Be a squeaky wheel, but always bring oil

Camille Fournier on becoming a “multiplier” — and why multipliers are more effective than managers.

There are times when we all wish we could clone ourselves so we could get more done at work. In a Velocity New York 2014 keynote, Camille Fournier, CTO at Rent the Runway, presented an alternative, practical solution, that she argued is far more effective (not to mention feasible): become a “multiplier” rather than a manager.

Technical skills are important, she said, but they’re not ultimately the bottlenecks you experience later in your career — eventually, time and focus become the main hurdles. To overcome these hurdles, Fournier argued that you need to take a step beyond managing and focusing on creating additive value, and focus on multiplying your value by increasing the effectiveness of the people working around you.

Inspired by Larry Wall, she outlined the three virtues necessary to become a multiplier:

  • Laziness
  • Impatience
  • Hubris

Breaking those out, Fournier explained that laziness in an engineer means automating things you’d otherwise have to do manually, and putting in effort to train the people around you to take over your tasks. “It’s the closest thing to cloning yourself,” she said, “and it removes a lot of bottlenecks…and frees you up to move on to do other things…and make other teams better.”

Impatience in an engineer means writing code to anticipate future needs, and “an impatient multiplier doesn’t do the stuff that isn’t important,” Fournier said. “A multiplier looks at the list of tasks — not only for themselves, but for everyone on their team — and says, ‘Why are we doing half of this stuff?’”

Finally: hubris. Fournier explained: “An engineer with excessive pride believes the code they write is beautiful…they are really proud of their work…[and] they have a high value of their own opinion.” Which means, she noted, they might be a squeaky wheel, but they always bring oil. “They not only think of how to make the technology better,” she said, “but how the whole team can be a little more productive.”

For more on how to become a multiplier, including how to measure success, you can watch Fournier’s keynote in the following video:

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