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Hetz Presents: 'Measure Everything' with Appsflyer's VP R&D, Adi Belan

Hetz Presents: 'Measure Everything' with Appsflyer's VP R&D, Adi Belan
Liz Cohen
June 21, 2023
"Measure Everything."

Hetz Presents: Adi Belan, VP R&D at Appsflyer, on transitioning to Leadership, metrics, and the future of R&D

Watch or read our Q&A with Adi for more:

What was your first job?

First real job was waiting tables at an expensive restaurant in Tel Aviv, which actually paid very well. I think what I learned from there was how to deal with all kinds of different people, understand what people are looking for, and see how to make them happy, and make them feel good about their experience. My first real industry job was also a funny story. I got brought into the industry by a friend, into a company called Flash Networks. He brought me into his team and left the company two weeks later, which was a very interesting experience. I think I learned a ton about how to understand what's important and what's not important, what works and what doesn't work. I was part of a CTO team there that worked mainly on prototypes, and it was really a great experience to be exposed to so many different projects and aspects. 

How do you use metrics in your day-to-day life? 

Metrics and measurement are like a double-edged sword. I think we should measure almost everything we can. And we measure a ton of metrics. We measure how much stuff costs. We have a big AWS bill, so we have a really detailed measurement of that. We have a measurement of how customers adopt features. How and what they use. What they don't use. We measure, very closely, the traffic and the scale in our system, and availability and everything you would think of from the engineering aspect. And that's great, but for some cases it's a “so many trees, you can't see the forest kind of thing”. You also need to be very careful that you really understand what the metrics and measurements mean. And we use it mainly as a signal. No single metric is the golden one that will make the decision according to it. Everything is multidimensional. We are very, very careful about KPIs we decide on because if you give people a KPI, they'll optimize for that. And that could create some weird optimizations that are not exactly what you're looking for. So we use it more in a qualitative way, not necessarily quantitative. We say that common sense is not that common. So even if you see a ton of metrics, does this thing even make sense? A lot of the time, metrics are meaningless. A lot of the time, they're a mistake and it's very hard to tell. We live in a time where there's so much information – everything has a million metrics. I have a hundred dashboards I can look at and they have numbers and trends and are definitely going up and going down. You have to find the root cause and understand what's going on. Correlation is not necessarily causality. And common sense is the best answer to everything. 

Advice from transitioning from engineer to team lead?

That's a good question. I think that the first leadership or management role you transition into from being an engineer is probably the hardest one. It's hard because a lot of the time you don't understand that it's not only a promotion. It's not like becoming a senior engineer instead of a junior engineer. It's a profession change. You need to do what you're expected to do in your day-to-day life. Things are different from what you did as an engineer. You're not necessarily measured with the amount of deliveries you personally deliver and their quality. It's a more complex role. I think it is very hard for many engineers. A lot of the time the companies will say “Here's our best engineer, let's put him as the team lead.” That's not necessarily the best idea. I think it's very important for people who are in starting management roles from engineering to go and talk to a couple of the people who do the same thing, in your company or in a different company, and hear their experience. In Appsflyer we're doing much better now, facilitating this. We have a set training that lets people transition into a team lead role, and we have a team lead community and there's really more of a supporting net, allowing them to do this transition. For people thinking about it, I think the most important thing to understand is that it's a profession change. It's a promotion as well but it's a profession change. Talk to people who've done this transition and think, “Is this really for me?” 

How will R&D evolve over the next five years?

Forecasting the future is very hard to do. When I look at it from the last few years, if we take the past and try to forecast the future, teams are becoming more and more diverse and vertical. Meaning, years ago you had the development team, the quality team, the design team, the product team. Now, you want to have all these people on the same team trying to use all their skills and different disciplines to get to the same goal. Each team hopefully has a logical scope or something that makes sense, and most of the time run autonomously towards their goal. I think this will probably continue and we'll see even more disciplines come into the same teams, maybe even support dev, like mini companies within companies. I think the downside to that is that this – together with maybe the DevOps revolution – has made life from the engineer's standpoint much more complex than it used to be. Years ago, you wrote your C or C++ code. If it compiled and you managed to build the thing, it would probably work fine in production. Now our engineers need to understand different services and tools that they use. Some of which it's a big obstruction of something very complex behind the scenes, they have no idea how it works, and they're not expected to understand how it works. It makes their life very difficult. They need to understand a little bit about design, a little bit about product, a little bit about the business, because all of these people are their interface and they need to have a common language with them. It's good for the team. I see the teams becoming more diverse. It makes everything more complex. And I kind of find engineering teams – and teams in general – are like smart organisms. I think that teams are already recognizing that complexity is the problem. And I think that the teams will find a way to solve that problem or at least mitigate it. I'm a great believer in that. If you let the team decide what – give them a goal – they'll find their way there. And they'll navigate between the problems. 

What isn't currently measured that you wish could be? 

There's a lot of stuff that can't be measured that I wish could be measured. I think that in leadership and management, the higher you go, a lot of the time you say, “I see a problem”. I think that if I engineer the organization in some way, I'll solve the problem or mitigate it or something. Then we probably create a different set of problems. So something that's really interesting is – can we measure the impact of organizational change? Let's say I did an org change. A lot of the time what happens is that companies are bigger and bigger, and we try to measure the impact of that or the positive or negative effect. It's very hard to do. I'm not sure it's possible. In general, measuring the impact of something, if we had the exact formula that says, “Take the value, divide by effort, X the income it creates for the company,” that's the impact of the fit. I would love to have that, cause that would make a lot of discussions very easy. Product side, that the company says we have to do this by then. You tell them why, what the impact of that is. There's a lot of sentences to start with. I think a customer will do something, and then you say, 'we have a lot of something'. I don't know what 'a lot' is. So that's a lot of the discussions I would like to not have. I want to say we have a magic formula. This impact is this, and this is. But we don't have that. From a personal perspective. I would like to have something more measurable about parenting. You're always thinking, “Am I doing the right thing by letting this go or insisting or something?” I find a lot of common lines between parenting and leadership. Both sometimes give you the biggest of joys and the worst of frustrations. 

What new startup solution do you wish you had?

So going back to the complexity problem, I think that if there was a startup solution that would take away some of that complexity, without hiding too many of the controls, I would be very happy to at least try it out. I think it's very hard now for startups to at least add another tool to an existing company's tech stack. You have to see that there's value and that it's enough value that the team should use another tool. Before you can reduce complexity you add complexity. If there was something that engineers didn't need to know about and it'll take away some of the complexity and increase their productivity, then I would be very happy to try it out. The most scarce resource we have is developer time. It's obviously not optimally used for a million reasons, but even if I got more development time, hiring another person to be a developer is harder to do because of the economic weather. I get another developer without training them or teaching them or them taking a vacation or something. It's just the same people. If they have more context, then they're more productive. So that would be amazing. If I had a good idea I would start that startup myself.


What's a mistake startup founders make when pitching you?

I think when somebody talks to me about their idea or their product, honesty is the best policy. I know you're a small startup. It's okay to say, “We don't know. We don't have a solution for that. We only support this and this and that. It's on our roadmap, but frankly I'm not sure we're gonna get there.” A lot of the time you only have one chance to integrate. If you think, and the customer thinks, that it's not a good fit, it's better to revisit this six months from now or a year from now when we think it will bring value. It's frustrating, but both sides getting a second chance is much harder than both getting a first. 

What do you do for fun? 

I do sports, all kinds of sports. The common denominator between them is that they are action sports - it's not soccer or tennis or something like that. I find it requires a 100% concentration for me not to injure myself. And then I can totally forget about everything. So I go away for like a couple of hours, whether it's biking or surfing or doing anything like that. My real passion is skiing, but that's really hard to do in our weather. It only happens once or twice a year. I think that concentrating 100% on a certain thing and forgetting about anything else is something that is getting harder and harder to practice because we have so many distractions, like phones, instant messages, kids, working from home. With people walking around behind you in the camera, we all have some kind of concentration disorder, so focusing on a single thing is good.

𝐇𝐞𝐭𝐳 𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬: is a series featuring tech leaders and execs from around the world, exploring how they arrived at their professional milestones, how they approach management and leadership, and what comes next in their industries. Watch the full series on Hetz Ventures' Youtube channel.