How to Scale an Engineering Team in a Startup?
VP Engineering - 10 April 2019 -
VP Engineering - 10 April 2019 -
After working with startup founders closely across stages, I have realized that scaling is one aspect they are often concerned with. During this journey, leading engineering teams from the front led me to conclude that scaling an engineering team can become a bottleneck to growth.
I want to share my scaling experience through an example of a leading mobile advertising platform where I had to ensure that engineering does not become a roadblock. We scaled the product to handle the transaction from 1 million to 80 billion impressions per day with the help of an engineering team that had to scale from 2 to over 100 members.
I was part of quarterly business planning meetings where we used to discuss quarterly roadmaps and feedback from the customers. During one such meeting, one of the co-founders spoke about an idea to enable revenue stream through display ads in a non-internet environment.
Though the complete feature details were not frozen, I could see this feature as one of the critical key elements in the next release. We anticipated the need to hire an additional Android and iOS developers required to deliver this functionality much in advance. Apart from identifying & acquiring new skill sets, it was essential to implement this change in the core product management to handle such cases.
I feel that if you nail down the art of translating business needs to technology deliverables, you will get extra time for execution.
As a precondition to close a deal with a premium publisher, we had to develop a feature to cap the frequency of advertising. We wrote the core program in PHP, and we didn’t have a dedicated PHP person at that time. We had no time to acquire it since it was an on-demand request. So, one of the senior Java developers with a fundamental understanding of PHP took it up as a challenge and delivered the feature on time which helped us in acquiring the premium publisher.
You can have the best recruiters on your side, but even they cannot salvage you in such situations.
Our attrition rate for the whole team was Zero for 3-4 years. Beyond aligning team members to product vision & mission, keeping them challenged in their work helped us achieve this feat. There was a strong focus on quality and value addition to the product for which one had to think beyond just the day-to-day deliverables. Staying on the top of technology helped us to provide innovative solutions to hard problems and in building resilient systems. This also kept team members engaged. Using Big Data technologies to solve analytics problems & real-time campaign pacing engine turned out to be a game-changer for us. Often rotating people within the team helped in productivity and faster technological growth.
Often, many organizations follow a bottom-up approach for induction. However, in our case, we followed a top-down approach where the leads explain business goals and metrics to the entire new team members. They are also a part of the induction process. Along with a top-down induction process, an evolving team structure is equally important. Initially, we started with two team members and gradually scaled to form sub-teams such as the engineering team and the customer focus team.
After scaling an engineering leadership team for this startup, I was able to apply the same guidelines to scale multiple teams for other startups successfully.