Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson: Give Yourself Permission to Be Human
Jan 29 2021
I have known Jeff Lawson for over a decade. As a software developer–turned–founder/CEO of Twilio, Jeff Lawson wrote the book “Ask Your Developer” to help businesses unleash engineers’ full potential. Jeff wrote his book in response to people who tend to think of developers as little more than, in his words, “code monkeys.”Jeff is a serial inventor and a self-made billionaire. Prior to Twilio, Jeff was the founder & CTO of NineStar, founding CTO of Stubhub.com, and founder, CEO, and CTO of Versity. After those leadership roles, Lawson worked as one of the original product managers for Amazon Web Services. Not bad for a University of Michigan dropout and by the way to his credit, he later returned to finish his degree. As a work-from-home parent, Jeff is keeping it real during the pandemic, and still making time to hack on new software and hardware projects. After all, he believes in the power of using the creativity of code to solve business problems.Jeff describes “Ask Your Developer” as a playbook based on his observations of being a developer and also a CEO. He told me, “we have over 200,000 customers at Twilio — and when I talk to company after company, you see a disconnect between a developer’s work and what their skills are and what business people often think developers are capable of.” In February, Jeff led a free digital conversation through Fable's events celebrating his book. He was joined by two innovative leaders: Fulp Diversity CEO Carol Fulp and Reboot.io CEO Jerry Colonna.He further elaborates that all too often managers will write business specifications and expect to “throw it over a wall” to a developer to crank out code — which he argues is missing the full opportunity. “I believe software developers are incredibly creative — they’re creative problem solvers,” he says. “We’re getting a fraction of the potential out of these human beings when we treat them as people who only know how to solve quadratic equations. They’re not just math geeks. You can’t keep them in a corner and slide pizza under the door and expect that they’ll grind out code for you."In a recent conversation with me, Jeff dove deeper into creative problem solving and shared his tips for managing stress."One of my core hypotheses is that code is creative," he said. "It’s not as much about science and math as it is about creativity. For business people to collaborate with developers, we need to hand them big business and customer problems to solve. You'll be amazed at the results and solutions you can get out of developers when you hand them problems. I think a lot of well-intentioned executives unintentionally remove the agency that developers have, and should have, to get the best outputs."