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Sustainable Scaling: A Myth or Reality

Scaling Team
Retention
Team Processes

28 June, 2021

Javier Voos
Javier Voos

Head of Engineering at Naranja

Javier Voos, Head of Engineering at NaranjaX, shares how to ensure sustainable scaling in a context of high attrition and ever-evolving technological innovation.

Problem

One of the founding axioms of tech development is that teams need to scale. In tech, unlike elsewhere, the status quo means going backward. But, ensuring sustainable scaling is anything but easy. The scarcity of engineering talent and high rotation rates are prevalent not only in Argentina and Latin America but in every corner of the world.

Though we have our own struggle to fight in terms of being competitive and offering financial compensation on par with tech companies based in the US and Europe, sustainable scaling is a huge problem for tech companies. I am sure every manager wonders how one can remain productive in those circumstances. While we put a significant effort to decrease onboarding time, train and upskill people in the light of ever-evolving technical innovation, that is more difficult than it seems.

Actions taken

We tried to tackle the problem of sustainable scaling by introducing new approaches and tooling. I worked closely with my managers, for starters: first explaining the situation and the implication of sustained attrition and then discussing possible solutions. We understood that reducing onboarding time was one of the prerequisites. We also agreed to create micro-teams with specific domain knowledge ready to be deployed on concrete projects instead of training people to deliver in all of our digital ecosystem domains.

Furthermore, in the last two years, we invested in tooling, most specifically in obtaining a catalog serving as a vending machine for our tools. It is called Khatu, which means market in Quechua. At any given moment, an engineer could get a particular tool from the vending machine, including services, templates, libraries, plugins, APIs, and SDKs, thus having best practices, security compliance, and expertise reuse as our main objectives accomplished.

The vending machine operates through self-service and is quite effortless to use. With it in place, there is no need for a high-skilled engineer in security, cloudOps, QA, SRE, or SW development to implement the best practices on these domains for our technology stack. Investment in tooling is a continuous investment since new technologies are surfacing every day, and we need to provide to our engineers both resources and new challenges. Moreover, given the uncontainable technical development, the vending machine will continue to grow over time.

Our vending machine life -- how we use our tools -- comes in two flavors. I prefer to use an analogy of a federal and state level to describe our approach. If one has basic skills, they will use tools from the vending machine. That is a state-level approach. But, a senior or expert engineer, who is skilled in a particular domain like cloudOps, security, SRE, or SW development, will pursue a federal-level approach. They will be able to create a new feature that can be added to the vending machine and be used at a state level. The rationale behind this approach is that our product is continuously evolving, and more and more features are added to the vending machine. In addition, we also want to give our most skilled people new challenges through the process of creating new tools or evolving the existing ones.

Finally, we also let a vivid technical community flourish within our company. We created the Developer Relations team to support a dedicated space for engineers to communicate and exchange best practices, new approaches, or cross-cutting problems more extensively. We want to provide them with relevant technical challenges and access to new technologies, motivating them to grow and stay with the company.

Lessons learned

  • As a company, we take sustainable scaling having high-rotation rates. We also do partnerships with educational institutions and boot camps and provide them with the training material. The training material (videos, exercises, etc.) is tremendously useful to help engineers prepare for their first job. All training material is based on our tech stack and vending machine, making onboarding much more efficient and shorter. We also work with many contractors, and we share this material with companies that supply us with them. It makes integration frictionless and fast.
  • We managed to boost motivation by encouraging people to celebrate their success and share their experiences across the technical community. We created a space that enabled sharing and quick adoption of best practices across the wide community of engineers.
  • By introducing new approaches and tooling, we decreased our time to market in terms of delivering new features for our digital ecosystem. We use already existing tools and keep our stack updated. There is no doubt that it’s much easier to scale when you provide continuous technical challenges using an inclusive approach, for all the engineers’ skill sets, from trainees to experts.

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