Office Hours: I’m Farnaz Azmoodeh, CTO at Linktree. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Farnaz Azmoodeh, the CTO at Linktree, a fast-growing platform with over 2 billion monthly visitors. I have over 15 years of experience in AdTech, Infrastructure and Platform engineering, as well as Product Engineering.

Before Linktree, I spent 7 years at Snap, initially focusing on AR monetization and then shifting to driving Snap’s platforming engineering and global growth by bringing the Snapchat app to every customer worldwide.

At Google, I was part of the team building the very first machine learning stack that monetized all websites running Google Ads. I was also part of an amazing initiative that rebuilt Google’s Ads auction to optimize for latency and scale.

Lastly, I started and grew Google’s Brand Measurement effort.

Ask me anything about engineering leadership, scaling, evaluating new technologies for integration, company culture, machine learning, adtech, product, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @farnazazmoodeh!Elphas – please ask @farnazazmoodeh your questions before Friday, May 17th. @farnazazmoodeh may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hello Farnaz! Thank you for your time. How have you balanced learning technical skills and soft skills, and how has that impacted your capacity to make career pivots?What's your process for creating, assessing, and iterating new systems/infrastructure?What changes would you like to see in the tech/startup space in the future (from a technical, policy, people, DEI perspective)?(optional but fun question:) what made you happy today?Quick intro: I recently started a business and often struggle to label myself as one role or another (I straddle the line between design, research, and product, with some tech fluency).
Thanks for the questions. I'll answer them inlined to make sure I can cover all the questions you've asked:How have you balanced learning technical skills and soft skills, and how has that impacted your capacity to make career pivots? Such a great question and honestly it's so common to see leaders who focus on one aspect of their leadership. If I was to be honest, I'd say I focused on the technical skills a ton more in the beginning of my career. It's so easy to fall into the trap of assuming that what has been one's strength, in this case technical abilities, is what one needs to solve every major problem. As my career advanced, it became clear that I needed to focus on both technical skills and soft skills, in fact I struggled for a bit because I was weaker on the softer skills side. So I'd say balancing the two is huge, so that you can adjust your leadership style and as you yourself noted, to be able to make career pivots as necessary.What's your process for creating, assessing, and iterating new systems/infrastructure? I'd like to start with solid research. You find me posting on linkedin or other platforms often, looking for people in my network who might have faced a similar problem. And you would be surprised how open folks are to help. Then, I always push for early prototyping so my team and I can test the waters and get a fill for the system we're building and its limitations first hand. And of course, once we have proof, we aggressively proceed with conviction. Perhaps you can refer to the model as research, launch and iterate.  What changes would you like to see in the tech/startup space in the future (from a technical, policy, people, DEI perspective)? There are a couple that are top of mind to me. 1) I would love to see that we, as a society, lean into bringing med / health sciences closer to tech. As I've gotten older, and as my parents have aged, I have realized so many shortcomings in our health system and I can not stop thinking how technology can really bridge the gap much more aggressively compared to how it is now and 2) If I had a DEI magic wand, I would stop use of the phrase "math is hard". I never heard that growing up, and went to an engineering college where 50% of the students were women. I can't wait for that to happen in the US <3(optional but fun question:) what made you happy today? I had an early morning workout and spent time with my husband before he headed out on a work trip. It's the little things sometimes.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful responses!(1) On balancing soft skills and technical skills for pivots: Thank you for calling out the need to adapt your leadership style! I've found flexibility to be increasingly important as changes in the world and the ways we communicate/live have introduced new challenges to our perception of work.(2) On creating new systems: I love the emphasis on research! As a product designer/user researcher, I always advocate for primary research where possible, and bringing in SME to collaborate and introduce different perspectives to solve a problem.(3) On changes in the tech/startup space: (1) I definitely agree on the shortcomings of medical/health sciences; I feel similarly about deathtech (specifically technology in the death services space and navigating the complex world of law/insurance/healthcare/finances in relation to a sudden death/terminal illness in the family); (2) I agree! I would also argue that everyone is creative, especially those in fields that are not traditionally "creative" and that everyone is required to be strong in some mathematics (personal finance!). Thank you again and have a lovely week!
Thank you @farnazazmoodeh! What can you do early in your career to set yourself up for a path to CTO?
Thanks for the question. So before I answer your question, I'd like to note that I do not have 5 or 10 year plans. My focus is what I can envision ahead of me and that's typically looking ahead a year or two. Having said that, I think I was lucky to be able to collect the following experiences which later helped set me up for the role I am currently in.- I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by not just best in class but also very helpful engineers who cared to coach and grow me early on when I started my first job out of school. Those first few years helped instill good engineering principles in me. I also went out of my way to show that I was eager for growth, always volunteered for work that scared me at first and worked hard to deliver on it despite the challenges.- I was able to go beyond my day to day responsibilities and focus on continuous learning early on. I spent hours reading high quality code over the weekends back when I first started my entry level engineering gig at Google, and I remember feeling grateful about how I had access to millions of lines of high quality code to learn from. Nothing like learning from the best.- I had the opportunity to work on very different types of problems. I worked on Ads at Google, but I also worked on Google Translate as my 20% project at the same time, launching Persian to English and English to Persian translation back in 2008. Similarly, when iPhone and Android devices came to market, I built apps over the weekends and one of those apps ended up being the top free language learning app for a good few months, I was over the moon. Similarly, when I left AR monetization at Snap to start platform engineering, I had to spend hours every night learning about various networking protocols, media encoding formats, etc to ramp up in a completely new domain. It was a grind while I was on it but now I think these different challenges helped make me a more well rounded engineering leader.
Hi Farnaz, what a fascinating career! I'd love to tap into your expertise as a CTO. Can you share any insights on balancing technical debt while scaling a rapidly growing platform?
What a great question! I think the very first step is to recognize that technical debt is a natural part of the development process, especially in a rapidly growing company where in the triangle of speed, quality and cost, speed is often the element that gets prioritized. The few next steps are really all about using the same frameworks that we are all fairly familiar with when facing a multifaceted challenge: 1) Identify the high impact tech debt areas because not all tech debt is created equal 2) Ruthlessly prioritize the high impact but low complexity ones to secure early wins and build trust that contrary to common belief, cutting down on tech debt doesn't necessarily mean putting product development on hold for an extended period of time 3) Stop the bleeding: If there are common areas of pitfalls that you can automatically prevent, put mechanisms in place to prevent them from regressing further.Having said all this, I think every company is unique in terms of its tech debt and also several other factors such as how long of a runway the company has, what's its scale, what kind of engineering talent it has, etc. So one needs to take all these factors into account when coming up with the plan.
What has been the best piece of advice you got when becoming an engineering manager? I'm sure there are many, but any that stand out to you that helped you in a key moment in your career?
So many :) But I think there are two that stand out to me to this day: 1) Stay an "engineering" manager. More than anything, you need to continue being a great engineer who stays current, and stays very hands-on. Be a manager who is technical and knows her stack inside out so your team respects you and wants to learn from you and 2) Remember that hard power is push, and soft power is pull. Focus on soft power and bring your team along with you much further than you would ever be able to with hard power.
Hii Farnaz! I read that you like to think about your career in two-year cycles. I'd love to learn more about this approach!
I wish I could say there is some real science to it but it's all based on my personal experience. I have learned that it takes me about two years to go from novice to understanding a new space fairly well. And typically, that's when it's time to assess how much happiness, fulfillment and growth I am driving from what I do. It's important to me that if I am committing myself to anything, I do it with deliberate intention.
Hello Farnaz,Congratulations on everything you have accomplished to date! truly inspiring :) I have a ton of questions to just better understand your decision-making process and the things you value most in life :) - what were the flags you were looking for when interviewing? What were you optimising for? I imagine when you joined Google (earlier days of your career, your priorities were vastly different from those when you joined Linktree)- how did you get the role of CTO at Linktree: were you recruited for it or started there and grew?- what brings you joy at work? and in life more generally?- how do you keep your team's morale high? - what is keeping you up at night today that maybe the Elpha community can support you with (doesn't have to be just professional!)
Thanks for all your questions. I'll answer one by one to make it easier.- What were the flags you were looking for when interviewing? What were you optimising for? I imagine when you joined Google (earlier days of your career, your priorities were vastly different from those when you joined Linktree). Honestly, I think what I look for during the interviews has stayed the same. What has changed is how I vet companies before I consider talking to them because my criteria has changed from a couple of decades ago when I first started (like you noted). If you have read "Thinking, Fast and Slow" book, I've learned that I lean much more on thinking slow before I consider a company but then switch to thinking fast model of evaluation by the time I'm doing the interviews. And during this thinking fast phase, a ton of what I focus on is the team, both the founders and the CEO but also the team as a whole and the internal challenges they face, whether they are aware of them or not. - how did you get the role of CTO at Linktree: were you recruited for it or started there and grew?It was all a lucky coincidence. I was grabbing dinner with a good friend who is also an investor at Linktree, and he brought up the topic. I wasn't even looking for a new role, but once I started looking into the company and talking to the founders, I couldn't really look back. - What brings you joy at work? and in life more generally?I think as builders, we all probably drive a ton of joy from solving interesting problems and building solutions. This is something I have learned throughout the years, that I can become obsessed with any new problem space as long as I dig into it deep enough.  In life, I enjoy being outdoors and spending time with family. I do marry the two with each other, and all my family members and friends know that I will drag them on a hike, whether they like it or not :)- how do you keep your team's morale high? Such a tough one honestly, particularly how tough the last few years have been for tech as a whole. I think there are a few things that come to mind: 1) My team members are some of the smartest, most intuitive people. They can read my feelings and emotions on my face in a heartbeat. By bringing my A game, and making sure I stay motivated, I think I can help instill some of the same energy in my team. 2) I am known to be brutally honest, so I do my best to never sugar coat things. I say things the way they are and the team knows that they would hear the truth no matter how hard it might be. The earned trust goes a long way in keeping morale high even in tough times. And 3) I do come from a very different background, and a childhood that many would classify as categorically tough: growing up post revolution during an 8 year long war, being homeschooled due to bombings of the cities, etc. I think all that has in a way helped me not be easily demotivated in the face of calamity. You will find me optimistic and high energy most of the time, perhaps because of what I've seen in my prior lives.- what is keeping you up at night today that maybe the Elpha community can support you with (doesn't have to be just professional!) Oh gosh, thank you for asking. With the risk of being cliche, hiring is super top of mind for me. We have a fabulous recruiting team at Linktree that supports the whole company but we can always use help in being introduced to wonderful candidates that share our passion for the product.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, Farnaz! Your history with grit, resilience, and ability to stay true to yourself really stood out to me here and reading all your other answers.As for how we can help you: YES would love to help you recruit amazing talent or at least make sure they're on your radar, Elpha is an excellent place for it :)
Thanks Iynna. I appreciate being here and thanks for help with hiring.
Have you always been a natural leader? How do you find your voice and get comfortable with leading? What advice could you give to someone starting a leadership role?
Yes and No. I was the person who, as rumors have it, left her own birthday at the age of 11 and went back to her room to study due to being a real introvert. So being around people, and being part of a large team didn't really come to me naturally which is a good reminder that many things we might consider as a "must have" aren't so. We have very flexible mindsets and there is truly a ton that we can pick up despite our initial tendencies. So building on my answers above, if I was to give a piece of advice to someone starting a leadership role, I'd say, "Embrace your inner SpongeBob! Absorb everything, stay flexible, and don’t be afraid to make a splash! Listen more than you speak, and remember, a good leader lifts others up!"With regards to getting comfortable with leading, speaking in larger forums, making tough decisions for the whole company almost every day, etc: I think the secret is repetition. I have a little sticker on my laptop that says "Practice makes perfect". My physics teacher in junior high used to say the phrase all the time and it's stuck with me.