Eight Questions: CJ Jouhal, Head of Engineering, Anchorage Digital

Welcome to Eight Questions, where we profile individual members of the Anchorage Digital team, diving into their career paths, what brought them to crypto, and what makes them tick. Why eight? Because it’s the number of decimal places a bitcoin can be divided into. It’s also the last single digit number in a Fibonacci Sequence, and we like that.

CJ Jouhal, Head of Engineering, Anchorage Digital

Next in our series, meet CJ Jouhal, Head of Engineering at Anchorage Digital, a security engineering veteran with over two decades of experience in technical and project leadership across a wide variety of programming languages. Based outside of Philadelphia, CJ holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and an MSE from the University of Pennsylvania.

1. Before joining Anchorage Digital, you were most recently Chief Technology Officer at CLEAR after serving in senior leadership roles at a number of technology firms, from startups to eBay. How has your technical skillset and leadership style grown in this time? 

The principle of “chasing impact” has shaped my career over the last two decades.

Early on, I was focused on mastering the art and craft of software engineering, seeking growth across a variety of technical problems. To become a well-rounded programmer, I also chose to pursue positions in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, e-commerce, and biometric security, before joining Anchorage Digital to focus on digital assets. 

Working across different industries—as well as at every scale of a company, from early stage startup to publicly traded firms—gave me experience that continues to inform my approach to leadership.  

I’ve focused quite a bit on my leadership style, and I’ve found that building authentic relationships has been the most important area to improve myself by helping engineers on the team grow personally and professionally. Especially in a technical field like software engineering, it can be easy to overlook the people who make it all happen. I am proud to lead the engineering team at Anchorage Digital, which shares my commitment to fostering a relationship-driven culture.

2. You have been with Anchorage Digital since October 2022. As your one-year anniversary as Head of Engineering approaches, how would you describe the engineering culture here?

If there is one word to describe the culture at Anchorage Digital, it would be transparent

At other firms, layers of bureaucracy often create a disconnect between technical teams and the broader organization. But at Anchorage Digital, we go above and beyond to drive alignment across the company. While building a transparent culture can require more effort than a more top-down approach, doing so ensures everyone is working with the same vision—to advance a safe, secure digital asset economy. 

Another key part of our culture at Anchorage Digital is being a first-mover in institutional crypto—from our best-in-class security architecture to our leading regulatory status. Building the next generation of crypto infrastructure means our engineers face some novel, challenging technical problems, day in and day out. Difficult technical challenges give our engineers the opportunity to make an impact, which is a critical part of career growth at Anchorage Digital. 

Between our transparent culture and work on challenging problems, Anchorage Digital has developed a winning formula to drive retention on the engineering team and across the company as a whole.

3. Over the last year, we have launched exciting new product features and more than doubled the number of supported assets in response to growing client demand. What is on the horizon for the engineering team?

As demand for safe, secure, and regulated digital asset infrastructure continues to rise, Anchorage Digital is building for scale. On the engineering team, we are maturing our technical processes, seeking what I like to call operational excellence to prepare Anchorage Digital for the next trillion-dollar inflow into the digital asset market.

One way is through a new, cross-team program, where engineers present on key security metrics we want to monitor—for example, how fast we are able to recover from an issue. The goal here is less to focus on the exact numbers and more on maturing our process to make sure each and every member of the team has the context they need to build effectively and reduce interruption of engineering flow.

4. Our platform uses a wide range of technology—from cryptography to biometrics—to secure billions of dollars worth of digital assets. How do you drive alignment across a team with such a broad scope of technical expertise?

It all starts by leading with compassion. 

Leading a team with such wide-ranging expertise requires a personal, connected management style. As we scale and mature our technical platform, building relationships across the team isn’t just a nice feature of our culture; it’s essential to working effectively.

Our engineering team—just like the company as a whole—is global, with a remote-friendly culture. So, a major priority for me is setting regular one-on-ones with each member of the team. Developing personal connections lays the groundwork for pushing the team to grow together (check out Radical Candor by Kim Scott for a great read on this sort of approach).

5. How do you approach your role as Head of Engineering to drive impact across the engineering team?

When the engineering team is deeply aligned with the company vision, everyone wins.

Each day, I look for new opportunities to drive understanding and cooperation between the engineering team and other departments across the company. In traditional companies, a lot of decision-making happens top-down. But at Anchorage Digital, everyone is at the table. So, I approach my role as a connector, bringing back organizational context to empower the engineering team and allow for effective building and innovation.

I also spend time looking for patterns where we can improve as a team. Identifying broader patterns as opportunities for improvement allows us to advance as an engineering organization.

6. October is Security Awareness month, but it’s always on our minds at Anchorage Digital. What’s a security tip that’s for whatever reason overlooked?

You should never overlook mobile phone security! Many people tend to think of their phone as somehow more secure than their desktop. But as a software engineer, I have seen time and again how attackers can exploit security vulnerabilities on desktop and mobile alike.

Luckily, there are some easy but impactful steps you can take to bolster the security profile of your phone. Here are a few:

  • Use a complex alphanumeric password
  • Keep your phone face-down when not in use

7. Can you talk about a specific moment that radically changed how you manage engineers?

Early into my journey as a manager, I received a call one night from an engineer on the team who was frustrated. He said something that changed my leadership style forever: “All you tell us to do is execute; you never thank us.”

That was a wakeup call for me—a moment when I realized that to be an effective engineering leader, I would need to move beyond the focus on execution that I brought to my work as an individual contributor earlier in my career.

Since then, I have put a lot of effort into developing my connected, people-driven management style. In fact, the alignment between my approach to leadership and the culture here is one of the reasons why I decided to join Anchorage Digital in the first place.

Knowing that each career path is custom, our approach to personal growth and career advancement rests on recognition. In one-on-one conversations with our engineers, we set individualized goals and identify opportunities for impact. When an engineer on the team makes impact, we then recognize them with a change to compensation and responsibilities. Centering recognition allows us to advance together as an engineering organization, while keeping morale high across the engineering team.

8. What advice would you give to a new hire or prospective candidate?

In the early stages of my career, I crafted an approach that I continue to follow: Update your resume every December

After updating your resume, you should take a step back and ask yourself a few straightforward questions:

  • Do I like what I accomplished this year? 
  • Do I like where my career is headed? 
  • Would I hire the person on this resume?

Having an annual marker can help you keep track of your progression over time, allowing you to maximize for impact and growth. For more career advice for software engineers, check out my recent podcast appearance on The Blind Ambition with Jack Kelly

Want to join CJ in building safe and secure solutions for the future of finance? Explore our open positions on the engineering team and across the company.

About Anchorage Digital

Anchorage Digital is a crypto platform that enables institutions to participate in digital assets through custody, staking, trading, governance, settlement, and the industry’s leading security infrastructure. Home to Anchorage Digital Bank N.A., the only federally chartered crypto bank in the U.S., Anchorage Digital also serves institutions through Anchorage Digital Singapore, Porto by Anchorage Digital, and other offerings. The company is funded by leading institutions including Andreessen Horowitz, GIC, Goldman Sachs, KKR, and Visa, with its Series D valuation over $3 billion. Founded in 2017 in San Francisco, California, Anchorage Digital has offices in New York, New York; Porto, Portugal; Singapore; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Learn more at anchorage.com, on X @Anchorage, and on LinkedIn.

This post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be construed as and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to purchase any securities in Anchor Labs, Inc., or any of its subsidiaries, and should not be relied upon to make any investment decisions. Furthermore, nothing within this announcement is intended to provide tax, legal, or investment advice and its contents should not be construed as a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security or digital asset or to engage in any transaction therein.

Additional reading

Positioned for the future: A new role at Anchorage Digital
Anchorage Digital Names SEC Veteran TuongVy Le as General Counsel
Eight Questions: Jenny Kim, Member of Technical Staff, Frontend Custody
Porto by Anchorage Digital: your wallet, our security
Anchorage Digital and FusionIQ Partner to Offer Regulated Crypto for Financial Advisors and Institutions
Anchorage Digital and Onramp Invest Partner to Offer Crypto for Financial Advisors with Industry-First Block Trading Feature