Saturday, June 30, 2012

Scaling an engineering team: "Caliber"

Being tasked with growing a team and finding talent is a tough challenge. If you're in a place where the talent pool isn't as large as, say, San Francisco, you could be on a really bad spot. From a business perspective, whoever you choose to sign to the team can have an extremely positive effect on the product or an extremely bad effect on the product -- this is why you should always choose carefully who you decide to hire.

In building a team that executes and delivers effectively, I believe that the most important values of a high caliber team is the cohesiveness of the team (how well they work together in regards to execution), the shared vision (believing in where they need to go), and the ability to adapt to shifting environment variables (team learning, incremental improvement). Much like a hockey team that has a chance at the Stanley Cup, the only way to win it is for the team to fully understand the importance of supporting each other, believing in the vision, and always pushing to the best of their abilities.

When I served at Blast Radius (almost 5 years), team morale was always an issue on death march projects. I was extremely lucky to have had mentors and team captains that were always positive and confident in the decisions he/she made for the team. Sometimes the decisions weren't always in favor of the engineering side things (it was more political, dates needed to be hit) -- it's the decisions that had to be made that encouraged everyone to follow that level of leadership. Team captains would make decisions when everyone else was too afraid or unsure to make those decisions. In tying into that, I would say that biggest lesson learned from those experiences is to never be afraid to be wrong. Every decision in life is difficult -- but having the power to inspire confidence in your team when you make that decision takes courage and valor. Furthermore, these are the traits that you should look for in any potential teammate. They should show confidence, compassion, persuasiveness, and the ability to inspire their team to do better even during times of struggle.

Being positive is infectious. So is being negative. It's the most devastating feeling when the team doesn't feel motivated to push the front-lines with everyone else. This is why it is important to bake stewardship and commitment to the growth of your teammates into your company's DNA.

Today, I find myself at RESAAS, with a small team of incredibly talented and passionate engineers (we're at 10 now). I couldn't be happier and in trying to grow this team, I always feel worried that should we grow even larger that we may lose our faith in each other to grow, to execute, and to nurture the product we set out to build when we started. That said, I truly believe that the quality of the product is directly tied to caliber of the team who designed, built, and maintained it.

Good luck and have fun,
Jaime Bueza

Jaime Bueza is a software engineer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has developed web applications for Nintendo, Starbucks, Bacardi, Nike, Electronic Arts, Ritchie Brothers, Kiwi Collections, Cox Communications and Microsoft. When he's not developing useful software that constantly evolves with business requirements, he's writing open source software and helping developers in the Windows Azure NodeJS community.