Firing somebody terrified me — but the advice I got made a huge difference.
Slack’s head of infrastructure engineering Julia Grace has faced plenty of challenges in her career, including firing somebody. The key? Finding the right people to help.
The first job I had after college was in consulting. One of my managers there was the first one who wasn’t just thinking about how to manage me day to day, but about my skills and growth. I didn’t realize that until later on.
I discovered consulting was not my cup of tea, so I went to grad school, and we stayed in touch. We would talk about his family and the different things he was working on. Then one day I got an email from his wife. I’d moved to California and hadn’t spoken to him for a few months. She said that he had gotten ill and had gone downhill very, very fast and had passed away. I wish I’d told him how much he helped.
These days I run the infrastructure engineering team at Slack. The engineers that I manage
work on all the deep back-end systems that, if we do our job correctly, you’ll never know they exist: Slack just works perfectly, it’s super performant, fast. We’re the type of people who are less interested in building user-facing features, but rather in supporting the people who build those features.
I worked for a long time at IBM Research, which is a really amazing place — all these mad scientists wandering the halls. I got to do some really great research work, wrote papers, built systems, got to spend a lot of time with brilliant technologists. But one of the challenges of research is that you build something, you write a paper, and you usually throw it away. It doesn’t become something. And I’m very, very entrepreneurial. So in the end I went and started my own company.