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May 2, 2024 34 mins
Host Victoria Guido connects with Francis Lacoste, a seasoned VPE and CTO coach. He details his unexpected journey from an aspiring cinema professional to a key player in the tech industry after honing his remote-first work culture skills. He delves into his move toward coaching, emphasizing his commitment to developing engineering management talent and his dedication to building strong engineering cultures and leadership within organizations. Francis discusses the psychological aspects of leadership, such as the importance of psychological safety and the role of trust in organizational effectiveness. He also reflects on the nuances of transitioning from hands-on technical work to strategic leadership roles, emphasizing the critical soft skills necessary for effective leadership. Follow Francis Lacoste on LinkedIn ( Visit his website: ( Follow thoughtbot on X ( or LinkedIn ( Transcript: VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Francis Lacoste, VPE and CTO coach. Francis, thank you for joining me. FRANCIS: My pleasure, Victoria. Thanks for having me. VICTORIA: Thank you. Well, it's a beautiful spring day today. And just to get us started and warmed up a little bit, I wonder if you could tell me about what is your favorite winter activity? FRANCIS: Cross-country skiing without doubt. I did a lot of alpine skiing when I was a kid. Could still do it, but really I found alpine, just skiing through parks and the calm of winter, is a very relaxing activity. And I use that as basically my workout. There's a park nearby the school of one of my kids. So, I drop him at school, then go do a few laps in the park near the river. It's beautiful. Unfortunately, this was a winter without almost any snow. So, I could only do four outings this year, which I need to do other workouts because that's not enough. VICTORIA: Wow. That's really cool. How long have you been cross-country skiing then? FRANCIS: I started doing that as a kid, but regularly only in the past, I'd say, four or five years. I bought some skis. Before that, I would only rent. So, that allowed me to do it more regularly. VICTORIA: That's interesting. I am cross-country ski curious because I've tried regular skiing the last couple of years, and I've found that it's way too fast for me personally [laughter]. So, I'm not sure. I think I might like it. FRANCIS: Yeah. I mean, cross-country skiing is more like jogging in a way because it's very cardio, unlike Alpine skiing, downhill skiing, where if you don't work hard, you can go very fast. You know, if you want to go slow, it's have to put in a lot of effort in downhill skiing, but cross-country skiing it's kind of like jogging. You're gliding on the snow and getting some momentum. I mean, if it's not flat, then it becomes a little bit more fiddly, but I do mostly flat courses because if you have, like, some slope, then it requires other technique, and it's actually harder to control than Alpine skiing. VICTORIA: Ooh. Well, I was going to say it sounds like my type of thing until the last part you said there [laughter]. I was like, oh, that's the part that I'm scared of. Well, I don't know, I don't get a chance to go skiing too often down here in San Diego, but I should go up to, like, Mammoth Mountain and things like that more often. But we got a ton of snow this year, so you'll have to come West and visit us sometime. FRANCIS: [laughs] VICTORIA: Well, wonderful. Well, Francis, tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to your coaching career here. FRANCIS: I've been working in software forever, basically. Fun fact: I wanted to go into cinema, and that's what I studied at university, but kept ending up in programming job basically, or programming endeavors. And this was, like, the beginning of the commercial internet, end of the '90s, and was very much into free software and open source, and that's how I got started as a software engineer. And eventually ended up at Canonical, which is still is; they celebrated their 20 years this year; the company that founded Ubuntu, the Linux distribution, which was very popular and still is to a large extent. That's where I kind of left, transitioned into software management, engineering management over there. I didn't know at all what I was getting into. I was on parental leave at the time, and my boss left a message to say, "Hey, we're thinking of creating teams, and we think you'd be a good fit for one of the team lead. Let me know what you think." And I said, "Yes," really, not knowing that this was a totally different job. Fortunately, I got good mentors and found out I enjoyed that. And then, after Canonical, I moved t
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