Cross functional efficiency for Engineers

Interview with David Subar, Managing Director at Interna
April 1, 2022
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David Subar is a CTO, Chief Product Officer, and the founder and managing partner of Interna, a consultancy that enables technology companies to ship better products faster, to achieve product-market fit more quickly, and to deploy capital more efficiently. Interna has worked with companies ranging in size from small, six-member startups to the Walt Disney Company, and helped Pluto on the way to its $340MM sale to Viacom and on the path to its $1.5B sales to LinkedIn.

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How can engineers work effectively with other teams?

It is important for engineers to engage with various teams and product owners. They should understand what the PM wants and why they want it in order to determine how to write the code, and how to build the architecture. There are multiple ways to accomplish technical tasks. Knowing the ‘why’ will determine if you pick the right one.

A common pattern is PMs and engineers not talking to each other, thinking that they’re part of different teams, but at the end of the day they must work together to achieve their shared goals. Getting engaged with colleagues outside of engineering, particularly those in product, is helpful because it gives engineers not only knowledge to do their job better but also give them leverage in the company. Engineers can provide value by giving feedback to Product on what can be done and should be done. Engineers can have an impact on not just how they implement code but the direction of the product, as well.

What’s the secret to building an effective team?

There’s a big difference between being effective and being efficient; efficiency is running fast, but effectiveness is running in the right direction. 

The PM and Eng are impactful if they are providing value to the market, thereby increasing usage of the product for customers. Each epic released should create more value for customers. It requires product management and engineering to know who they serve and whether the roadmap will likely service the market better. Instead of talking about how to make each other’s jobs more effective/efficient, the conversation should be focused on the interests of the client. 

Each product release can have one of three outcomes: 1) the release created we expected, 2) the release overperformed, and 3) the release underperformed. 

Each release should have a retro, just like is done for sprints. In any of those three states, whatever happens, we should learn. What happened that we did not expect and why? What can we change?

How can engineers measure impact?

Start with questions: 

  • Who do you serve? 
  • What is your goal? 
  • What is the impact on users? 

Ask questions to understand the project and define the metric before going into the architecture or the code. Asking the right questions will help you in the design and building phase, and help you evaluate the results and lessons learned at the end. 

Tell us about your career journey to becoming the Managing Director Interna.

I started my career doing research and development in AI and machine learning. I found the field very frustrating. Although I knew I wanted to be in tech, I wanted to use technology to create a product that could make an impact on the market. In research, my impact was indirect and diffused. Working in a tech products company was more aligned with my drive. On the mission to find a role with more leverage, I went from manager to director to CTO and eventually took on Chief Product Officer roles. After my last role, I realized that I wanted to do something with a broader impact, so I started at Interna eight years ago. Instead of working with one company, we get to help many companies build better products that have an impact on markets and people. At Interna, I help tech and product teams become more effective and ship products, mentor product and engineering executives, and serve as interim CTO and Chief Product Officers for companies when needed.that need direct help

Who’s your role model?

I have many, like Neil Armstrong and Muhammad Ali. Neil Armstrong inspired me to become an engineer when I was a kid. Ali was committed to his values and was willing to give up everything for what he believed in. Both were risk-takers.

There are also real-life role models with whom I’ve had conversations like Woody Hayes, a former football coach at Ohio State University. He was one of the winningest football coaches in college football. I remember when I had lunch with him one time he told me, “I was never the biggest football player. I was never the strongest. I was never the quickest, but I knew one thing. Nobody could work harder than me.” I learned from him that success is achieved through hard work and commitment. 

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