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Open House: A Q&A Series with Trulia Leaders

A leadership and management Q&A with Trulia's VP of Engineering, Deep Varma

This mini-series gives you an inside peek at the leaders behind Trulia, and sheds light on their management style. First up is Trulia’s Vice President of Data Engineering, Deep Varma. Deep has more than 17 years of experience in tech and in Silicon Valley. Read on to learn more about him and how he operates.

What is one early leadership lesson you learned?
I learned a lot during my early leadership days and was really able to define my leadership style out of those lessons. One of the most important lessons that I’ve carried with me along the way is the notion that “accountability comes with responsibility.” I’ve seen many folks willingly take more and more ownership, but become incredibly defensive when it comes time to take accountability for things that don’t go as hoped. This approach doesn’t work and it doesn’t look good. Keeping this in mind will go a long way in both your professional and personal life, and it gives people profound satisfaction when others take accountability of their actions.

Do you have a specific hiring style?
I spend a lot of time reading candidates’ resumes to see their career progression, and I specifically look for what kind of challenges they’ve taken on, as well as how they frame their resumes. I tend to begin with very open-ended questions to see if they can tell me a story based on their resume. I also do a lot of context switching to watch how they react; I go back and validate what they said earlier, and I create personas and situations and ask them to react and explain what they would do. Time to time, I do take candidates for walk or give them a challenge to see how they solve problems. I always end by asking, “Why do you want to leave your current company?” and “Why Trulia?” – those two questions sum up everything. Culture fit, ability to collaborate, growth mindset, and integrity are the most important traits for me.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given by one of your direct reports?
I operate with a growth mindset; I’m always learning, growing, and taking feedback from everyone. I hired my first manager from outside when I was at Yahoo! and I was very excited. She came onboard and asked me early on to go slow with her on ramp-up because she is very detail oriented. That stayed with me and now I follow the mantra, “Go Slow to Go Fast.” This has become very foundational to the new hires who join my organization – I believe that having them learn things in detail will help them execute faster.

What is your advice for working smarter and faster?
Always know your priorities and how they’re aligned with business goals. I’ve seen teams and individuals try to run fast, but end up compromising quality, which adds to technical debt. Don’t try to boil the ocean in one go. Follow an agile mindset to stay nimble.

Is there a book, speech, or otherwise that you recommend your employees read/watch to help them grow their career?
Reading technical and leadership books or blogs, and listening to other leaders via podcasts or at conferences is how I learn and grow, and it’s what I recommend to my team. There is one common denominator behind successful leaders, and that is how they react to situations. Fred Kofman was a mentor for me years ago and I always recommend his book, “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values.” The other book I recommend is about fixed and growth mindset by Carol Dweck, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” I’m blessed to have met both authors – they’ve helped shape and define how I lead.

What characteristics do you think make up a great leader or mentor?
The purpose of a leader is to create a purpose. There are many characteristics that feed into that, but these are a few of the fundamentals:

– Be authentic and genuine

– Be transparent

– Take risk and fail fast if needed

– Be a good listener and a good communicator

– Be decisive

If you were to liken your leadership style to a character in a movie, who would it be?
Leaders should stand up for what they believe in, even when others don’t necessarily agree. This reminds me of Henry Fonda in the movie “12 Angry Men,” and how he stood for fairness when everyone else was against it, though in the end he was able to persuade people to take his side. Succeeding takes perseverance and continuing to do the right thing for the business and the people whom you’ve built trust and confidence in.

Who has made the biggest impact on your career and how/why?
There are many people who have helped shaped my leadership in the last 12 years, but Jeff Weiner is the one who made the biggest impact early on. I joined Yahoo! in 2004 and was unable to move my first project forward for many different reasons, so he invested in me by setting up Fred Kofman as my coach. Jeff created a purpose for me and provided me with support to be successful, rather than just letting me flounder or fail, so I salute him and carry forward his coaching with me in my leadership DNA.

What’s your go-to piece of advice for new managers?
Going back to the first question, this is what I will always recommend and is what I was told early on, “Don’t just take ownership, make yourself responsible and accountable for the outcome too.”

Also, keep a growth mindset because success comes with learning, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. To learn, you need to make yourself vulnerable.