They make CircleCI France (ex Ponicode): Baptiste Bouffaut, CTO
We continue our series with one of the early members of the team: Baptiste Bouffaut. We sat with him to talk about his experience of CircleCI France (ex Ponicode), his view on the tech team and CircleCI France’s hiring policy. As you will see he infused his vision and his personality into our company culture. We believe our out-of-the-box company deserved an out-of-the-box CTO and Baptiste was the perfect fit for CircleCI France. He has a unique approach to tech management and human resources that defines who we areand how we do things. But we will let you hear it for yourself.
Can you tell us how you envision your role as a CTO?
Baptise: To put it simply, my role is about building the best team to reach CircleCI’s strong ambition. This answer might strike you as quite atypical. It is far from the standard idea of what a CTO does. The acronym does not sound like a very people focused position and people usually expect a technical expert who is focused on the how rather than on the who. I take a different approach. In my opinion the CTO is dedicated to building a technical team, to find the right combination of skilled and experienced people and get this team to focus on the why of the project and turn the vision of the startup into reality.
My role is to drive innovation by creating a framework, an environment that fosters the emulation of new ideas and creates the energy to bring life to them.
Once that environment is available I can focus on helping to bring the greatest ideas the team comes up with to reality while ensuring that they are aligned with what the market needs. This product market fit concept is essential for the company’s success. My role is consequently two faced. On the one hand I ensure that the team is creative and disruptive. On the other hand I need to filter those ideas to make sure we focus on the company’s raison d’être and the market’s needs.
Beyond that I tend to take care of a lot of peripheral tasks given the fact that we are a small team and a startup: a lot of recruitment related tasks, admin, product management. But I am gradually handing this over to new staff members with the appropriate expertise. This enables me to put more time and energy into my main role: leading the tech team toward a technological breakthrough, work on patents and research papers.
What was it that persuaded you to join the CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) team?
Baptiste: The team of course. The founders were the only members when I arrived: experts in their fields who are highly motivated and passionate. The secret of this team of founders: an innovative vision mixed with a unique sense of market pragmatism. They are not mad lab scientists but professionals deeply rooted to the ground. They always keep users’ benefits in sight when they perform research and they innovate but always towards users’ benefits. In my opinion it is rare to find a team who has figured out the delicate balance between innovation and market. Every team member individually has this mindset and this is what persuaded me to join the adventure right away.
Beyond that, the co founding team shares a will to create a people-focused company culture. Finding people who share this personal conviction that being people focused is the way to success was key to my decision to join the team. The DNA of this team is made of benevolence, inclusion and honesty. And ever since I joined, I just take this DNA, cultivate it and share it with the new team members over time.
The other thing that convinced me to join CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) was the tech ambition. There is a goal to bring something unique and new to transform the software engineering industry, the most critical industry in the modern economy. Being part of such a disruptive adventure was a dream.
Where does artificial intelligence stand in all of this?
Baptiste: AI is something I have been obsessed with for a while. I have always had personal projects gravitating around it. To become CTO in an AI powered company is a logical step to my personal path. I studied advanced math after high school and I wondered for a while how useful that knowledge would become in my career. I am now proud to put some meaning back into all this knowledge I have accumulated. The art of mathematics is now useful to me to build machine learning models for CircleCI france (ex Ponicode). Principles that already existed when I was studying 20 years ago are at the foundation of AI. I now use those principles every day in my work to build industrialized AI.
My work in AI reconciled me with math and further than that it confirmed my deep love for advanced mathematics.
I find the non deterministic side of AI absolutely magic. For so long the only way to develop software was to write rules executed by microprocessors.
But with AI there is no determinism. You create something without control over the output and the challenge is to raise the accuracy of those non-deterministic-machine-powered outputs and bring them as close as possible to perfection.
There is a form of magic and poetry in this unpredictability that talks to my inner child.
What are the most pleasant and the most challenging aspects of your work at CircleCI France (ex Ponicode)?
Baptiste: It’s overall thrilling to be working in a fast paced startup environment. I think everybody in the team will agree that we feel the impact of what we do on a daily basis. Every decision we make regarding product development will impact the users and the company very quickly. For every action you take, you will see if you broke something or if you significantly improved the product within days. In the latter case you will get positive feedback very quickly. This very short work cycle between action and feedback is very exciting and I can barely imagine working in a work environment where this cycle is longer than a week or two.
Furthermore this great opportunity to start from the ground and move forward very quickly is what I love about the startup life. For example our team grew from 5 to 17 in no time and the responsibilities attached to that growth are so exciting. I want to be up for that challenge and it pushes me to give my best in what I do. There is a risk in this fast paced short cycle dynamic though. You can break something very quickly, product wise or people wise. It is a very tangible responsibility to watch yourself and the others. We make sure we don’t burn our wings by flying too close to the sun and that we are capable of holding the wheel in stressful situations. It’s my role as a CTO to make sure that the outcome of this adrenaline rush is positive and not hurtful. I make sure that we keep a sense of balance. I always tell my team that we are here to run a marathon and not a sprint.
What did you discover at CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) that your long experience hadn’t taught you already?
Baptiste: I think a very unique thing in my work is working with Patrick Joubert.
He is an atypical CEO. It is the first time in my life that I work with a CEO who keeps so genuinely close to the people first values that he promotes.
We always say that the biggest asset at CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) is the team because of how much solidarity and how well aligned on the company’s goals we are. Well all of this is a consequence of Patrick’s hard work. To find an entrepreneur and a coworker who share this people focused mindset and who has the courage to hold the flag and implement this company culture with a no bullshit approach is absolutely brilliant. It is very rare to actually see it in a company and to meet managers and CEOs who actually defend those values and implement them.There is no hypocrisy in Patrick Joubert’s approach to HR.
What are the most intense moments you have lived at CircleCI France (ex Ponicode)?
Baptiste: Shortly after I started at CircleCI France (ex Ponicode), maybe two weeks into the job, Patrick Joubert took me to meet some potential VCs for our seed fundraise. He let me take over the meeting and I had to explain to the VCs what CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) is. It was my first opportunity to share in my own words with people outside the company what CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) meant, what it is. And I surprised myself by how smooth it was all coming to me. I remember having a real impact on that meeting, on that conversation. I also received very positive feedback from the team about it. To be able to have such impact as well as being able to embody CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) was such a great moment and felt so organic. It rooted me into this feeling of belonging to the team, to the project and how Ponicode felt like a natural choice. I kicked my impostor syndrome out of the room that day. 😉
Another important moment was the first feedback. Both positive and negative ones. The first feedback saying “Wow it’s amazing” is this defining moment when the belief that you work in the right direction is not just in your own head anymore. That’s empowering. The first negative feedback is part of the startup life, it is painful but it is so critical to the startup success that you have to embrace it with excitement.
Last but not least the launch of our first public beta was also quite a moment. I remember it as a joyful and festive few days. We had just come back to the office after long months of confinement so it was a rush of serotonin. We came together and stopped working on the tech side of things in order to take the time to share the product with our first community and the few people who had supported our project since the beginning. The moment draws the line to a new area for the company, a second chapter full of unknown laying ahead.
Can you tell us more about your recruitment process for new tech members?
Baptiste: I always make the first interview for tech positions myself. And those are never focused on skills and tech stuff. Following our people-first culture I always use this first interview as an opportunity to see if I picture myself working with that person. Can they fit the team and embrace the way we do our jobs? Are they autonomous? a decision maker? Someone who can share? Who is open minded and benevolent? It’s only after we assessed this that we will check technical skills. I would rather hire someone a little more junior or underskilled, who has a great mindset and/or a disruptive approach and consequently will be able to positively impact the company rather than someone who is a tech genius but whose ego is an obstacle to the team’s success. Ego is good, ambition is good as well, but it needs to be turned toward team’s success. I believe someone with the right mindset will find with CircleCI France (ex Ponicode) a place where they can learn and blossom professionally thanks to our flat hierarchy and our people first DNA.
Well I hope people who hesitated to apply until now will find it enlightening and that they will take the leap and apply to join the team. Thank you Baptiste for sharing some of your memories and some of your expertise with us. Have a good day.