Building a Team From Scratch

Anant Verma

VP of Engineering at Alation



The company I was working at went through a massive acquisition and it was decided that the acquired company should remain operating as an independent unit. I was recruited to lead a team that was supposed to build a product using data collected by this independent unit. The team I led initially had near zero team members. I had some ideas that yet had to be tested and that was about all. Apparently, bringing people on board was my first and foremost task.

Actions taken

At the earliest beginning, I recruited people internally relying on a methodology developed by the company I was working at. "Opportunity Open Market (OOM) is a methodology that encourages internal mobility and flexibility among employees and allows engineers to join any team they desire." OOM permitted me to choose from at least 100 potential engineers once the call was published and distributed within the company. This methodology flourishes in an open and supportive environment and I had to frequently meet with all these different people over coffee or lunch, nurture attentively interpersonal relationships and update regularly everyone on what is going on the team. Steadily I started looking with my recruiting team to the outside. I went through my LinkedIn network, all available referrals, and every other possible source of potential candidates. I preferred to set up an in-person meeting over a phone conversation as I was betting on my persuading skills. Within the first year, our team grew to almost 40 people and had stayed that size for a while. The team was highly diverse both in terms of levels (directors, managers, etc) and roles (merging engineers and product people). Together, they made a fairly strong team.

Lessons learned

  • I was a big believer in the Opportunity Open Market even before I used it and benefited from it. "My overall impression was that this methodology brings together people who are genuinely interested in working on problems the team is tasked with."
  • Using OOM I was able to hire endless people within only one quarter. All these people were outstanding hires and contributed significantly to the team. This way we were able to move mountains in the short amount of time and release a product earlier than expected.
  • All companies are either single- or multi-product companies regardless of their size. If you stay on the same team in a single-product company, you will build your expertise only in one product area. Then, that same expertise will glue you evermore to the same team and you will eventually become reluctant to switch to another team. Paradoxically, your streamlined expertise will erode itself. Therefore, mobility and flexibility should be encouraged and employees should be provided with periodic opportunities to change their teams.

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Anant Verma

VP of Engineering at Alation

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