CEO @polarnotion. CTO @newstorycharity. Coowner @tenrocket & @sharpp. Run fast. Stay strong. Go boldly forward. Godspeed :: morgan@polarnotion.com

Values First, Always

In 2016, the team at Polar Notion interviewed a passionate and polished software engineer. Fresh out of code school, she seemed focused, articulate, and eager to gain experience in the industry. The technical interview was organized and deliberate. From the first introduction we remarked on her poise and confidence. From twenty applicants, we had narrowed the list down to just two candidates. Geraldine Galue was one of them.

Our team suspected Geraldine would thrive in any role. She was a teachers assistant after graduation, maintained a nonprofit’s website, and even landedĀ a spotlight in the local startup news. Unfortunately, the other candidate possessed more of the requisite experience. With much reservation, we declined Geraldine’s application. This was in February of 2016.

New Opportunities

By fall of that year, a lot changed. Polar Notion was moving full steam ahead, but I had also taken on a CTO position at New Story. A few months into my role at New Story, the work was pilling up. For months, my focus was around consolidating the external systems and reducing the technical debt. We were well underway, building a robust system to store the organization’s flood of information.

The team began looking for a full time engineer with years of experience, to fill the gap. We realized it wouldn’t be easy, but were only beginning to understand the difficulty of aligning culture fit with software engineering skills.

After a few weeks of looking and a number of candidates weren’t quite right, we began to discuss alternative options. I remember the phone call and pacing outside the office talking to the team in San Fransisco. Tasked with finding the candidate, I was hitting a bottleneck when the founders vetted for organizational fit (ie culture). Weighing out our options, a question arose: ‘What is more important, skills or culture?’

After an awkward pause and rumbling hesitation, Brett spoke up, “Culture. They’ve gotta be good, but definitely a culture fit.”

I bounced back almost immediately. “To be clear, you’d opt for an engineer of untested skills who fit perfect into the culture instead of an amazing engineer who wasn’t quite right culturally?”

“Yes”

This was a defining moment for me at New Story. The company was picking up steam and pushing for big goals. Culture was always championed but this moment felt appropriate to settle for ‘good enough’. Companies cast a great vision, but seem willing to compromise on the details. When push came to shove, I half-expected a side conversation with Brett advocating for the fast win and the highest performer.

That conversation never happened.

This interaction was a glimpse of true organizational integrity. It communicated to me that “We know who we are, we won’t compromise on our values, and we won’t ask you to do it either.” The call strengthen my belief in the team, and further endeared me their cause.

Something else became crystal clear during this call; I already knew our engineer. Walking back inside, I began drafting the email to Geraldine.

Unlocking Potential

Two years later, I’m thrilled by all we’ve accomplish together. In the early months, she stepped in to polish and support the product. Her full-time availability augmented my fractional availability. I’d work in the early mornings while she would keep things rolling during normal work hours.In hindsight, it was instrumental to me staying involved with New Story. Her self-directed style and tenacity allowed me to maintain my focus in other areas. For this, I’m beyond grateful.

She exudes positivity and team spirit. One of our most heralded values at New Story is something we call ‘team of founders’. It’s not about grunt work. It is an attitude of teamwork, humility, and willingness to do what is needed. “That’s not my job” is the antithesis of a team of founders. For nearly two years, Geraldine did what was needed to support New Story and my role. Where many engineers may have been burned, she continued to show up with enthusiasm and a smile.

In recent months, I’ve reflected on this level of commitment. While it speaks volumes of her, it illuminates one of my greatest failures as a leader. In her diligence, I failed to advocate for her personal growth and career aspirations. I allowed myself to be distracted by competing priorities. Her humble pursuit of excellence, a strength and company value, never screamed for attention. She has been patient and consistent.

As we head into her third year at New Story, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to course correct. Her skills and abilities have grown significantly during her time here and she is indispensable to the organization. In the coming months, she will be taking the reins of the original system we began building together in 2016.

While much of the tech team develops a new product, Geraldine will own the engineering demands of our current system. Our operations depend on it every day. It maintains thousands of donors, tens of thousands of donations, millions of dollars in contributions, and each recipient New Story has impacted around the globe. It’s complex and sophisticated. I look forward to seeing her rise to the challenge.

Geraldine, you are anĀ inspiration and a friend. You have been patient and gracious as I learn to lead within such a unique organization. Thank you for still trusting me and believing fully in the work we are doing. It’s a delight to see how far you’ve come and I know this is only the beginning. You embody what it means to be a team of founders.

Boldly forward!