Scaling a New Product Area

Hector Zarate Rea

Engineering Manager at Spotify



"I was part of an organization that was growing at a rapid pace. As a result, I was put in charge of scaling out our product area from three full-time employees to three cross-functional teams. We had a lot of ongoing commitments with external partners, so it was important that we maintained delivery while we were scaling. Of course, hiring was the most important strategic part, and also the most difficult one."

Actions taken

  • I began by focusing first on the high-level, and then concentrating on the details. Thus, the first thing I honed in on was the missions of each of the teams. This meant answering the question: what is each team's purpose? The purpose of a team defines what they need to do. It is the most fundamental question of a team, or any organization for that matter. For this reason, I started the scaling process by defining the mission for each team: what they do and what they DON'T do. I also kept in mind that these missions were aligned with the organization containing these teams.
  • From there, I thought about the commitments and projects that would fall into each team given their missions. With this information I was able to spell out the capabilities that each team needed: what skills, qualifications, and competencies would I need to look for when hiring.
  • The third step was estimating how many engineers of each capability I needed. I decided, as a key part of my strategy for building out the organization, to have two engineers of each capability. That way they could do pair programming, faster code reviews and we would have redundancy if someone was sick, traveling, or out of the office.
  • After allocating the head count, the final step was finding the right individuals and allocating them to the teams. I paid attention to make a good balance of seniority and communication styles. I want there to be a differential of seniority in each capability: a Senior Engineer working together with a Junior Engineer.

"This 4-step design allowed me to form a concrete picture of the positions I needed to hire for so then I could go out and do the hiring. The core of this design and hiring process took me about six months. I employed the help of our Talent Acquisition department, but that wasn't enough for the amount of people I had to hire within the time constraints. So I diversified where the hires came from: our own hiring pipelines, internal transfers, converting excellent contractors into full-time employees, and Engineers I scouted myself across Europe and Sweden."

Lessons learned

  • Set the bar high. "When you are evaluating a potential hire, don't compare this hire against zero. Think of this: infinitesimal numbers are still infinity times bigger than zero. Instead compare candidates to what would be an excellent hire. This puts you in a very different mindset."
  • Nail down the technique of behavioral interviewing. "You need to be able to separate the specific behaviors a candidate describes against what they say in general, their communication style or how much you like them. We all have unconscious biases, but it's crucial that you are able to differentiate your own biases (positive or negative) from what was demonstrated in the interview."
  • Trust your intuition. "During this scaling, I did make one bad hire that I had to phase out of the organization. The technical interview was very good but I wasn't totally convinced from the behavioral interview. Something told me not to hire this person but I was under a lot of pressure. Because I didn't listen to my intuition, I ended up going through a very draining experience."

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Hector Zarate Rea

Engineering Manager at Spotify

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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