google and join a scale-up. I also shared how I prepared and grew myself into my current leadership position by being a problem solver, exercising the servant leadership mindset, building culture intentionally, and my few tips on doing remote work effectively. In the latter half of the conversation, I shared why and how I first started the Tech Lead Journal podcast, how I found my guests, as well as sharing the moments and lessons I learned from releasing 100 episodes in the last two years.

I hope you enjoy listening to my story in this episode. And if you do, please share it with your friends and colleagues who can also benefit from listening to it. It is my ultimate mission to spread this podcast to more people, and I really appreciate your support in any way towards fulfilling my mission. Before we continue to the conversation, let’s hear some words from our sponsor.

[00:05:16] Introduction

Jerome Poudevigne: Hello, Tech Lead Journal listeners. Very happy to have you back on the show and welcome to the podcast. Today is a little bit of a special episode. This is episode 101. My name is Jerome Poudevigne. I was the first person to be interviewed in this podcast. And today, 100 episodes later, we are doing something special. We are turning the tables and I’ll be the one asking the questions. I’ll be interviewing Henry Suryawirawan, the man behind the podcast, the man behind the curtain. The guy who’s been actually pointing us all these great tech lead people. So welcome, Henry. I’m really happy to have you on the show today.

Henry Suryawirawan: Well, thank you so much Jerome for doing this. So yeah, if you all still remember, Jerome was kind enough to be my first guest in the podcast. Yeah, 100 episodes later now, we are doing this the reverse way. So thank you for having me.

[00:06:10] Career Journey

Jerome Poudevigne: Maybe as a start, I’m going to follow your script. Give you a taste of your own medicine. As usual, I’m going to ask you to talk about your career journey, some of the turning points and some of the important things you remember about your career.

Henry Suryawirawan: So happy to do that, definitely. So, my career actually started, I would say, pretty straightforward. Even when I went to college or uni, there was only one option, computer science, and that’s it. I followed through the program. Even before I graduated, somebody already offered me some kind of a teaching assistant job, and then I followed. That person actually had a student, a master student, and that guy offered me a job. So straight away from there, I just took the job and started my career in the insurance industry.

So, a few years later, the first turning point came where this person actually moved to another company and offered me a job that started in Singapore. There was a project in Singapore, and that actually led me to taking the job and moving to Singapore. That was a big change in my life. So I could basically challenge myself and showed how much I can actually perform based on the different set of challenges, from the language, the way of working, and things like that. Eventually I love Singapore, right? So I’ve been staying here for quite some time. But yeah, things moved on and I moved to a different industry, to banking.

The next turning point came when, actually, in the bank, I was part of the retrenchment. There was this big offshoring program where they decided, okay, Singapore is probably too costly, move it somewhere else. So I was part of the team that they planned to retrench. It took me quite some time to actually understand what’s going on. Frustrated, disappointment, definitely. And especially, I was actually performing quite well during that time. So I didn’t actually understand why people performing well could actually be part of retrenchment? That actually brought me a lesson that, hey, this job, nothing is secure. So you really have to perform yourself and also find other networks or maybe other opportunities that can actually lead you to something more fruitful.

In the end, I moved on to another bank. This is also another turning point. Very interesting. It was a very short stint in that bank. But I didn’t really love the culture. I really hated my time there. There was a lot of negativity and frustration which then led me to the biggest turning point, which is to move to a startup. I was in the startup for, like, maybe three years. The startup didn’t succeed eventually, had to go through financial issues, but I learned a lot of things. I learned how to run the engineering team. Because towards the end, I was the Head of Engineering there. Having to struggle finding product market fit, building products, building the tech, building the culture. We went through so much hardship, and in the end it didn’t turn up well. So we kind of like disbanded. Many people left, and I also took the decision to leave.

Subsequently, you know, I found a job at ThoughtWorks as a consultant, which then brought me to Google, which is also another big turning point where I had an experience to work in a world class company. Seeing a different side of how a good culture could actually help a lot in terms of business, in terms of growing people. So long story short, I kind of like still missed the fun of being in a startup. You know, this scrappiness, having to solve different kind of problems. So yeah, I took a plunge. Leaving Google and that’s what brought me to Flip. So, I guess that’s kind of like the long story of how my journey so far. It’s been about maybe 15 years in total. Still a long way to go, but yeah, it was a very interesting ride for me.

[00:09:40] Career Planning & Progression

Jerome Poudevigne: Really cool. I found this trajectory really interesting cause of the variety. Starting as a corporate sort of person and then moving to startups and big techs and back to startup again. Did you see this as a progression? Was it like calculated every time? I mean, obviously you didn’t plan to be retrenched. I don’t think this is something anybody plans. But beyond this, did you calculate every move? Or did you see that as part of a bigger role? How did you go about this?

Henry Suryawirawan: Well, I wish that I could say that, “Yeah, it was totally planned”. But as you can tell, nothing out of this is actually well planned. Initially, I thought career should be planned really well. Okay. First year, I’m going to do this. Five years, I’m going to do this, and 10 years, you’re going to do that. So when I was in a corporate, that was what I was thinking. Okay. Maybe five years after, I’ll be a manager, VP or whatever, and then you just climb the ladder afterwards. So that turning point where I got sort of be part of the retrenchment plan actually showed me, hey, this plan is not going to work. So you really need to improvise.

Over the time, actually, I realized that even though you might have some kind of vision about what career that you want to do, in this kind of modern days, it’s really hard to have a career that is well planned. So if you can see from my journey, I’ve been, for example, individual contributor, went to management, back to individual contributor, and now back to management again. Different kind of industries. Different kind of roles. Definitely, none of this is well planned for me. So I just took the opportunities. Sometimes these opportunities came at a sudden time, and you just have to decide at that point in time whether this is a good opportunity for you to take? Or this is not right? And then you move on. Long story short, right? So I thought I could actually plan my career forever until I retire. But eventually, that didn’t turn out so well.

Jerome Poudevigne: I think the moral of the story is always be on the lookout. I also went through big tech and many career changes, and I did find that the biggest contrast between working in a bank or working in a traditional industry or enterprise and a company like Google or Amazon, or this very big tech companies is the way they see career progression. The biggest difference was that the career progression in a bank is you get progressively more responsibilities, and that means management. Whereas in Google, for example, you can grow as mostly tech or you can grow as mostly management or a combination of it. I think for me, it was a very big eye-opening discussion. Did you feel the same? What’s your perspective on this?

Henry Suryawirawan: So I think we are fortunate these days that in tech you could have this dual career track. So you can go to individual contributor all the way, to being principal, or even beyond that, where you can also have a management career track, which is the normal management, VP, Director and maybe the CTO itself. So I think we are lucky in tech. Not every industry would have this. But I would love to say that probably even for those who listen, to me, it’s all about growth. So every new opportunity that you have, no matter it’s an IC, no matter it’s a management, you should see yourself. Are you going to grow in that particular role? Are you going to be challenged? Or are you going to just do the same thing? Which means that probably slower growth. And don’t forget as well that you can actually make some changes like I did. I went from IC to management, back to IC to management again. So this is actually very interesting. It’s not a promotion, it’s not demotion, some people said.

Your career, actually if you think about it, is pretty long. It’s going to be at least 30 years. I know some people want to retire early these days, but I guess for normal people you would have about 30 years of career. So many things can happen. And I would just love to say that it’s not just growth that you should think about. You should also think about your fulfillment. At the end of the day, you spend the majority of your hours every day working. If you don’t feel some kind of fulfillment out of it, I guess you are going to waste a lot of time in negativity and this kind of frustration, and it will impact the other parts of your life as well. So I think, yeah, that is probably my take on your question.

[00:13:34] Leaving Google

Jerome Poudevigne: Great philosophy. I’ll make note of it. I tend to agree. It’s mostly about do what makes you fulfilled. The rest will follow and fall in place. So I just want to go back to one thing you said, because you went to Flip, you went back to a startup. Usually, the hardest thing about leaving Google is that you have to explain to other people why you did it. How is it to be back into the startup world? And why did you leave Google?

Henry Suryawirawan: It’s the classic question. Like almost everyone that knew that I worked in Google will ask, “Hey, why you leave Google? Somemore going to the startup?” Like I said in the beginning, right? I was in a startup. Even though the startup failed, the experience actually left a very distinguished memory. So the scrappiness, solving different kind of problems, the challenges, the growth. You just learn so many things in a startup. Period. Whereas in the big companies, normally everything is already well established. There’s a proper process. There’s a proper hierarchy and you just follow, right? So maybe you do a good job and you just progress according to that kind of progression. But in the startup, everything’s different. You have to be the one who took initiative most of the times and be the problem solver. I love also doing products instead of consulting. My last job in Google was mainly about consulting, helping customers migrate or use Google Cloud products. So that was fine for a while. But after a few years, it was almost the same thing all over again. Either the client might want to migrate from Cloud A to Google Cloud or the client wants to use these Google Cloud products. So almost the same thing over and over again. So I thought, yeah, I want to go to a product company that probably, make a great impact. And turns out that Flip offers this.

For those of you who didn’t know, Flip is a fintech company based in Indonesia. It can be categorized as scale up, I would say. So it creates a product to help Indonesians to have the most financial fair products and services. It helps with saving you money from transfers. Over the time, we are also going to offer more and more. So I think by being in a product company, making an impact to society, and this is not small impact. The other thing that I would say is, because in a startup, most of the time you can see the impact that you do. Maybe you’re doing some kind of project. Maybe you build some kind of features in the product. You can actually see the translation to the customer impact almost immediately. So there’s a very short gap, compared to in a large corporation, where you just probably one out of the thousands people there. You know what you do. Probably sometimes you don’t understand. Hey. Do my work actually change a number, a digit in the company’s balance sheet? Do I also change people’s lives? So sometimes you don’t know that in the big corporate and that’s why probably I left Google and tried to find something else. Again, it was not planned. This opportunity came out of the blue as well.

[00:16:14] Taking a Plunge to Leadership

Jerome Poudevigne: Cool. Yeah. I can understand the pleasure of having an idea by Monday and see it in production by Friday. It’s really quite exhilarating. Now, welcome to startups. So you’re VP of Engineering, right? Very impressive title. How did you know you were ready? One thing is, okay, I want to build products. The other part is, how do you know you can do that?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, I would say that I learned this a lot when I was in consulting. So in consulting, many of the times you were brought to the customers without you actually knowing the answer. I brought the same spirit to actually anything that I do these days. Even though probably I haven’t done any kind of VP job before, I think the key message here is that no matter what journey, no matter what knowledge that you have, you’ll never be ready. If you think about it, almost every VP out there starts from somewhere. They were not VP themselves.

So I guess the key lesson that I want to say is that no matter what, you are not going to feel ready and you just need to improvise and use any kind of knowledge, experience that you have to assume the role as best as you can. A few things that I do when doing this role is that as a VP in a startup, you deal a lot with ambiguity and especially in a scale up there are so many things that are being thrown to you and you just have to find solutions over solutions, either, business challenge or people problem, but all this is something that you have to deal with. And you always have to be a problem solver. Again, I learned this from the consulting. Customers can throw anything to you, but you just have to find the solution to the problems that they throw to you. So essentially, being a problem solver, taking ownership. And at the end of the day, I think VP is a management kind of role. So you really need to take care of your people, and you have to have an interest in managing people. I took all this and tried to improvise myself. So far, it seems probably so good.

[00:18:07] Servant Leadership & Difficult Conversations

Jerome Poudevigne: Interesting opinion about leadership. So when you say you have to be interested in people, can you elaborate a bit on this? What do you mean by that?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. Almost every time that someone asks me, “Hey, should I do IC or management track?” The way I always answer if you want to consider management track is that you really need to love working with people. That means managing them, taking care of them, being able to understand different personalities. To me, as a leader, you are not there just to set direction, achieve goals, and party. You are there actually to help people grow as well. So they should grow through you, and it’s not just you achieving some kind of goals.

So I like this concept called servant leadership, where you actually, as a leader, your number one job is to serve the people around you or reporting to you. I always take that as a principle in my day-to-day job in my role that no matter what, if you want to succeed, you have to succeed together with your people. And that’s why serving them first would actually give you the best opportunity to actually succeed together.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. Cool point. What you mean is, if I try to summarize, is really that your success is driven by the success of your team. So, basically, your goal number one is to elevate them and remove the blockers. You need to like the people, but you have to be honest with them. So how do you drive this situation? Like difficult conversations, leading by example.

Henry Suryawirawan: I mean, there must be a something, right, when people say it’s a difficult conversation, it is really difficult, because it’s not just the topic or the content itself that matters, but it’s also the emotions, the feelings of the different individuals involved in the conversation.

I think one thing that I learned a lot throughout my journey is that even though it is called difficult conversation, you should not shy away from having these difficult conversations. Because the more you try to avoid difficult conversations, over the time, it is like time bomb, where suddenly it just exploded. From difficult, it becomes catastrophic, something like that. So I think difficult conversation is something, as a manager, you really have to hone your skills. It is not easy in the first place, where it was probably your first difficult conversation. But over the time, the more you embrace it, and you know that yeah, I have to do this, plus the things that matter is always put the empathy, right? The empathy portion of the thing. So you have to always consider the other party as a person, not just an object or some kind of blockers that you have to solve. You have to put them as your first priority. Know why certain things happen, and maybe they were not intentionally doing the things that probably is the topic of the difficult conversation. So I think that is key to me, how I approach difficult conversation so far.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yes, I agree. I believe that as you said, you are not here to blame somebody for failures or to highlight errors and mistakes just for the sake of doing it. You are actually here, so we both recognize that there is a problem and we are all looking for a path forward. I really appreciate that from you.

[00:21:07] Preparing & Growing Leadership

Jerome Poudevigne: Anything in your past that prepared you to be that kind of leader? Cause we see the outside, like you’ve been an IC, you’ve been in banks, you’ve been in Google. Okay, fine. But what prepared you to be a lead?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So I try to always draw from my previous experience, about 15 years of career journey so far, so there must be something that I learned. Fortunately, I joined multiple different companies, different types, good culture, bad culture, corporates, startups, MNC versus local. So all this actually kind of like mixed experience for me, where I can tell straight away that, okay, this works and this probably doesn’t work. Of course, different context matters. But most of the times I try to draw from that experience.

I have this one thing that I learned from one of the online course that I did. So people actually learn through two ways, mostly. They call it Kensho and Satori. Maybe I’ll explain a little bit. So Kensho actually means that you grow through pain or you can think of it grow through failures. Sometimes you think that failure is bad, but failures actually teach you something more. So it’s not just the failure, but actually the kind of experience that you go through. The other one is actually Satori. Satori means something that you grow through insights. Maybe you find a good mentor or coach. Maybe you learn from books, online course, or maybe you just learn from something that actually gives you enlightenment, so to speak.

So throughout my journey, I learned two things from this Kensho and Satori. The first Kensho is actually about the failure in the startup. So I was the Head of Engineering there. The startup failed. I could feel the frustration myself. How on earth should I do things? Because almost anything that you do seems like a failure. It was also bad because the company itself is also struggling to find product market fit. So it’s a combination of different things, and that actually brought me a lot of lessons. Like in engineering, for example, especially in a startup, you can’t spend so many months or years just to do expensive re-architecture, redesign, and things like that. Because if you don’t have product market fit, basically it doesn’t matter if you build a gold plated solution. So that is probably the failure part and, of course, I did so many failures, not just that. But I think nothing teaches you better than failures. So that is one thing that I want to take as a key lesson here.

The other one, of course, the Satori. There are so many things that I learned from books, blogs, and recently the podcast, this podcast itself. I learned from various guests, their experience, their knowledge. These are insights for me. They’re giving me tons and tons of new perspective on how to approach certain things. I think, yeah, these are the things that prepare me from the past to do this job. So I hope that answers your question.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. I was going to ask you to elaborate on the startups, but you did it for me. So actually, talking about the Tech Lead Journal, you just said you talked to these people, and you learned from them. Did you have a big “Aha!” moment? Somebody said something, and it went like a blinding light in your head saying, “Of course.”

Henry Suryawirawan: Almost every episode I have that, if not all. If you follow this podcast for quite some time, I always summarize some of the quotes into a daily social media post. Most of the quotes all are curated by me. Those are the interesting quotes that I think, oh, these are insights for me. And maybe someone else would also find the same inspiration. So I would say, yeah, every episode gives me a different perspective, different kinds of learning. So far I’ve been fortunate to have about 100 episodes, including yourself.

I purposely curate the guests as well. It’s not like some random guests that I just could find on the internet or something. But yeah, I tried to curate the guests that I’m inviting to the podcast. I love all the insights and the learnings that I have so far.

Jerome Poudevigne: Cool. So I guess we all have to listen to all the podcasts and draw our own conclusions. Anything that did not prepare you to this experience of being a VP of Engineering?

Henry Suryawirawan: So, of course, there are many things. Like I said, no matter what you do, no matter what you have learned in the past, you’ll never be prepared. So you’re never ready. The few key things that I can probably talk about. This is my first time working in a scale up company. It’s not just a startup, but it’s a scale up company. Some of you might have heard this phrase, “building the plane while flying it”. I guess it’s the same experience for me every day. It’s not just a modern, well advanced aeroplane, but it’s like maybe a mini aeroplane that you could try to fly and it flies. But then yeah, you have to do so many things to change it while it’s flying.

Scale up, actually, is a different kind of challenge for me. So far it’s been very fruitful and so many things that I learned along the way. So yeah, I was not prepared to handle so many problems, but hey, you just have to improvise, like I said. You have to be a problem solver. Always try to attack problems from the perspective that you have, from the experience that you have. Just choose. Make decision that you think is best. So I think that’s the first thing.

Of course, the pandemic brought the other aspects of working remotely. This is also my first time fully remote. Plus, my team mostly are in Indonesia while I’m in Singapore. Working fully remote definitely offers a different kind of challenges as well. Yeah, I was not prepared. Nobody was prepared anyway during the pandemic, so we all have to improvise as well. And lastly, I would say that in a startup, one of the most important thing is about culture. Especially when you’re working fully remote, building culture is hard. And I think you really need to be intentional about building culture.

Yeah. So those are the things that, probably, while I’m not super well prepared but I’m trying my best to handle those things.

[00:26:29] Building Culture

Jerome Poudevigne: Culture is really key, right? This is really the personality of the company. Well, I’m very interested in this part. How did you come up with a culture? How did you decide what was the culture going to be like? The fundamental pieces and how do I apply them? Did you write company mission statement, team tenets, motivational posters? What’s your secret?

Henry Suryawirawan: Of course, culture is always hard. It’s abstract, anyway. You cannot measure it. You cannot say, “Oh, I’ve done my culture”, right? I learned a lot from my Google time, actually. In Google, they always have this thing called Googleyness, and it’s a very well defined way of expressing a culture in a company. That to me is one of the best example how if you want to have a good culture in a company, people will just refer to it as, hey, this is our culture. Because if you live and breathe of it and you use that as your north star in everything that you do, that’s when you know that the culture is good.

Of course, as a company, especially in the startup, the culture should start from the founders. How they want the company to be. What kind of values do they want to bring for the company? So far in Flip, we have this one giant big value. One giant big culture, I would say, is about fairness. Everything that we do, we have to look from the perspective of fairness. No matter fairness for just our users, but also for our employees and our partners as well. From there, actually, you have to derive so many things. Maybe from fairness, bring it to engineering. How do you translate fairness? Maybe you also add some more things because fairness itself is not enough to define your engineering culture.

So that’s why the portion you have to be intentional about building your culture. You have to think really hard. What kind of values? What kind of principles that you want your team, your engineers in the company to always think as the first principle? I love to think of it from the first principle before they do something about certain things. Am I doing it according to the first principle? Again, culture is hard. People may have different interpretation. People come from different background. People come from different company. They will bring that kind of experience and culture. And again, intentionality matters because yeah, you have to try hard to inculcate this kind of mindset to everyone. So yeah, I hope I answer your question because, again, culture is really abstract and very difficult to achieve.

Jerome Poudevigne: I mean, it’s very abstract, but it’s very practical at the same time. It’s a set of values, a set of ethics, it’s guidelines, it’s behaviors. All these things together that people follow. I’m familiar with Googleyness. I think it’s interesting. But I think it’s one part of it. I would think that things like openness, no blame, values like these are also very important. There’s the practical side of it, which is how do you actually implement that? Which is also my other question. When I was kidding about motivational posters, I was only half kidding. It’s very abstract, but you have to implement it. So did you have anything that worked or anything that didn’t work?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So I think that’s a good point that you raised. Because yes, we can have values, principles. Probably sent to everyone’s email. Once in a while have an event about culture. But I think you have to live the culture. You cannot just say, okay, here are our culture, but in real life, you behave differently.

Maybe let’s just take an example. One thing that you said, blamelessness. Within our company so far, I try my best to have this kind of blamelessness. I think the key message here is for leaders, even though there are mistakes, maybe the first thing is to assume that people don’t do it intentionally. I’m sure, almost all the time, people don’t make mistakes intentionally. They’re maybe, either tired, burnout, or maybe they just didn’t know that they should not do that. So I think as a leader, you have to be the example. Showcase this behavior. Okay. If you want to have blamelessness, then the leaders themselves should not try to find a culprit, right? Find the person and blame them and shame them in front of everybody. I think this is probably one way on how you can actually make sure that the culture is being implemented across the company. Of course, depending on the different type of culture. Again, the behavior of the leaders tells.

So maybe borrowing a little bit of parenting kind of topic here is that for parents, even though you tell kids, “Hey, don’t do this.” But if you, as a parent, do that thing, the kids will actually learn from you. It’s not from the things that you say, but actually they observe what you do. And actually, yeah, they will take that as the truth. Not the things that you said. So maybe this kind of example will give a better illustration about stuff.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yes, definitely. The “Do what I say. Don’t do what I do” is never really successful. I agree. Thanks. I get it better now.

[00:31:08] Tips for Remote Working

Jerome Poudevigne: So the other part that you mentioned is that Flip is a completely remote team. If I understand, it’s not only that they are remote because they are working from home, but on top of that, you are in another country yourself. So you are one sea away from these people. How did that work out for you? What’s the complexity here? And do you have any tips?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, like I said, this is my first time doing this. Many people also had the same experience before the pandemic, and when the pandemic happened, you had to switch to remote. I would not say that I have cracked the solution to working well remotely, but I would say I can probably share some of the things that work for me based on my observation. Of course, being remote, the first challenge is about personal relationship and communication. It was worse for me because after I joined maybe about one and a half years, I’ve never met anyone in person, including the founders themselves. Everything is through Zoom or Google Meet. So that brings the first challenge of this communication and personal relationship. You can’t really build a personal relationship by looking at the screen. So many things that are missed, like for example, body language, the tones or maybe the physical touches and things like that. So I would say that if you have to do things remotely, just don’t forget about this personal touch. Maybe you can have casual chat, open camera, jokes. Don’t forget to throw jokes. Getting to know each other. Taking time to actually want to know the other person’s, maybe challenges at that point in time, or maybe the celebrations that they have. So don’t forget about the personal touch because at the end of the day, we are human. We want to have contact with each other, communications. That is one thing.

The other thing that I learned a lot throughout this remote work is about time separation. Because I, myself, can be considered probably workaholic. So sometimes I miss managing my time. But I think one thing that is very key for everyone working remotely is that you do have to build this kind of transition. You have to be conscious about separating your time. For example, previously, if we go to the office, you have this transition naturally. You probably eat breakfast, go to the office, commute. Maybe arrive at the office, you do some kind of rituals before you start working. And same thing when you go back home, you do different kind of rituals. But working remotely at home, sometimes you really don’t have these kinds of rituals. You just wake up, maybe do a few things and then just straight away go to work. Even worse for me, it’s like meetings all day long. So I think building these transitions is very crucial because otherwise you can easily get burnout. You can easily lose track of time as well, because you feel that yeah, my day is super long simply because you haven’t been detaching yourself from the day-to-day work. So building this kind of time transition is very good to avoid burnout.

Another thing, again, coming back to communication is that sometimes we interact with other people a lot through documents and also chats. As we all know, words, they don’t have emotions. And sometimes the worst part of reading is that you misinterpret somebody saying something with your emotion. You assume that, okay, this person is actually angry. This person is actually frustrated. This person is not nice. So I think one key message that I want to say here is that even though you read chat, always assume good intent. Whenever someone is raising up something or saying something, I don’t think anyone wants to make a problem out of the blue. But sometimes chat when you send it, especially in haste, right? It could lead to a different kind of interpretation. If you do have a different kind of interpretation that you think is bad, always ask the person, hey, do you mean something like this? So always assume good intent.

And lastly, I think it’s about remote work. People always love to say synchronous versus asynchronous. Which one do you prefer? I like to bring up this one thing that I learned from James Stanier in one of the episode. He wrote the book called “Effective Remote Work”. He brought up a point where if you want to do synchronous communication, it’s only when you need a strong consistency. Taking this concept of technical thing, if you do want to have strong consistency, opt for synchronous communication. But if you feel that eventual consistency is fine, then maybe you should do more asynchronous type of communication. To me, that is really insightful. I try to use that almost in my day-to-day work. So strong consistency or eventual consistency.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. I remember this episode and I think in the same episode James was talking about GitLab and their is asynchronous manifesto. It was one of these “Aha!” Moments for me because when the pandemic hit, I was just sitting in my seat all day, just trying to get through the day and never realized how much people formalized this. I was totally blown away when I read the manifesto and I’ve used a lot of their lessons there. I think it’s cool. But yeah, I agree with you. It’s been quite a journey working remotely, but at least you didn’t have too much language issues. If I might add this little caveat Did you do events where you would get the team together for just the fun of it?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I would say our People team are really doing their great job. So sometimes they would arrange events. They invite speakers from outside. They invite speakers internally, and sometimes we also have all hands. We try to regularly schedule all hands, be it company all hands, Product and Engineering all hands. I think this kind of cadence is really good where you bring people to together. Even in the all hands themselves, you are not just throwing information to them, but you make games, make something fun, invite people to comment and joke around. I think that always helps. Especially you have these moments in the events itself that can actually help you to know about somebody else. It’s not always the same team or the same Engineering department that you are working with, but it’s across the whole organization.

Jerome Poudevigne: Cool. So, are you happy that you’re back in person now?

Henry Suryawirawan: Well, I would say still I’m alone here in Singapore, while my team is in Indonesia. But now that we have a chance to travel, occasionally, I have traveled back to Indonesia and meet some of my people, and that is always a blessing.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yes. I’ve had the privilege of meeting customers again and it feels really like something has been lifted and we can actually be human again. Really love it.

[00:37:08] Career Failures

Jerome Poudevigne: So that’s all the things you have been able to make and succeed at. I always ask this to people in dinner conversations, and it is, “Okay. Fine. I had a story myself when I was young where I deleted the production database”. So I had the big mistake story. So what I’m going to ask you is do you have a big mistake story? Something that you really feel that you completely messed up?

Henry Suryawirawan: I hate to say that I don’t have a catastrophic event like yours, like deleting a production database.

Jerome Poudevigne: You’re lucky.

Henry Suryawirawan: But it’s kinda like epic, if you tell the story. But I think, again, like I mentioned in the beginning, my first startup experience, when it actually didn’t turn up successful, was probably one, I considered that one of my big mistakes. Of course, it’s not totally mine. But being in that position, I think, yeah. Maybe there are some things that I could do differently now that I have learned so many things along the way.

So things like, for example, spending so much time doing engineering improvements rather than focusing on product market fit. That is always something that maybe anyone who works in a startup, especially in early startups, you do need to focus a lot more on your product market fit first. So don’t think about modernizing your architecture design, because it all doesn’t matter in the end if you don’t have customers, if you don’t have users and especially, if you don’t have a business model. So I would probably say that is one of my big mistake and seeing that no matter what I do, it just doesn’t help for the success of the company or the team. It was one of my maybe darkest moments, frustrating moment. But I learned from that lesson.

Jerome Poudevigne: Cool. Yeah, I hope we do. Well, maybe one day I can tell you about all my catastrophic database destruction and other stories.

[00:38:51] Starting a Podcast

Jerome Poudevigne: So you went in the bank. You were at Google. You are now working at Flip. You are running a remote team. You’re working on Engineering culture. In the middle of this, probably because you are not busy enough, you decided to start a podcast. What happened? I know you’ve contributed to the community before. For those who are listening to us, Henry contributed something called Beam Katas. Beam is a streaming process technology that’s on Apache. Now it’s an Apache foundation project, and it’s actually used by Google. It’s also available on other clouds. Henry wrote a series of tutorials for it. So yeah, you would said, okay, fine. I’m a workaholic. I need to do more things. So why the podcast? Why Tech Lead Journal?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So it’s interesting, right? It’s like I’m not busy enough, then I sign up for another thing. Somemore, it’s a weekly cadence.

Jerome Poudevigne: It’s a heavy commitment as well.

Henry Suryawirawan: That’s right. So, I mean, to answer this question, I always love to share my experience with podcast first. When podcast started to become a craze in so many different parts of the world, I tried to listen to podcasts. But I couldn’t get it. Why do people love podcasts? Because almost every time I listen to the podcast, I fell asleep. Either fell asleep or I lost interest and I do something else. So that was my first experience with podcast. It took me some time to give it another try. But this time I change it in such a way that I mix it with my exercise. Either like daily walks or small jogs or went to the gym. Oh my God, it gave me a very different kind of experience. I could actually finish listening to one episode and I learned so much out of it. These days, there are so many great podcasts and they are free. So it’s almost like Netflix, but it’s free. You just curate or sometimes binge listen to some of your favorite podcasts, and that actually blows my mind. How come so many things that I can learn for free, and it’s available out there for you just to choose?

And eventually, because I work in tech, I was working in the engineering, I tried to find engineering or tech related podcasts. Many of those podcasts came from the United States, Western world, or some parts of Europe. I tried to search in Southeast Asia, but I couldn’t find one that is probably popular enough and discussing topics that I really want to learn. Because I love podcasts by then, so I thought, hey, maybe I can try to start a podcast bringing the topic of tech leadership and tech excellence, and probably, yeah, just give it a try. It all started as an experiment totally. So didn’t really plan to run this for quite some time. Although in the beginning, I do have a goal like I want to do a hundred episodes. If you do have weekly cadence, that means almost two years to finish. That’s what I signed up for. And yeah, here we are 101 episode. So it’s been a long journey.

Jerome Poudevigne: All right. Does that mean this is the last episode?

Henry Suryawirawan: You never know.

Jerome Poudevigne: Since you met your goal. Please don’t. I love the podcast myself. I listen to it quite regularly. It tells me we’re drinking more coffee, and so it’s great.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. For those people who don’t know about Jerome, Jerome once in a while will post something on LinkedIn social media, about this cappuccino while sharing the learnings he listen from the podcast. If you really want to see, it’s a combination of learnings, a combination of art as well, because Jerome did a very beautiful, stunning picture with the podcast cover. So thanks so much for doing this. Supporting the podcast since the very beginning. Like I said, you were the first guest. I appreciate all that.

[00:42:17] Finding Guests

Jerome Poudevigne: Thanks. I was going to say you invite so many great speakers, but now I’m like a little bit shy about saying this. Present company excluded. How do you select speakers?

Henry Suryawirawan: Well, I reached out to you first, right? We were colleagues back then. So that’s how it all started. And then, I find my friends. Friends bring networks, and from there, I brought the second guest, third guests. From then, it gives me more confidence. Hey, I could do this. I know the ups and downs of building a podcast. That’s when I reach out to more people, sending them cold message, asking them, “Hey, do you want to appear in my podcast?” From there, every day is just improvisation, asking people to refer. So far I’ve been fortunate enough. There are some big names in the tech industry who are willing to participate. And yeah, it just happened organically. So I didn’t have any super network that I can just tap. Hey, I want that guest. It was all from like referrals or cold message or some people suggesting. So yeah, it just happened that way. Fortunate.

Jerome Poudevigne: So it’s a bit like growing a startup. You start with friends and fools, and then you find a little bit of a product market fit, and then you will find a bigger audience and people will be interested. And so, yeah, I’m pretty sure your startup experience played a role in this.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yes. Exactly. Actually, you’re using the right analogy, because normally, once you get kind of like a big name guest, it becomes easier in the next few episodes, because you can say, “Hey, this person joins my podcast. Maybe you want to consider as well.” So it’s the same thing, like a startup, right? Once you find a product market fit, you can say to the next customer, “Hey, these set of people have been using our product.” Yeah. Almost the same kind of thing. You bring a very good analogy there.

[00:44:02] Learnings From the Podcast

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. Well, I hope you just hit your hockey stick and get a huge audience. So does that help you in your everyday work? All this knowledge downloads weekly, and all this wisdom. How did you take advantage of it?

Henry Suryawirawan: Oh, it has been immensely helpful for me. Every episode is like an opportunity for me to learn firsthand, that’s the first thing, from great thought leaders. Like I said, I curate the guests myself and the topics. So that means I get a chance to learn from them firsthand. Since I’m also working in tech and also in leadership, this is like a perfect match. Every week you would have some lessons about tech and leadership. Just think of it. You have a course every week, whereby you forget about your role, your day-to-day role, and you just subscribe to this course and just listen to someone who can actually teach you about some new things.

And not just listening and learning from them, there are so many things like in a startup, like I mentioned, it’s messy. You can actually find many opportunities to apply what they share to you. Be it the management, leadership things, technical excellence, or just some insights from their experience as well previously. To me, it’s like a matter of selecting what problems and how to apply which best practices. There are plenty of opportunities there and I never run out of opportunities. In a scale up, this is even true. More true than the corporates, right? Because maybe in corporates, you don’t have so much flexibility. And one thing that I love about running this podcast, even though I have 15 years of career experience, it’s never enough. There are many unknown unknowns that I do have. Some of the episodes actually uncover that for me. So it’s like a blind spot or bias, and actually that is something that I really feel grateful for. It has been so much insightful for me so far. Probably, that’s how the podcast has been helping me in my career so far.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. It’s amazing. Aren’t you like at the point where you can say, hey, I want to learn about this. I have this problem. I’m going to invite somebody. This person does a podcast episode with me, and then I will eventually figure out something from what they say.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yes, definitely. So sometimes I have a hard problem. I don’t know how to solve, and I saw this book, and this author, let’s invite them. It’s not just me learning it. Sometimes I do refer that episode to my people as well in the company, the engineers, “Hey, maybe you can check out this episode itself.” So yeah, it’s been very useful for me so far.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah, I have been guilty of this. I have to say I’ve recommended some episodes to people I’ve been working with in my customer base. And yeah, it’s been very helpful for me as well.

[00:46:39] Nervous Moments

Jerome Poudevigne: So you’ve done 100 episodes. You must have been pretty nervous a few times. So what was the time you were the most nervous before an interview?

Henry Suryawirawan: I wouldn’t say our first is the most nervous because we knew each other back then. We were doing this amateurish way. But I think in the beginning, almost like every episode is a new thing, and I was nervous. After a while, the first biggest nervous probably was Kelsey Hightower. That was probably my biggest guest at that point in time with so many followers. Very famous, basically. And over the time, I think the next one will be Vaughn Vernon, and my last nervous moment is probably Uncle Bob, Robert C. Martin. Because I was following him a lot last time as well when I started my career. And he was like a dream come true to have an opportunity to chat with him and learning from him firsthand. So that was probably another big nervous moment for me.

Jerome Poudevigne: So it’s a bit like this meet your childhood hero moment, right?

Henry Suryawirawan: Probably, yes.

[00:47:35] Relationship With the Guests

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. I can totally identify with that. So I hope that after you get to know these speakers, at least some of them, you keep your relationship going with them. Is there anybody who has really added value to your life or professional life or personal life?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, I mean, apart from the sharing that they gave, the wisdom, the knowledge, the experience, there are some guests which I still keep in touch and have a very good relationship. In fact, many of the guests that I have are from referrals from the previous guests. So in a way, they have been very helpful, supportive about the podcast. And sometimes, they also give good reference about the podcast because they feel the experience with my podcast is very unique to them. I’m doing the marketing for a week, for example, or the way I prepare the interview, sending the list of topics beforehand. That actually also brings word of mouth, maybe to their colleagues, their friends, or maybe their networks. And some people also share their episode to their own followers. So, again, it’s like an organic thing. But I do keep in touch to some of the guests. Like yourself, for example. I hope one day, we can still build a good relationship going forward.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yes. I see you’ve also been starting appearing in other people’s podcast, which is really cool, I think. It’s great that you get to actually go and speak yourself, because you have a lot to say, obviously. So how do you like being famous?

Henry Suryawirawan: I’m not saying I’m famous. I guess the way I categorize famous means that every time you go outside, there will be people following you, chasing you, asking you for a signature. But I mean, joke aside, I don’t think I’m famous yet. Podcast is different than YouTube. You can only listen to the sound, not the person. So in a way, it doesn’t put your face very straightforward.

[00:49:21] Personal Learning

Jerome Poudevigne: So the goal for you was essentially to spread learning and get learning. How do you pace this? You used to read online blogs and stuff. Did you just do podcast now? How is it?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So previously I read a lot, I subscribe to different kind of online courses, but these days, predominantly, I just do the podcast. Or for some guests, because they wrote books, I do the preparation beforehand and skim reading their books. Sometimes I do read cover to cover for some books. That’s how I do my learning these days. Since the podcast is a weekly podcast, I would say I have my own cadence of learning. So every week I listen, I edit, I prepare the show notes. I summarize all the things that I learned from there. I also curate the daily quotes. So it has been my kind of learning cadence these days. I seldom have free time these days to read new books or the books that I’d like to read. It’s been hard to find the time.

Jerome Poudevigne: Yeah. It feels a bit like drinking from the fire hose, to use a common expression. So much information. How do you classify it? Make use of it?

Okay. I have an additional question about your guest. Is there any case where you actually disagreed with the speaker and you didn’t agree with what they said or you had counter examples?

Henry Suryawirawan: I’m trying to think. Well, I guess, I don’t think there’s any kind of major disagreement, I would say. But I do sometimes try to give different perspectives whenever a guest answers something. So far I have yet to find someone who I really disagree and debated that over an episode. But yeah, it will be an interesting experience if we have fine one.

Jerome Poudevigne: I found it interesting. There are a couple of episodes myself where I thought that the speakers did a great job in presenting the different perspectives themselves. I particularly remember there was one episode where the speaker was talking about technical debt and the various ways it’s perceived in the world. In my work, I deal with a lot of startups and technical debt is a really big subject. So I actually thought it was very interesting because in fact, the speaker was explaining a certain number of things and saying that there were people who disagreed. There was another school of thought. And I was part of the other school of thought. But I did like that it’s a very data-driven discussion. People don’t just assert things. They actually have evidence to support what they say. So it’s always educational, and I think it’s really a great way to still have your eyes opened a little bit.

Henry Suryawirawan: And that’s why if you notice, I most of the times invite authors or someone who have done their research themselves, or summarized their deep research and maybe wrote blog posts, or published books. I like inviting them simply because of that thinking process has been summarized. It’s not just based on anecdotal experience or “Okay, this is one thing that worked for me. Maybe it will work for you as well”. There’s a proper reasoning behind it, and that’s why I like to invite authors into my show.

[00:52:15] 3 Tech Lead Wisdom

Jerome Poudevigne: I think it’s a great way. All right. I think we reached the end of the discussion. I mean, I could stay for a lot longer, but I think we covered a lot of ground already. So, surprise. I’m going to ask you your three pieces of tech lead wisdom as you basically ask everybody else. So now it’s your turn to stand on the stage and tell us what’s your three pieces of tech lead wisdom?

Henry Suryawirawan: Right? So I kind of like predicted this would happen, right? Fortunate enough, I’m prepared this time. I think running this podcast a hundred episodes, I’ve listened to so many different kinds of three tech lead wisdom myself, from a hundred different episodes. Sometimes some guests give less than three, more than three, but yeah, in total let’s count it 300 tech lead wisdom. I’d like to add my own version of three tech lead wisdom. Basically, these are coming from my journey and experience as well.

I think the first thing, you always have to start from yourself first. And to me, the most important thing about yourself is about finding self-awareness and also self acceptance. So self-awareness is basically how an individual consciously knows and understands about their feelings, their character, their desires, their strengths. Self acceptance basically means that after you know all that, you acknowledge and accept that is who you are. And, of course, I’m not saying this to say that you should feel defeated. Okay. This is me and I cannot change. But you should use that as some kind of a baseline. You start from there. You are aware about yourself. You accept it. But then yeah, you follow by knowing where you want to go or what do you want to do. It actually starts first from your internal rather than external motivation. So, for example, people these days, oh, I want to be like that person, or I want to be rich or famous like that person. That comes from external. But I think the best advice that I’ve received so far is that you always have to start from your internal. When your internal is stable and fixed, that’s when you can try to expand that to more external stuff.

I think this is also very important as a leader, because if you don’t have good self-awareness and self-acceptance, basically, you know, you’re different type of identity. If you have some kind of problem with your internal, sometimes what tends to happen is that you affect other people. So there’s this phrase saying, “hurt people hurt people”. If you yourself are feeling hurt, maybe unconsciously, you will also bring that to other people, so you will harm other people. I think that will be my first wisdom. So start from yourself, know about yourselves, and accept it as who you are, but then you continue to grow from there.

The second wisdom that I would like to cover is about growing. That growing part. So like I said previously, I, myself for the longest time, consume knowledge a lot. Reading books, listen to podcasts, and things like that. But after learning from various different podcasts and books, I find this framework that I’d like to share to some of the listeners here. It’s called 3 Cs. It stands for consume, create, and connect.

So the first C, consume is basically, you consuming knowledge. You read, you listen, you watch YouTube, for example. That will give you a lot of knowledge. But knowledge itself is not enough. It’s like a potential power only. So the only way to make it a real power is that you have to translate from that knowledge to something more practical. And this is where the second C comes in. It’s called create. Maybe you want to create a content like blog post, podcast. Maybe you want to teach it to some other people. Because by the time you teach a particular topic that you learn, you’re actually learning it twice. So it’s not just once that you read and you understand, but when you teach it to some other people and that people actually also understand, you learn about it twice and even better because now you can synthesize the learning and make sure that other people also understands.

And after you do this kind of a creation, right? Basically, you interact with other people. That’s when the third C comes, which is called connect. So I think it’s very important these days to build a community, to reach out to various different people. Because no matter what, that will open a lot of doors for you. So networks these day, you know, you could go meetups, you can share things on YouTube, social media. And that kind of networks basically means that yeah, more opportunities for you, more connections, more people that you probably don’t know before, and somehow they now become your friends. Like myself, right? So many guests that I’ve reached out now and they become part of my network. So hopefully, one day there will be some kind of interactions that we can make it happen.

The third and the last wisdom that I want to share is, again, coming back to the thing that we talked about in the beginning. As a leader, I think it’s always important to put yourself as a servant leader. I mentioned that your job is not just to achieve goals, targets, and make sure people follow your orders. But you want to serve your people. And I like this quote from Maya Angelou saying that, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel”. Always bring that kind of emotion, feeling, empathy to other people. Build that kind of psychological safety so that people feel safe with you. People feel that they want to work with you genuinely. Not because of trying to achieve some goals. And I always try to use that as a moral compass for me in my day-to-day job as a leader. So always try to serve the people working beside you and along with you. That’s been something that I really feel other leaders should also follow. And yeah, that will be my three technical leadership wisdom.

Jerome Poudevigne: Thanks. That’s actually quite deep and powerful. So I’ve known you for a long time. And I just found out that we both like Maya Angelou. So yeah, I’m also a big fan of hers. I love it that we can bring a little bit of her poetry in a deeply technical podcast. Thanks for that. I think we’re going to have to talk about it offline.

Really, Henry, thanks a lot. It’s been an honour. It’s been a pleasure. One last question, as usual, is if people want to get in touch with you, how do they do that?

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. You’re really playing the host role really well. For people who want to reach out, of course, they can reach out over LinkedIn, Twitter. Listen to the podcast. You can find it wherever you listen to podcast. You can also send me an email. I’m always reachable. Please send why you found out about me, then maybe bring up a topic so we can chat about. That is the best way to reach me.

Jerome Poudevigne: All right. I think this will be in the notes. Again, Henry, thanks. Congratulations on the 101 episodes! And so I look forward for the 201 episode, I hope. Please keep them coming and thanks for the conversation. It’s been really a pleasure.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. We have to wait for another two years for that. But again, I would say thank you, Jerome, for playing the perfect host for this episode. And yeah, it’s been a blessing to have the opportunity running this podcast 100 episodes. That was the goal that I set in the beginning, and here we are achieving the target itself. So I’m really pleased and very proud of the work that I did so far. So thanks again, Jerome for this.

Jerome Poudevigne: Ah, thank you.

[00:59:13] Credits

Henry Suryawirawan: Thank you for listening to this episode and for staying right until the end. I would like to take the next few minutes to play back the story and messages that some of you sent to me in the last few weeks. I really appreciate you taking the time to send me those messages, and I hope I can continue to produce the best tech podcast out there, knowing that you will be there supporting me.

[00:59:36] Zharfan Akbar Henry Suryawirawan: The first message is from Zharfan Akbar in Indonesia.

Zharfan Akbar: Hello Henry, my name is Zharfan Akbar and now I’m a lead mobile engineer at Deall Jobs, one of Y Combinator backed companies in Indonesia. I want to thank you for creating this awesome podcast, and congratulations on reaching 100 episodes. This is a great milestone. I enjoy your conversation with your guests in your interview. And I really like your last question, which is what is your three technical wisdom. I hope that you can keep that question, because by listening to a lot of amazing technical leaders saying their own technical wisdom, I think I can become a better leader for my team in my professional work. So maybe that’s it. Thanks again, Henry.

[01:00:15] Alvaro Moya

Henry Suryawirawan: The second message is from one of my previous guests in episode 54, Alvaro Moya.

Alvaro Moya: Hi, Henry. Alvaro Moya here. It’s been a pleasure to be one of those people that allows you to say today that you are celebrating the 100th episode. It’s a real pleasure to be part of them. There are plenty of very, very well known names in the industry. There is plenty of extremely cheerful and valuable content. And this is thanks to you. So thank you for this hard work in two years, because for those that don’t know how to operate a podcast and have a success, it’s a lot of work that is behind in order to make that conversations to look ordered, to look structured, and to be engaging. This is not magic. This is just because you are preparing those interviews carefully. And this is one of the interviews I enjoyed the most in the last year. So thank you so much. Congratulations for this hard work. Keep doing that. And I hope that Tech Lead Journal becomes, if it’s not yet, one of the best content resources available for tech leads and engineering managers, which unfortunately is not very common today. So thank you so much for contributing to this ecosystem where we are all in the same boat. Thank you so much. See you in the episode 200.

[01:01:31] Siavash Sakhavi

Henry Suryawirawan: The next message is from Siavash Sakhavi in Singapore.

Siavash Sakhavi: Hi, Henry, this is Siavash from Singapore. I don’t recall which episode I started listening to the podcast, but I remember at the end of 2020, I was looking for material on technical leadership and engineering management. And I think that I came across your interview with Pat Kua at that time. And since then I’ve become an avid listener of your podcast. And every week I’ve been anticipating the new episode that comes up. It’s to the extent that every Monday night in Singapore time, I’m looking forward to getting the notification that the new episode has been uploaded, so I can start listening to it. You have taught a lot of good aspects of software engineering and management to me. Sometimes, I go into my deep thoughts, thinking about the things that you’ve shared and you’ve asked from your interviewees. I really appreciate that you’ve been doing this alongside your full-time job. I know it’s not easy, but you’ve managed to do a great job, and I hope that the podcast grows and we learn much more things about technical leadership, engineering management, and software best practices. Thank you, Henry, for all of your efforts.

[01:02:44] Jeff Perry

Henry Suryawirawan: And the last message is from another guest in episode 95, Jeff Perry.

Jeff Perry: Hey there, this is Jeff Perry, founder of More Than Engineering and a guest on Tech Lead Journal episode number 95, where we talked about top career lessons from an engineering career coach. Just want to wish Henry and the Tech Lead Journal team, nothing but continued success that goes well beyond 100 episodes to share the great content that they’re working on. So thanks so much for everything that you’re doing and glad to be a part of the journey. Thanks so much.

Henry Suryawirawan: Thank you so much for those kind messages. They really touched my heart and I’m really happy hearing that the podcast has been impacting you in your work and life. I also received a few more messages from Doni Rubiagatra, Dalibor Belic, Anthony Joyes, and Sandeep Rao. Thank you for your messages too, and I will feature all of them in the testimonials part of the Tech Lead Journal website. Lastly, I would like to say my special thanks and appreciation to my two best people who helped me week in, week out in producing the podcast. First goes to Amelia for amazingly doing the editing and Michael for helping me prepare the show notes. I wouldn’t be able to reach this milestone without both of you!

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