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I'm Greg, Ex-Google/Netflix current Director at Disney. AMA!

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Greg Benson (Engineering Director at Disney)3 months ago

In anticipation of my live Ask-Me-Anything (AMA), we can collect questions here. I can also answer questions afterward.

Work history

I've worked in leadership positions at companies like Netflix (2013 - 2017), Google (2017 - 2021), and now Disney. I'm currently a Director of Software Engineering at Disney as part of Disney Streaming (Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ Star+).

Happy to talk about mobile development, engineering management, and career growth.

Other

I have a deep background in music and audio, having received a Masters in Music & Audio Technology in 2003, and then working with Dolby for more than 5 years.

After I left Google, I took a career break to learn, explore, and recharge. I traveled to Ghana, learned about accounting, became a startup advisor, and read a lot.

I'm on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/greg7gkb/.

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Discussion

(16 comments)
  • 3
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    3 months ago

    What was your motivation to take a 1.5 year career break? Were you feeling burnout? Is there anything you'd do differently in terms of the activities or timing of the break?

  • 4
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    Senior Software Engineer at Zapier
    3 months ago

    What were some of the most influential reading materials for you?

  • 4
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    Senior Manager at Zoox; Meta, Snap, Google
    3 months ago

    How can one navigate career progression during these challenging times?

  • 3
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    Staff Engineer
    3 months ago

    I would be curious to hear the role played & impact of any mentors/career coaches (paid) in your career growth. What has been your framework in tackling or finding answers to challenges/questions while seeking help from a coach/mentor?

  • 1
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer at Other
    3 months ago

    How to know when to switch teams? How do you talk to your manager or skip level manager?

  • 1
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    Full-stack Software Engineer at Bank of America
    3 months ago

    What is the key to thriving in a high pressure work environment like the one at Netflix?

  • 0
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    Staff Engineer
    3 months ago

    What are your top suggestions to someone who is joining a new organization at a Staff or higher especially if the organization isn't a core technology-driven one (ex: Netflix, Google, etc.) ?

    A mix of legacy systems, tech debt & latest tech makes it tricky to identify opportunities for impact.

  • 1
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    Senior Software Engineer @ Nvidia
    3 months ago

    What are you suggestions for someone looking to decide if they want to grow to a staff engineer role or engineering manager role ?

  • 1
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    Senior Software Engineer @ Nvidia
    3 months ago

    How do you develop new interest and work on them on the side?

    Eg - you mentioned about ML and exploring on the side, can you provide feedback ideas / frameworks to explore?

    Interest may be tech or non tech related that’s fine.

  • 0
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    Senior Software Engineer @ Nvidia
    3 months ago

    How do you plan your day-to-day work to make sure you’re not burning out and managing meetings?

    Any frameworks or techniques that you follow?

  • 2
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    Staff Software Engineer & Tech Lead at LinkedIn
    3 months ago

    What’s a good model for personal branding that you would recommend for L6 and L7 engineers?

  • 6
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    Greg Benson [OP]
    Engineering Director at Disney
    2 months ago

    Answering a few more questions here that we didn't have time for in the live discussion yesterday...

    How to know when to switch teams? How do you talk to your manager or skip level manager?

    Everyone has to develop a sense for themselves of when it's time to move on. I think of the core elements of a job as:

    1. The day-to-day work
    2. The team / organization
    3. Your manager
    4. Your compensation

    If one or two of these areas aren't amazing then I would be inclined to stay in a role. But if too many of these aren't there for me then it's time to switch teams, roles, or companies.

    I always encourage folks to be as communicative and candid with their manager as they can be. So if there are elements of your role that are not great for you, I'd encourage you to bring up those concerns with your manager or skip level manager to see if they can help improve any aspect.

  • 7
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    Greg Benson [OP]
    Engineering Director at Disney
    2 months ago

    What are your top suggestions to someone who is joining a new organization at a Staff or higher especially if the organization isn't a core technology-driven one (ex: Netflix, Google, etc.) ?

    A mix of legacy systems, tech debt & latest tech makes it tricky to identify opportunities for impact.

    Interesting question! As a lead / staff / principal engineer, I think there is a higher expectation upon you to 'figure it out', especially if you're not at a tech company. Essentially, you need to figure out ways to substantially improve the business impact by leveraging technology (so either increasing revenue or reducing costs).

    How can you determine which improvements will be substantial? I'd encourage you to have conversations with folks more oriented towards business concerns, possibly directors, VPs, business development, etc.

    Figure out what is really valuable to the company. Cost reductions are often a little more straightforward than ways to grow revenue so perhaps start there by auditing the current tech spend (e.g. AWS costs). This could be a great way to start things off with a smaller win to build credibility before going after more ambitious goals.

  • 4
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    Greg Benson [OP]
    Engineering Director at Disney
    2 months ago

    What are you suggestions for someone looking to decide if they want to grow to a staff engineer role or engineering manager role ?

    Talk to folks who have walked on these paths. I think you'll find after a few conversations that you gravitate to one path more than the other and that's a good signal to act on.

    At a more abstract level, you could also consider what future career options and opportunities for growth each of these paths would provide for you.

    Regarding management, how much do you fundamentally enjoy working with other people as opposed to technology and systems? If you don't really enjoy working with others and handling things like interpersonal conflict, providing difficult feedback, and hiring activities, management is probably not a great fit for you.

  • 5
    Profile picture
    Greg Benson [OP]
    Engineering Director at Disney
    2 months ago

    How do you develop new interest and work on them on the side?

    Eg - you mentioned about ML and exploring on the side, can you provide feedback ideas / frameworks to explore?

    Interest may be tech or non tech related that’s fine.

    What do you like to read about? What kinds of articles do you find yourself obsessively clicking on? If you were to walk in to a very well stocked department store, which area would you head to first?

    These are very individual preferences but I believe it's more important to try diving in to something as opposed to getting trapped in analysis paralysis.

    On a more purely coding/tech tangent, there are open source projects for just about any area of software development these days, so those are always easy places to start.

  • 5
    Profile picture
    Greg Benson [OP]
    Engineering Director at Disney
    2 months ago

    How do you plan your day-to-day work to make sure you’re not burning out and managing meetings?

    Any frameworks or techniques that you follow?

    It's hard! I'll also put digital distraction into this bucket since that is such a difficult area for many people to manage - myself included.

    Here is a recent podcast that I recommend on this topic: https://www.theringer.com/2023/7/5/23784777/how-the-digital-workplace-broke-our-brains

    The main idea there is multi-scale planning to continually make progress on the most important long-term objectives.

    In terms of specifically managing meetings, I take 5-10 minutes most days to proactively plan or modify meetings for the next 1-2 days. If you're on the fence about a meeting, consider if you need to be there. If you don't need to be there, is it the most valuable use of your time?