On Tuesday, Mar. 22, Harvey Mudd College welcomed Mike Shaver, the current director of engineering at Facebook, as part of its annual spring semester Annenberg Leadership & Management Speaker Series. Shaver has been changing the tech industry through innovation and leadership for years. He is known for having developed technologies related to interactive webpages and has held senior positions at Mozilla and Ingenia Communications Corporations.
Shaver spoke about the lessons he's learned through his years in leadership positions at these large, competitive tech companies, and the struggles he has encountered. Tech companies are constantly in competition with each other, necessitating efficient teambuilding and strong leadership. A leader must not only make the big decisions, but also be able to explain why they were made—only then can a team begin to work on how to get it done, he argued. Shaver also stressed that it's OK to take time to figure out one's own leadership skills, and that “leadership is a very personal exercise.”
Many students appreciated this advice from someone who has accomplished so much in the tech industry as a leader and innovator. Natalie Kadonaga HM '18 said that the lecture series has provided lessons that “are really different that what we learn in class.” He continued: “We don’t learn these leadership skills when we’re doing problems at Harvey Mudd. It’s really important to supplement that with perspectives outside of academia. Last time we had someone from Yelp, now someone from Facebook, and since I am looking for that sort of company, I’m trying to get a sense of those skills as well.”
After the talk, an audience member asked what to do if, as the company grows, employees no longer have the skills to hold larger managerial positions, and the company is required to outsource, possibly devaluing the positions of original employees. Shaver explained that working on issues like this is an important part of building an efficient, successful company. He said that “one of the most important things a leader can do is to work together with the tech people.” The leader should allow individuals to grow continuously in the company. “I mean, these companies get tons of great engineers, but not a lot of managerial skills. So just be clear that management is just a different job, not a better one,” he said.
Shaver encouraged his audience to lead inclusively, and with a larger vision in mind. Furthermore, if there is a misunderstanding between the manager and the workers, he advised not to immediately lose hope. He said being a good leader means that “inconsistencies are manifesting because of actual differences, and not just perceived differences.” He stated that the manager and the team should share a common value system, but that the manager also needs to have a “change mindset” that is open minded and always listening.
Even students who are leaning towards a future in academia felt that the lessons offered by these leadership talks are useful. Michael Sheely HM '17, a math and computer science major, said “I am interested in academia rather than business, but I still think it is important to know about interpersonal skills and working with people.”
Shyue Li HM '17, also a math major, agreed. “The concepts are related to management, but still, we can take these skills to be ones of personal management and apply to other aspects of your life, not just business leadership” she said.