Four Engineering Leaders from Box, Teads, Doctolib, and Happn discussed the differences between French and American Engineering Leadership during a Plato event on June 29, 2017 in Paris.
How much does engineering management culture vary from one country to another? One of the topics at our “Engineering Management Talks with Plato” event was “Differences Between Engineering Management in France and the United States.” The panel participants were engineering managers at successful companies:
- Jean-Baptiste Pringuey — Director of Engineering at Teads.tv
- Nicolas de Nayer — VP of Engineering at Doctolib
- Sébastien Preneta — VP of Engineering at Happn
- Florian Jourda — First engineer at Box; also the panel moderator
How are French and American cultures and personalities different?
With different cultures comes diverse perceptions of a specific job role. While climbing the tech ladder and acquiring new skills along the way is common in the United States, all of the panel members agreed it’s a bit different in France, which many refer to as “a country of engineers.” French engineers see management as a way to grow, and most of them typically want to become managers after two or three years of coding. They want to be technical leaders, but tend to forget that once you become a manager, it’s not about code — it’s about managing people.
Once you become a manager, it’s not about code — it’s about managing people.
Additionally, there needs to be more in-depth education about management and leadership. You can be a great leader and still be a technical-minded person; it’s really about the impact you’re making on the company. Those concepts are very evolved in the Silicon Valley.
On the other hand, in the United States, a lot of startups create an amazing engineering culture within a flat organization, and then when those startups begin to grow, it becomes difficult to choose a manager. If no one at the company has any management experience or the desire to be a manager, this creates a problem.
On hiring, firing, and voluntarily leaving
In the United States, the average turnover in the engineering industry is 25% a year. While the panel participants didn’t mention the specific turnover average in France, they all agreed that turnover is also big in their country. The main reason is that company cofounders and engineers new in management are usually technical-minded individuals with zero people-management skills, and so they struggle in a management role. As a company scales, however, working with people gets easier and the turnovers are lower.
When it comes to hiring, the situation is different. While all of the participants spend a lot of time hiring new people, there’s a lot of talent out there. Jean-Baptiste noticed it’s harder to find talent in the United States. In France, there is no shortage of talented individuals, but the problem is the mindset — many people are convinced that an American company should buy the French company in order to be successful.
The panel participants were all lucky in the sense that none of them have had to terminate many employees. “About firing, you just have to be very straight. People on your team are waiting for you to get straight because if you’re just too smooth, you are not very legitimate,” Sébastien said.
Watch the full panel discussion below and be sure to check out our YouTube channel to see all the presentations from the event!