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Building and Scaling Technical Teams

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This is a presentation I did at Developer Week here in SF about building and scaling technical teams.

This is a presentation I did at Developer Week here in SF about building and scaling technical teams.

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  • 1. Building and Scaling Technical Teams Jason A. Hoffman, CTO and Founder 1
  • 2. 2 The only private systems company An operating system (smartOS) A runtime (node.js) A suite of middleware that leverages both
  • 3. 3 Only private, large scale service provider Performance and scale sufficient for large customers. Hardware lifecycle dominants COGS. Not people.
  • 4. 4 A business. A company. Provides something of value in exchange for money.
  • 5. 5 Companies don’t sell to people. People sell to people.
  • 6. 6 Companies don’t innovate. People do.
  • 7. 7 Companies don’t discover. People do.
  • 8. 8 Companies don’t hire people. People do.
  • 9. 9 People. Person. Psychology. Sociology. Anthropology. Matter too.
  • 10. 10 Packard’s Law. “No company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.” from Jim Collins, How The Mighty Fall (page 55-56)
  • 11. 11 How do you convince the right people? To give years of their life. To direct their passion.
  • 12. 12 Myself. Army. PhD Scientist. Academic. Founder. A “CTO”.
  • 13. 13 Comfortable team structures. I believe a basic biological aspect to them. Something “tribal”.
  • 14. 14 Fire Team. Four. Lead by a sergeant. Three team members. Two roles each.
  • 15. 15 Squad. 2-3 fire teams plus a Staff Sergeant 8-12 “staff ” plus one “leader”.
  • 16. 16 Baseline: you need to be capable of being on a fire team.
  • 17. 17 Baseline: you need to be capable of running a squad.
  • 18. 18 You’ll only ever run a “squad”. The human brain can only manage up to 8-12 people and about 600 sq ft. Adapted from Thomas Schweich’s Staying Power
  • 19. 19 A Marine Colonel: “We don’t promote our micromanagers, we like them exactly where they are.” Adapted from Thomas Schweich’s Staying Power
  • 20. 20 PhD Scientist and Academic. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
  • 21. 21 Academic. People are willing to give years of their lives for something other than money.
  • 22. 22 Scientist. Turns out to shape how I view everything. Let me take you through a series of observations.
  • 23. 23 Scientists. Scientists don't work in a lab to "sequence DNA." They work in a lab to "cure cancer."
  • 24. 24 Recognition. Is as important as a salary.
  • 25. 25 Observation I Humans have a hard time thinking of the power law or punctuated equilibriums.
  • 26. 26 Observation II Humans have a hard time with the absolutism that's in binary states (live, dead).
  • 27. 27 Observation III We think that "evolution" is "optimization", when it's, in fact, it’s adaption to current conditions.
  • 28. 28 Observation IV We don't know how to change the dimensionality of a problem.
  • 29. 29 Observation V We have a hard time thinking of a complete system yet we can make connections, frameworks, simplifications that no computer can do.
  • 30. 30 Observation VI We often think that success is a thing, or it’s because of a thing.
  • 31. 31 Diamond’s Anna Karenina Principle “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
  • 32. 32 Failed Domestication. Different species were domesticated because of the lack of negative reasons (traits) not because of a reason (a positive trait).
  • 33. 33 Success. Is simply the absence of failure. It’s the absence of fatal mistakes.
  • 34. 34 To study success. You must study failure and death.
  • 35. 35 Models differ. Anti-patterns are the same. Know them.
  • 36. 36 Founder. Noun. One who establishes something or formulates the basis for something.
  • 37. 37 Founder. Foundering. Verb. Usage: “Oh yeah, I’m foundering!! Watch out.” (said by me)
  • 38. 38 Foundering. Verb. To sink below the surface of the water: The ship struck a reef and foundered.
  • 39. 39 Foundering. Verb. To cave in; sink: The platform swayed and then foundered.
  • 40. 40 Foundering. Verb. To fail utterly; collapse: a marriage that soon foundered.
  • 41. 41 Foundering. Verb. To stumble, especially to stumble and go lame. Used of horses.
  • 42. 42 Foundering. Verb. To become ill from overeating. Used of livestock.
  • 43. 43 Floundering? Verb. To move clumsily, thrash about. To proceed in confusion.
  • 44. 44 OK what about Latin? Must be something positive there!
  • 45. 45 Fundus. Noun (Latin). The bottom of or part farthest from the opening of a sac or hollow organ.
  • 46. 46 OK. Well. Perhaps that is all closest to the verb to founder.
  • 47. 47 CTO. Chief Technical Officer.
  • 48. 48 Establishes. Vision, culture, organizational structure.
  • 49. 49 CTOs are outward facing. Product and merchandising. Operational.
  • 50. 50 Technical. Enough to validate, shape, dig in if broken. Know who is a dummy, who is a blessed unicorn.
  • 51. 51 Vision needs to be inspiring. People do actually feel that they’re changing the world.
  • 52. 52 Work hard. At being an exemplar and being exceptional at an aspect.
  • 53. 53 Ideal disposition. Personal and professional humility coupled with thoughtful intellect and professional will. Also from Jim Collins’s Level 5 leader idear.
  • 54. 54 Culture: Don’t be an Asshole. Pricks get fired. Bullies get banished.
  • 55. 55 Culture: Transparency Complete, even when painful. Tough (not brutal) and honest.
  • 56. 56 Culture: Peer Review And everyone is a peer.
  • 57. 57 Culture: Titles Let compensation and ownership reflect importance and contribution.
  • 58. 58 Founding CTO. Biggest decision that you’ll make is to either become the VP of Engineering and hire a CTO, or hire the first VP of Engineering. It’s big, because can be fatal.
  • 59. 59 VP of Engineering. Responsible for the development and delivery of the product, and recruitment.
  • 60. 60 VP of Engineering. Has to be the Exemplar Engineer for the teams.
  • 61. 61 Exemplar Engineer. Every single person that works for them wants to be them when they grow up. Critical for recruitment.
  • 62. 62 Exemplar Knowledge. The teams must feel comfortable looking to them for thoughts and decisions on a wide range of technical problems.
  • 63. 63 Innovation Then gets driven by the collaboration.
  • 64. 64 Organizational You must provide a framework and a structure. You must segment.
  • 65. 65 Concluding Thoughts
  • 66. 66 ‣ Work hard yourself to be an exemplar. ‣ Scientists don't work in a lab to "sequence DNA." They work in a lab to "cure cancer." • Too often in the "IT" industry we focus on technology and tools, not their higher purpose and relationship to the rest of the world. You must give your talent a higher purpose than the hammer that they're swinging.
  • 67. ‣ What are they looking for in a leader? • Personal and professional humility coupled with thoughtful intellect and professional will. ‣ When you do the above, you can be free to let them talk, teach, blog, write papers (i.e. do more than patents). • You can let them become recognized (and perhaps even tech celebrities) and known in their field. ‣ Titles aren't what important. • Let compensation and ownership reflect importance and contribution 67
  • 68. ‣ Thanks for Bryan Cantrill for some of the CTO vs VP of Engineering ideas. Covered in a different presentation. • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAHItZ1cSNM • http://www.slideshare.net/bcantrill/cto-vs-vp-of- engineering 68

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