Investing in Strategic Leadership

How seeking out the business value in technology can be an engineering leader’s superpower.

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Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
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As the pace of digital change continues to accelerate, it can be easy for companies to get caught chasing the next bright, shiny object — especially when it comes to technology. But to be successful, modern companies need engineering leaders who can build technology that creates business value.

Take Camille Fournier, the head of platform engineering at Two Sigma, a financial services company based in New York. Throughout her career, which has spanned well-known institutions like Goldman Sachs and the customer-focused fashion startup Rent the Runway, Fournier has learned how to go beyond vision to execute strategy, set priorities, and empower teams of talented engineers.

I recently spoke with Fournier about her approach to leadership and what goes into cultivating a strong engineering culture. The following is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

MIT Sloan Management Review: You have held engineering leadership positions at Rent the Runway and Goldman Sachs and now work at Two Sigma. I do not know about the substance of the technology problems at each organization, but from the outside, it seems like they have different cultures and ways of operating. Is that right?

Camille Fournier: Goldman Sachs is an interesting example of a company that strategically invested in technology better and faster than many of their competitors. They would not have weathered the 2008 financial crisis if they did not have technology that allowed them to see the market conditions that they were operating in.

But when I was there, technology was often viewed as a cost center, which is incompatible with building a strong engineering culture. Technology does not work that way — you have to be willing to keep investing, even when times are tough. You cannot lightly say, “We are going to cut 20% of engineering personnel,” or “We are not going to give engineers raises.” That does not work in an environment where every good engineer can go to a tech company and, in many cases, make as much if not more money. You have to continuously invest in engineering in order to make it great.

But at Goldman Sachs, I learned one of the best things I could learn as an engineering leader: how to identify commercial value.

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Topics

Leading With Impact

In this series, author and organizational coach Chris Clearfield talks with leaders who manage technology-driven teams at innovative organizations across the world. The series will examine universal big-picture challenges as well as specific lessons on sparking ideas and accelerating innovation.
More in this series

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