Some companies hit the gold mine straight away. This happened to Facebook, Google, Alibaba – and now Slack. How is working in a hyper-growth company different to a normal startup? In Carly’s two years working at Slack as a Software Engineer building features for Enterprise Grid, she’s had the opportunity to work with several Product Managers with distinct styles and varying levels of experience. In a recent event, she shared her tips on how to handle the growth, the challenging environment and what mistakes to avoid.
Software Engineer at Slack
Carly Robinson is a software engineer at Slack, with a degree from Northwestern University in Film, Political Science and Musical Theater. Before becoming an engineer, Carly worked professionally in musical theater, as well as in the nonprofit world, working to end human trafficking and modern slavery. For her engineering role, Carly brings to the table a unique background in theater, writing, administration, event planning and fundraising.
Since joining Slack in October 2015, Carly has been influential in the development of Enterprise Grid as a back-end engineer and feature lead for Slack’s international billing systems. Most recently, Carly has joined Slack’s Platform team.
How to Handle Hyper Growth?
Carly’s talk explored challenges her team encountered while working on high-impact, cross-functional projects in a hyper-growth startup environment. She shared her knowledge to help PMs improve their abilities to lead engineers and action projects while avoiding some of the mistakes encountered along the way.
Carly shared tips on how to write engineer-friendly product specs and explained the importance of setting clear expectations and boundaries of ownership when leading a new team through a cross-functional project. She also discussed how feature estimation can be hard and how to plan for setbacks.
In a nutshell:
- Slack was founded in 2014, and since then it has been growing rapidly.
- By the end of 2014, they had 16,000 active free users.
- In 2015, they grew to a million free users and in 2016, they doubled it.
- In 2018, they now have over 6 million active users.
- Common challenges for hyper-growth startups:
- There are lots of projects and lots of new people.
- Management issues arising with scaling: Engineers with expanding departments tend to start leading teams and planning full-time, instead of writing code.
- Projects move fast, leaving a lot of room for miscommunication and wasted energy.
- Not enough engineers: Engineers have to be willing to expand out of their core expertise.
- Not enough communication.
- Engineering code base is compromised.
- Product development lifecycle:
- 1: Find the right opportunity.
- 2: Design the solution.
- 3: Build the solution (majority of your time).
- 4: Share the solution.
- 5: Assess the solution.
- Lead in person and on paper.
- Explicitly define roles and ownership.
- Collaborate with tech and design leads early and often.
- Keep your user stories concise. If they get too long, break them down more.
- Use complete sentences: context, action and result.
- Think about your audience (engineers). The stories should translate into transferable units of work.
- Be thorough: know your resources.
- Be prepared to be the project manager.
- Automate as many details as possible.
- Check and re-check the requirements are satisfied.
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