Moving Towards Structure

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Moving Towards Structure Camille Fournier CTO, Rent the Runway @skamille

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My Story Grew Rent the Runway’s engineering team from ~12 to 55 and counting

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My Organizational Goals To create a relatively meritocratic environment To limit bias To develop the leadership talent on my team To hire a diverse workforce

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Flat We start flat, except of course for “the founders” or perhaps “the executives” First you have 3 directs Then 5 Then 10 Then… you start to break down

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Time to add some structure! Maybe I’ll hire a VP of Engineering!

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How about a Tech Lead? Great I’ll take my most senior/favorite dev and make them “Tech Lead” of some of the software

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Perhaps a Director of Engineering Not quite VP, not quite Tech Lead

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Either way, your flat is dead It was never true anyway, so it’s probably for the best

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What does this new leader DO? They make my life easier, of course!

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No, really I dunno. They handle… Project Management! People Management for part of the team! All Management so I don’t have to! Architecture!

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If you don’t know, you’re set up to fail Inevitably, this person is going to not read your mind exactly the way you wish they did How do you know whether they’re incompetent or just confused? How do you hold them accountable when you don’t know what they’re SUPPOSED to be doing?

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“They’ll define the role themselves!” If you hire someone who has done this job before and you have a shared context, that might be ok IE, you both worked for Google, and you hired a senior manager at Google to be a Director of Engineering

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A bad, but common, case HR hires people with random titles based on what you said you needed to hire “Frontend Engineer” “Lead DevOps” “iOS Specialist” Pay people directly based on experience and whatever HR magic formula

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Creating Clarity The minute you create hierarchy, you need clarity

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The Engineer Ladder: What The list of job levels and the description of what goes in each of those levels BEST PRACTICE: Above Senior Engineer, has a separate path for “Manager” vs “Individual Contributor” A device to create clarity on your team and, if done well, limit bias

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The Engineering Ladder: Why Gives you a framework for hiring, paying, promoting Forces you to become more clear in what you expect from people Forces you to push that clarity into your hiring process and possibly hire better Gives your team a growth path that helps them imagine their future with you

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Creating an Engineering Ladder Step 1: Ask your friends for theirs Step 0: Make friends with people who have teams big enough to justify a ladder Step 2: Be realistic about how it applies to your team You may not need all the levels. You may need more levels. Write it up. Get feedback. Rewrite it. Share it.

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I really don’t want to do this Why not?

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I’m afraid everyone will be clamoring for titles They probably will when you roll this out BUT This gives you the chance to make it clear to them what success looks like! Give them something to work towards! Give you both a framework for talking about how they are succeeding and how they are not

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Expect some anxiety Ladder rollouts do generate anxiety around upward mobility On the flip side, with no ladder, people that care about upward mobility leave for a better title elsewhere

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I’m afraid people will think they should be promoted who aren’t ready Well then, that is why you need to be very clear about what you expect at each level People will want to be promoted with or without a ladder, if you have any sort of leadership They’ll also want bigger pay, more options, bigger projects How do you determine who gets what?

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I’m afraid titles will cause us to lose voices of others It takes more than “no titles” to ensure that voices are actually heard

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There are more paths to excellence than climbing a ladder! True! And a ladder doesn’t take the place of other training Embrace add-ons, badges, specialties

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Premature optimization! True. You probably don’t need to do this when you have only 1 non-founder/executive “leader” But the minute you need 2…

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What about my vibe? Your vibe is a function of your company values and culture Do you know what your company values are? It is very possible to design a ladder to reflect and reward those values

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I’m the CTO, this isn’t my job! Like hell it isn’t If you are very lucky, you might find a VPE to do this for you I would not hold my breath This isn’t rocket science. If you can architect a system, you can architect a team.

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Conclusion Clarity Clarity Clarity Clarity