Achieving Team Scalability
28 June, 2018
I have worked for five years as the CTO of a startup, and while I wasn't a founder I have worked for them from the very beginning. At first, we took the approach of building products over the course of three or so months, so they were big but not huge. As a good engineer, I knew I had to take care of scalability concerns so I tried to take this into account from day one. This worked pretty well. However, one thing I found really difficult was thinking about the scalability of our team.
The startup worked quite well, and so the CEO came to me in June and asked me to scale from 2 developers to 10 by the end of the year. I didn't see how that was possible. The company was already two years old by this point, so I had had the opportunity to take on some interns to see how it worked when new people were brought onto the team. From this experience, I had found that to onboard someone and have them really be able to code and understand our products and technologies would have taken three to six months. Because of this, I was convinced it just wasn't possible to onboard eight people by the end of the year. However, I knew I couldn't just tell my CEO no. I thought about it, discussed it with the engineer I had, and came up with a way to rebuild the product in a way that would make it much easier for newcomers to enter the product. The general idea was to have a learning curve that would be much smoother than it was in the past. Our first version of our product required developers to master a lot of things before they could enter the product without breaking it, because there were a lot of interdependent factors that couldn't be isolated. When we rebuilt the product we focussed on this issue. First, we cut the product into two totally isolated, functional parts. At times, we even limited the product in its functionalities to do this. This made the product simpler and easier to use. Once we had done this, we hired some developers. We went from it taking developers three to six months to be fully onboarded to two weeks to a month. The difference was huge
The way you build your product and structure your company can have a huge impact on your ability to grow and scale as a team. Unfortunately, team scalability is often ignored by managers and CTOs. From day one, this was our main goal and we made big sacrifices in order to achieve this. At times this meant duplicating code, but we gained isolation so people could be onboarded faster.
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