The Builder's Journey Recap: Josh Forman
October 21st, 2022

Decent presents The Builder’s Journey podcast, featuring intimate discussions with the builders behind the most exciting and innovative protocols, products, and communities in Web3.

On this episode of the Builder's Journey, we chatted with Josh Forman, leadership coach and ex-engineering lead at Shapeshift. You can find Josh at to build your team and grow yourself. Josh discusses his journey of growing and leading as an engineer, the successful qualities of an engineer, and tips on maintaining mental health for engineers building in tough moments.
On this episode of the Builder's Journey, we chatted with Josh Forman, leadership coach and ex-engineering lead at Shapeshift. You can find Josh at to build your team and grow yourself. Josh discusses his journey of growing and leading as an engineer, the successful qualities of an engineer, and tips on maintaining mental health for engineers building in tough moments.

On following his early interests to where he is today…

Back in 1980, my dad bought an Apple II Plus. And it came with a little manual for the basic programming language. Man, I totally dug into that thing. And I had fun coding at a really young age on what was then, totally new technology.

I always follow my curiosity. From the day I was 10 and I got that book on the basic programming language, all the way through to physics and changing my focus in life to be computers. And so, around the year 2000 or so, my curiosity really started to lead me into how people systems work more than how the technology works. So much so that I decided to go continue my education. And I got a master's in organizational leadership. At about that time is when I also started stepping into leadership roles, and then made the transition from into startups.

On discovering crypto…

I was at a company [in 2016] and our customers were banks. This was mainstream banking so there wasn't a ton of Bitcoin, but it kept popping up here and there, and I kept swiping it away until one day, I just said, okay, I’ve got to learn a little bit about this, because it keeps showing up. And I just got really enamored with the decentralized trust model, it’s really what drew me into crypto at first. And I just kept diving deeper and deeper until ultimately I told myself, I’ve got to get a job in crypto. That's the only place I should really be working.

On the challenging beginnings of his time at ShapeShift…

I got so into the technology of it that in 2017, I sought out and got a role at ShapeShift. Back then we were a minimally custodial exchange. You could trade one type of crypto for another, you didn't need an account, you didn't need to KYC. It was pretty revolutionary at the time. And I got a job as an individual contributor coder because I was so much wanting to learn about the technology. And that's really what started my crypto career.

As a company, we just basically threw money at every possible thing that we could build. It wasn't quite that extreme but we created multiple product teams inside the organization and we basically got very fragmented.

When the crypto winter of 2018 came, we had to start looking at things, and all that very fast, rapid growth and hiring became problematic, because we couldn't come together as a company to refocus ourselves and figure out what our value was that we're providing in the space. So it was amongst that turmoil that all of the leadership experience that I had was being utilized.

I started joining conversations about what [we would do] and ultimately was offered the Director of Engineering role at ShapeShift. And so I started as an individual contributor, became the team lead, and then the director amongst a whole bunch of turmoil. I was promoted to that director role and within two weeks, the decision was made that we needed to lay off 30% of the company across the board. So I started off from a difficult space.

On the most rewarding part of working at ShapeShift…

When people come to me, with learnings about themselves, and how they became better team members, they actually became more confident with themselves, more comfortable with themselves in some way. And how that changed their experience on the team, their contributions to the team, helping facilitate those kinds of changes in whatever way. My part in doing that is recognizing that everybody is in charge of themselves and creates their own change. But still to be any part of that was so rewarding for me.

On what prompted ShapeShift’s transition to being a DAO…

We felt really good about the culture that we were building that ShapeShift. The engineering team was delivering, we were working well with the product team, new features were being put out. But we weren't seeing the user growth we needed to see to justify being a startup spending the amount of money that we were spending. And then 2020 came around, “DeFi Summer”, DAOs started to come out. And we just saw the DAOs creating awesome, innovative products in the space and decided, hey, why don't we become a DAO? And that was the beginning of ShapeShift's journey into a DAO.

And it was really interesting that the executive team, the Board of Directors… nobody said here's how we should become a DAO, it was just, we're going to transition to a DAO, “Hey, everybody, here's your last date of full-time employment. Now go figure it out.” And that created a lot of chaos, which was really good, I think.

On moving to full-time coaching…

The big aha came for me when I realized that I started measuring how good my days were based on how many coaching conversations I had in the day. And that's when I realized this is what I need to be doing full-time. I love building cool tech, but it just did not ring my bell the way that these coaching conversations did.

I see what I'm doing now as the best way for me to have a positive contribution on the planet. Being able to help multiple people in multiple organizations be better leaders get more connected to themselves, and work better with conflict.

I would add that half of my clients are in DAOs or I have a few clients that are just in traditional crypto companies. So the fact that that is also helping the crypto/DAO movement move forward is just like an additional layer of impact that I feel really good about.

On what makes a good engineer…

Let's say that your technical skill is a match for the level of engineer that you are. After that, I would probably summarize it by your ability to collaborate. It includes your ability to connect with others, your ability to know what's going on for you and be able to communicate that and then use it appropriately in your interactions.

Your ability to handle conflict is super important. Your ability to listen and consider other viewpoints. And honestly, comparing them to your own ideas.

And what makes a bad engineer…

If an engineer thinks that they have nothing to learn, it's almost like there's no hope. A lot of engineers will think that they have something to learn technically, right? They'll admit that there are other engineers that are better engineers than them. But they think that they kind of have the whole collaboration, teamwork, kind of thing, that's where they have nothing to learn. Those are the hardest engineers to work with.

On the best way to learn technical skills…

I would say, the best way to accelerate technical learning is to work in an environment that is supportive of your learning. Nothing beats being on the job, actually working on an engineering team on a product that goes through development tests and production, or some version thereof. You could do all the practicing and building of your own pet projects, but getting on a team that's going to support your learning, or even on an open source project where there's going to be some kind of mentoring and some ability for you to stretch your technical skill would be my number one piece of advice.

On how to weather the down markets…

It doesn't always have to be even a market focus. We all have ups and downs in life, just because that's how life works. And when things are not going well - whatever that means for you - the first part of mental health in this regard is to acknowledge it, know that things are not great for you, and not try to really pretend that they are. Now, that doesn't mean that you don't make your best effort, but hopefully, it gives some permission to talk to someone about it.

On balancing youth and experience on engineering teams…

Crypto engineers are younger in general. But I think that is also moving. I think we're also attracting older engineers. So that is changing some of the dynamics. Young people put in a lot of good energy, they’re super smart. And frankly, they don't have as much organizational experience as some of the engineers out there. So you see that change over time as you become older and more experienced, and we attract people, and you know there's pluses and minuses to that.

I think DAOs came about, partly because we didn't have very many of the old stereotypes and paradigms to hold us back from envisioning this whole new way of organizing. And then I think that there is something to learn from those old ways of organizing that can help DAOs and crypto move forward from here.

Check out the full episode of The Builder’s Journey with Josh Forman and be sure to follow for new episodes every Tuesday!

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