Day in the life of a Nitronaut | Engineering Leadership

In our last installment of a Day in the Life of a Nitronaut, we introduced you to two members of Nitro’s Platform Engineering team. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce two Engineering leaders, who are tasked with recognizing and matching passions and skill-sets, and empowering their team to drive our product offerings — Nitro Pro and Nitro Cloud.

So, who are the people responsible for simultaneously building, managing and inspiring teams of world-class engineers?

We sat down to chat with our Directors of Engineering — Brendan Dillon and Devin Loftis — to give you an idea of what it’s like to live a Day in the Life of a Nitronaut — Engineering leadership style.

Brendan Dillon, Director of Engineering — Dublin, Ireland

Brendan, tell us about your role in engineering management.

Engineering leadership is all about avoiding the temptation to be a control freak — you need to articulate the vision but then you have to let go of the reins and see what happens. Engineers will go off in different directions and as a leader, you need to let them. I love that about my role — I’m always thinking, “Where is that person going with this?” And often, their direction is ingenious and clever. Sometimes, I realize that we need to regroup to figure out a better way. That’s where innovation comes from — the freedom to make mistakes while figuring out what works and what doesn’t. When you get it right you innovate much faster than with a risk-averse approach, and even when you get things wrong you’re always learning.

What can you tell us about the Nitro Engineering culture?

Some engineering departments can foster an extreme blame culture — that is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve at Nitro. We take risks and sometimes we break stuff, but usually it shows that we’re nimble and unafraid to make mistakes. We take calculated risks, and it’s beautiful when it all works out — our customers have a better, faster, and more polished product.

What advice would you give an aspiring engineer?

Whether you’re striving to become an engineer or an engineering leader — you need to go out and take risks. They should be calculated risks though — don’t break the production systems! Fail quickly, but figure things out quickly, too.

Where can we find you when you’re not at work?

I’m usually relaxing with my family at home. My daughter had her 2ndbirthday this weekend — so we hosted an extended family party. I love live music — I went to see Public Service Broadcasting last week — they were really amazing live.

Devin Loftis, Director of Platform Engineering — San Francisco, California

Devin, can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory?

I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Computer Science and Math degree, and my first job was working for the Department of Defense — I was programming their systems. I started programing in a language called C, if anyone remembers that, until a little thing called the Internet came out and we transitioned into coding in Java.

I enjoyed writing code, but it was also fun to orchestrate teams and rally people behind a cause. I was never a formal team lead, but I took the responsibility and ran with it. Later, I went strictly into management and I stopped programming, which I eventually regretted. I got back into the technical side of things and started studying functional programming while still managing teams.

What brought you to Nitro?

I met Nitro’s CTO, Tiho Bajic, through the Scala community. I loved that Nitro was very committed to technology, and specifically passionate about Scala. It was clear that Tiho and his team were creating a culture of engineering and “always learning”, which is what I’ve always done in my career. It was a perfect fit.

What advice would you give an aspiring engineer?

Don’t wait for your ideal opportunity to come to you. I have never been promoted into a position, I’ve actually done the job and then received the appropriate title. If you want something, you should take the initiative to make it happen.

For Engineering leaders — stay coding! Secondly, I would say that reading and staying informed about the world is crucial — read about business, human psychology, venture capitalism, and current events. Everything we do today is heavily influenced by globalization so you need to soak up as much as you can about the world.

Where can we find you when you’re not at work?

Both my children are gymnasts, so we’re often attending practice or competitions. On our days off, we like to go out to restaurants and watch movies. Luckily, San Francisco has a lot of great cuisine — recently, Indian is a favorite go-to choice.

Brendan and Devin play a pivotal role in driving forward Nitro’s business objectives — they realize that technology changes rapidly and they embrace that change with an eye looking forward. They inspire their teams to be great as individuals and as team members. Finding great leaders can be difficult, but here at Nitro — we struck gold!


Originally published at blog.gonitro.com on May 13, 2015.

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