hirobe talks: Brett Birschbach on Fostering & Embedding your Vision

Part 4: Fostering & embedding your vision 

*Please note the video is the full interview across all four subjects. Jump to 37minutes for Part 4.


Hey, everyone, it's Tom Johnson at hirobe. And welcome back to our video series. Today, we're joined by Brett.Brett is VP of AEM Engineering at Bounteous, an Adobe Platinum solution partner. He has been with the business since 2008 and has built and led the AEM practice from its infancy, just five short years ago. 

I think many of you will know Brett in the industry and seen Bounteous around. It's a highly recognised and successful business within the Adobe platform world, so I wanted to invite Brett here today to tell us a little bit about that journey and how they've been so successful. 

Last session we delved into how Brett and the guys are Bounteous built a people-centric culture of excellence. 

Moving on slightly today, we’re going to look at the way that you deliver the culture of excellence. 



So Brett, is there anything that you would say, and we're not looking for trade secrets, but from a practical point of view, how do you implement that strategy that we spoke about in our last post of being the best? 



Yeah, it's a good question. And it's something that the answer is going to evolve over time, as you grow larger, and you have more opportunity to do these things. And that's one of the things, you've really got to be agile. And we were all taught the values of agile, but it's very easy as you're building a group in AEM to kind of build their little kingdom and now they want to rule it and be the guy or gal that did all the things. And sometimes it's like, hey, is that person actually willing to get out of the limelight a little bit?  

Maybe you have that person that loves working 60 hours a week and doing all the things but that only scales so far. When we started our AEM practice, we basically just had a group of developers. I mean, we didn't call people architects at the time because we were so small, it didn't matter. But over time, as we grew, it's like, okay, we need to separate our developers and architects and then we've got a path from developer to architect. That was the start of a path, but even then, it's like, well, what happens if I get to architect? Am I kind of stuck? You know, because what's beyond that? There's only the practice lead.  

We'd be tapping people for business development and, well our architects can do that, so we just kind of mixed all the things together because that's what you have to do when you're small. As you start getting larger, starting to differentiate some of the roles. I won’t get too much into the details of the different roles that we've created at Bounteous because it doesn't actually matter what Bounteous has created for the roles because you don't have to do it the way that we did it. 

One of the biggest things that I'm a huge proponent of is rewarding value delivered over anything else. And when you start focusing on what value does this person bring to the table, you start thinking about things like if they're bringing more value here to our business than they are in terms of their client work, and on an individual basis we charge out at X amount of dollars an hour, but if they could provide this value across the entire team, we should make that a position. And so just that mentality alone will help you start evolving your leadership structure that you're going to need as you start getting bigger. Those will be some of your specialised roles, I think there's still some very basics that you want to make sure you have in place. You know, number one, making sure everybody's got a personal career coach, somebody that they can go to and express to them, hey, I'm ready to make the next jump. I'm ready. How do I go from junior developer to senior developer? How do I go from senior developer to now an architect? Because there are some definite big jumps there in terms of people skills and such, and mentoring people through that. Not just saying, well, when you get there, someday we'll do it. 

Now, I'm very much a proponent of not promoting people into a position that they haven't shown that they can do, because that's a recipe for disaster and a miserable life where somebody knows that they're not meeting the grade and comes to work every day scared. But there are ways that with a career coach, you can kind of help them say, okay, we know that you need client interaction skills to be able to effectively do the architect job. We think you’ve got all the technical skills, so what we need to do on your current project is have you work with the architect to upskill. Let's break off a certain piece of that, where you're going to serve as the architect so we will have you interact with the client and make sure that you can do all the things that you need to do for that progression. So, I think having a personal career coach can help very much cater to each individual to make sure that their areas where they need to grow can be addressed. Because everybody's a little bit different. Going back to , making sure we see people as people, people are  very unique. It's not just a step, ABC, you mark this box, you get this certification. I have this discussion with you, Tom all the time. And you know what I think about certifications. They are meaningless in terms of what value you can bring to the table. Now they're not meaningless in terms of do you know and understand technology at its base level? But they are meaningless in terms of you should never be using that as your way of saying okay, now, we're going to promote you to architect because you took an architect test, and it says that you're an architect. It's far more than that, right? So, a career coach can really help with that. 

Internal programmes like Lunch and Learns, a lot of people do labs where we actually do hands-on training. Those are good, a lot of places are doing that. But one area that's maybe a little bit higher investment, but it's super important, is making sure your internal tooling is good. For instance, we got Activate here at Bounteous. We use that for selling AEM projects, but it's not specifically for selling. It's actually how we help our internal folks know how to do things the right way, every time, the Bounteous way, it serves many purposes. 

Now, that takes a lot of investment, there are a lot of things, and you do need to spend some time and some of your best and brightest need to be putting their ideas to get that thing rolling down the right path and make sure it doesn't diverge from it. But ultimately, the reason why you want to have something like that is that you don't want to have silos, like here in my team, these are the commerce people. If we get an AEM commerce project, it has to be those people. And if we get stuck with the dispatcher or if we get stuck with infrastructure, then you've got to have those three people on it because they're the only three that touch the dispatcher and understand how the caching works. Especially if you're small, because those people aren't going to be available, they're going to be on another project and be stuck. You need to enable all teams to do all things. Now they might not be as proficient at it, but the goal is nothing is off limits. We're going to give you the right tool and the right mentorship, we're going to structure the teams with the right leadership so each different team can do that work. We're all smart technologists, we don't need to segregate who does what.  

Another point is to mix your teams regularly. When projects roll-off we don't try to keep the teams together at Bounteous. I've seen companies that try to do that because you think that the teams going to gel and work really well together. You don't know when someone is going to get an incredible opportunity and leave and break the team up - it's such a short-sighted way of doing things in my opinion. You want all people to work with all people. And it helps people to see where they've got weaknesses. They might have been working on a project and there was someone who was super-strong at a certain type of coding, now you mix the teams up and suddenly it's like hey, no-one here is super-strong at that yet, I'm going to pick that up. So, there are many reasons why you want to mix things up. 

Building these things into naturally how you do your work - it's simple things but it's so easy to go off and take the short path and pick up a short project and throw all your seniors on it. But then what are you going to do when the next project comes along and all those people are locked up? 

Even promotion beyond a certain point should be predicated on, okay, you’re doing really good on a single project, that's great, you're doing your job as we hired you and we're going to promote you to a certain level, but at some point, it comes down to how are you actually affecting more than just your project? And you need to make sure that you have avenues for that to happen and reward the people that do that. And those are the people that eventually become your leaders, and you'll be amazed at what you can do in a handful of years if you just take a step forward in that direction each day. 



Exactly, and in the world that we live in and with AEM projects it's not like you can just jump on LinkedIn and find the perfect person to just jump in the team and fill that space, so that's great advice for any team. You can rotate that team around and give everyone the ability to become a very well-rounded professional, not just a specialist. I mean there's obviously the way the world works and careers work and someone will always be great in one area, but having the ability to go into different routes is really useful. 

We know that the AEM space is tough to hire in and it's difficult. The way I typically look at it is you really have 4 areas when you look at hiring someone. First up, role-related knowledge, the knowledge they need on day one to do that job. Then general cognitive ability - the way they think and can adapt to different situations, then there's leadership and the culture side of things and how they'll fit in. You've been very successful bringing people in and growing them into the roles, is there any way you've changed the hiring process or done differently to ensure you've found the right people? 



I think you've hit all the right notes there. It's just the level that they do it. Folks that have been brought into Bounteous realise that we've got a pretty lengthy interview process - you get to meet a lot of amazing people at Bounteous, but we're hitting them in all different directions. The ability to do the coding and work in AEM, that's table stakes, right? You can look at their resume and see that they've worked on some projects, you can get a good feel on the projects they can do and obviously we'll drill them on their abilities, but it's taking it to the next level. And having folks that are doing the work being part of the process of interviewing and asking questions that they'll only have a good answer to if they actually ran into a particular scenario. And this is my gripe with the certifications and such. Great, you're able to answer a test, you know the basics of how this tool works, you've probably got at least some limited amount of work in this tool. But do you know how to solve the hard problems? A lot of times I ask a question, and I'll even tell them in the interview process - I don't really care so much as to what your answer is, but I care about how you got to that answer. I want you to talk me through what things you thought about that got you to that answer. Because there might actually be more than one valid answer to the question given different context, so really digging into how does this person think through the problem? Do they understand it to a deeper level 

Some of this is just to make sure that you're bringing people in at the right level. You have people coming in and say hey, I'm an architect and we're like no, you're probably a mid-level developer. And vice versa, you might have someone come in interviewing for a mid-level developer position, but you can tell the way that this person thinks, the way they answered questions and how they debugged that problem they’re on path for an architect role. You know, scenario-based questions rather than around specific code structure that you could just Google, right? So, it's not a matter of knowing how to do it, it's a matter of knowing how to ask the right question, and what you should be looking for to get to that code. 



Absolutely, it's an art. Interviewing is an art, it's a very important skill for a lot of businesses to have. As a recruiter, obviously I would say that hiring is the most important thing anyone can do as a company, but I truly believe the right p eople can make or break a business. 

So Brett, we’ve covered a huge amount over the course of this video series, are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share? 



We sure have, I mean a lot of this is HR 101, it's just that much more important in the AEM space. It's not an easy space to break into, but it's obviously possible, I mean, we did it, right? And I will say, we always thought we were going to make it and that's how you've got to go into it. Having a core set of people who have no doubt that we'll make it. We're not experimenting here; we're going to go for this and then be willing to make those hard decisions and investments. And you know, there's a time and a place for when you need to hire and be open to all the different paths because it's going to be a rocky start with small teams, but as you get larger, it does get easier. The one thing for anyone looking to build their AEM competency, just make sure you're prepared for the challenge, so you don’t get halfway down the road and when it gets hard, quit. 



Fantastic, Thank you Brett.  


Enjoyed this session? Watch the video in full over on out YouTube channel or read the rest of our chat with Brett by clicking into the topics below: 


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10th May

hirobe talks


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