From Pragmatism to Pivot Tables: Navigating Leadership, Philosophy, and Data Mastery with Matt Van Itallie image
E280 · CTO Studio by 7CTOs
From Pragmatism to Pivot Tables: Navigating Leadership, Philosophy, and Data Mastery with Matt Van Itallie
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2 months ago

Etienne is very happy to be sitting down with Matt Van Itallie, founder of Sema, a company that develops software to help engineering leaders manage AI in software development. As they delve into their shared experiences of learning to code on vintage machines, they explore Matt's journey from studying philosophy to founding Sema.

The conversation takes a philosophical turn, discussing pragmatism in decision-making and the importance of clarifying outcomes, and Etienne and Matt also dissect the complexities of C-suite dynamics and the challenges of resolving conflicts within leadership teams. Matt shares insights on the significance of developer retention and the metrics that matter most on a CTO dashboard, and the discussion touches on the art of listening, empathy, and the power of effective communication within organizations.

As they plan a session on pivot tables, Matt also emphasizes the value of community, highlighting the support and inspiration found in groups like 7CTOs. Tune in for a thought-provoking conversation on leadership, problem-solving, and the human side of technology!


Time Stamps:

[2:09] - Learn how Matt’s academic journey expanded with a focus on law's evolution and late 19th-century pragmatism.

[4:56] - Matt argues that our brains seek to make sense of things.

[7:24] - Etienne reflects on navigating conflicting perspectives among C-Suite members, highlighting the challenge of coherence.

[10:23] - Focus on critical outcomes, not just outputs.

[12:25] - Matt emphasizes fostering understanding through clarifying outcomes and promoting inclusive dialogue and contributions.

[15:58] - Matt suggests identifying underlying causes of communication issues and resolving conflicts promptly for organizational success.

[16:40] - Hear how Matt prioritizes organizational goals over personal interests, advocating for a values-based decision-making approach.

[18:46] - Matt explains how Sema goes about making decisions pragmatically.

[21:07] - The opposite of pragmatism might be scrutiny, but pragmatism focuses on moving forward effectively.

[24:45] - Mastering pivot tables symbolizes problem-solving prowess, transforming decision-making with raw data access.

[28:03] - Discover how pivotal moments led to Sema's inception in 2015, spurred by tech challenges and leadership insights.

[30:50] - Matt explains how, inspired by a Bloomberg article, he delved into tech research in 2015, seeking innovation.

[32:25] - Matt pursued tech research, seeking licenses from 250 professors; one acceptance birthed Sema.

[34:40] - Matt discusses developer retention, a pivotal metric, and how it holds 25 points on Sema's 100-point scale.

[37:40] - Etienne shares a story in which a key developer's silence flagged a possible departure, highlighting the important role of product vision clarity.

[39:16] - Matt asserts that effective people management discerns subtle shifts in participation, vital for organizational success and cohesion.

[41:49] - Matt encourages us to prioritize listening qualitatively to one's team before relying solely on data-driven tools.

[43:44] - Etienne agrees, adding that mastering listening is as complex as it is crucial, often underestimated despite its profound impact.


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