3 Takeaways from Point Nine’s CTO Event on Scaling Up Tech and Tech Teams
Last week, Point Nine Capital invited the CTOs and VPs of Engineering of their portfolio companies. The event took place in Google’s offices in Berlin. I was flattered to get invited and had the opportunity of spending the day next to great people from famous startups such as Morten Primdahl, Co-founder and CTO at Zendesk, Spyros Magiatis, Founder and CTO at Workable, or Johannes Ziemke, Platform Engineer at Docker.
The agenda was quite packed with interesting topics around scaling tech and teams. You can find the complete agenda on this post written by Rodrigo Martinez, who did a fantastic job organising the event.
Next to great tech-centric talks (e.g. Continuous Integration Best Practices by Florian Motlick, CTO at Codeship, Microservices by Andy Smith, CTO at Werker etc.), an important subject was hiring and scaling teams. In other words: a mix of the most important topics you need to know once you have traction. And as the CTO of one of eFounders’ under-development startups, this really struck a chord.
So here are my key takeaways from this meetup.
Takeaway #1: The hardest problems when scaling up are most of the time non-tech problems
The panel was called ‘Best Practices on Scaling Tech’, but after a couple of minutes of discussion, it became very clear that the bottleneck is mostly due to organizational challenges.
Indeed, answers to well known technical problems such as how to scale a MySQL database are available most of the time. Despite all your preparation, be ready for your 3am emergency alert, stay focus, and you’ll resolve the problem. No, your true challenges will come from human and managerial situations.
Your job as a CTO is to have a working team in place which can perform, produce and scale with the success of the startup. Hiring tech talent is increasingly difficult and even if you manage to hire, scaling a team is not trivial. You need to find the right team size and get organized in a scalable way. The success of your startup heavily relies on how good you are at that (read the original article).
The success of your startup depends on your ability to scale your tech and tech team.
Takeaway #2: Try to maintain a pipeline of talents
“The average time a developer stays in a startup is down to 1.4 years in Silicon Valley and around 2 years in Berlin. It’s crucial to maintain a big network of talents.”
That being said, it’s not as simple as it sounds, and you’ll probably find yourself one day at a point where you need to rely on external recruiters if you want to hire fast.
In any case — internal or external talents — you still need to follow some rules and techniques if your want to hire the best (and you sure do).
Move very fast at the beginning of the process
A developer gets easily hired within one week. If you don’t quickly make a decision, you might just miss out an opportunity.
Filter your pipeline
Instead of spending 2 hours on-premise for each candidate, start with a short Skype interview. This will allow you to talk to a lot more candidates, and filter out the ones which don’t fit the open position before engaging further with the recruiting process.
Always make a good impression, even if you do not hire the candidate
While this should be obvious, a lot of startups make this mistake: once they decided to not take a candidate, they forget to end the hiring process properly. Don’t forget that a candidate still has a network you could tap in.
Stay in touch with candidates
Follow up a couple of months after talking with a candidate. As the average time spent in a startup is quite low, you might get lucky and catch someone who actually wants to leave his current position.
Lower the requirements on your ad
Too many job descriptions just look like a Christmas list. Don’t put all the requirements you can think of on your advert. You might miss out on great talents by doing so, who could easily learn the missing requirements. Just keep the ones that are crucial for your company, and discuss the other ones during the Skype interview.
Ivo Betke’s recipe to recruiting the best talents:
Maintain a pipeline of talents, and polish your recruitment process to make a good impression and hire the best
Takeaway #3: Promote internally when it makes sense, Hire from the outside when you need to go fast
After Ivo’s Keynote and a presentation from former CTO of Brands4Friends Stephan Schmidt on building high-performance tech teams, the next panel tackled the actual scaling up of tech teams.
To scale up your tech team, do you promote internally or recruit externally?
My biggest wonder was concerning people development, e.g. promoting a developer to a management position. I asked if people had success stories to share on the topic.
The answers to this question were quite diverse and it seems to depend heavily on the situation.
One good example was given by Wiktor Schmidt, CEO of Netguru, who scaled his team from 50 to 100 developers within one year. In his case, a lot of key positions are handled by early employees who grew their responsibilities together with the startup.
Another interesting thought from the panel was on considering each individual case. It is wrong to assume that all developers aim at becoming a manager at one point in their career. Actually, it’s quite the opposite: a lot of developers don’t want to manage people and aim at becoming excellent senior engineers. If that’s the case, pushing them into a management position will just make them unhappy and probably drive them away. So make sure you discuss it thoroughly before making any move.
In any case, it became clear that once you have real traction you need to grow your team really quickly. So filling up key position with external candidates might become the only realistic option.
Between internal promotions and external recruitments, make sure you choose wisely and bear in mind individual aspirations.
As I mentioned earlier, the day was packed with interesting Keynotes and one could easily fill several blog posts with all the takeaways. I really enjoyed the fact that keynotes and panels where around “soft” topics like hiring and team scaling.
As written in Rodrigo’s post, this kind of knowledge is not available on the usual tech platforms like StackOverflow, Quora and so on. It’s something that you build with experience — or that you want to hear directly from someone who experienced it. Having the possibility to follow up with questions was amazingly valuable to me. Definitely an event I would love to attend again if I get a chance. Thanks again Point Nine, you nailed it!
Are you a programmer? Read those tips to be hired by a great tech startup.
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