My Last Listen at PagerDuty

At PagerDuty, we have a tradition of going out on a “Last Lecture”. I think PagerDuty has given me more than enough chances to speak over the past 7 years so instead I took it as a chance to share some of the best advice I’ve gotten from my coworkers. The best pieces came from multiple directions so I’ve left them all unsourced.

“The audience wants you to succeed.” That’s the advice that helped me stop dreading public speaking and it’s held true outside of a few charmingly hostile sales calls. Of course they also want me to “Speak slower” and believe me, I’m trying. A couple of you have gotten a giggle out of how many times I repeat this in my speaker notes (or write it on my hands). Say a quarter as much, say it half as fast, build context and listen more. Practice more, repeat.

Overcommunicate” but remember that context is easily lost and positivity gets destroyed over email. In writing “Something positive sounds neutral, something neutral sounds negative and something negative sounds awful.” One strategy I’ve found works for me is to write the email, and then go meet/call the person instead. It goes both ways too — assume positive intent whenever you get a poorly worded email that sounds like a personal attack :)

Hire people who are better than you.” Early on I had a front row seat to some poorly considered hires and tweaked our hiring process to try to avoid that (if you’ve been blocked from giving a 3 in an interview loop — that’s me). But like most hiring managers & interviewers, I was overthinking how to avoid making mistakes, not how we hire the best people. Now I still ask all candidates the same questions for calibration, but I’m always looking to understand your superpower. The single thing I’m proudest of over the past 7 years is the sheer number of people I’ve helped to bring onboard who completely eclipse me in some skill. Hiring great people makes it a lot easier to “Give away your legos”.

The first one I wrote down was to “Act everyday like you’re running for mayor of the office” — and honestly it’s probably been the hardest advice to act on. My natural happy place looks more like writing a SQL query with a scowl on my face than sitting on a culture panel for new employees. But it’s good advice. This company and every other story you’ll be a part of is made of people — never be afraid to say hello, add someone to LinkedIn, and never keep a compliment to yourself.

“Everyone is the hero of their own narrative” and every interaction you have is going to be framed by their internal monologue more than anything you could say. Command of the Message training does a good job of explaining this, so does How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. When I started, I assumed that us all being on the same team would be enough to build a rapport automatically — it doesn’t. I also assumed that people knew when they had knocked something out of the park — they don’t. It’s mind blowing how often bar-raisers end up beating themselves up over something they did a great job on. Tell them.

“Yup. Stuff’s hard.” I’ll never stop looking for better ways to do things. But sometimes there just isn’t an easy way, you have to do the legwork. When I moved here from Canada, I assumed that these nerfgun wielding goofballs in the corner of a greeting card company (our actual office when I joined) wouldn’t make it and I’d be out of a job — but they did we did and now we are worth more than a billion dollars. We add more ARR in a week than I thought we’d ever get to — and I’m scared to leave that. But “If it doesn’t scare you, don’t do it.

Don’t be a stranger. You’ll see me again. It’s been an honour working with all of you.

Written on October 4, 2018