Building and Scaling Technical Teams


Published on

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

Published in: Technology, Business

Building and Scaling Technical Teams

  1. 1. Building and Scaling Technical Teams Jason A. Hoffman, CTO and Founder 1
  2. 2. 2 The only private systems company An operating system (smartOS) A runtime (node.js) A suite of middleware that leverages both
  3. 3. 3 Only private, large scale service provider Performance and scale sufficient for large customers. Hardware lifecycle dominants COGS. Not people.
  4. 4. 4 A business. A company. Provides something of value in exchange for money.
  5. 5. 5 Companies don’t sell to people. People sell to people.
  6. 6. 6 Companies don’t innovate. People do.
  7. 7. 7 Companies don’t discover. People do.
  8. 8. 8 Companies don’t hire people. People do.
  9. 9. 9 People. Person. Psychology. Sociology. Anthropology. Matter too.
  10. 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. 11 How do you convince the right people? To give years of their life. To direct their passion.
  12. 12. 12 Myself. Army. PhD Scientist. Academic. Founder. A “CTO”.
  13. 13. 13 Comfortable team structures. I believe a basic biological aspect to them. Something “tribal”.
  14. 14. 14 Fire Team. Four. Lead by a sergeant. Three team members. Two roles each.
  15. 15. 15 Squad. 2-3 fire teams plus a Staff Sergeant 8-12 “staff ” plus one “leader”.
  16. 16. 16 Baseline: you need to be capable of being on a fire team.
  17. 17. 17 Baseline: you need to be capable of running a squad.
  18. 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. 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. 20 PhD Scientist and Academic. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
  21. 21. 21 Academic. People are willing to give years of their lives for something other than money.
  22. 22. 22 Scientist. Turns out to shape how I view everything. Let me take you through a series of observations.
  23. 23. 23 Scientists. Scientists don't work in a lab to "sequence DNA." They work in a lab to "cure cancer."
  24. 24. 24 Recognition. Is as important as a salary.
  25. 25. 25 Observation I Humans have a hard time thinking of the power law or punctuated equilibriums.
  26. 26. 26 Observation II Humans have a hard time with the absolutism that's in binary states (live, dead).
  27. 27. 27 Observation III We think that "evolution" is "optimization", when it's, in fact, it’s adaption to current conditions.
  28. 28. 28 Observation IV We don't know how to change the dimensionality of a problem.
  29. 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. 30 Observation VI We often think that success is a thing, or it’s because of a thing.
  31. 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. 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. 33 Success. Is simply the absence of failure. It’s the absence of fatal mistakes.
  34. 34. 34 To study success. You must study failure and death.
  35. 35. 35 Models differ. Anti-patterns are the same. Know them.
  36. 36. 36 Founder. Noun. One who establishes something or formulates the basis for something.
  37. 37. 37 Founder. Foundering. Verb. Usage: “Oh yeah, I’m foundering!! Watch out.” (said by me)
  38. 38. 38 Foundering. Verb. To sink below the surface of the water: The ship struck a reef and foundered.
  39. 39. 39 Foundering. Verb. To cave in; sink: The platform swayed and then foundered.
  40. 40. 40 Foundering. Verb. To fail utterly; collapse: a marriage that soon foundered.
  41. 41. 41 Foundering. Verb. To stumble, especially to stumble and go lame. Used of horses.
  42. 42. 42 Foundering. Verb. To become ill from overeating. Used of livestock.
  43. 43. 43 Floundering? Verb. To move clumsily, thrash about. To proceed in confusion.
  44. 44. 44 OK what about Latin? Must be something positive there!
  45. 45. 45 Fundus. Noun (Latin). The bottom of or part farthest from the opening of a sac or hollow organ.
  46. 46. 46 OK. Well. Perhaps that is all closest to the verb to founder.
  47. 47. 47 CTO. Chief Technical Officer.
  48. 48. 48 Establishes. Vision, culture, organizational structure.
  49. 49. 49 CTOs are outward facing. Product and merchandising. Operational.
  50. 50. 50 Technical. Enough to validate, shape, dig in if broken. Know who is a dummy, who is a blessed unicorn.
  51. 51. 51 Vision needs to be inspiring. People do actually feel that they’re changing the world.
  52. 52. 52 Work hard. At being an exemplar and being exceptional at an aspect.
  53. 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. 54 Culture: Don’t be an Asshole. Pricks get fired. Bullies get banished.
  55. 55. 55 Culture: Transparency Complete, even when painful. Tough (not brutal) and honest.
  56. 56. 56 Culture: Peer Review And everyone is a peer.
  57. 57. 57 Culture: Titles Let compensation and ownership reflect importance and contribution.
  58. 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. 59 VP of Engineering. Responsible for the development and delivery of the product, and recruitment.
  60. 60. 60 VP of Engineering. Has to be the Exemplar Engineer for the teams.
  61. 61. 61 Exemplar Engineer. Every single person that works for them wants to be them when they grow up. Critical for recruitment.
  62. 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. 63 Innovation Then gets driven by the collaboration.
  64. 64. 64 Organizational You must provide a framework and a structure. You must segment.
  65. 65. 65 Concluding Thoughts
  66. 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. 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. 68. ‣ Thanks for Bryan Cantrill for some of the CTO vs VP of Engineering ideas. Covered in a different presentation. • • engineering 68