How Lightstream CTO Jenny Farver Builds High-Performing Tech Teams

by Katie Fustich
July 31, 2019
Lightstream Team
image via lightstream

Big things are happening at virtual broadcasting technology company Lightstream, thanks in large part to visionary CTO Jenny Farver. Before joining the company in November 2018, Farver built out a team of more than 50 engineers at Civis Analytics, and she is looking to replicate that success in her new role. 

“I saw the opportunity to drive breakout technical excellence through the alchemy of team-building,” Farver said shortly after being hired. “I always want to be advancing the Chicago tech community from two sides: building successful companies and growing our pool of world-class talent.”

Built In recently caught up with the busy CTO, who is also one of Chicago’s most sought-after tech speakers, to learn more about her unique approach to team-building.

How she builds teams

“To me [the alchemy of team-building] means bringing together the facts of running a specific business with the values — and even the shared history — of a set of people,” Farver said.

“Team-building is intentional change, and my approach to driving change is to be really thoughtful about a strategy and its message. I want to take a stand for something and against something else; I want that stance to reflect facts and values. And then I try to make that strategy memorable to the whole team, so we can make it real together.” 

At Lightstream, Farver said, that process currently involves shaping the responsibilities of engineering teams. “We have a strategy that we’re battle-testing,” she explained. 

Team-building is intentional change, and my approach to driving change is to be really thoughtful about a strategy and its message.”

Earlier this year, Farver and her team made major strides against several important internal goals. “Having a strategy and message helped us do that,” Farver said.

It is a combination of this forethought and planning, along with the unique qualities that individual candidates bring to the table, that contribute to the “alchemy” of building a team. 

 

Why data science is essential to all technologists

As a leader and team-builder at several companies, Farver has worked to advance the cause of data science — a tech niche that is increasingly important, but often not quite understood by the masses. 

For those looking to understand how it works, Farver recommends beginning with a fun research technique: 

“A great way to participate in data science it to become an informed critic of research methodology,” she said. “Pick up the newspaper and dig into the study behind the latest food fad! Then talk about it with a data scientist you trust. How strong is the evidence?”

For many technologists, understanding data science will only become increasingly essential to the everyday functions of their jobs. While this may seem daunting to some, Farver points to the positives that could emerge from an economy with a data science backbone: 

“What’s exciting about growth in data science is that it’s bringing more people with a science education into the mainstream of our economy, with more people looking for good evidence to guide decisions,” she said. “Being able to spot good evidence, especially understanding what kind of research really shows that A causes B, is still a big gap, even among technologists.”

 

Why communication matters above all else

As for Farver herself, she exudes the “lifelong learner” mentality that so many of tech’s greatest leaders swear by. But in addition to keeping abreast of the latest trends in technology, Farver cites communication as a skill to always be improving. 

“Communication — exchanging information with other people — is the thing,” she said. “At every point in your career, work on communication, whether that’s deep listening, memorable public speaking, writing with brevity or reading for reflection. You’ll never regret it.” 

At every point in your career, work on communication. You’ll never regret it.”

For those who think they are already the best communicators out there? Consider leveling up your listening skills, Farver suggests.

Hearing and responding to what others have to say is a tried and true way to earn respect, broaden your horizons and develop into a leader worth knowing about.

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