Building a Successful Engineering Team - Advice from Industry Leaders

Programmers and software engineers are an essential ingredient for the growth of tech companies. Therefore, if you can build an effective engineering team, you can unleash the power of teamwork in your organization, and reap the massive benefits.Recently, we held a tech engineers seminar, in which we brainstormed on the best ways of building a successful engineering team. We welcomed three engineering leads / CEOs to share their experience and knowledge - Naoki Kitamura, CEO and founder of Incubit, Robert Schuman, Director of Engineering of LEOMO, and Boris Jansen, Engineering Manager at Indeed.com.Here is a summary of the advice they shared with us. 

  1. Build competent skills

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 Naoki Kitamura, CEO and founder of Incubit, a Tokyo-based tech startup, while presenting on “How to Survive and Thrive in the Era of AI”, emphasized, “Developers should have sufficient skills to fill the technological gaps and create the next big thing”. 

  • Nurture competent skills

With advancements in technology, especially in this era of the artificial intelligence revolution, ensuring your organization remains competitive calls for nurturing competent skills within your engineering team.Naoki pointed out that a company like Google has been able to develop innovative technologies, such as Google Translate, which has remained competitive because of the way it nurtures its engineering team.Therefore, to thrive and survive the current technological strife, you must ensure your team is sufficiently trained and equipped with top-notch skills to escalate the growth of your company.

  • Encourage creativity

Building competent skills within your engineering team also requires encouraging creativity. Cultivating a culture of creativity among your team members will give room for new, better ideas to sprout, which will enable you remain relevant in the current competitive tech space.According to Naoki, “Engineering team members should use their creative energies to combine technologies and create something new”. For example, if they are “AI creators”, as he calls them, they should be capable of innovating to “put something into existence”.This way, team members are able to use their skills to sustain the growth of the organization, instead of relying on archaic technologies that cannot deliver competitive products.

  • Ensure skills diversity

Furthermore, ensuring skills diversity is also essential for the success of an engineering team (and survival of your organization). Collaborating on a project where every team member is sufficiently trained on his or her area of expertise leverages the final output.If team members work side by side, each maximally utilizing his or her skills, the productivity levels will be increased. Naoki mentioned, “We won the first prize in IBM Hackathon event mainly because of embracing skills diversity in our team”. 

  1. Capitalize on curiosity

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 Robert Schuman, Director of Engineering of LEOMO, a company developing innovative sports devices, presented on "Capitalizing on Curiosity: How to build (and support) an engineering A-team".Throughout his presentation, Robert emphasized that cultivating curiosity is essential in maintaining motivation and an engineering team's capability to produce competitive applications.If your engineering team members are curious, they will inevitably look for new goals to achieve without the need of pushing them to do so.

  • Cultivate curiosity in the workplace

With current advancements in technology, you need programmers who are always on the lookout for new, enticing ideas. Robert said, “I love working with people who are motivated and passionate, and love to learn”.In order to cultivate curiosity on your engineering team, you need to embrace a flexible management style that gives them room to think freely and develop better ways of doing things.If you fail to allow your team members to enjoy the right of their own unique personalities, things may go shabbily, and hurt your bottom line. “I’ve been building teams of what I like to think are inquisitive, exciting people. I love open-minded management that helps fuel innovation”, Robert emphasized.Worth mentioning, fear in the workplace discourages curiosity. Once your engineering team members fear to think freely, their innovative spirits will become shackled, and nothing new and exciting may be produced. Robert asserted, “I don’t like working with teams with a strong fear of failure”.In technology, trial and error is the key to greatness, but once fear is instilled within your engineering team members—if failure is not an option—achievement cannot form part of the equation.You need to let your team members experiment and make mistakes within limits; the outcome of multiple experimentations and mistakes can generate competitive applications that can reshape the image of your company.

  • Hire appropriately

Importantly, to ensure that high value developers join your team, Robert recommends that you “Develop clearly stated job descriptions to appeal to the most curious programmers”. Further, “Hiring a coder whose resume is filled with errors just points to the carelessness of his or her development style”, he added.You should also assess the desire for improvement of the candidates to hire. If they cannot be curious enough to keep up-to-date with the changing technologies, then they cannot build a successful engineering team.“To find out who’s curious, host hackathon events. Do they follow technology developments from channels such as Hacker News, TechCrunch, or Tech In Asia? How do they take constructive criticism and questions related to any work they produce?” Robert pointed out. 

  1. Promote the growth of engineering team

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 Boris Jansen, Engineering Manager at Indeed.com, a search engine for jobs, presented on "How to Scale an Engineering Organization 10x”. Boris highlighted on the need to build a successful engineering team by ensuring growth is occurring unobstructed. If growth is encouraged in a team, the organization will realize its goals without much complications. 

  • Small teams

Empowering teams driving their own roadmap avoids bottlenecks and enables an engineering organization to grow. It is important for teams to make decisions based on data. By organizing the engineering organization in small teams and developing incrementally, enable teams to iterate quickly and obtain feedback early, overall supporting a data-driven product design process.Boris said, “We organize ourselves in small, autonomous cross-functional teams, where each team is in charge of deploying some unit of our product”. For instance, “A typical team at Indeed consists of only 2 to 6 engineers, a QA, a PM and an engineering manager who collaborate on projects”, he emphasized.Boris also mentioned that subdividing a project assists in “building relationships” among different teams. This is particularly important when workload is great than a team’s capacity, and the cordial relationship existing among teams can enable fruitful sharing of experiences and ideas.

  • Efficiently integrate new hires

Ensuring that your new employees blend smoothly into your organizational culture is critical for long-term success.For example, at Indeed.com, new hires rotate within three different teams during the first three months. This way, the new employees get exposed to the different technologies and processes of the company, and also build relationships with other more experienced engineers. Rotations also help in finding the best team fit by taking into account the preferences of the engineer, as well as the observed strengths and Indeed’s needs.

  • Make new leaders

The long-term success of your organization does not depend on the achievements of the current engineering team. Therefore, you need to enhance the growth of your team by creating an environment that supports the emergence of new leaders.At Indeed.com, they created Indeed University, a Summer program to onboard the many new grad hires. Indeed University also aims to develop new leaders, giving emerging leaders within the company their first taste of engineering management experience by directly managing new grads. ConclusionBuilding a successful engineering team is pivotal for the realization of the goals of your tech company.As such, to build a world-class engineering team that can assist you remain competitive in the current dynamic tech space, you need to nurture competent skills, capitalize on curiosity, and enhance the growth of your team.