Lorinda Brandon’s celebrated career in engineering began in 1985, when she worked as a technical writer. She quickly rose through the ranks and has held leadership roles at some of the world’s largest companies, including Dell EMC and Capital One. Prior to joining BetterCloud as our new VP of engineering, she served as a director of engineering at Twilio.
We sat down with Brandon to discuss her vision for engineering at BetterCloud, her approach to building teams, and her advice to young female engineers.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
I think a good place to start is to hear about what got you excited about the opportunity at BetterCloud.
It’s a variety of things. First, there’s an obvious need in the market for an SMP like BetterCloud. Having worked for companies of all sizes, I’ve long been aware of how challenging the world of IT can be. But when you add in the proliferation of cloud applications across the industry and the burgeoning remote worker scenarios that you see everywhere, it’s an even more obvious need.
The vision at BetterCloud is crystal clear, which is really compelling to me. We’re building something useful that people need in their day-to-day working lives, so we’re making people’s lives better.
On top of that, I love growing organizations. Late-stage startups have been around long enough to have logos. They’ve been around long enough to have processes, history, and an existing code base that’s already full of tech debt. I think that’s a really interesting landscape for somebody in engineering. How do we get the company to a place where we can support all of the big organizations that want to work with us? And how do we build new features while dealing with the existing technical risks that we might’ve already introduced to our platform?
That’s an interesting transition into my next question. How can you as a leader support the company’s growth while also giving the engineering team leeway to experiment with new technologies and ideas?
The way that you solve a lot of the technical risk that you’ve already put into your platform and build new features is by experimenting with and leveraging new technologies. You need to create an environment where people can experiment to see if there’s a better solution than the one we did three or four years ago. Part of an engineering org’s job is to figure out better ways to do things and to keep current with the latest and greatest technology that’s out there and may fulfill a need.
I’m a big fan of creating innovation time. The last couple of places that I’ve worked, we had what we called “innovation sprints” or “innovation weeks” where you’re released from the obligations of the roadmap once per quarter and get to do things that you find interesting. Maybe you try a new technology. Maybe you build a tool that you wish you had at hand. It’s a chance to do what makes your life easier or makes your colleagues’ lives easier. We will be working to get to that point here as well, because I think it’s really important for engineers.
The reality is that building software is a creative endeavor. It is closer to art in many ways than it is to science. These are makers. These people who code all day are makers and creators, and they need time and room to create. And that includes experimenting with new things.
The engineers in my life are among the smartest folks I’ve met, but they can also be the most opinionated people in my life. If you’re open to sharing, I’d love to hear how you’ve built trust with the folks you’ve managed—especially as a female in an engineering leadership role.
I have the double whammy, as you pointed out, of being both female and a leader in tech. People are going to distrust me, either because I’m a leader, or because I’m a woman, or because of both.
I’ll say that as a woman in this industry, I wouldn’t have survived this long if I didn’t have confidence in my abilities. At the same time, I’ve had to trust myself to make decisions and reverse course when those decisions are wrong.
I think people learn to trust you when they realize that you’re willing to say, “I made a mistake there,” or, “I don’t know the answer to this. I need some help.” As long as you’re honest and human, people learn to trust you.
I also spend a lot of time asking questions. I warned everybody on my first day that I’m going to ask a lot of questions because I need to learn how things have worked here in the past. I’m trying not to get too in the weeds, but I need to know enough details to really grasp what people are saying.
That’s great. We’re hiring across the board, so imagine that I was a candidate that you really wanted to hire. What are two or three things that you’d tell me about the team and opportunity to sell me on BetterCloud?
First of all, the team is amazing. They’re smart, welcoming, passionate, and dedicated to their work.
Additionally, there’s a huge opportunity to work on really complex problems. We’re just now getting to the point where we’re thinking about how to solve enterprise-level problems. How do you scale and build resiliency? Those are really interesting challenges for engineers to work on, and there’s so much room to collaborate and brainstorm and make your mark on this company.
We’re at this amazing growth stage where we’re bringing in new talent, but every single person has the opportunity to make an impact and to innovate in spaces that we need to either improve or build from scratch. I think it’s an amazing opportunity for any engineer, and we’re building the organization that will take BetterCloud into tomorrow. I think everybody gets a voice in that, which is really exciting.
Do you have initial thoughts about the role engineering is going to play in building the BetterCloud of tomorrow? Where do you see the company in the next year or two?
Engineering is going to play a huge role. We’re already starting to see larger customers coming in with more complicated problems and more emphasis on security, especially as global companies adopt our SaaS management platform. Those organizations have lots of regulatory things they have to comply with. I think engineering has a great opportunity in solving security issues, privacy issues, and scalability. There are also some fairly complex scenarios around users, roles and permissions, and workflows that we have to tackle.
I think we have the foundation built, but we have a lot of work to do to get to that place. Those are meaty problems to solve. I also think by this time next year, we’ll be firing on all cylinders with engineering. We have a big push to hire, and we’ll be executing with engineering excellence and rigor in mind.
Two final questions. First, do you have any advice to women in tech who aspire to emulate your career in engineering?
I would say my first word of advice is to have a thick skin. This isn’t an easy industry for anybody, but it’s particularly hard for those of us who are underrepresented. Have a thick skin, believe in yourself, and find people who you trust, and who support you, that you can talk things over with.
I also think you need to know when you’ve hit your limit at a particular place. There are some companies where you’re not going to succeed, and it’s not because of you. So you need to know when to call it a day and move on to a healthier environment.
I think, unfortunately, women can get discouraged and a lot of them leave the industry as a result. That’s fine if that’s the choice you make, but I think it’s important to recognize that there are good companies for women. And if you want to be in technology, then you just need to find those places that fit you.
I’ll also add that there’s a lot of extra noise to manage as a female leader in tech. I get five to ten requests per day from people I don’t even know who ask if I’ll mentor a young female engineer. On top of that, there are always requests to speak at different conferences because they need a woman on stage. There’s a pressure and obligation that comes along with being a female engineering leader that most people don’t realize, so you have to make sure that you’re finding the time you need to focus on your actual work.
That’s great advice. I like to wrap up with this question since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but what’s the thing that you’re looking forward to doing when this is all over?
It’s the most mundane, stupid stuff. I’ve learned to cherish the mundane. We have had our groceries delivered for a year. I want to go pick out my own produce. I just want to look at the apples myself.
We also have a carpet that needs to be replaced, but you can’t really do that very well online. I want to go pick out carpet. I don’t want to do anything over the top. I just want to have my life back.
Want to learn more about the interesting and complex challenges that our engineering folks are tackling? Check out our Careers page to learn more about open roles on the team.