How to keep your technology skills current as a leader

Interview with Craig Campbell, Co-Founder/CTO at Hedado
March 21, 2022
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Craig is co-founder and CTO of Hedado, an online platform that enables anyone to become a philanthropist. Prior to that, he was an engineering manager at the University of Colorado’s medical campus, helping build tools to enable medical research. Before that, he worked at various companies, with his favorite being Craig is a fellow at OnDeck. In his free time, he is learning French and loves to travel overseas.

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How do you keep your technology skills current?  

This has especially been a challenge over the last 6 years or so. As a working manager and now CTO of an early-stage startup, I still write a lot of code. At the same time, I have to keep growing as a leader/manager. That's a lot to keep up with.

On the technical side, I regularly take online courses and try out new frameworks. I also listen to a lot of podcasts, which gives me exposure to diverse topics. I can't tell you how many times I've heard something on a podcast and then have it come up in some form not long after. Pro tip: to get through content faster, I've been working my way up on playback speed and setting the player to remove dead space.

I am frequently pushing myself to learn new tools, frameworks, languages, etc. One of the mistakes I made as a manager was to run off and learn enough about something on my own to be dangerous, then bring it back to the team and expect them to quickly ramp up and be as excited as me. That was a disaster.

I learned to slow down and take the team along with me instead. What worked really well was starting a book club. We talked about what was important for the team to learn, voted on books to read, and went through them together with weekly discussions and coding exercises. Having the team be a part of the journey and learn together made all the difference.

What are the challenges you face as a startup founder?

It is common to feel highs, lows, and uncertainty - usually all in the same day. Especially at an early stage, you have to fail fast, gather feedback, and iterate.

The biggest challenge I've had is balancing between building things the right way and moving fast. It's frequently more important to get a new feature out to gauge impact than it is to have the right architecture or design. Technical debt is a constant. Our approach is to keep a running list of things we know we need to fix or change and prioritize them into our sprints as we can.

Personal organization is also key. There's always far more to do than time and there is a large amount of context switching. I had to develop a system for myself to make sure things don't fall through the cracks while priorities constantly change.

Being more flexible has also been a challenge. Things like priorities, ideas, plans, etc change regularly. As an example, part of my morning routine is to set my goals for the day. For me, a measure of success is how much of my plan did I accomplish. More often than not, my plan goes out the window pretty early in the day. That was very frustrating and made me feel unsuccessful. It's still a work in progress, but I'm learning to let go of that and feel good about focusing on priorities. I still set my goals every day. It gives me a starting place and I do make some progress toward them.

Tell us about your founding journey at Hedado?

With 20+ years as an engineer, I've worked for a lot of different companies. I got to the point where I wasn't growing like I wanted to. I realized that I was really tired of others telling me my limits. Those limits included tools and technologies I could use, how far up I could move in a company, and my income potential.

As I started evaluating my next steps, I realized that being a founder was more aligned with what I was looking for next. I partnered with my now co-founder, and have been building for close to a year now. Being a founder is what I expected, but at the same time, you can’t really prepare for it. You just have to jump in.

What excites you about the mission to empower people to be a philanthropist with Hedado?

There is a lot of need out there in the world. We need to solve all kinds of problems - environmental, health, humanitarian, the list goes on. There are also a lot of good people that want to help others, but don't necessarily know the best way. 

Waste or mismanagement of funds by the nonprofits we are donating to can be a problem. Everyone that gives wants to know their donation is being used wisely and as effectively as possible. Our goal is to help people find quality nonprofits that align with their beliefs and enable supporting those organizations.

I feel very fortunate to have the life that I do. A few years ago, I worked as a volunteer EMT for an ambulance company on the weekends. It was an eye-opening experience - I saw a whole other world out there that I didn't even know existed. My heart went out to those struggling just to make it and the impact it had on them and their families.

It excites me to be a small part in making a difference. I want to help others get excited about it too.

What would you tell a new engineer who wants to follow in your footsteps?

1. Imposter syndrome is real. We all feel it. It's okay to acknowledge how you feel and keep pushing on. It's also okay to ask for help.

2. Everyone makes mistakes. Chances are good that you will make a big one at some point. What matters is how you respond to it.

3.Try to always be curious - when you find solutions to problems (i.e. Google or Stack Overflow), make sure you understand how or why it works.

4. Set aside time as you can to keep growing your skillset.

5. Have fun! There’s a lot of satisfaction in building something that benefits others.

Learn more about the causes that are important to me at my website.

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