Navigators: Decentralizing Decisions and Empowering ICs at Carta

As organizations grow, maintaining communication channels between individual contributors (ICs), managers, and executives is vital. At Carta, we have harnessed the power of this small group of senior engineers to bridge the gap between innovation and executive decision-making. We call this group the Navigators. In this session, we’ll discuss why Carta started the Navigators program, how we formed our initial group, what we’ve learned so far, and how you might leverage a similar program in your own organization. 

Bureaucracy and power dynamics can make decision-making harder. Executives can also begin to feel disconnected from the engineers. At Carta, we have leveraged a clear, written engineering strategy, in combination with our Navigators who serve to help teams interpret the engineering strategy within their domains. Navigators replace a need for consensus and boost velocity by combining technical context, domain context, strategic alignment, and judgment to make engineering decisions more quickly.

We’ll discuss how Carta views the roles of Directors and Navigators within the organization, juxtaposing a team and execution focus with that of the long-term health and productivity of software and systems. We will also dig into some specific scenarios where our Navigators have helped increase velocity and drive organizational alignment.

Finally, we’ll look forward to the next iteration of the Navigators and provide some ideas for how you might start a similar program at your organization. By leveraging Senior ICs and your management chain, you can create an environment where engineers are more closely aligned to your strategy and accelerate decision making.

What's the focus of your work these days?

Shawna: I tend to work across several different verticals. Lately, I’ve been working on partnerships, specifically around our API offering. While my role is as an engineer, I additionally get to work on product, business, and go-to-market efforts. I’ve been spending some time with our compensation product and working on molding our vision for that product’s future. Onboarding new hires is a passion of mine, so I also work on our program for our new engineers.

Dan: As the right hand to the CTO, I serve as the conduit to bring the CTO’s vision deeper into the engineering organization. I drive much of our engineering strategy, and recently I’ve been working closely with our Platform teams specifically to ensure they have a direct line to the CTO priorities. I also spend a lot of time making sure we build an engineering organization people want to work in.

What's the motivation for your talk at QCon London 2024?

We believe that engineering organizations should prioritize efficiency and accountability in their decision-making processes, not consensus. Building consensus is arduous and time-consuming. And often, it results in only marginal improvements or merely reaffirming existing choices. We are excited to share our shortcuts. You can empower your ICs to streamline decision-making and achieve favorable outcomes.

How would you describe your main persona and target audience for this session?

Our talk is primarily geared toward senior ICs and anyone (from executives to directors) who relies on them to help make or inform decisions. Ultimately, we believe current and future leaders across the IC/Manager spectrum would each find our presentation informative.

Is there anything specific that you'd like people to walk away with after watching your session?

Attendees should leave with an understanding for how to advocate, adapt, and implement these transformative changes in their organization’s decision-making processes.


Shawna Martell

Senior Staff Engineer @Carta

Shawna Martell is a Senior Staff Engineer at Carta, Inc. Her previous experience includes Director of Software Engineering for Yahoo's Big Data Platform, and she was one of the original engineers on Wolfram|Alpha. She holds an MS in Computer Science from Syracuse University and an MBA from the University of Illinois. Beyond her professional pursuits, she channels her passion into volunteering in local politics and finds solace in the world of podcasts.

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Dan Fike

Deputy to the CTO @Carta

Dan Fike is a Principal Engineer and Deputy to the CTO at Carta, Inc. His experience ranges from game development to web app infrastructure, from Google to a 5-person tech startup, from programmer to architect, and from writing patents to conducting M&A diligence. He holds a BS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois

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Monday Apr 8 / 11:45AM BST ( 50 minutes )


Whittle (3rd Fl.)


staff+ leadership strategy decision making collaborative leadership ic authority


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