Eric Bowman – Programmer of The Sims, Currently SVP at TomTom (#37)
Eric Bowman is SVP Engineering at TomTom, which he rejoined in 2019 to help shape TomTom’s engineering culture for an increasingly online future. Previously, Eric was Zalando’s first VP Engineering, where he drove Radical Agility and led the engineering team into the cloud and oversaw huge growth and change at the company. A 25-year industry veteran, Eric has been a technical leader at multiple startups as well as global companies including Gilt Group, Three, Electronic Arts, and Maxis, where he was one of the three amigos who coded The Sims 1.0
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“I’m constantly humbled when I look back at just how very difficult it was to create this sort of immersive experience. Essentially the standard is to recreate something that matches reality. It is humbling to try and do that.”
In this episode we’ll cover:
- What it was like being one of 3 programmers working on The Sims
- Why going into video games is a super risky venture
- Timeless principles that helped Eric come into organizations and change the culture
- Why the US west coast is unique in terms of tech entrepreneurship
[2:01] – Eric wanted to be a physicist but programmed on the side while in school. His first job was at Maxis, the sim city franchise. Eric decided to join the team for what would eventually become ‘The Sims’.
[4:30] – After leaving Maxis, Eric worked at plenty of companies including a startup, a phone company, a fashion flash sale company as well as others. He’s currently at Tomtom.
[10:38] – Eric talks about what it was like working on The Sims in the early days. Unlike today, back then teams for videogames were small! He explains why video games are a risky venture and most video games fail.
[15:33] – It took some time for Eric to transition from programmer to engineering manager. Though it was a challenging move or him, it came down to making a greater impact.
[20:34]- What Eric looks for when hiring? Leadership, impact and growth mindset are major pillars to consider.
[25:29] – Why are more and more people hiring senior managers to change the culture of their company? Eric often looks for timeless principles when managing his teams and organizations, not necessarily new ideas. How can slack and chat ops change the culture?
[30:09] – What are the pros and cons of the tech culture in the US versus Europe. Why the Europe tech scene can be more stable but the boldness of Silicon Valley and the West Coast is unlike any place in the world.
Grant Ingersoll (00:19):
Welcome back everyone to the Develomentor podcast and a special welcome to all our loyal listeners. I’m your host Grant Ingersoll. We aim to be your source for interviews and content on careers in tech, but those new to the show, we have three goals. We want to showcase the interesting people in tech across a variety of roles. We also want to highlight the different paths people take in their careers and most importantly, we want to help you find your path. If you want to learn more, please visit our website at develomentor.com okay. Enough of the preamble. Let’s get to our interview. Today’s guest is joining us from Berlin, Germany and is yet another example on the show of a fairly common pathway into software development, the physics major turn developer. In the early days of his career, he has the distinction of being the technical lead on one of the world’s leading game franchises before moving on to a variety of other software engineering roles. Over the years, he’s held leadership positions including principal, architect, VP of architecture, VP of engineering and CTO. Along that journey. He’s worked across a variety of industries beyond gaming, including mapping software and fashion on top of all. He’s built this career living in at least four different countries that I’m aware of. Please welcome to the show, Eric Bowman.
Eric Bowman (01:37):
Hi grant. Thanks for having me.
Grant Ingersoll (01:39):
Yeah, and Eric, it’s great to have you, you know, we’ve known each other for for quite a long time, so thank you very much for joining. What I’d love to have a start off with is just, you know, give me kind of the highlights. So, you know, I hinted at some of those things in the intro, but I would love for you to fill in our listeners a little bit more. Like what went into some of those roles and how you got to where you are now.
Eric Bowman (02:01):
Yeah. You know, it’s funny because I really fell in love with computers from the first moment I saw an Apple two and a let’s in 1977 or 1978. But I never really wanted a career in software. I always wanted to be a physicist. And I pursued that for some years and even against some frustration and the whole time I was kind of working on the side, sometimes as a hobbyist and sometimes for their extra money on the side writing software, different forms and it was always incredibly fulfilling when I reached the point of like, well, okay, I need to figure out what I’m going to do next. I managed to sleep through the graduate school admissions test and I realized I had another year on my hands. And meanwhile some of the software that I had been writing at Reed college where I was a student got, it’s sort of picked up and school got a grant to continue that work.
Eric Bowman (02:55):
Yeah. And so I more or less continued as students but writing software and really one thing led to another. And I think, you know, to some extent that characterizes how most of my career has gone, which is that it’s been kind of a series of lucky accidents. And you know, so many that it makes me wonder is there really some subconscious plan there? Now my first real job was working at Maxis and I wasn’t really a computer game player, but I was certainly aware of and kind of in awe of the SIM city franchise. And I saw an ad posted for a junior software engineer working at Maxis in a, what they call their core technology group. And I honestly say kind of bluffed my way through the game playing part because I wanted the job so bad and it was, you know, pretty lucky.
Eric Bowman (03:47):
And as the company’s fortunes sort of stumbled a bit, it became clear that they couldn’t really afford to keep us on as researchers. And we had to pick up a game. And the advice was there’s this really great game called Sim circus, which is obviously the future and that’s what you should do. And if you don’t want to do that, there’s this other thing that we don’t think is gonna work out. That’s something about a doll has simulator. And we kind of took a step back and said, well, you know, the dollhouse stimulator is the brainchild of the guy who invented sim city. So maybe we should jump on that, but really, you know, was a pretty lucky, lucky move and it was incredibly difficult almost five years of development by a pretty small team. Oh wow. Company wasn’t really behind it at first.
Eric Bowman (04:30):
A few senior people really got on it, but overall people were skeptical. And of course it took off beyond our wildest dreams. It was in the San Francisco Bay area. And meantime the dotcom boom had been happening and felt like I was kind of missing out. And so after this am shipped, I joined a.com startup, which, you know, if I was the benefit of hindsight, it probably never could have worked. It was really an interesting crash course in learning about the internet. And when that all fell apart, I jumped to one of our customers, which was based in London. And again, sort of, you know, through, through luck and having come from California, people thought that I knew probably more than I did and got to lead a pretty big effort running what was called a service delivery platform for this phone company. You know, the first three G mobile operator back before four G, and again, it was just a total sort of trial by fire to figure out all this stuff.
Eric Bowman (05:27):
Nobody really knew whether, for example, we could run Java, that kind of scale that went on for some years and was just incredible learning experience. But eventually that sort of wound down and I tried to do a start up, but that didn’t work out. And then I ended up at Tom Tom where one of the people that had worked on the Sims with had gone. So I found myself, you know, in quite a deep technical field about which I knew nothing and learned as fast as I could and did some of that early online efforts. But I was community from Dublin and I had small children and the travel was difficult. And so I took a job in Dublin working for a company called Gilt group, which was a, this online fashion commerce flash sales startup. That was a big shift from TomTom and flash sales.
Eric Bowman (06:14):
Most of the day’s business happens in about 10 minutes. And so there these incredible nonfunctional requirements around being available and at this point public cloud wasn’t really an option, but I saw it as a, as incredible engineering challenge to be able to do that. And it was really great team and that was what I got into engineering management for the first time, which I’d always been a little bit skeptical and always been an individual contributor up to that point. And I really came to enjoy the kind of holistic view of, of having engineering depth and also some ability to steer, you know, notoriously difficult to manage software engineers. And then that led to going to Berlin to be the first VP engineering at German company called Zolando, which is a much larger fashion eCommerce site. And there I really got to experience hyper growth and introducing change into the culture.
Eric Bowman (07:06):
We’ve made a lot of, a lot of changes to how engineers practice and embrace the cloud and introduced a number of architectural concepts and that went really quite well and it’s just an amazing adventure. That was a nice combination of still being pretty technical while also looking after a lot of people, a thousand people was the peak team size. And then about a year ago I started talking to Tom Tom again and really couldn’t say no to going back to a technical field that I was really quite passionate about and quite a senior role overseeing engineering doing also similar kind of cultural change. And yeah, it’s really exciting.
Grant Ingersoll (07:44):
Wow. Yeah, that’s fantastic. And I guess if you follow that out logically, pretty soon you’ll be back in the gaming industry. Right? Eric, you hit on a number of actually really interesting things in there and one of them, you know, you mentioned this phrase, lucky accidents, I in my own career prefer to call it guided exploration. In other words, I’m going in a direction, but if, if something interesting comes along, let’s go and take that. Right. And it seems like your career has mirrored that a lot. Right? And, and I’m wondering like were there underpinnings of your preparation or the way you learn in school or growing up that you felt made you particularly suited to be able to kind of come into all these new things and get up to speed pretty quickly?
Eric Bowman (08:30):
Yeah, actually as I think about that a lot and I also think about it in a context of trying to raise my own children. I think the most important thing that I have personally learned in school was just how to learn. Mm. I was lucky enough to have access to quite a bit broad education. I didn’t realize it until quite recently that it’s a bit strange that I have a bachelor of arts in physics. People look at that and say, is it a typos? Like no, I really do have a bachelor of arts degree and you know, studied philosophy, manatees and languages and did a lot of writing. And at the time I didn’t realize I was so unusual. But in retrospect it’s turned out to be very valuable to, you know, have some insight and to culture really and mutation and being able to communicate effectively at scale is probably useful as you know, essentially to have influence.
Grant Ingersoll (09:23):
You and I are both evidence that the liberal arts should not be dying, right? Like it is entirely possible to be computer science, to be math, to have that STEM background, but to do it in the context of a liberal arts education such that you, you know, God forbid, are actually well-rounded in this world. Right? And, and that’s actually part of the, the premise of the show, right? Is you know, there’s a lot of different ways into this stuff and, and part of the beauty of it all is there’s all these different viewpoints that are accessible. I want to delve into the gaming bit a little bit more because I think, you know, like most teenagers should grew up in the 80s when, when video games really first hit the scenes. I thought it would really be quite cool to work in that industry when I got older and you actually did, and I’m wondering, you know, so you mentioned like the Sims was five years in the making. It sounds like it was a grind at the time. By the way, my niece is a huge fan. She can’t believe that I’m interviewing you right now, so just props there. I think every Christmas I buy her a Sims expansion pack, but I wonder if you can peel back the curtain a little bit more on game development or at least game development during that time. Yeah,
Eric Bowman (10:38):
Yeah. I mean I think the first thing I would say about game development is that it’s incredibly hard. It is very labor intensive and now of course games are developed with large teams and huge budgets. We had a small team started with three and then added a fourth and fifth and by the time we were done there were 60 people working on it. But the ramp up happened really over the last three and maybe six months. It’s a lot like venture capital. It’s very, very risky. And you have a few hits that really succeed and make a ton of money, but most games end up not doing so well. Hmm. So, you know, there’s been a lot of criticism about how, you know, the kind of hours that people have to work in the game industry, at least at the time engineers working on games were considered perhaps, you know, a lower class of engineer.
Eric Bowman (11:30):
In some sense sort of hackers not really connected to, to computer science in any way. And I, you know, sorry, I do think that that there was something to that, but at the same time, I think it was terribly unfair. I’m constantly humbled when I look back at just how very difficult it was to create this sort of immersive experience. And you, even a lot of the other software that I’ve worked on was very difficult. This is somehow, it just felt like it was never ending because the, you know, essentially the standard is, is to recreate something that matches reality. It is humbling to try and do that.
Grant Ingersoll (12:10):
Wow. Yeah. I mean, in five years, that’s an eternity in game world, especially these days. I mean, you know, you think about it, some of these titles they have to ship every single year at the same time, right? Like Madden, Madden, NFL, right? Like every August that thing comes out. Right. Obviously here a little bit more of a new idea, but I’m sure there’s plenty of times during that where you had to kind of show proof of life. Right? You’re too like, Hey, are you all making progress on this or not? Right.
Eric Bowman (12:47):
Yeah. It’s certainly, it’s not a model that I would advocate and certainly no team of mine has ever worked in that way. You know, we were working closely with the founder. I mean, if he hadn’t been part of it, we would have failed certainly. And, and they would’ve pulled the plug. But I think that was one nice lesson was really to, you know, try to associate yourself with the most successful people that you can. At least our philosophy is coherent with yours. Right. But I think, you know, one other, one other insight about that time that, that I’ve often reflected on is, you know, how incredibly hard we worked and you know, you read about the kind of sweatshop lifestyle of the game programmer and it was absolutely that, but no one was asking it. Mmm. It was completely voluntary.
Eric Bowman (13:39):
I mean, at one point I worked 24 hours sleep ate work 24 hours sleep ate and a boss said, you know, you have to stop. You’re going to really going to hurt yourself. But there was no pressure to do it. It was, I know when I look back, you know, it was such a privilege at that point in my life to not have any real responsibilities which prevented that, but to care about something so deeply. I was willing to work that hard on it. I mean, it was, it was a privilege and it is something that I wish on anyone who aspires to really have an impact in the world, that they at some point in their life for some period of time, find something that’s so inspires them that they really can put everything that they have into it because that experience is definitely worth it.
Grant Ingersoll (14:23):
Yeah. And you’ll never, you’ll never look back and re regret that. Right. As long as you learn the lessons coming out of it. That’s, that’s so cool. I mean, it’s such a interesting way of looking at things and you know, and of course during that time it was like a crash course in learning as well. So I can totally appreciate that. So you finish up at the Sims, you had a few more roles as developer and then you, you kind of made this leap into leadership positions. I think if I recall you kind of starting with technical leadership and then, and then actually going into engineering management, I think you said a Gilt. Was your your first leap? I mean, was that something that came about organically or were you like, Hey, I’m at this point in my career where it’s time to move up?
Eric Bowman (15:07):
No, it was pretty a pretty organic. I would say if that, if that’s a synonym for kicking and screaming.
Grant Ingersoll (15:13):
Oh well it would fill me in a little bit that, I mean what was the, what was your mindset going through that if you felt it was kicking and screaming? I think this is something a lot of developers struggle with. I know I struggled a long time with this, this question, do I stay technical as if it’s this binary choice? You’re either a manager or you’re technical.
Eric Bowman (15:33):
Yeah. So you know, it’s taken me some years to find the right language to talk about that. I didn’t know how to say it at the time, but the way I look at it now, I really wanted to just continue to increase my impact and you know, the whatever combination of a luck skill and a hubris prize and treachery, I was able to program a computer pretty well and you know, move the wheel, move the dial for different companies, but at some point where you can do as an individual runs out, you know exactly what point what level of impact depends a lot on the individual. And you know, I’d watched a number of my friends and especially, you know, it may be more than average number of friends, given a more liberal arts background that become managers and I often tried to understand, you know, how that happened for them.
Eric Bowman (16:23):
And the, the one response I heard years ago, I can’t even remember who said it, but it really stuck with me was the alternative seemed worse. Hmm. You know, it was, it was like either either I’m going to become the manager or they’re going to get someone that I don’t think should be the manager. And I was, yeah, the first option sounds better because I have that in mind. I was thinking why that seems like the real, not a great trade off or not a great reason for doing it. But when I got out to Guild, you know, I really connected with the senior team and really respected them more than I had respected the leadership I hadn’t exposed to elsewhere. And I now know it’s more about the kind of exposure that I was getting than the actual people that somehow, you know, sort of thrust into a leadership team.
Eric Bowman (17:07):
It’s like, okay, actually this makes sense to me and I never, I had never really seen it done at that level before and I can contribute here so that, you know, I never had a direct report until that point. And then I picked up an architecture team of basically the most, most senior developers in the company, difficult to manage to say the least, but it also kind of took off from there. I mean, it was kind of thrilling in a way that, you know, first of all, it wasn’t quite as mysterious as I thought more and the intentions really were good and then the problems were just as hard as the problems that we were trying to solve as engineers. And it was really, you know, in both cases at scale and ends up being system problems and a very to reason about.
Grant Ingersoll (17:51):
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.
Eric Bowman (17:53):
I had been very unwilling and then all of a sudden it just made sense.
Grant Ingersoll (18:01):
Yeah. I mean, it reminds me a little bit of episode four that we recorded with Camille Fournier and she talks about her own path actually at a similar fashion company rent the runway. And she’s written a book about it called the manager’s path. And I think she does such a good job of capturing some of these things that you’re talking about here. You know, and of course guilt group at that time was on fire, right? Everybody was into flash sales and so I’m sure you just had this kind of incredible energy that that derives from like, Hey, wow, we’re on our path.
Eric Bowman (18:33):
Grant Ingersoll (18:34):
The super interesting too. I mean, I think one of my friends, Chris Bouton, who actually is one of our episodes as well said to me, he’s like grant, like, do you want to see your ideas implemented even if it’s not you doing them or would you rather have all these ideas and never see them implemented because you’re waiting, you know, you don’t have time to do them yourself. And that kind of was the, you know, the proverbial nail in the coffin for me. And it sounds like you, you went through kind of a similar path there of like, okay, I wanna I want to take my impact up to the next level. I’m wondering also then anytime I have leaders on the show, I really like to hear how they approach these questions. You know, you, you mentioned the team of engineers were difficult to manage. You, you’ve mentioned a couple of these other places you’ve had to make cultural change. I’m wondering how do you come in and approach hiring and building teams and, and what do you look for in people?
Eric Bowman (19:29):
Yeah, great question. And there, yeah, that’s a bit of an onion really. So I’ve tried to simplify it down as much as I can. And I’ve been in a couple of situations where, for example, we had specific growth targets in terms of hiring. I’m always a bit skeptical of that approach, but sometimes you do really need to hire a kind of as many people as you can. Essentially when you assess talent, from my point of view, you’re really looking a lot in three dimensions. And the first is whether or not the person can show leadership. And that’s whether as a manager or just as an individual contributor, bringing in people who can lead, if you’re trying to scale either through thought leadership or, or people, leadership is incredibly important. And so the first thing I really try to look at is leadership. And this has sort of emerged as a thing and in part through the Amazon leadership principles, which I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to understand, even though I think I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.
Eric Bowman (20:34):
I think that approach is quite effective in terms of setting the mindset for how leaders behave. And I think it’s really useful to do something like that and that, you know, especially that agreeing to is not really an option. We have to be able to disagree and commit to things and work as a team. The second dimension is around impact. It’s usually not that hard in my experience to figure out whether someone understands what really impact means. That’s usually for me, the easier, easiest thing to cover in an interview. And very often when people get to an interview stage, they’ve either had an impact or they’ve seen it. You know, having only seen impact is not quite enough, although it’s not necessarily disqualifying if they really recognize, but there’s so many things that we can do. It’s so hard to know what is the right thing to do.
Eric Bowman (21:27):
And in yourself, you know, developing the skill to seek out what is the most impactful thing that we can do here. And really valuing that is a key, key dimension for me in terms of people. And then the third is around are are they on a continual learning path to do? Occasionally it’s rare, but occasionally, I mean, people who really don’t feel like they have that much still don’t learn. And that is, it’s a great tragedy because there was several lifetimes of learning ahead of each and every one of us. Just openness to learning is absolutely key and it also connects to avoiding a victim mentality. I definitely through part of my life, had strong victim mentality tendencies and I’ve seen it in lots of other people and it’s very natural thing that happens and everyone has it some of the time. The answer to that really is they’re like, you know, this is saying this happening to me or is this the thing that I can learn from being able to do kind of mental pivot to this is a thing that I can learn from is really essential for building high performance teams.
Eric Bowman (22:35):
Grant Ingersoll (22:36):
I, and I love that you, this notion of always be learning and that’s been a mantra of mine in many ways as well. I mean I think it’s maybe again, it’s that liberal arts training way back when, but I think at the end of the day, my personal philosophy is the purpose of our lives is to learn. That’s of course my view. But it sounds like there some shared view there. And it’s really interesting cause I, I too have suffered over the years around this notion of victim mentality of, Oh, why is this happening to me? And, and I think, you know, we all have those dark moments. So I’m curious if you could share some things that have either helped you or helped others
Eric Bowman (23:15):
Get out of that. Yeah. The it’s actually, there’s a book that I, that I really, really like the [inaudible] called the 15 commitments of conscious leadership, which has honestly the title is a bit touchy feely for me and I glossed over it, but I was trying to understand someone else and this came up and it’s a very, very, very good book to read. Especially sort of leaders, but really for everyone. I mean I already shared kind of the core idea, which is to do
Eric Bowman (23:46):
This mental pivot out and things are happening to me. It’s been personally quite helpful for me to see some quite strong leaders just kind of inject the right questions at the right moments. I think, you know, it’s pretty well understood that asking good questions is one of the hallmarks of effective leadership. For me, it was a bit different to theory and the practice. The practice was disarming and even occasionally, personally humiliating when I wasn’t on top of my game. And I wouldn’t really recommend that approach, but it did, it has happened to me. Nope.
Grant Ingersoll (24:24):
Join the group.
Grant Ingersoll (24:28):
You know, my own experience on that is it’s almost always the case where it ends up coming back on you is when you make an assumption, right? And, and that’s, I think one of the key parts of asking a better question is to essentially check your assumptions at the door. Right? Or as my old football coach used to say, you know, if you assume you make an ass out of you and me, that’s kind of.
Eric Bowman (24:53):
The very first day at Max’s very first meeting. Someone uses that line. And I had never heard it before. It’s still bouncing around you know, almost 25 years later.
Grant Ingersoll (25:04):
Isn’t it funny how some things stick with us. Well, you know, it’s interesting. So you’ve, you’ve been brought into to make culture change and a couple of times it kind of begs the question of what’s going on in software engineering.
Grant Ingersoll (25:18):
It’s like you’re not the only place to go through this. I think a lot of orgs struggle with quote unquote culture change. In your mind, what’s the heart of that?
Eric Bowman (25:29):
You know, from part of my own intellectual journey has been one of over time valuing the rule of management more and more and more when I started out. I mean basically I was as a borderline HR problem for most of my career. Didn’t really respect managers. I didn’t respect things like HR.
Grant Ingersoll (25:52):
You’ve become what you say, you’ve become what you most hated.
Eric Bowman (25:58):
Yeah, I’ve embraced it, but I had it completely wrong, completely wrong. And it was hubris. And getting the software is something that, you know, very often it’s very smart people who get into the software know it is a life of the mind in some sense. And you can really Excel relative to others based on your cognitive ability and your ability to work.
Eric Bowman (26:24):
And certainly my own case, and I’ve seen it in many, many others. There was a lack of humility around what has come before. You know, our ancestors were not stupid and they, they learned a lot and there’s a tendency to say, Oh well, you know, discard it all did doesn’t matter anymore. No, they also got some things wrong. And a lot of, of sort of 20th century management philosophy is not super helpful. On the one hand there’s, there’s been a reaction against that, which has led to very little management. But really, you know, the people who invented that were solving a problem with a set of constraints. Those constraints have changed. You know, the nature of say factory work is very different from the nature of information work. But what hasn’t changed is our ability to sort of capture what is the problem that we’re trying to solve and what can we learn from the past to solve that.
Eric Bowman (27:21):
And when I look at the, the changes that really have stuck and that had the most impact, for the most part, it wasn’t new ideas at all. Increasing teamwork and communication and encouraging intellectual honesty and pruning, you know, a more blameless environment so that people were not afraid to talk about controversial things. And these are by no means new ideas, you know, I mean, it’s really in sort of the Academy was meant to be all about. That makes a lot of sense. I think the other thing though is despite lots of talk about what’s important, very often that talk doesn’t translate into concrete actions. At the end of the day, most companies have to make money and they have to ship products and it’s really easy to make compromises along the way. It’s difficult to know which principles to stick to. And if you stick to the wrong ones you may fail.
Eric Bowman (28:24):
And then of course there’s also what works for a startup doesn’t work for a successful startup. And so there always has to change. And I’m not sure I necessarily had somehow to like different ideas that magically worked. I think there was a lot of luck around timing for my part. I will say that being principle about automation is incredibly effective across the board. And I would even go further to say that automation is a powerful mechanism for changing cultures that you can actually start to automate the culture that you want. And I think that this is not, not well understood yet, but tools like Slack and chat ops, it really automate a cultural change.
Grant Ingersoll (29:09):
Interesting. So the idea being that, you know, by reducing the toil of work you know, at the end of the day you’re, you’re then freeing up people to be more creative, to take on the harder problems. And in many ways this is, you know, the proverbial computer as a tool, right. Use it to gain leverage.
Grant Ingersoll (29:31):
So many good things in there. Eric, I want to actually shift a little bit here because you know, on top of all of these things, one of the things I love here is that, you know, you’ve done this across the world, right? Or at least across the U S and Europe, you know, you’ve, you’ve kinda gone across a number of different cultures doing that and I’m wondering if you might just reflect on, you know, how that moving around, you know, at least North America and Europe has played into your career, there’s pretty well documented, there’s a lot of different cultural differences here and you’re coming in and having to navigate, you know, a number of them. How has that factored in?
Eric Bowman (30:09):
Yeah, that’s a, that is a really challenging thing to nail down, honestly. And people were very often ask me what, for example, what’s the difference between the U S tech culture and European tech culture? And I don’t like to answer that specific question which is also not the question you asked. What I’ve started to do more is to try to identify what are the great parts of the different cultural contexts that I’ve seen. Because I think what I’ve found is that these different locations have different strengths and weaknesses and I’m not going to do identify weaknesses, but I will paraphrase. I think, you know, just the, the absolute can do boldness, you know, disrespectful, even positivity of that. The Valley is amazing. And I do miss that sometimes. I don’t think that exists in quite the same way anywhere in the world.
Eric Bowman (31:04):
And it’s a big deal. Yeah. Of course. The fact that there are no non-compete clauses in employment contracts is also helpful to sharing knowledge. And you know, what you end up with is almost the entire West coast is kind of like one big mega company. When you move from company to company, there’s much more familiar than not. Yeah, there’s a lot of uniformity in our thinking and how product works and how engineering works. And so there’s a bit, there’s kind of a flywheel effect around that. I’m a West coast or Europe doesn’t have the same kind of had a mega corporation or some big players that CPP is obviously enormous, but Philando has been successful. Spotify has been successful. Even TomTom has been successful and really as pure tech companies and they’ve influenced the culture and benefited also from learning from West coast. You know, one of the things that I really enjoy about engineering in Europe is, is it good very seriously as a craft and people are genuinely not really, you know, focused so much on where’s my career going? You know, how many options do I have a much more about this is what I’m doing and I really want to be great at this. If somehow it’s less exuberant in its optimism, but more steady and pragmatic in its approach. And it’s somehow, it’s a nicer way to live in my experience
Grant Ingersoll (32:32):
And I imagine too just like, you know, I mean it kind of goes back to your premise around learning. You know, it’s just every place you land in it’s like okay, there’s, there’s a whole bunch of new things to learn here. Right? And that could be incredibly stimulating for somebody especially, you know, like yourself who comes from that liberal arts background who has this natural curiosity. I want to shift gears just to, you know, we’re, we’re coming to the, to the end of the interview here. I want to shift gears in a couple of questions just around kind of the here and now and forward looking and jobs and careers aren’t all fun and games, right? So you know, you’re in this role leading engineering as VP of engineering, VP of engineering type roles, CTO. What’s the one best thing and the one most challenging thing about being in that role?
Eric Bowman (33:17):
The best thing is the feeling of accomplishing its scale, technical vision or set of technical visions that, you know, ideally are pushing on a purpose that makes sense and that really impacts customers or you know, also known as real people. For me personally, it was very lucky with The Sims that I got to work on something that had quite a significant impact on millions of people and that feels good. But I was a cog in a wheel and definitely the individual contributor to actually enable those kinds of experiences for people and help them see, you know, a better version of themselves than maybe they thought was possible and then, you know, make progress. Achieving that while and she being a impact on the world. Incredibly personally satisfying, watching people, careers developed and seeing everything just get better. I don’t know what exactly my purposes, you know, maybe it is to learn the part of it I think is through to develop leaders and to pass on what I’ve been lucky enough to have passed on.
Eric Bowman (34:27):
So that’s the good part. I think the challenging part is, you know, what many software engineers that move into management really struggle with myself included is how to, how to manage kind of parallelism so much going on and becoming a leader of leaders and doing that well and learning how to delegate and coming up with a kind of an operating model for what you need to know and what you don’t need to know is extremely challenging. Time is, is one of these questions, resources that just isn’t like anything else. And very, very few people are genuinely good at managing it. And so a lot of your effort is around how to manage time efficiently when it goes well and especially as a technical person in a leadership role, it frees you up to deep dive into what your kind of spidey sense, what direction, whatever direction you’re spidey-sense points you. And you know, the difference between engineering leaders and non-engineering leaders is very often that they can go quite deep where they’re needed. And so the other challenge is how to set yourself up to be able to do that.
Eric Bowman (35:36):
And then the further reward is to actually be able to do that and to have the worlds can continue on without you. That really is true that that you know, success looks like not being needed. That is interesting. It’s also a very unsettling feeling as well, so definitely something I could relate to but particularly my last role, you know as this startup fouder you get to this point where you’re like, wait, like everyone else is doing the jobs I used to do. What am I going to do next? And you got to reinvent yourself. Right? There’s so many fantastic pieces in here. Like you know, if you kind of were to wrap it all up and put a bow on it, you know what’s, what’s that one piece of advice or maybe a couple of pieces that you would really encourage our listeners to dig in on. You mentioned so many good things in there. The the learning, learning about leadership impact, you know, how do you, how do you tie all that together?
Eric Bowman (36:38):
And I think the key, the key points for me, unsure of the, I guess the advice front really are that it’s probably better to open the doors that appear, even if it means it’s being braver than you feel. There’s a lot of people in the world who want to make you think that they understand what’s gone on a lot better than they do. Most people have, myself included, almost no clue. You know, in terms of how I imagined leaders must feel. It is really, you know, there is a huge amount of uncertainty. And so being brave and taking on that uncertainty and continuing to push yourself and believing in yourself that things are going to be okay. And if they’re not, this is, I’m going to learn a lot very line from a butthole surfers. It’s a better to a, the regret the things you have done than to regret the things you haven’t done. And just, you know, when opportunities come, you have to give them a sniff test. Most people can do much more than they start out thinking.
Grant Ingersoll (37:45):
That’s so great. I mean, I didn’t think when I started this podcast that we would be quoting the butthole surfers in terms of career advice, but that’s so eloquent. You got me there. I think that that’s so true. You know, I think we’re, you know, oftentimes leadership is portrayed as these people up on a mountain and, you know, we’re all just trying to figure it out too, right? It’s a different set of things you’re trying to figure out, like, you know, the people dynamic. How do you help people work together to be a team? But you know, at the end of the day we’re, we don’t have all the answers. So, sorry, I’m still cracking a footwork or the quote, man. I love it. Words. Yeah. I think, yeah, I’ll put that on the wall. You know, kind of wrapping things up that, you know, you see, you mentioned the 15 commitments of conscious leadership. We’ll be sure to link that up and show notes. I know I’m already ready to go download that one. Any other kind of resources that have been particularly impactful for you and in terms of figuring this stuff out?
Eric Bowman (38:59):
Yes, I read a lot. The goal is a book I wish that I had read 20 years earlier. The, the goal.Yeah. So the, the Phoenix project is better known and it’s based on a book written in 1984 by a guy named gold rot. It is a mind expanding book about how to turn around a factory. It’s just tremendous. Interesting. I really enjoy the book clarity first and it’s a recommended book for sure, to anyone who wants to get into leadership about the importance of, of clarity and purpose. Those are kind of the books on my mind at the moment. Oh, that’s perfect
Grant Ingersoll (39:40):
Eric. So great to have you for our listeners who want to learn more from you, who perhaps want to follow you on social media, et cetera, where, where’s the best place to find you?
Eric Bowman (39:49):
So I’m EBowman on Twitter, although I don’t tweet all that much. Certainly LinkedIn, probably Twitter is the best place.
Grant Ingersoll (40:00):
Yeah, that’s fantastic. And Eric, thanks so much again for joining us today.
Eric Bowman (40:07):
Great. Thank you. It’s an absolute pleasure. It’s always great to chat with you.
Grant Ingersoll (40:12):
Yeah, and so great again to reconnect. It’s been a few, it’s been too many years, so look forward to our next chance to get together and of course, thank you to our listeners for taking the time to listen. As always, if you’d like to show, we’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or whatever your favorite podcast app is. I’m pretty sure we’re on all the platforms. You can also, of course, visit us at [inaudible] dot com to hear older episodes as well as find other content on careers in technology, including the show notes for this episode. Most importantly, if you liked the show, please tell your friends we really live off of referrals. And then finally, if you have any feedback on this episode or any other episode, or perhaps you’d like to be a guest or you know somebody who wants to be a guest, please drop us an email at [email protected] finally, we here at develomentor hope that each and every episode helps you move one step closer to finding your path. [inaudible]