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Bill Coughran
Bill Coughran

I’ve always been drawn to creative problems and people. But over the years, I found I truly enjoy day-to-day leadership and mentoring most of all.

I’d describe myself as a technologist with general management experience.

I specialize in large-scale computing and networking systems, and in helping companies build and grow engineering teams.

We met Viptela early, when conventional wisdom may have dismissed the company as no more than a better WAN optimization. The founders, however, weren’t thinking about networks in the same way as everyone else. They saw a chance virtualize WAN networking, analogous to what VMware did to the server market and what Amazon was doing to data centers. Our first meeting with them stretched from 30 minutes to two hours, as each sentence in the conversation unlocked another compelling possibility.

Talented, passionate people don’t want to follow you to create a better future. They want to co-create it with you.

What I bring, maybe, is intellectual breadth, coupled with a lot of operational experience. I've certainly seen a broad collection of technologies, ranging from semiconductors up through large distributed systems and web and mobile services.

I went through a small college in Pasadena as an undergraduate, and basically, almost everybody who showed up there thought they were the smartest person in the room. It was an interesting experience to learn that you're not the smartest person in the room.

That taught me the importance of continuing to learn, and not being overly confident in your own abilities.

Management starts with listening. If you’re talking all of the time, you’re not listening.

Integrity and transparency are probably the most important things to me in business. I've spent too much time in organizations where people didn't want to be upfront, and it made things very difficult.

You try to remain professional and polite about it. Transparent doesn't have to mean abusive.

Some of the work I was involved with at Bell Labs — very core computer systems work — shaped my thinking about how to build large-scale systems and designs for many years, and it’s something that served me well at Google. Because there I had the opportunity to work with some of the largest systems that I think have been built today.

I stayed for 20 years at Bell Labs, and I probably should've left sooner. Even the best places get stale after a while. And you get stale in them. I think it’s healthy to make a change every few years.

People say you can never hire enough engineers. But that’s wrong. Beyond a certain threshold, additional developers slow you down. It’s a byproduct of human nature and organizational dynamics.

The best development teams are almost always two to eight great engineers who work in a single room and have no overhead.

Resist regular meetings. They take time away from design and coding, and they kill productivity. Question every one.

Security’s a big interest of mine. The kind of open, consumer-oriented world that we've entered — with lots of devices and apps and so forth — is just an increasingly difficult world in which to secure things.

After my time at Bell Labs, I co-founded Entrisphere in late 2000. That company was acquired by Ericsson, and I joined Google in 2003.

The toughest challenge at Google was managing such a broad set of special people. And such a broad set of research and development groups.

A small team with good people can steer itself. (Most of the time.)

My sense is that it is time to do interesting hardware again. It's a little countercultural to the venture capital community, because I think they've gotten out of the hardware-building mindset. But these things come in cycles.

Smartest person I've ever worked with? I think the smartest person I got to know a little bit is Don Knuth. He was a professor at Stanford when I was a graduate student there.

Theater, opera, symphony, that kind of thing. My wife and I both like performance. Those are things that I enjoy.

Engineering is easy. People are hard.