Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a Director of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.
This edition of Name Dropping features Maria Loughlin, VP Engineering at Toast, sharing her ideas and insights with Eric Richard, SVP Engineering at HubSpot.
What was the first thing you built that made you realize you loved engineering?
I’ve always loved puzzles. As a kid I assembled jig-saws, read puzzle books, and chose scrabble as my favorite board game. After high school I majored in Electrical Engineering because it involved
physics and geometry, my favorite subjects. I’ll never forget my capstone project, designing a multilayer integrated circuit chip. I was hooked on a new genre of puzzles!
What drives and motivates you as a leader?
I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel — Maya Angelou
As a technology leader I want to create software that matters. My team at Toast builds technology for the restaurant community, enabling our customers to succeed in a fast-changing digital world. That’s motivating!
As a people leader I’m inspired by Maya Angelou. I want to be a positive force for the people around me, the type of leader who listens to others’ perspectives, appreciates their talents, and provides opportunities for them to reach their goals.
It’s the combined opportunity — to have an impact on my colleagues while we do something important for our customers — that motivates me every day.
What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
Stay open to the twists and turns of life. At 22 I had no idea I would marry an amazing colleague and share his journey as an immigrant to the United States and an entrepreneur in the dotCom boom. I didn’t know my career would immerse me in newspaper publishing, banking fraud, and restaurant operations. I would have been surprised to see I have a talent for motivating people, shaping culture, and managing organizational change. At various points I embraced unexpected opportunities and the resulting experiences have enriched my life.
I would also advise my younger self to be open to personal growth. I had an “aha moment” when I read the book Growth Mindset. It shifted how I see my strengths, gaps, and potential. My inner voice now celebrates when I push outside my comfort zone and learn from feedback. It’s subtle, but thinking about failure differently frees me to take more risks.
Toast is growing fast, so what advice do you have for other engineering leaders about scaling a high performing team?
Growth is exciting and all-consuming. For myself, and others lucky enough to be in this position, my advice is to be thoughtful about maintaining balance.
For your team, balance may mean investing in long-time employees while aggressively ramping new hires. For your products, it‘s about improving the experience of current customers while innovating for new markets, and paying attention to quality while rapidly delivering features. For yourself, it’s prioritizing family and healthy living, alongside work goals. On any day, week or month, things will go off-kilter; that’s normal. What’s important is that you recognize the shift and make adjustments to regain equilibrium.
Balance provides the foundation for long-term growth and success.
What’s been your favorite part of managing technical teams and the hardest part?
In my favorite moments I’m brainstorming tough challenges with a diverse team. I love the energy in the room and the flow of crazy ideas. Somehow we always finish with a plan and a renewed energy to forge ahead.
My hardest days are those where I run from one challenge to another, barely having time to think before the next commitment is due. I’m a high-energy person but on the busiest days the pace feels overwhelming and my introverted-self needs a break. That’s when I know it’s time to go home to my wonderful family and come back refreshed after a good night’s sleep.
When you think about the best engineers you’ve ever worked with, what characteristics did they embody?
Great engineers have a passion for their craft. They love technology, dig in to understand, and continuously learn new ways to deliver great solutions.
Amazing engineers also share their expertise. They seek out collaboration opportunities: They encourage and mentor their peers. These engineers raise the performance of their entire team.
Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Through the years I’ve had many informal mentors, sometimes a manager or organizational leader, other times a friend or family member.
After a difficult meeting, a mentor once explained the value of “the meeting before the meeting.” I still think of her when I navigate complex organizational agendas. Another mentor encouraged me not to avoid conflict (my default response) but rather to dig deeper, understand others’ motivations, and listen while defending my ideas. This kind of in-the-moment mentoring has broadened my perspective, helped me see blind spots, and raised my confidence.
What are 2–3 core values of your engineering team?
“Do right by the customer” We strive to make every Toast customer successful, because their success is our success. Empathy is our default.
“Play and win as a team” We’re going to win by solving problems together and sharing lessons along the way. Toasters have each other’s backs always.
“Make an impact” At Toast, we’re building something big and every individual “Toaster” has an impact. We love that we can make a difference to the company, to our customers, to an industry.
What’s one interesting challenge your team is actively trying to solve today?
This is a time of enormous change in the restaurant industry. Consumers eat more restaurant food than ever before, yet less food is eaten in restaurants. Driving this trend is our desire to eat restaurant food on our terms — at home or in our workplace, with the convenience of take-out, delivery, meal kits and other off-site options.
This is the context in which Toast is innovating. We build technology that enables restaurants to offer convenience while maximizing their profit margins. Restaurants use Toast to plug into the third party ordering and delivery ecosystem. They connect with online diners via the web and mobile apps (without the million dollar IT budget required to go it alone). Toast’s technology frees them to stay focused on what they love — delivering great food and guest experiences.
My team is building the technical foundation to enable this new world. We’re solving to optimize kitchen operations across ordering channels. We’re making sure there is a good response for diners, even when there are connectivity issues. We’re designing user interfaces that work for a single restaurant as well as multi-region restaurant chains.
I’m a movie fanatic, so I have to ask, what’s your all time favorite movie?
This one is easy! It’s “The Commitments”, a 90’s Irish comedy where a rock band comes together in inner-city Dublin. The characters are quirky, the scenes are gritty, and the sound track brings me back to my Irish roots.
Whom should we interview next? Tweet us at @ HubSpotDev with ideas.
This article was originally published on Medium.