The CEO of $60 billion cloud communication firm Twilio shares three tips to help leaders support their developers

  • Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says most firms don’t bridge the gap between developers and top execs.
  • Leaders should create an environment where it’s okay to experiment and fail, he said.
  • They should also connect developers to customers, to help them target problems, he said. 
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One of the biggest mistakes a company can make, according to Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, is not having a bridge between the people who run the business and the developers building the product. 

If developers don’t know what company leaders are thinking about and top executives see developers simply as people who write code, the company won’t be as successful as it could be, Lawson said. 

$60 billion Twilio, which builds APIs to incorporate texting or calling services into apps has long been a developer-focused company.

“As a CEO and a developer myself, I have my foot in two worlds that are increasingly important to every company,” Lawson told Insider.

Twilio has learned many of these lessons the hard way, Lawson said, which spurred him to write a recently published book called “Ask Your Developer.”  There are three key things that business leaders should remember as they strive to support their developers. 

First, change starts at the top, he said: Senior leaders must create an environment for “unleashing the talent” of developers by investing in the infrastructure and tooling they need. 

Second, leaders should allow for experimentation. 

“Experimentation is the prerequisite to innovation,” Lawson said. “Every big idea started small at some point. [Leaders should be] creating an environment that encourages and fosters innovation and doesn’t punish the inevitable missteps and failures. That is the key to unlocking this talent as well.”

Finally, rather than order developers to build software within certain requirements, Lawson says leaders should encourage developers to interact with customers, and then ask them which big customer problems can be solved and how. 

“Software developers are creative problem solvers,” Lawson said. “That’s what they do for a living. They’re very creative in the way they do it.”

Too many companies are structured such that only salespeople interact with customers or potential clients, not engineers, he said: But “if you create all these walls around developers, how do they know what customers need?”

Read more: Twilio salaries revealed: Here’s how much engineers, product managers, and more make at the $51 billion cloud communications company that’s skyrocketed amid the pandemic

It should be the job of product managers to facilitate interactions between developers and customers, he added. 

“Amazing things will happen,” Lawson said. “You’ll get better software built. You’ll have more retention of this talent.”

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