Winters can often make you go into your hibernation mode. After all, what’s more, satisfying than curling up on the couch with your favorite Simon Sinek book, as the snow falls down harder and faster from the dark clouds!
But with the onset of the Startup Week Tallinn, you can feel yourself and those around you slowly starting to trudge from the deep recess of your warm, comfy homes. This week-long startup community festival enables you and those associated with this community to come together under one roof to discuss ideas and share knowledge about topics relevant to the startup scene. Because let’s be honest, running a startup isn’t exactly a walk in the park! And, what better to seize this opportunity than to talk about the issues and opportunities related to putting together developer teams for startups?
On November 13th, 2019, Mikaels Labs organized the event “Balancing the Startup Developer Equation” at Lift99.co under the umbrella of the Startup Week, with the sole purpose of initiating honest conversations about developer teams, their woes, and awesomeness. Boosting an impressive speaker and panelist lineup of powerful individuals from various domains, this event was designed to understand what makes high-performance developer teams.
Promotion Vs Choice: What Do You Say?
To kick-start the conversation, there was a keynote session on the topic “Becoming a Lead: A Promotion or a Choice?” by Mart Espenberg — the CTO of Insly. His years of experience in leading large teams in a flat hierarchy structure at Insly made Mart the perfect-fit for tackling the decades-old notion of equating growth with leadership and promotion. This is because, for years, the tech industry has operated on the regressive notion that growth for developers can only be tied to promotion to leadership positions.
To address this question, Mark decided to begin by weaving his answer with the story of Insly in order to give a clear idea of the message he was trying to get across. He explained that not every senior developer can be a good leader. Instead, pushing senior developers abruptly to get on the promotion bandwagon to leadership positions can oftentimes cause unnecessary stress.
His framework, therefore, looked something like this:
- As a startup owner, you should focus on cultivating good leadership skills in your developer teams by giving them responsibility piece by piece.
- These series of steps will ensure that growth to leadership positions is a continuous process. This will also help minimize stress levels that come from an immediate promotion.
- Becoming a lead should, therefore, neither be a promotion nor a choice. Instead, promotion to leadership positions should be earned by passing through the step-by-step process of handling responsibilities.
Mart ended by reminding the audience that making someone a lead shouldn’t be the equivalent of throwing them into the deep end of the pool, instead, there should be a clearly defined set of rules and responsibilities to make it a less stressful process.
Quality Vs Quantity of Developers: Are You Still Confused?
There was a sudden noticeable shift in the energy as soon as Henrik Relander, the emcee for the event announced that it was time for the panel discussion. The topic “Quality and Quantity of Developers Needed by a Startup” struck an emotional chord with a lot of startup owners who were present in the audience. As many new startup owners might find themselves working with a tight budget and resource constraints. All of which, can then automatically go onto define the number and type of developers they can bring on board.
- Christjan Schumann, the Partner Development Lead at Clanbeat Education,
- Anton Narusberg, the CTO of MeetFrank,
- Sergei Anikin, the CTO of Pipedrive.
Owais got the ball rolling by putting forward the question of what qualifies as the right-mix of developer teams for startups and what should the strategy be when putting together that right-mix of developer teams.
Christjan answered this by saying that when hiring developers always look for those who are able to take initiatives, are willing to take on the responsibility, and can grow into leaders. So that when your company scales up, you already have individuals in place ready to assume these leadership positions.
Some of the key takeaways from his answer were:
- First things first, any developer you choose should be the best at what the do.
- However, don’t let the ability to code be the only requisite, instead, look for developers with leadership capabilities and choose ones who are able to put together a road map of your product.
- Hand-pick developers who exhibit problem-solving and are receptive to learning.
For Christjan the most important thing was bringing those people on board who are able to relate to the story of your startup.
Building on what Christjan said, Anton Narusberg stressed the importance of bringing developers on board who are capable of delivering and have a productive mindset. So that they can go on to become the cornerstone of your business.
Anton’s tips on how to put together the right mix of the developer team were:
- You can’t increase your developer team just for the sake of increasing your team as it can reduce productivity.
- When hiring developers for your team look at the degree of specialization they have in their respective domain.
- Just knowing how to code well isn’t enough, instead, developers should be able to deliver as well.
- You should hand-pick developers who exhibit the ability to think outside the box and are able to solve problems as they crop up.
While for Sergei Anikin, putting together the ultimate developer teams for your startup boils down to handpicking individuals who are quick on their feet and are able to react positively and promptly to situations as they arise. This means, as a startup owner you shouldn’t just go full throttle when recruiting developers for your team as it can lead to a scenario where one guy’s digging and all the others are just standing and watching.
Sergei’s secret sauce recipe for putting together the right-mix of developer teams looked something like this:
- Before you bring developers on board, think long and hard how can these new additions not become a bottleneck for your business.
- Look for developers who bring with them a certain sense of ownership.
- Resist the temptation of bringing on a lot of developers to do a simple task due to the possibility of running into conflicts and unproductivity.
- Being retrospective is always crucial when you are in the process of bringing developers on board as it helps you see who you should and should not hire.
Recruitment & Training: Now What’s the FoolProof Formula?
Alo Arro, the CEO of Teamscope kicked off the last part of the afternoon with his keynote session on “Recruitment and Training: How to Do it Right?” What made his session interesting and easy to follow, was his list of the Do’s and Don’ts which he presented to the audience.
Alo’s List of Do’s and Don’ts while recruiting and training looked somewhat like this:
- Don’t solely rely on your emotions when making a hiring decision as your gut feelings can be wrong. This is unless you have hired 100 people.
- Don’t let the wrong people have an opinion on things they absolutely have no idea of.
- Do set goals required for the individual to succeed in that specific role.
- Do evaluate people on the basis of things that actually matter.
Before letting the audience treat themselves to oven-fresh, gooey pizza after the day’s events, Harry Kanistik, the CEO of Mikaels Labs thanked everyone for making this honest and pressing conversation possible. He also let the audience know that Mikaels Labs would next be speaking at Tehnopol on November 27th, 2019, on how to avoid some of the common mistakes that tend to befall early-stage startups. So, whether you’re worried about finding the right kind of people for your startup or wracking your brains to get the scaling-up process right, How To Not F**k Up Your Startup’s the place to be!
Until then, what happens in Balancing the Startup Developer Equation, doesn’t stay in Balancing the Startup Developer Equation!
P.S. If you are still curious, how about watching the entire session LIVE?