Michelle Gleeson is the powerhouse leading many of the thoughtful and progressive operational practices at A Cloud Guru. Her 20 years of experience writing code and developing software at both small and large companies brings best practices and processes that focus on creating an environment where engineers love what they do and get excited to come to work.
“I made a very conscious decision that the next time I moved careers, I would move for the right reasons.”–Michelle Gleeson
Captivating, empathetic, and innovative, her leadership has successfully scaled A Cloud Guru’s unique engineering culture through tremendous growth. It’s not surprising that when she joined she had a clear vision for the type of environment that she wanted to lead in: a values-aligned startup moving to scale-up that has a real, founder-led engineering culture. With the original coder, Sam Kroonenburg, as the CEO and the acquisition of the largest competitor Linux Academy providing new exciting opportunities and challenges, Michelle found her perfect fit in A Cloud Guru.
I had the opportunity to interview Michelle and am excited to share an unfiltered view into one of A Cloud Guru’s most admired leaders.
Where you moved next in your career was really important to you. What was the moment that you knew A Cloud Guru was the right next step?
The emphasis that was placed on the values during the interview process really attracted me. I wanted to make sure there was a real values alignment, because in the past I had worked in places where my values and the culture didn’t match. Each person I talked to during the interview process was very sincere, and they were all telling the same story, so I didn’t feel like I was getting any spin.
I am really happy that I haven’t found a shift in the culture since joining. When I started a year ago, there were 30 engineers all co-located in Melbourne. Since then, we have joined with Linux Academy and now we have engineering teams across the US and Melbourne. It’s natural to get concerned that we will lose our culture along the way, but the team has worked really well together, and I feel we have been able to strengthen the culture as we’ve grown.
How have the engineering teams been able to maintain that amazing culture while growing so quickly?
Every engineer is very conscious of keeping our culture alive. They have all come to the company because a strong culture is what they wanted. Everyone is really keen to learn new things, experiment, and assume good intent. It is still that family vibe with a very open, growth mindset. For people, being able to give back to that has been important.
“Every engineer is very conscious of keeping our culture alive.”
We also have processes in place to maintain a supportive environment. Each team lead creates team building activities. We have written up team charters, and we spent a lot of time on our onboarding processes to detail how we live our values in engineering. What this means is that when new starters come in they know who we are and what we are about, and can contribute quite quickly to strengthening that.
Your passion for empowering women in tech is particularly infectious. Where does this passion come from?
My passion for supporting women in tech started 6 years ago when I wanted to leave the industry. I didn’t feel that I belonged. I felt like my whole team was guys, and that I didn’t really have a voice. I thought I had chosen the wrong career. I was looking for alternatives and realized pretty quickly after googling “what kind of jobs are there after tech” that a lot of women feel this way.
“I thought, ‘Well, I actually really enjoy my job… I’m pretty good at it… and it would be a shame to leave… so, how can I fix my workplace, so that I want to go there, and I feel like I belong?'”
It was a lot of work, but it was easier than I thought. I spent years driving initiatives to help bring more women into the industry, and into the company. That was really fulfilling and within two years I increased my engineering team from me as the single female right up to 30% of our whole team. That was really a great win, but I realized that the women weren’t progressing. They were coming in at junior levels and not being promoted as fast as their male team members. That’s when I started a meetup in Melbourne, Tech Leading Ladies, which aims to make sure women are getting the opportunities and the skills to move into leadership positions to progress in their careers. I have coached a lot of women. I have heard about the companies and cultures that they are fighting and activating against. This is not just a part of me — this is how I operate.
What advice do you have for a female in the interview process that wants to know what it’s like to be a woman in tech at ACG?
I have worked in a lot of different companies, and I felt that every time I moved to a new company I needed to almost start again and prove myself as an engineer, and prove that I have the technical chops. I don’t think men have to do that. I feel like when a male engineer starts people assume they can do their job really well, and when women come in there is a little more bias whether they’re really an engineer and if they have what it takes.
I was so relieved when I came to ACG that this wasn’t the case. There were women already in the engineering group which was fantastic to see. I saw that we put a lot of work into our engineering competency framework which is what we use to evaluate candidates and promotions. It goes into career development plans. It’s part of everything that we do. It aims to make sure we are objectively assessing candidates, that everyone is being assed equally, and that people are offered promotions based on their competency and contribution.
“…we put a lot of work into our engineering competency framework which is what we use to evaluate candidates and promotions.”
Since joining, I have been very thoughtful about creating really good career progression paths that are objective, and competency frameworks that evaluate people based on their entire contribution. They are evaluated on how they are contributing to the community, to our values, and a lot of the other pieces that make up a high performing engineering team.
How will we know when we have been successful?
That’s easy. When I get in a meeting and I can see the number of women is reflective of the number of women in the population. When 50% of the people in the room are women and there is representation at every level… juniors, senior engineers, technical leads, engineer managers, directors… that is when I feel like we will have achieved equality. We will know we have supported our women in tech and have offered them the same growth opportunities.
I have seen how having a balanced group doesn’t just help the women — it helps everybody. It helps under-represented groups by keeping inclusion top of mind for everyone. It also helps the men in the group. They need access to flexibility as well which tends to be led by women, because they’re used to asking for things like flexible work hours to look after kids. It gives men the opportunity to have a more balanced worklife.
Looking towards the future, what exciting challenges are coming up for your teams?
Good question! That answer changes all time, because we are growing so fast. Towards the start of the year, I would have said that our biggest challenge is how we go from a startup to a scale-up and maintain our rich, inclusive culture while building out our systems.
Right now, we are looking at how we build those systems to make sure we can support our growth. We are investing in site reliability engineering and other engineering practices to create rich ways of working for our teams, so that they can build and maintain the systems going into the future. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the ACG engineering team.
Our engineering team is growing!
You can learn more about engineering careers at A Cloud Guru by visiting the Product & Engineering page on our careers site.