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Next Level with Tom Hill, Engineering Director at Corsearch

In the latest episode of Next Level, Zach has the pleasure of chatting with Tom Hill, Engineering Director at Corsearch, about his career journey and insights into tech leadership. Key takeaways for this week’s episode include…

  • Non-Linear Career Paths: Tom shares his non-traditional journey into tech, starting as a creative and transitioning through various roles, including graphic design and UX/UI design, before finding his niche in software engineering and management.
  • Internationalization Challenges: Developing software across countries, cultures, and languages is tough! Tom highlights the importance of prioritizing people over purely technical solutions.
  • Communication is Key: We know this!! Effective communication is critical in solving both technical and non-technical challenges. It’s increasingly important to understand the business domain and effectively sell technical solutions to stakeholders.
  • Personal Touch: On a lighter note, we get to see Tom’s passion for guitars. Remember, it’s not all about code and algorithms; sometimes, a little creativity and music can spark innovation!

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About Guest Tom Hill:

As a seasoned software executive, Tom Hill embodies a transformative leadership style, relentlessly challenging the status quo and igniting innovation within the dynamic and fast-paced startup ecosystem. His passion lies in the conception and development of groundbreaking SaaS solutions, pushing the limits of technology to deliver unparalleled user experiences.

Find Tom on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomhill-uk/

About The Next Level Series:

Next Level is a Videocast for Aspiring Engineers with Keyhole Software’s Chief Architect, Zach Gardner. This series dives into the pivotal question every software engineer faces: what direction should my career take?

Like many of us, Zach grappled with this dilemma until he found guidance from incredible mentors. Now, Next Level brings these insights to you. Zach interviews tech leaders, delving into their diverse career paths and success stories. Spoiler: careers in tech rarely follow a straight line! Discover the stories, challenges, and strategies behind these industry giants, all aimed at helping you map out your own journey.

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Partial Episode Transcript

Note: this transcript section was created using generative AI tools like YouTube automated transcripts and ChatGPT. There may be typos, slight content changes, or character limits for brevity!

Zach Gardner: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Future. I’m Zach Gardner, the Chief Architect at Keyhole Software, and I have had the privilege of working with some really interesting mentors throughout my career. I’ve had people who have done everything from changing the way I send my emails to being very idiosyncratic, to really changing the way I think about approaching software development in general. I felt it was selfish of me if I didn’t try to give back to the community, if I didn’t try to interview other people to see what experiences they have had and to be able to share the conversations that we’re having out in the open.

Today, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, is Tom Hill, AKA Hilly. To those who know him well, he’s the Engineering Director of Applications at CorSearch. Mr. Hilly, how’s it going?

Tom Hill: I’m good, thank you Zach. How are you?

Zach Gardner: I’m doing well, can’t complain. And of course, all the views and opinions expressed in this program are the views and opinions of the participants. They do not reflect their employers, any trade organizations, or any football clubs they are supporters of. Did I tell you that I’m a West Ham supporter? I can’t remember if we talked about that earlier.

Tom Hill: No, we haven’t spoken about that one yet.

Zach Gardner: That’s okay. You know, I think I enjoy perpetual humiliation and defeat, you know? I think as being a West Ham supporter, that’s kind of what you have to get used to every once in a while. Every once in a while they do well.

So, enough of the fun stuff. Talk to the audience for those that don’t follow you on LinkedIn, that don’t get a chance to see your posts that come out about every day with some really good insights. Kind of talk to them about what your career path has been like. How did you get into programming? What were some of the gigs that you’ve had over the years? And then, what do you do now at CorSearch?

Tom Hill: Cool. I’ve definitely had what you would call a squiggly career, I guess. Like we’ve alluded to in the past about the guitars that are visible just to the side of me and there’s one also behind me in that corner, along with a substantial number of others. I didn’t start in tech, I started as a creative.

So, it overlaps a little bit, but my degree was in something called interactive media production where we made basically interactive installations. Most of it was around video and music production, but we built physical installations for things as well. So, my final year project, we built an interactive horror house. We had back-projected walls, something called emonics, which I won’t go into detail but if you want to find out you can Google it. It’s basically a pinpoint surround system.

We smashed AP Wii remotes and hid infrared sensors all around the place and then basically built an escape group where we could make things get creepier. You have to try and guess the pin pad and then we back-project visuals into your peripheral vision as you turn to try and look at them. They’d run away from you, have the sound of deep breathing right behind your ear, to try and freak people out and distract them, which is where the overlap programming comes in.

But I didn’t start down that line. I wanted to be a creative and did the very cliché thing of moving back home with Mom and Dad and then attempting to make a career as a session musician and a sound engineer. I didn’t manage to land a job with a major recording studio and the very fact we’re having this conversation proves that I didn’t become famous for music. And doing that, you then make no money effectively.

So, I went and looked for an actual job in order to escape the parents’ house, having had a sense of freedom at university and ended up getting a job as a graphic designer. So, I was doing traditional graphic design for a business that had an e-commerce presence. So, I was doing things like billboards, adverts, and magazines, as well as then doing photo editing and things for the website.

Eventually, they wanted to rebrand and also then didn’t want to pay an agency to do it when they just employed the design guy, as they saw me. So, they basically set me the challenge of them trying to play around with and improve the design of the website, which was the introduction to the world of the web. I was intrigued, obviously done a little bit of programming as a part of my degree, although it was not necessarily proper programming languages, it was more obviously programming for music interfaces and programming for visual light effects.

But either way, I gave it a bash, found it intriguing, and went and joined a web design agency. These were the classic at the time, turn out as many static websites or as many WordPress websites as you possibly can in a month was basically the objective, which sucked all the fun and passion out of development for me.

So, I ran away and went back to the creatives and joined an IT networking company that was creating a digital marketing arm of their business. So, I was there again primarily as a designer but also obviously because I could do some of the initial web development stuff at the very beginning. Few years down the line, I found myself basically managing a team of account managers, social media marketers, a few other web developers, and people doing SEO and copywriting. And I realized again I’d taken a job in a creative area and now found myself more doing account management and pre-sales and being wheeled out in front of potential customers to talk about things you’ve done in the past and understand the requirements.

So again, kind of realized this isn’t what I want to do. It’s proved useful later on and I’ll come back to that in a minute. I decided no, I want to do creative stuff again and went and joined my first software as a service business as a user experienced designer. So, doing all the wireframing and speaking to customers about user journeys, user engagement, etc. and trying to build out an interesting experience that solves their problems over time, the classic thing that happens in most companies. Can you start to do some more high-fidelity stuff? So, went from UX to UX and UI and then again, eventually, like we’re not building this thing as fast as we’d like it used to be web develop you start helping out to build some of the web components as well. They had chosen to go with React very early days of React, version 0.14 is definitely pre the going to the first major numbers and it was very different.

So, that was the introduction to the difference between software engineering and web development, I guess. The challenges were more exciting and played more into the hands of creativity than I got out of web development, so I enjoyed it. I then just subsequently spent a good chunk of my career then just working my way up from being a front end software engineer, effectively all the way through to being the front end software architect. While I was at the company where I was doing front end software architecture,

One of my managers kindly pointed out to me that the things I tend to spend most of my time doing and the things that I provide the most value in weren’t necessarily technical things; it was more product understanding, being able to build relationships with customers, building relationships with the wider business, and then subsequently making the teams I was a part of more effective. So, rather than me being that classic 10x engineer that comes in and makes the team more effective while just churning everything out, I had a much softer multiplier effect, and he kindly suggested to me that I should try my hand at management, which is basically what I’ve done ever since.

So, I’ve then just held a number of different managerial and leadership roles across a number of different businesses and sectors until I find myself now as the Engineering Director for Applications at CorSearch. But again, I’ll dive into that a little bit. Basically, we’re an online brand protection platform. So, there are three main arms to the business: trademark protection, online brand protection, and online content protection.

Online brand protection, which is the area that I work within, is effectively going around various websites draining the internet looking for people that are selling either counterfeit versions of products or unlicensed products for different things. We have online content protection, which spends most of its time on the dark web looking for people that are selling ripped versions of DVDs, people that have filmed things at the cinema illegally, etc.

Each of those areas is pretty much then divided in two. One is all about the data and the web crawling, gathering as many data points as possible, putting that all into one massive data lake. The other half, which is the part I do within online brand protection, involves web applications, taking that information, explaining it in a useful way to users who are predominantly analysts. They will basically go through this, look for relationships and links, and build out a picture of whether something is potentially for activity or not. It’s quite cool. It’s not a space I’d really come across until I started to work here just over a month ago, but it’s definitely interesting, a lot more for me to learn.

Yeah, it’s funny. As you were talking through the problem space, it actually reminded me of one of my in-laws, one of my wife’s aunts. She did almost the same thing for Harley-Davidson except it was all manual. So, having a process that goes through and scrapes all that stuff, like that’s pretty invaluable. That is definitely solving a real business problem with technology. Those are like my favorite things to do, you know, that’s what gets me up in the morning.

I’d say it’s interesting. It also comes with that kind of sense of social good. Obviously, there are certain products and product categories where you get a feel-good factor out of doing it, specifically things like car seats is a very good example. You don’t want to buy an unregulated one that’s untested and then forbid, end up in some kind of accident with no cover or because you were unaware that you’ve been sold a version of the product. Oh man, that takes me back to my younger days. We were looking at a new car seat and my wife had found a deal on the same brand of car seat, the same model, everything. It was like 40 or 50 pounds off and we’re like, “Yeah, why would we buy something more if we could go and get the same thing for less?” So, we went through the process, we did checkout, we went through PayPal, and the only thing that alerted us to the fact that it was counterfeit is our receipt from PayPal listed the company that we had just paid some money to, and it was clearly not the firm that we thought we were working with. So, kudos definitely.
[Music] Zach Gardner: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Future. I’m Zach Gardner, the Chief Architect at Keyhole Software, and I have had the privilege of working with some really, really interesting mentors throughout my career. I’ve had people that have done everything from change the way that I send my emails to being, you know, very idiosyncratic to really changing the way that I think about how I approach software development in general. And I felt that it was selfish of me if I didn’t try to give back to the community, if I didn’t try to interview other people to see what experiences they have had and to be able to share the conversations that we’re having sort of out in the open.
Tom Hill: Today with me all the way across the Atlantic ocean is Tom Hill AKA Hilly. To know him well, he’s the engineering director of applications at Corsearch. Mr. Hilly, how’s it going?
Hilly: I’m good, thank you Zach. How are you?
Zach: I’m doing well, can’t complain. And of course, all the views and opinions expressed in this program, the views and opinions of the participants do not reflect their employers, any trade organizations, any football clubs they are supporters of. Did I tell you that I’m a West Ham supporter? I can’t remember if we talked about that earlier.
Hilly: No, we haven’t spoken about that one yet.
Zach: That’s okay. I think I enjoy perpetual humiliation and defeat, you know, I think as being a West Ham supporter that’s kind of what you have to get used to every once in a while, you know, every once in a while they do well.
Zach: So, um, so enough of the fun stuff. So, talk to the audience for those that don’t follow you on LinkedIn, that get a chance to see your posts that come out right about every day with some really good insights, you know, kind of talk to them about what your career path has been like, like how did you get into programming, what were some of the gigs that you’ve had over the years and then what do you do now at Corsearch?
Hilly: Cool, um, I’ve definitely had what you would call a squiggly career, I guess. Like we’ve alluded to in the past about the guitars that are visible just to the side of me and there’s one also behind me in that corner along with a substantial number of others. Um, I didn’t start in Tech. I started as a creative so it overlaps a little bit but my degree was in something called interactive media production where we made basically interactive installations. Most of it was around like video and music production but we built physical installations for things as well.
So my final year project, we built an interactive horror house. We had back-projected walls, something called emonics which I won’t go into detail but if you want to find out you can Google it. Which is basically a pinpoint surround system, we smashed AP Wii remotes and hid infrared sensors all around the place and then basically built an escape group where we could make things get creepier, you have to try and guess the pin pad and then we back project visuals into your peripheral vision as you turn to try and look at them they’ll run away from you, have the town on deep breathing right behind your ear to try and freak people out and distract them which is where the overlap programming comes in but I didn’t start down that L.
I wanted to be a creative and did the very cliche thing of moving back home with Mom and Dad and then attempting to make a career as a session musician and a sound engineer. I didn’t manage to land a job with a major recording studio and the very fact we’re having the conversation proves that I didn’t become famous for music and doing that you then make no money effectively so I went and looked for an actual job in order to escape the parents’ house having had a sense of freedom at University and ended up getting a job as a graphic designer so I was doing traditional graphic design for a business that had an e-commerce presence so I was doing things like Billboards, adverts and magazines as well as then doing photo editing and things for the website eventually they wanted to rebrand and also then didn’t want to pay an agency to do it when they just employed the design guy as they saw me so basically set me the challenge of them trying to play around with and improve the design of the website which was the introduction to the world of the web I was intrigued obviously done a little bit of programming as a part of my degree although it was not necessarily proper programming languages it was more obviously programming for music interfaces and programming for visual light effects but either way I gave it a batch found it intriguing and went and joined a web design agency.
These were the classic at the time turn out as many static websites or as many WordPress websites as you possibly can in a month was basically the objective which sucked all the fun and passion out of development for me so I ran away and went back to the creatives and joined an IT networking company that was creating a digital marketing arm their business so I was there again primarily as a designer but also obviously because I could do some of the initial web development stuff at the very beginning few years down the line and I find myself basically managing a team of account managers social media marketers a few other web developers and people doing SEO and copyrighting and I realized again I’d taken a job in a creative area and now found myself more doing account management and pre-sales and being wheeled out in front of potential customers to talk about things you’ve done in the past and understand the requirements so again kind of realized this isn’t what I want to do it’s proved useful later on and I’ll come back to that in a minute that decided no I want to do creative stuff again and went and joined my first software as a service business as a user experienced designer so doing all the wireframing and speaking to customers about user journeys user engagement Etc and trying to build out an interesting experience that solves their problems over time the classic thing that happens in most companies can you start to do some more high fidelity stuff so went from ux to ux and UI and then again eventually like we’re not building this thing as fast as we’d like it used to be web develop you start uh helping out the Bild some of the web components as well. …they had chosen to go with React very early days of React version 0.14 is um definitely pre the going to the first major numbers um and it was very different so that was the introduction to the difference between software.
..they had chosen to go with React very early days of React version 0.14 is um definitely pre the going to the first major numbers um and it was very different so that was the introduction to the difference between software engineering and web development I guess the challenges were more exciting it played more into the hands of creativity than I got out of web development um so I enjoyed it.

I then just subsequently spent a good chunk of my career then just working my way up from being a front end software engineer jior effectively all the way through to being the front end software architect um. Whilst I was at uh the company where I was doing front end software architecture one of my managers kindly pointed out me um that the things I tend to spend most of my time doing and the things that I provide most value in weren’t necessarily technical things it was more product understanding being able to build relationships with customers building relationships with the wider business and then subsequently making the teams I was a part of more effective um.

So rather than me being that classic 10x engineer that comes in and makes team more effective while just churning everything out I had the the much s after multiplier effect and he kindly suggested to me that I should try my hand at management um which is basically what I’ve done ever since so I’ve then just held a number of different managerial and Leadership roles across a number of different businesses and sectors until I find myself now as the engineering director for applications at Corer but again I’ll dive into that a little bit um.

Basically, we’re an online brand protection platform um so there’s kind of three arms to the business or three main arms to the business um one is trademark protection is fairly easily understandable for most people are you infringing on our trademark or are you trying to register your own trademark which potentially is defer hours across various jurisdictions um online brand protection which is the area that I work within which is effectively going around various websites draing the internet looking for people that are selling either counterfeit versions of products or unlicensed products for different things so you can imagine people selling fake car seats fake versions of Handbags and unauthorized accessories for games consoles um those types of things that would otherwise infringe upon a company’s intellectual property should we say um and then we have online content protection which is pretty much the same thing it spends most of its time on the dark web looking for people that are selling ripped versions of DVDs people that have filmed things at the cinema illegally they don’t do that as often as they used to um etc etc and that’s basically the core of the business each of those areas is pretty much then divided in two one is all about the data and the web crawling so Gathering as many data points as possible putting that all into one massive data Lake and then the other half which is the part I do within online BR protection which is under the web applications taking that information explaining it in a useful way to users who are analysts predominantly not always but they’re usually an analysts we will basically go through this look for great relationships and links and build out a picture of whether saying it’s potentially for activity or not and if it is they can then choose to enforce against it uh again depending on the type of infringement or the level of it or whether it’s a repeat offender will depend on how they choose to take action um but it’s quite cool it’s not a space I’d really come across until started to work here just over a month ago um but it’s definitely interesting um a lot more for me to learn yeah it’s funny I mean as you were talking through the problem space it actually reminded me of one of my in-laws uh one of my one of my wife’s ants she did almost the same thing for Harley-Davidson except it was all manual so having a process that goes through scrapes all that stuff like that’s that’s pretty invaluable uh that is definitely solving a real business problem with technology those are like my favorite things to do you know that that’s what gets me up in the morning yeah I say it’s it’s interesting it also comes with that kind of sense of social good obviously there are certain products and product categories where you get a you get a feel good factor out of doing it specifically things like car seats is a very good example you don’t want to buy an unregulated one that’s untested and then forbid end up in some kind of accident uh with no cover or because you were unaware that you’ve been sold version of the product oh man that takes me back for my my young AUST we were looking at a new car seat and my wife had found a deal on the same brand of car seat the same model everything it was like I don’t know it was like 40 or 50 pounds off and we’re like yeah like what why why would we buy something more if we could go and so we went through the process we did checkout we went through PayPal and the only thing that alerted us to the fact that it was counterfeit is our receipt from PayPal listed the company that we had just paid you know some money to and it was clearly not the firm that we thought we were working with so uh I mean Kudos definitely.

Zach Gardner: I wrote down you know a couple different things to kind of get into our second topic y you know you come from a somewhat non-traditional background I was like you you weren’t like me you weren’t in the Cradle you know with your quiry keyboard you know just like hammering away and I think that people that come from you know a non-traditional background or even like going to design Agency Route like you have a different feel for how the tech should work than someone who has been you know just like born and bred on you know the the bits and the bites so I’m curious if you could talk to a little bit like what are some of the interesting things that you have come across um it could either be both you know any memorable technical problems or maybe even some non-technical maybe like some managerial problems that your skills and your your half skills so to speak I think why you get put in front of people a lot is because you have those skills just like what are some memorable experiences that you’ve had throughout your career um

Tom Hill: I think the best one that kind of brings the Two Worlds together um whereas a company I was working out with globality which is in a procurement sector we’re building a software as a service product for the procurement industry within that one of the challenges we faced was internationalization so the product right through its MVP had been built entirely on the basis of basically everyone speaking English predominantly being based in the US we’ve begun to sell to some Flagship companies massive F100 like Global index brand including some Financial businesses and one of their core requirements is obviously their multinational companies and their procurement arm wasn’t in the US it was in South America so the first thing they said to us is we love it great product can we have it in Spanish um yes maybe um and I was obviously at this point kind of acting in the capacity of a frontend software architect so that landed then squarely firmly in my world of we have this UI the UI was I would say AI but it’s it was not really AI we had machine learning under the hood the UR was made to look like artificial intelligence so you’d have what appeared to be a conversation but really what happened is you got a series of structur questions and depending on the answer you provided kind of took you down a different set of paths in the questions it would asked…what that meant is our interface was obviously very Dynamic the other problem that we faced um that we soon realized with multinational businesses is the UI might need to be in one language hence maybe as a native speaker your native language is Spanish however they could be procuring a product with a company in Germany company in the US company in Portugal company somewhere else in the world so we then had to figure out how to split the UI as well in terms of the user interface might be in the native language of speaker the project they’re working ging the people they’re working with M speaking another language so we could end up having two languages or more rendered within the UI at once um so technical challenge wise pretty high um the reason I kind of say smushes the Two Worlds together is the way I then went about building it is definitely not starting with the software um the way I started it is well who’s going to be doing the translations for us so we then had an internationalization team that was hiding in obviously they’re non technical so how do we make sure that every piece of copy every piece of text that we want to put into the platform uh gets translated and into the software without it having to always go through the hands of Engineers that was the clear bottleneck that to me is if we said product WR the copy in English they hand it off to an internationalization team you translate it into however many languages you can imagine this gr eventually being potentially hundreds of languages you localization of them and then get that back into the platform currently all of our copy was stored in JSON… you can imagine if we multiply that out it very quickly and very easily gets to the point that things don’t work um all things have errors so the design then for me started with well how do we push this out like how do we build a technological solution where all of the management all of the localization or the internationalization of copy happens outside of engineering that we can then easily pull it back in so what the effectively ended up doing was creating small internal platform should we say that linked out to a third party provider so again deliberate kind of hexagonal architecture here everything about the internationalization platform is self-contained so if we wanted to swap from one provider to another we make changes in one small location that then fed into what we chose in the end just because the team were all familiar with it was a slack crazy as that sound so we had a slack B that people could interact with where they could choose to add new copy they provide the key that we would then use within the software so product could say whatever do whatever do whatever type in the text in English it needs to be that can then be fed out to the internationalization platform where the Specialists then work in the tool that they’re familiar with that information got fed back to a piece of middleware which automatically updated the Json documents which were hosted in external 3 and we then created basically an intermediary service like a bit of middleware as you booted up the platform check languages fch the various Lang files stored them in cash obviously make retrieval and the rest of the operations faster um and pulled it inbut what that meant is we had an independent set of deployments for the platform and Engineers only ever used Keys um we had some fallbacks in place where if a key didn’t exist we show uh certain bits of copy or entirely wrap certain components in some instances and prevent them from being rendered uh and then deployment and management of internationalization and localization was elsewhere um having spoken to a lot of people that have done internationalization since it seems I went about it a very different way because the Viewpoint for me wasn’t solved the technical thing first it was solved the human thing first that was the clear bottleneck and constraint that i’ kind of eyed in on based on all of my experience with working with people um which is as as good as people are we make a lot of mistakes and we’re slow and we have other priorities um so I started with the people problem and then worked back to the technical solution

Zach Gardner: I dig it that’s awesome I had never thought of doing something like a slackbot cuz that’s something that you don’t have to build the user interface for to enable the product people to give the new copy you can hook it into the third party apis to send it out to that other service like that’s really interesting and the

Tom Hill: I think the interesting at least from an architecture perspective for me too is the fact that you could have multiple languages that you have to translate to on the same screen at the same time my one internationalization project was showing the value value of a particular brand logo on a TV advertisement or during like a like a football match it would be you know like the the banners that they have kind of around the side like could you quantify how much like that ad was worth and it was in dollars and we had to make it available in pounds and Euro and the hard part was in the US we always have the same symbol for currency it’s always the dollar sign. well this project was in PHP and every variable in PHP starts out with a dollar sign so like being able to differentiate those I mean my my internationalization was not nearly as hard I don’t think it’s yours but that’s a really I always like to get other people’s perspective on how they would do it that’s really neat.

Yeah so yeah that epitomizes it the best I think is again I guess it’s why I fell into into management is most problems in software ultimately are people problems and most people problems are communication problems MH that’s the thing I’ve kind of learned over my career especially working in the agency and I’d even draw it back to the simplest bug in a bit of software the bug is probably there because there was a requirement miss the requirement was probably missed because either there was a Handover or there wasn’t a contextual conversation ear in us on or people didn’t outline exactly their expectations when they communicated and they both think yeah we understood each other we’ve got this bang on one person expects one thing the other person expects another it’s that classic scenario isn’t it how do you know if we all see in the same color if I point to a color and ask you is that blue we all say yes but that doesn’t mean you see it the same way I did um so every problem normally balls back to deep in communication if you any problem you’re solving if you start there where are going to be the problems with communication of this thing especially building large bits like an internationalization platform for a company look at that where are the handovers where are the exchanges of information how do we make that quick and easy you’ll probably find the technical solution you have to build at the end is much simpler um than it would have been if we started at the the bottom with how do we do this technical

Zach Gardner: So, that’s an excellent A+ transition. You should go into podcasting. To my third question Is your bias, I think, definitely towards communication? And like, that lends itself really well to someone that goes into management and is successful.

For people that are mid to senior-level software engineers that are thinking about getting into management, what are some of the tips? What are some of the tricks? What are the things that you wish you would have known going into this that might have made it easier? That maybe we can help the next group of managers to have just a little bit smoother of a journey than we’ve had?

Tom Hill: Um, the initial transition from being a senior IC or even a mid-level IC into people management, the most difficult thing to let go of is wanting to solve the problem in s hands-on way. It’s the classic difference between a mentor and a coach, I don’t necessarily think there’s a hard line that some people say, but one is all about asking questions. You imagine a swimming coach. You can’t jump in the pool and swim for someone and expect them to watch you and get it. Like, you have to change how you do things. And mentoring is more you can show somebody. It’s like teaching somebody some woodwork. You show them what to do and then you stand there and watch them as they do it. And they either got it right, they got it wrong. Um, software is more akin to the swimming scenario than it is to the traditional Grassman scenario. Not just show somebody something, you expect them to understand it because it’s not never the same twice. It’s not like work in that regard. Like if you don’t learn to cut a 45-degree angle and then it changes on you two weeks later because the saw has changed. Um, but that does happen in Tech. So again, it’s that learning to let go and learning to ask questions to guide people towards an answer is that first step.

Once you’ve got into management and you kind of want to scale your impact and head towards the more senior leadership and Senior Management roles, it’s business and sales. Which is where I alluded to earlier. That kind of, although I didn’t enjoy it at the time, doing the account management, sitting in front of the customers, having those conversations, and understanding their business problem and what they’re trying to do and what issues they’re facing in a market. If it’s insurance and there’s a downturn or they’re trying to Target a different age bracket because there have been changing changes in regulations. Like no one teaches you that as a software engineer. No one teaches that as a first-layer manager.

Once you start to become a more senior executive, a lot of the problems you face and a lot of the people you work with aren’t technologists. They have a business problem. They want the business to make more money. They want the margin to increase. Um, they’re looking to go to a funding round, so they’re concerned about their abidor. I can never say that word properly. But again, basically, all the different areas that make up the cost profile of a company and how much money it does make and how much money it can potentially make. And the next point after that is selling. It’s understanding how do I sell the technology? How do I sell the technical solution to this business problem in a way that people understand? Because that’s where your leverage and influence comes back. You’re going to have a much easier time if you can turn around to your CFO and tell them in a dollar amount or a pound amount how much it will cost to build a particular feature and how many customers have been requesting these things. So the potential ROI is there. Much easier to go and ask for the money to hire a team than to just say we’ve run out of people and we want to build this thing. And the first question I ask you is, well, what’s the return on investment? And unless you’ve understood that cost profile and the fact that business is only really concerned with how is it going to stay alive? How is it going to make money? Because you might hate it. That’s why businesses exist at the end of the day. Um, you’re going to struggle to stare a lot past being a manager. Doesn’t matter how good you are with people. You could be the most fantastic people manager. Have teams that are very, very loyal to you. As soon as you start to abstract away from the goal face and the direct management vices. Um, you’re going to have a hard time making an impact. If you don’t understand the business and you don’t know how to sell effectively.

Zach Gardner: I like it. I mean, that’s a pretty good answer for I mean anyone that wants to sort of advance in their career in software. If you don’t actually understand the domain that you’re working in, if you don’t understand how your output is going to turn into someone else’s input to then make the organization money. I mean, you might as well not even load up that IDE every morning because you’re not going to be producing the right code.

Zach Gardner: So, any any any closing thoughts? Any other recommendations that you have? Anything else that we haven’t talked about but we should have? Interesting question. Um, what’s your favorite guitar? We’ll start with that.

Tom Hill: Uh, well, that one’s a loaded question, isn’t it, really? Um, I own mostly Stratocasters. Um, my favorite guitar is a purely sentimental reason, which is uh, what like Thunder Telecaster standard because that was the guitar that my parents bought me before my first like major gig. Awesome. Um, which was obviously a pretty cool surprise to, um, favorite brand though is definitely PRS. I have a very big soft spot for a Smith guitar. I have two of them. I only have the SE models because I don’t want to invest several thousand in one of the mid-models when I know ultimately what I really want is one of the top 10 custom models which are even more money. So maybe if I manage to eventually build that billion-dollar app idea, I might be able to afford to buy myself a few. But in the interim, um, I’ll be sensible. I’ll try to be. I do own 11 of them in total so I’m not that sensible.

Um, in terms of covering off Tech stuff like that’s basically really it. Most of it comes down to coaching and understanding, like you say, the domain of the business, the financial side of it. That’s how you’re going to, how are you ultimately going to scale it? People always come first, really. Um, whether you’re having to sell to them more or understand them, that’s what management is about. Yeah, it’s all it’s always people. It’s always has been.

Zach Gardner: Well, Hilly, thank you very much for the program. I’m glad we were able to finally connect on this. It’s always a blast to get to chat with you. And those that you know want to find out more about him, check out his LinkedIn. He has good advice that comes out very, very regularly. So, Hilly, it’s been a trip, dude. Thanks very much. A pleasure. And back, yeah. And ladies and gentlemen, we’ll catch you in the future.


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