Trust Me, I am (not only) an EngineerSep 16 2016
To most non-technical people, a developer is a guy who drinks a lot of coffee, speaks IT jargon, grabs pizza, and codes a lot. Is that an accurate picture? Are all devs the same? What kind of developer do you need for your startup? Let's try to figure it out.
CTO-as-a-service: startup devs fill more than one role
So, you’ve researched your idea and put together a budget, and now you’re ready to start working on your project. At this point, founders often experience difficulty finding a person/company to build the technical part of the project.
Startup advisors often point out three areas where non-technical founders are least prepared. Technical aspects of the product are among them, and I believe it’s the most important. You may have a really great business idea, but have no idea how to make the technology side work — especially if you are small startup with no CTO.
Even if you have a person with coding skills on your team, she or he may not be enough. Imagine a guy who will code any feature you can think of without asking any questions and/or advising anything—even if your idea is misleading. Will you be happy with the result? Unlikely.
You need a person who is not only a great tech specialist, but also a good communicator. That person needs to have good business skills and be process-oriented. You need not only the coder to whom you assign tasks, but a partner who will act as stand-in CTO for your project.
Less is more in startups
Sometimes founders fall in love with their startups and want to make them as cool and complete as possible. So do we, the developers.
But a good programmer will remind you what a minimum viable product (or an MVP) should look like, and will be glad to help you cut out bulky and expensive features, leaving only necessary, elegant functionality.
Let’s look at what an MVP product should look like if you envision building a car. At this stage we want to build a skateboard. Or maybe a scooter. So our MVP design consists of a board, wheels (small ones), and maybe a handlebar. That’s it.
But then some non-technical founder (in fact, most of them) takes a look and wants to add a speedometer, a door, or even an on-board computer. This is the point where a good developer joins the conversation and helps the project owner prioritize features, save money, and stop disappointing beta users.
Don’t get me wrong: a good developer should deliver great code. Period. But in terms of startups, he needs to deliver more than that.
Less is more. We all know this. But in our app, we always need another button that does something cool. If you as the project owner are not certain you need specifically this button, you need a person to consult, and that person should be your developer.
Communication is the key
Project development teams in big, stable projects usually have a Project Manager. Most startups, particularly at the MVP stage, don’t, and I personally believe this is a good thing.
For small projects, direct communication is beneficial. Project managers add a middleman into the mix, and important details or nuance can be lost until the process starts to resemble a game of Telephone. A much better option is to briefly communicate through the feature/issue/user story, get an opinion from the technical side, and get things done instead of complicating the situation unnecessarily. Better to start out with a competent developer who can also serve as your stand-in CTO than to find yourself juggling both a PM and a monkey-coder.
50% of success
In one of his speaches Sam Altman identifies four main parts of an outstanding project: Idea, Product, Team, and Execution.
It is great if you have a brilliant idea for a product. You’ve done your research, and you are sure there is a market waiting. When it’s time to hire a developer, remember that your choice now will impact fully half of your journey towards project success.
Certainly each project is unique, and has its own needs. But still, while building a team, looking for a development company, or hiring an individual, always keep in mind that you are hiring more than a person who simply codes. You are looking for a partner and technical adviser who will help form your startup culture and bring you to success.
That's why, without regard to whether you are looking for a individual developer or choosing a company to work with you should take a deep care about points mentioned above because the dream-team you will assemble will eventually make or break your chances of success.
- Volodymyr Holovatyy