One of the most fulfilling parts of being a manager is when your people have grown in their skills, increased their impact, and are ready for the next level. You, as their manager, get to write a promotion recommendation.

Promotions recognize the person’s growing impact and ability to deliver that impact consistently. One thing to keep in mind is that performance is relative to level and role, which broadly determine expectations.

This post summarizes some dos and don’t I’ve observed in writing an effective promotion note.


  • Focus on specific accomplishments. Be as specific as possible, including what was the…

There are many ways to grow; in different phases of career, it’s smart to focus on different things. You can optimize for getting deep into a problem and like longevity, while sometimes you are broadening your skill set. Here are a few options, not all mutually exclusive.

  • Depth — dig into a problem and develop mastery in a domain or a set of technologies. Here it makes sense to stay on the same team for a while, or to do similar work if on different teams.
  • Breadth — expand your skillset. You can do that on the team by taking…

I was discussing with one of my managers a few weeks ago the problem that some of our teams had a relatively large percent of time they were spending on toil - operational work that had to be done, but wasn’t as value generating as adding new features or making software more scalable. Google SRE Book has a good definition:

Toil is the kind of work tied to running a production service that tends to be manual, repetitive, automatable, tactical, devoid of enduring value, and that scales linearly as a service grows.

ROI Calculation

We did a quick back of the envelope…

In October ’18 I joined Komodo Health as VP of Engineering. Komodo is a Big Data / AI healthcare analytics company. We are gathering and linking a lot of (de-identified) patient-level data into what we call a healthcare map to improve decision making in healthcare. We started with a SaaS product that helps launch newly approved treatments faster and expanded into multiple products since then.

I was attracted to Komodo because of the company mission, the team, the business traction, and a chance to experience a data-first company. With over 90 engineers (as of summer 2020) and data scientists and…

In 2018 I read more books than I have in a while (also started using GoodReads — my profile). Almost all of them related to leadership and management in some way. Many of these books allowed to reflect on and consolidate the experience I’ve gained after managing for a few years. Others provided useful new frameworks for certain key processes or decisions.

Below are the books I read or listened to in full or in part, lightly categorized, with commentary. I recommend most of these, but books with (!) are particularly useful.

Understanding Management & Leadership

Good Process Helps Reveal Problems

I just finished reading Toyota Way To Lean Leadership, which covers interplay between Toyota Production System (TPS) and Toyota’s focus on leadership development. I really enjoyed the book.

I always thought that good process is a solution to a problem. The book makes a much more sophisticated point. It looks at process as also a forcing function for continuous improvement and learning.

Just-In-Time Process Forces Improvement. One of TPS’s core tenets is just-in-time production, which minimizes inventory, ideally to zero. There is no slack in the system, with little room for error as any problem or deviation is more costly…

Managers have great opportunity for creativity in their daily work. As a leader of people, you should be looking for effective and inclusive ways to engage your team. In our NYC CTO School meetup in August ‘18, we talked about different structures, games, or activities to get the best out of our people; this post summarizes some of the discussions, and links to some great resources.

Many talk about psychological safety and creative inclusive environment, but what are the techniques you use to create it? True trust and inclusion takes time, of course, but some of that can be done…

Compass’s mission is to help everyone find their place in the world. Our strategy is to recruit the best agents in the business, give them unparalleled support, and help them grow their business.

We are not looking to replace agents. We believe that real estate decisions are very complex and in today’s world can best be made through High Tech and High Touch. It’s about combination of agent’s deep knowledge of real estate, their ability to negotiate and software — our product platform; technology is a key enabler, but only part of the story. …

We’ve been heads down in the last few months with lots of features, new products and infrastructure improvements shipped, or about to be shipped in the next two weeks.

Two New Products for Agents:

  • Insights — In early October, we launched a new Agent Suite product, Insights, to help agents understand about how much web traffic they and their listings are getting. The tool shows data for multiple publishers — not just but also Zillow, Trulia,, etc. Insights was engineered as a platform to power many future data dashboards. This is our first product released simultaneously on mobile and web, many more to come!

This past June, our backend engineer, Cameron Waeland, gave a talk at QCon New York. Cameron is the main developer of our API framework, which includes code generation from Thrift, which we use for RPC between our microservices, to multiple languages, such as swift, java, go, and others. The video of his recording just got posted online. Enjoy!

Jean Barmash

Head of Engineering @, Intelligent Manufacturing Execution for Life Sciences, from COVID to Cancer.

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