How to Move From A Hacking Culture To A Software Engineering Culture

Pierre-Alain Bouchard

VP Engineering at Swile



"When I joined Zendesk, my mission was to be the Manager of the Mobile team, which had four team members. The team was expected to look after a number of things, all at the same time. The team members would be asked to work on something, they'd jump on it and they would then move to something else. This meant that team members were regularly changing between topics. That wasn't a problem for a small team. However, as the team grew to 10, and then 15 people, this approach became problematic. Knowledge wasn't being quickly carried across, and new people challenged the quality of what had been done before."

Actions taken

"When you have a very small setup, companies will have a hacking culture. While this works, and can be scaled during the early stage of startups, when working in the enterprise software industry, this approach won't work well and it doesn't scale easily. It takes some time to encourage people to move to a more standard process, and in our case it took about 18 months. As soon as I realized that the hacking culture would be a problem in terms of scaling up, I spoke with my team and underlined that while working alone in a corner may look great, and may make a lot of people happy, it wouldn't make their peers or future peers happy. I also began to ensure we were hiring engineers who valued quality engineering and could work fast, but who were unwilling to trade off quality for speed. We did this by using coding tests, where we could see how people code, and what they value when they code (i.e. quality versus speed). This usually gives us a good indication of how comfortable an employee will be with a pure software engineering culture. Engineers have said that they appreciate this, as they know that we allow time for engineers to get their coding right, and to a high standard."

Lessons learned

"By building these foundations, I was able to ensure that when there were disagreements in the team, the engineering values were understood by everyone, so we wouldn't go back into allowing shortcuts."

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Pierre-Alain Bouchard

VP Engineering at Swile

Engineering ManagementSoftware DevelopmentTeam & Project Management

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