Lessons learned from CTO Connect
How do you build a successful engineering team?
This is a common question for many startups and fast-growing companies. Some hidden insights can be learned from the tech community, with their decades of practical experience and background in software development.
At the recent San Francisco CTO Summit, tech leaders from WeWork, Google, Slack and other successful companies shared their insights on developing successful engineering teams.
In a nutshell, CTO Connect was jam-packed with useful content presented in a very short amount of time. A lot of value was gained from 20 sessions, specifically for engineering leaders and management. The presentations covered everything from tips on how to build a dream team and manage remote teams to application performance management and quality vs QA.
In this post, we’ll highlight some of our take-aways on how to lead your startup team to real success.
Perfectionists all suffer from the same disease: they think no one else can do it better and have a lot of trouble delegating.
Drew Batshaw, CTO at Waggl, kicked off the event with a talk entitled “How to Run a Development Team if You Only Have a Year to Live.” Special attention was placed to personal development and how important it is to be able to delegate tasks if you want to be an effective leader. If you’re running a software development team for a startup and want to ensure quick success, don’t be afraid to delegate.
Another important takeaway from the presentation was the need to make time for personal retreats and allowing yourself planning time to figure out what the most important tasks are for your day.
All things Agile
In a startup world, no one will argue that it’s important to stay agile and flexible when developing a new product. Ron Lichty delivered a pretty cool presentation on Agile software development. In the session, Lichty talked about how first and foremost, software development is a team environment in which every player has to know and play their role. He compared the contemporary software development process to jazz, as things are constantly moving and changing rapidly. There is a lot of improvisation in agile teams, but being improvisational in operating processes will help companies make changes on the fly.
Aces in their places
Cathy Polinsky, CTO at Stitch Fix, talked about getting people in the right places and the importance of project management.
For example, one of your developers may be phenomenal at coding but completely fail if asked to manage the team. That’s why putting the right people into positions that are the best fit for their specific knowledge and experience can help to skyrocket overall team productivity and commitment.
Another great point that was made during the presentation is to always consider why you’re creating a certain product or solution rather than just building it to align with the spec. Bringing a new solution to the world is a great thing, but before you start developing it, think about who you’re creating it for. User experience, engineering, and data science should all work together to create the right product that fits the market need.
Pressure, not stress
Building a great engineering team can be kind of a nightmare when it comes to finding the right people. Julia Grace, Senior Director of Infrastructure Engineering at Slack, discussed this in her talk about how to build a development team under pressure.
The key to success is to remember that you never know who you’re going to hire, no matter the industry. Being hired by people and maintaining good relationships is a must, and Julia’s example is the best proof of this point. In a couple of years, Julia hired her own bosses. Treating people with respect is important because it is a tremendous privilege to be their leader.
The main takeaway we got from the presentation is to recruit for the long term, which is totally aligned with what we have been successfully cultivating here at iTechArt for quite some time.
Distributed teams management
Many companies are still relatively skeptical when it comes to outsourcing their product development needs. They fear declined productivity, things not getting done properly, timezone pain, miscommunications, and cultural differences. Johnny Ray Austin, Head of Navigation Data at Mapbox, talked about managing distributed teams.
Key points from the presentation include:
- Remote team members are still part of the team and should be treated as equals, even though they aren’t physically in the office
- Time zone concerns and miscommunications are can be overcome by describing and discussing assignments and tasks in detail. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate to make sure everyone is on the same page.
In conclusion, this year’s CTO Connect was a great opportunity for us to be involved in the tech ecosystem. Participating in the event was a great experience for iTechArt, and we hope to see you at the next CTO Connect planned for December in New York.
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