Office Hours: I lead engineering teams responsible for monetizing all of Google Cloud. I'm Belinda Runkle.Featured

Hi Everyone! I’m Belinda Runkle. I lead the engineering teams responsible for monetizing all of Google Cloud. Prior to Google, I was VP of engineering at Fastly and New Relic and director of engineering at BlueVolt and Fios. I have been a leader in diversity & inclusion initiatives, having bootstrapped New Relic's internship program, developed the ground-breaking new bundled hiring initiative (hiring went from 25% to 50% women immediately), piloted the mentorship program, and supported the fledgling new employee affinity groups.Ask me about leading teams, diversity & inclusion in tech, open source, IP strategy, R&D, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us, @belindarunkle. Elphas: please reply in the comments with your questions for @belindarunkle before this Friday. She may not have time to answer every single question, so please emoji upvote the ones that interest you most. Thanks!!
Hi @belindarunkle!1) What is the most important skill needed to be in an executive leadership position? 2) Were there any setbacks you encountered in your professional career that have left a strong impression in your mind? How did you overcome those?
1) I think if you asked this question of me throughout my career, I would have given different answers. Early in my career, I would have said something like, 'strong work ethic, intelligence, ambition.' In my mid career, I would have said something like, 'solid decision making, good strategy, networking skills.' Today I say, 'empathy, a sense of humor, and mental toughness.' Empathy is the basic currency for relating with other humans and understanding customer needs. Most of our success boils down to identifying things that customers need and being able to work with other humans to serve that need. Humor and mental toughness is what you'll need to put up with humans the rest of that time.2) One of my most memorable career experiences was having to lay off my team back in 2008-2009. I learned a painful lesson in distinguishing technical and career success from business success. A happy engineering team and good architecture plan does not guarantee business success, and I learned as an engineering leader to be attentive to the business and not just the tech. This I carried through the rest of my career. The second most memorable experience was when I had a really, really bad boss, reported the problems, and didn't see justice but got retaliation instead. I learned to not put up with those kinds of situations, not to wait until things got better, but to instead value my time and my energy above waiting to see justice play out while I'm on the clock. Sometimes it's better to just let people live with their terrible choices, get out while you still have energy but do let others know what a toxic situation it was. You can't fix everything, and you owe it to yourself not to settle.
Thank you for your words Belinda, I am really inspired reading about your perspective on leadership. I was wondering how you got into DEI work. How did it end up in your radar? Also, do you ever feel hopeless? If so, how did you deal with it? I’ve been feeling hopeless about diversity in the crypto industry recently, which is where I work now. Thank you so much.
Hi @michellewong793, thanks for your comments and follow up questions. My earliest efforts here were in wanting to make sure my team(s) were good and healthy places for women and URMs, in addition to wanting to have a good career and equitable access to opportunity myself. I found myself a little frustrated by the lack of progress I was seeing at a company level. I was loud-mouthed but credible enough about it to land a seat on the company's DE&I committee where I found myself taking the role of the resident gadfly on that team, working with a group of people who were all several titles above me in the org chart. It was scary at first, but I found in practice that everyone wanted to do good, but not many of us knew what worked. In addition to trying to educate ourselves on what works, we also gave ourselves permission to run experiments and try things, recognizing that we didn't have all the answers. I battle with feelings of hopelessness all the time. I combat this by trying to focus on progress and personable growth, not perfection, as well as celebrating the wins not just over-analyzing over the mistakes and losses. Working on cultivating a growth mindset and allowing myself and others to view mistakes as lessons rather than judgements is essential for enabling myself to keep coming back to work and life. I've learned to cultivate better personal boundaries in work and life, and this helps me to preserve my energy and my mental health so I can come back tomorrow and do it all again. I also find it helps to talk about this stuff with those people that I trust the most.
Thanks for being here @belindarunkle!I'm wondering if you could talk about the modern day coding/whiteboarding interview - what your thoughts are on it and what direction you think engineering interviews are going in the future? And what, if any, effect you think that'll have on D&I recruiting efforts?
The desire to de-bias interviews has put assessment techniques like whiteboard interviewing and take-home challenges on trial, and for good reason as it's really easy to systematize bias without really trying very hard. Whiteboard interviews and coding challenges are intended to be a scalable way for candidates to demonstrate problem solving and communication abilities, but in most cases the assessment of those abilities is left up to the interviewer to grade the candidate against a fuzzy rubric of expectations. Bias creeps in, and assessing "performance" as a coder on a whiteboard is left in the eye of the beholder. Repeated use of this technique make us feel as if this is a reliable tool in the recruiting toolbox. But compared to what?The massive shift to working from home and remote interviewing has thrown a wrench into interviewing globally. Companies had in-person final interviews as a fallback plan, and that isn't an option today. We're realizing that our existing interview format - made 100% remote overnight - is forcing us to make hiring decisions using fewer signals. A bunch of new products are also trying to address gaps in this space, and I've not used any of them in earnest. Rather than declaring a given technique as bad (compared to what?), my advice for hiring leads is to start instrumenting your recruiting pipeline - just like a sales lead pipeline - to begin to understand where certain demographics of people "fall out" of your pipeline. Having done this previously, I found a surprising number of URM candidates fell out at the coding challenge. When I dug into the coding challenge itself, I found that it didn't have a grading rubric so all the grading was left to senior engineers to grade. So we introduced a grading rubric and a suite of grading tests. We also removed names and identifiable information from the submitted code, so the gender and ethnicity of the coder was obscured. These simple changes not only reduced the bias in assessments, they also made hiring and recruiting a lot more scalable, too.
Hi @belindarunkle! What is day to day life like for a director of engineering β€” do you get to be hands on with any of the code, or is a lot of time on management of projects, teams, budgets, etc.?What makes the difference between a good engineer on your team versus ones that really stand out?I am so curious to read all these responses, as I aspire to be a chief technology officer with a team one day! Thank you ☺️
I think the answer to this is really dependent on the company you are in. I've been a director of eng in several companies in my career. In one context as DoE I was a lead engineer for a small team at a tiny startup, and not only did I ship code but I also fixed the printer when it was broken, racked servers in the colo data center, and held the camera when we shot marketing videos. In my current context I lead a group of 200+ engineers and a much bigger chunk of my time goes to strategy and planning, leadership coaching and people programs, and ensuring execution across all the areas I'm responsible. It's the same job today in many ways, but really more focused on engineering and business - less so fixing the printer - at a massively bigger scale in every dimension. Somedays I miss the immediate satisfaction that comes with fixing a bug in code.The most successful engineers I've worked with all have a sharpened ability to up-level technical choices and decisions as business decisions with clear long term tradeoffs. Part of success is learning to see the technical world this way, another part is successfully communicating across tech and non-tech people, and the another part is having the people/marketing skills to influence the outcome/decision. The best engineers are business leaders, too.
This is useful to know. It's weird to think that one day might not be as hands on with the product / code. Thank you @belindarunkle for your responses!
Hi @belindarunkle thank you very much for your time. My question( please it's okay if any of the questions not fall under your criteria. I'm just curious so I asked. Pardon me in advance) 1. To hire the lead position applicants at tech products like a new relic, what are the traits you try to identify in candidates ( top 5 maybe)? 2. Being VP of engg how do you evaluate any software/tool for your team?3. What is the key difference between Diector of Engg and VP of Engg? ( definitely, I can find the resources on google but I prefer the human experience especially from female)Thank you very much! Looking forward to your answers.
Hi Shreya,1. When hiring engineers and technical leaders, I tend to think about qualities much like a food pyramid where the vegetables and fruits are foundations on the bottom and "nice-to-haves" like olive oil and chocolate on the top. Thus my foundational qualities tend to be things like: general problem solving ability, communication skills, and collaboration/teamwork skills. Experience with specific technologies or markets/domains is closer to being like chocolate - those skills are nice and valuable but not a substitute for the foundational qualities. 2. My role is less about my personal evaluation of software or tools and more about making sure teams have technology standards and a process for ensuring that selection and adoption of standards and new tools happens in a healthy way. In small startups this means defining some common architectural patterns for integrating systems, and in larger context this is more like building developer platforms and tooling for ensuring productivity and re-use across dozen if not hundreds of projects.3. The scope and scale of these titles differs quite a bit by company, but overall I see VP of Eng is expected to drive business outcomes and have a much more strategic impact. I think the expectations of initiative and accountability are higher at VP. I've joked, "Once you are a VP, no one cares what your excuses are."
Hi Belinda! Thank you for your time. How did you formulate the hiring initiative to move 25% to 50% women immediately? How did you get buy-in? As for the mentorship program, was it internal or mentoring new engineers from out of work? I'm a software engineer and also a DEI lead at Justworks. Happy to learn from you.
Hilariously we didn't actually set the goal to move this number specifically, we only made commitments around measuring the funnel at each step in our recruiting process as best as we could. I think this turned out better, because it shifted us from feeling judged by a number to just being super curious about what the data would tell us. Getting buy-in from HR was easy because we were embracing structured interviewing and candidate -re-consideration across jobs, and these things made HR recruiting more efficient and easier, no argument there. The trickiest places to get buy-in were with hiring managers, where they wanted influence if not decision authority over final team-fit. At first we saw this as an obstacle to our hiring goals but it turned out to be an important change to our process: reserving the manager's autonomy in the decision making helped to ensure that URM candidates were comfortable with their team fit going forward. Candidates want to be wanted, and we know all employees thrive best in those places where they have a healthy working relationship with their boss, so getting that started off on the right foot is a critical early onboarding experience.Mentorship internal vs. external: both! Internal mentoring programs have been critical to growth and education for engineers and leaders, and at New Relic we also participated in WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech) which pairs mentors and mentees across companies. As a mentor, what I like about the external programs is the exposure I get to other roles and companies. I mentored a researcher in the WEST program previously, and it was really eye opening to talk to them about the challenges they had working with their engineering counterparts. I realized through those conversations how I could be a better engineering partner to design and UX, so I benefitted from mentoring as an empathy builder.
Belinda, Thank you for your insightful anwers. I enjoyed reading them. Can you describe your partnership with product, sales, marketing for monetizing google cloud? How are decisions made and what role does engineering play beyond implementation?
Hi @farhat, thanks for your question. First I want to be clear that I'm here representing myself and my own thoughts and experiences, and I am not a spokesperson for Google. Google Cloud and our group, Cloud Commerce, are in a special place given the tremendous market opportunity in Cloud, and I have been very pleased at our ability to gain access and support for our work from our GTM (go to market) org all the way up to the CEO. Our engineering leads and product team work closely with key parts of GTM leadership, in addition to having regular forums with the CEO. We have gobs of opportunities in front of us to choose from, and the hard part is deciding between all the great needle-moving ideas. Roadmapping and decision making is really a mix of bottoms-up and tops-down, and the culture of Google is highly collaborative and engineering-centric, so we are expected to act as business leaders and owners, not just implementers. Decision making can be very "organic" at Google, and having leadership support is useful but insufficient to make big ideas happen. "Winning hearts and minds" is critical part of making things happen, and this can come as a shock to Nooglers that are used to more top-down decision making. We do use OKRs to align our teams on the highest priorities across our group, and many of our highest priority items are ideas and strategies defined by our engineers and product managers.
Hi @belindarunkle, I’d love to know more about the hiring initiative and how you were able to find and keep women in the recruitment funnel. And apart from getting women into the industry, getting them to stay and into management positions is another issue. Do you have any advice for women and other minorities trying to level up into senior positions?
The single-most impactful thing you can do as a woman manager looking to grow in your leadership career is to recruit strong sponsors for yourself at your company. Find those people that will help advocate for you when you are not in the room. This might be in your chain of command, but often it is not. They can be your boss's peers, your boss's boss's peers. They can be any gender; they don't have to look like you. They don't have to be engaged mentors to you to be sponsors, in fact the best sponsors may not even have that kind of time to give you.The best way to gain those powerful sponsors is to work on things that those sponsors deeply care about. Find common ground to engage in, and be forthcoming in asking for their help in growing your career and gaining access to career building opportunities. It's so simple and straightforward, but scary, so just do it. Not enough women are straight up asking for this level of help. If your company has a sponsorship program, great, take advantage of that, but you don't have to have a sponsorship program in order to secure a sponsor.
Thanks @belindarunkle! I am currently a software engineer and have some past experience in consulting. I've loved my shift into a more technical role but ultimately would like to get into a leadership role as a manager that has an impact on the business side vs. advancing as an IC. Do you have any recommendations on how to start to develop into a management role while also advancing an an engineer and how to balance the two skill sets?
One of the oddities of my engineering leadership career is that I've been very surprised at how often my peers in leadership often stay very siloed and focused on engineering, almost to the point of being a little bit allergic to other areas like sales, marketing, or support. This is a shame, because a deepened understanding of customers and their needs and business context are pre-requisites to building awesome software products!My advice here is to be a perpetual student of the business. Make it a priority for yourself to understand your customer, their business and pains, and your company's strategy in that market. You can continuously map your engineering work back to customer problems and company objectives, and you can begin to measure your impact in novel business centric ways instead of always resorting to engineering metrics. I also find it helpful to allow myself to get deeply involved in 1-2 important deals at any given time; working with Sales and support are great ways to learn more about customers, too.Management is really just a mish-mash of skills, and you can hone many of those skills without actually being a manager. The skill that is tricky to sharpen without doing the management job is managing people, whether that's giving feedback, dealing with conflicts, navigating career discussions, or negotiating success criteria with an executive. If you sharpen your feedback and conflict-management skills as an IC, your day job gets better as an engineer, too. If there's things you want to learn and can't tackle until you're officially a manager, rest assured there is some poor overloaded manager in your org that is not keeping up with that part of their job and they would gladly take your help. Recruiting, project management, reliability planning, and metrics are all good places to show up as an IC and do work that will help you as a manager in the future. Just make sure you negotiate your IC job down to leave you room to do that management work AND be recognized for it. Taking on mgmt work sometimes detracts from your time on IC work and if you aren't being recognized for this, you are taking on "glue work" that may not pay off as well if you don't have the organization support for this.
Hi Belinda,Thank you so much for these thoughtful and insightful answers. I feel like I have a mentor guiding me just from reading your responses and it reminds me of why I enjoy working in tech - great empathetic leaders such as yourself.I was wondering if you had advice for early career women who feel like the day to day "people challenges" are making the engineering work not worth it. I've talked to peers about how running into negative situations (getting passed over for leadership opportunities, being punished for not smiling, sexual harrassment, etc.) makes us doubt whether or not we're good enough. The common feeling is feeling like we're not meant to be here - that no matter how hard we try, these systematic and organizational things won't change, so finding a different career path seems like the best thing for our souls.For me personally, I love the work that I do and I feel like these are shortsighted feelings, but it's pretty hard to remove the voice in my head that's telling me to give up. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to deal with these feelings and how to find a workplace where these situations happen less.
Hi @Francisco128, thanks for your comments, I'm so glad this is helpful to you and others. First, I have some bad news. The bad news is that this problem does not disappear when you grow your career up the ranks, it just shows up a little differently. People will continue to do things that challenge your confidence in yourself if not your faith in humanity. The world is patently unfair. OK, so now you know that. Sometimes people act horribly because they are mean and horrible, but in many/most cases they are exercising unconscious bias and cannot see themselves and the impact of their actions. To further make this confounding, sometimes WE are those people and we create this negative impact on others. Because internalized misogyny and racism and ableism live in us, too, though we prefer not to see it and perhaps would prefer to believe ourselves to be woke and self-aware. I've had bad bosses and bad co-workers, but I've been a bad boss and bad co-worker for someone else, too.So, when people are horrible, what to do... Sometimes it helps to pull the camera back a little bit and try to observe those situations taking a view from above and looking at the dynamics at play and not just the people. When I do that, it's easy to see the patterns of when the worst of people is at play, including me. Looking back I can see the worst of times happened surrounding events that influenced the distribution of resources - promotions, raises, access to career opportunities (inc hiring), and recognition/attention from leadership. This is not a coincidence. Work is a competitive-collaborative sport, and in these moments we become more competitive than collaborative, and people will consciously and unconsciously do things to gain advantage. Even in non-diverse teams this is true, but the women and URMs often suffer disproportionately from these dynamics. Throw in toxic masculinity, racism, and teaming-up on others, and it can be a poisonous brew.I have found it useful to shift my mindset to seeing these opportunities as sort of a game, rather than it being a reflection of me and my skills or competence. The bigger the pot to win, the more the players will jockey for advantage, and rather than hate the players, I try to work on making the game as fair as I can for myself and others. I have a locus of control, all of us always do.All that being said, being willing to play a certain game that has meaningful rewards (money, stock, fame, access to leadership, etc) is one thing. Exposing yourself to toxic conditions like sexual harassment and systemic inequity that no one is even attempting to address is another. In those cases where you feel powerless to make change or gain support from leadership to resolve, my advice is to not settle and get out. The world is full of opportunities in tech and there is NO reason to settle for one that destroys your mental health and willingness to play the game. Love your Mondays and change your job until you do, and if that doesn't work, give yourself permission to change your job.I think the best early career advice I can give anyone, tech or not, is to focus on incremental financial independence. Save money, invest smartly, and don't dig yourself into debt as much as possible, because you will have greater mobility and fearlessness about leaving a toxic work environment if you know you can sustain yourself another 6+ months while you look for a new role. Some people refer to this as "F.U. money." I just see it as insurance, and this is even more critical for parents and single-income families. Quitting a toxic job when you know you can support yourself is liberating, truly, but for many of us, we are steeped in debt and bills that make this a scary proposition. Plan for this possibility, take advantage of the beauty of compounding interest, and start funding your own "insurance plan" for the day when you will need it.Despite all my foreboding, tech has been an AMAZING place to grow my career, meet people, travel, and have an impact on the world. I don't know I would have had so much access to opportunity were it not for the tremendous support I've received from so many people in my life, as well as my own willingness to pick myself up sometimes and begin again. Surround yourself with people who give you strength and enjoy the journey.
Hi @belindarunkle! thanks for taking the time...I have two unrelated questions:I am trying to start training the company on inclusion and diversity, and on how to build a an inclusive place at work. Our HR department is small and I would like your view on: 1) how far should I go myself (along with a few colleagues) and 2) given we have nothing and we need to prioritize our efforts, where do you think the most value is, in terms of initiatives for companies that have nothing. My second question is: how do you see the relationship between product and engineering, specially in terms of the leadership.
Small companies generally don't have dedicated DE&I staffing as everyone tends to wear lots of hats. The upside of getting involved at this early stage is that you can have a HUGE impact. You can move the needle on numbers, hire for key roles, and implement excellent standards while you are still small and set the stage for inclusion for years to come. The downside is there's infinite opportunity here, and your job of building a product/service and helping the company to maintain traction is also existentially important. Assuming you are not an HR professional, my advice here is to explicitly manage expectations about what YOU will do vs. what the company needs to do. To ensure your work is recognized and inline with leadership expectations, I would suggest finding someone that can act as a sponsor for your DE&I efforts. CEO would be great, but sometimes that role really can't give you the focus you need, so find someone that the CEO listens to.Since you can only afford a handful of moves here, identifying the biggest impact for your time is important. Guidance from great sites like Project Include may help. My personal list for a young startup would be these inclusion-multipliers: 1. Hire diversely for key executive leadership roles that are expected to grow a lot. In startups that is usually engineering and sales. 2. Formalize your performance and comp standards. The sooner you have ladders, paybands, and a clear process for fairly assessing performance and pay, the better. This will seem silly and overly structured at tiny scale, but if you wait until you are big enough to need it, you are too late. 3. Focus on hiring and growing great managers. The quality of your managers at all levels will define inclusion standards at your company, so invest in early great hires here but also build a culture of growth and accountability for managers. Don't go it alone. You'll wear yourself out. Remember, if you are a woman or URM at your company, you are supposed to have a great career, too. Make sure you include your own career in your personal definition of diversity and inclusion work. There's someone else that has the job of making sure you thrive at work, too, so don't let them off the hook for that part of their job! :-)
Thanks for being here @belindarunkle; What role do Googlers play in shaping the corporate strategy? many fields in the real life (e.g.outside of logistics) digital is just too primitive while human executive functions is perfectly capable of reconciling seeming contradictions. As a mom to a teenager I am deeply disturbed by the educational future, which lacks human interactions and empathy emerging out of closeness with others. Medicine is another field where balancing human and tech technologies requires careful evaluation.... but this is a long conversation.