Being Right Is Only Half the Battle

Being Right Is Only Half the Battle
These are my slides & notes of the talk I gave at The Lead Developer conference in April 2019.

Rod Begbie •


True or False. Zero or One. Computers are viciously black and white in their logic.

Humans, on the other hand, are messy — Emotional, forgetful, biased and opinionated. Convincing one person can be hard. Harder still is having influence over a team, especially when you need to manage the implicit authority (or lack thereof) your title may afford you.

That’s the key: the growth of your career, whether as an individual contributor or a manager, will be dictated by your ability to drive impact at increasing scale.

In this talk, learn to capitalize on your interpersonal connections within your workplace to drive consensus, to optimize your time and efforts while selling your ideas to others, to reduce surprise to help you achieve your goals, and to build a strategy that can be bought into by other leaders and executed on by your team without you having to micromanage the process.

My Bio

Originally from Scotland, Rod now lives in San Francisco, CA and works as an Engineering Manager at Dropbox. Previously, he was the Co-Founder & CTO of Sosh. Past lives have been as VP of Software Engineering at Anova Culinary, and writing code at places like Slide, Current TV, Bose and — for 39 days — Google. His writing is featured in O’Reilly’s '97 Things Every Programmer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts'.



A hearty thank you to Denise Yu (@deniseyu21) for capturing highlights of my talk, including an awesome Thanos Kitty!  (


It was Tuesday morning.  I had my regular weekly 1:1 with Alex, an engineer on my team. I could tell from the way they walked into the meeting room that they were NOT happy.

Alex was representing our team on a company-wide engineering initiative to improve developer tooling.  Our team represented only a small part of the engineering org, but we had some unique requirements due to historical architectural choices.

Alex was fuming.  “I spoke with Pat on Thursday, and we agreed that their team would support us with the development VMs.  But then we got into the meeting with the VP this morning, and Pat had completely gone back on what we’d agreed. The infrastructure team are moving ahead without supporting our VM.  I don’t know what happened.”

I called this talk “Being Right is only Half the Battle” because as engineers, a lot of being successful at our jobs involves wrangling computers.  Computers are binary.  Computers are Boolean.  0 or 1.  True or False.  You can look at the code and see the instructions it’s following.

But the other part of our job, maybe even the most important part as you level-up in your career, is people… and, well, people are messy.  They’re opinionated. They’re forgetful. They’re emotional. They’re biased and opinionated and stubborn and partisan and hypocritical and… that’s just me!

I’m just one person.  You have to deal with a whole group of people.

It's like the great philosopher Thomas Lee Jones once famously said:
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it!”

But, as it turns out, the secret to your career growth, whether as an individual contributor engineer or as a manager, is your ability to influence larger and larger groups of people.

And fun fact:  Just getting a job title like “Staff Engineer” or “Engineering Manager” doesn’t get you that influence.

So this afternoon I’m going to talk about how to scale yourself up.  How to grow your ability to set direction for the people around you. In fact, I’m going to teach 3 superpowers this afternoon.  

But first of all, who am I?

My name’s Rod, and I’ve been managing engineering teams for 10 years now.   I’ve worked at companies like Slide, Bose and Google, and for the past few years, I’ve been leading engineering teams at Dropbox.
I primarily work with the teams building Paper, Dropbox's realtime collaborative tool.

Quick plug: It is the best way to get your ideas down quickly, share them with other people, get feedback, build consensus and direction, and you can do things like including code and images and edit in realtime, and it embeds images and audio and things like that.
And most importantly of all, you can give team fist bumps in the comments, which is objectively an awesome thing to do.