20-Minute Leaders

"You acquire more experience if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone"

Ron Diamant, a Principal Engineer & Lead Architect at AWS talks to Michael Matias about the differences between working at a startup and an established company and offers insights for budding entrepreneurs

CTech 13:1931.12.20
There is no official guidebook on how to become a successful entrepreneur or team leader, but Ron Diamant, principle engineer within Amazon Web Services (AWS), certainly has enough experience and advice to write one. Within AWS, Diamant had the opportunity to head a team and developed his own philosophy on leadership. Diamant emphasizes that individuals should contribute to areas that are beyond their assigned tasks and explains that every plan does not need to be finalized with 100% accuracy before the team starts moving forward. Diamant does note that the startup lifestyle can be nerve-wracking since the direction of the company may be unknown. However, the process is also extremely fun because one can work on multiple aspects of the company that are outside of his or her comfort zone. Diamant sat down with Michaeal Matias, the creator of the 20 Minute Leaders video podcast, and shared what he learned from his experience over the years and offered meaningful insights for beginner entrepreneurs.



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Ron, tell me a little bit about who you are:


I was in the Academic Reserve. I did my bachelor's in Engineering at the Technion and after that I joined the IDF where I served as an engineer while studying for my Masters. I later went to work for Zoran as a SoC architect after which I joined a start-up Annapurna Labs, where I was employee number seven. Annapurna was later acquired by AWS where I work now.


What is it like being a very early employee at a place like Annapurna?


It was scary at the beginning because you’re unsure of how things will play out, you have an undefined role, and you take a pay cut. But I learned a ton from working with experienced founders and handling multiple roles.


One major drawback of starts-up is that you get a pay cut, right?


Yes, but you gain valuable experience working with start-ups. Junior engineers should focus on long-term gains, not the salary, which is short-term.


What type of due diligence can one do before joining an early-stage company?


First, look beyond your day-to-day roles and think about the direction the company is looking to take in the long-term, and figure out if that aligns with your goals. Second, look for start-ups whose founders have significant experience and well-established records. Third, consult with people who work in the same field, seek their opinions and advice.


Moving from a start-up to a larger organization requires one to adapt and assimilate. What is that progression like, and what are some of the challenges that go with it?


In the beginning, you feel like a fish out of water because you’re unfamiliar with the culture, and you’re surrounded by people with much more experience. You need to understand your organization’s technology, its history, its culture, and the people. You need to learn as much as you can as fast as possible while giving yourself time to adjust. You also need to apply judgment in the cultural intake; not everything will align with who you are or how you do things.


What makes a good engineering team?


Engineering teams need to own the product. When people own things from beginning to end, things tend to converge much more smoothly. And beyond creating a product, they need to speak with their customers and understand their needs and if the product they’re creating meets their goals. Team members also need to look beyond their assigned role and offer support to members in different roles. And in my opinion, over documentation stalls projects. As long as you know 50% of the specification, you can start executing as you iterate along the way. That way the project moves faster.


What's the role of the team lead or the technical leader of such a product?


First, they should champion a distributed leadership culture, spreading decision-making ability throughout the team. Second, they should help the team focus on execution and less on debating how to do things. Third, prioritization, knowing what features to keep and what to discard. And lastly, communication, making sure team members understand their roles.


The idea of prioritization seems to be the hardest, right?


Yes, but you get better at it with experience. Consulting with the entire team also makes it easier.


What excites you most about being an engineer and leading teams?


The challenge of creating new technologies and building something that customers like. Also, I love teamwork - making decisions together, and working through challenges, and successfully completing a project.


What advice would you give to a new engineer?


Focus on building your core capabilities; it will help you accelerate quickly later in your career. Secondly, build knowledge across disciplines. Thirdly, think long-term, not short-term. Be kind and nice to people.


What three words best describe you?


Adaptable. Kind. Optimistic.





Michael Matias. Photo: Courtesy Michael Matias. Photo: Courtesy
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.


Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz