Plato Member Spotlight Series: Meet Arash Soheili, Director of Engineering at MarketSmart

Dec 12, 2018 · 5 min read

At Plato, we love highlighting the amazing members of our community. In our ongoing Spotlight Series, we are introducing you to some incredible engineering and product leaders who have managed to build strong and thriving teams.

Meet Arash Soheili, Director of Engineering at MarketSmart. He shares with us his non-traditional path to computer software, his responsibilities as a Director of Engineering, and how Plato has made him thrive as a technical leader.

First things first: How did you originally get into computer software?

I got my Bachelor’s in Chemistry at the University of Maryland and then a Ph.D. at Columbia University. I started working at big pharmaceuticals, but soon got disenchanted with the chemistry world and the [lack of] job opportunities. I still had a strong interest in technology, so I looked for software engineering positions. I joined MarketSmart five years ago and worked my way into a leadership position.

What does your current company, MarketSmart, do?

MarketSmart helps nonprofits qualify and prioritize donors for outreach. Our products and services use Internet tracking technologies to zero-in on the donors that are most likely to support an organization with major or legacy gifts.

As a director of engineering, what are your responsibilities?

My role is a combination of head of engineering and strategy. On the head of engineering part, I make sure I communicate well with cross-functional teams and all engineers. On the strategy part, I focus more on the future of our products and helping us move forward.

As a leader, I am also responsible for hiring and since we are in a growth phase, this takes a lot of my time.

Do you have any tips when it comes to hiring?

Display your company’s culture. Not many companies can do it in an efficient way but for us, it’s simple because we have such a great company culture. I have worked in many places and this is by far the best company I have ever worked at. We have awesome reviews on Glassdoor and if you are in the same situation, do not hesitate to put it up front!

Invest in people. I have noticed that in engineering, companies tend to want to hire engineers who know everything. As a small start-up, it’s harder for us to hire senior engineers, so we prefer to hire more junior ones and train them. It is important as a company to help your employees grow and reach their full potential.

What are some of the challenges you have run into as you have continued to scale the organization, but did not anticipate?

My main challenge has been resource management. It’s not surprising since we are a startup, and we don’t have venture money: we were bootstrapped by our CEO. We have to hire people as we grow. This is a bit of a catch 22 because you have to develop stuff to grow, but then, you can only bring in stuff if you go. So it’s difficult to move forward with limited resources.

What made you consider Plato and join our community?

I got into a position where I was heading the engineering team, but I did not have a traditional computer background. I don’t have a lot of experience seeing how things are done and structured. Of course, I did my best, but at one point, I found it silly not to get information from people who have gone through the same challenges. But I just didn’t know where to get it. I was trying to figure this out and find mentors. Everyone says it, but it’s very hard, especially on the east coast here. I don’t have access to a lot of meetups or places where tech people hang out. When I was searching for a solution, I discovered Plato and that’s where the adventure began.

What has been your experience with Plato?

Overall, the experience has been super positive! I really saw the benefits of using Plato. For example, we were thinking about developing an app internally or outsourcing it. After talking with a bunch of mentors from different backgrounds, it was clear to me that we were heading in the wrong direction. A lot of people were saying it was not the best practice, especially for a company of our size. I feel pretty good that we did not follow that path. So talking with people who have been there has been super helpful since you learn from their successes or failures.

It was also interesting to talk to people who are working at different scales, like people who are at our size, a little bit larger, or much larger. It’s great to see the projection of issues that are going to show up as your size gets bigger.

Based on your experience, what advice do you have for other leaders such as yourself?

Practice your leadership skills like it’s a craft. You need to improve those skills constantly, like you have done for computer software. Do not make your direct reports adapt to your style. Instead, listen to them carefully and learn. That’s what reading books is about. That’s what Plato is all about.

What’s one leadership book you suggest to leaders that had a profound impact on you?

I found this book on Bill Gates’ blog on OKRs Measure what matters by John Doerr. I kept saying to myself that it meant a lot of sense when I was reading it. We gave the book to the leadership team to read, and we implemented it. It has been very useful!

Curious about Plato? Here’s a bit more about us:

Plato is on a mission to help engineering + product leaders develop soft skills and build better teams. Plato does this through a powerful mentoring platform, where new leaders connect with seasoned professionals for 1–1 sessions, AMAs, and a comprehensive knowledge base.

Plato Mentors have extensive experience in management, and come from top tech companies like Google, Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Netflix, and Spotify — among others.

Founded in 2017 by two French entrepreneurs, Quang Hoang, and Jean-Baptiste Coger who met while attending the prestigious ISAE-Supaero school of engineering, Plato is one of the fastest growing engineering + product mentoring platforms in the world.

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