With an ever growing team of developers, challenges arise. So far we scaled from five developers in beginning 2013 to a 30+ people strong developer squad today. Adapting the organisation of an ever growing team is another story, here I would like to focus on keep on finding them!
And to restrict today’s topic even further: I won’t write about the details of selecting the best candidates (this could or will be addressed in a future post) but rather about preparing the foundation for scaling geographically.
I grouped our learnings in the following 10 steps, happy reading :)
1. Try to avoid having a second engineering hub
We think that, in an ideal world, everybody should be together in the same place. There’s just no good substitute for face time. Being in the same building makes many things less painful, more efficient. Since the tech talent pool in one single place—Paris in our case—is limited and the creation of true diversity in one single place is hard, we had to put this ideal organisation setting aside.
2. Have a strong team culture
Once the decision to have a second engineering office was made, we focused on what we did already pretty well: having an awesome team culture. Thus being able to not only replicate but to extend this team culture into the new office was a key requirement. The
second new team not only needs to feel included, it has to be part of the existing. To get there we closely pay attention to match the new team’s DNA—mindset, reflexes, behaviours—with what we already have in Paris. And since culture is organic, we keep on putting maximum effort into it. Fun & serious, all the time.
3. Make your team use a different language
We are in France, and our tech team is almost solely composed of French people. So, surprise, we all speak French. All day! In order to open the team to remote—not French speaking—teams we had to change a rock-solid habit. We did this with the help of five guys from Romania, who work with us for over a year now and do a great job despite being remote, and not speaking French. Thanks to them we managed to switch our entire communication—group emails, slack messages, meetings—to English, which actually took several months. Besides the change of our communication language we also started to think out-of-the-meeting-room-box, i.e. running and recording our meetings on hangout with a decent camera and microphone.
4. Talk to people who did this already
This step is critical. It not only helped shaping the idea of having a second engineering hub but also gave us the right insights to make this happen. Talking to companies like Criteo, SmartRecruiters or Facebook—who all faced this same challenge one day—was of invaluable help. Answers to our questions like How did you start your remote team?, Why did you choose this place over that? or What were the biggest struggles in the beginning? actively helped us to make the first decisions and take the first actions. Obviously there’s no one-fits-all solution, but meeting other people with similar challenges allows you to identify patterns and to generate ideas. This playbook is a good example, it would look fairly different without external input.
5. Find the right place
This choice was hard, but in the end pretty obvious. From the very beginning we imposed ourselves the following constraints:
- join an existing office—today BlaBlaCar is physically present in 12 countries—to bring developers close to business and facilitate team culture.
- demand a thriving tech culture with strong communities around our main technologies.
- avoid above-average competition for talents with other popular product companies.
- keep it in the same/similar timezone to ensure that everybody can work synchronous.
Poland and thus Warsaw clearly stood out. It is important to note that it’s not about saving money but about getting access to a bigger talent pool. As the first step suggests, we believe that it will always be cheaper to have everybody in one room. No matter what the labour cost is.
6. Find the right leader
A good company is composed of excellent teams, and excellent teams of excellent people. Thus the first action was to find a leader for the team. The requirements for this person were manifold:
- be truly local: live the place, speak the language and be part of the community.
- be a true leader: not only does this person have to absorb our existing culture, but also spread it among the new team.
- be an outstanding communicator: working remotely is all about communicating—not to say over-communicating.
- be technical: have the ability and will to know the platform well to help future recruits to get up to speed.
Once found—we had a bunch of very interesting candidates—this person spent over a month with the tech team in Paris. Piotr—the person’s name—also joined a number of events in France and Poland that fostered our ties and aligned us on many aspects. It took us less than two months to be fully on the same page, Piotr is now the best possible ambassador of the BlaBlaTech in Warsaw/Poland.
7. Integrate into the community
Having the right person (see the previous step) was the perfect door opener to the Polish web community. The BlaBlaTech is omnipresent in France’s web community, and we work hard to become the same in Poland. Groups and conferences had to be identified and joined, sponsorships established. We were present at 2 big conferences (4developers in Warsaw and InfoShare in Gdanks) and 1 essential meetup (PHPers in Warsaw), meeting hundreds of tech people. We continue to target important and/or interesting conferences all over Poland to truly integrate with the Polish web community in the long run.
We created—as another integral part—a meetup group that has 80+ members today. For our first event we invited 40 of them into our Warsaw office for our presentation The BlaBlaTech arrives in Warsaw, followed by socialising and networking. Six tech people—including developers—from Paris joined the event to give BlaBlaTech a face in Warsaw and to answer to numerous questions about our project. Our next meetup is planned to be a little more technical, with presentations concerning our technology stack.
8. Hire only top talents
Standards are high to join the BlaBlaTech, be it for candidates in Paris or Warsaw. In addition, we demand even more from the first hires for our tech team in Warsaw. Since they will form the ground layer of a quickly growing team, we expect them to create strong ties with engineers from Paris. Besides strong technical skills we are looking for communicative people who live our share more, learn more value. Having a great network and a decent presence record at conferences is a highly appreciated bonus, thus fostering the previous step—our integration into the Polish web community.
9. Give the best possible onboarding
Just like we did (and keep on doing) with our leader in Warsaw we also put an important amount of effort into the first weeks of new hires. Spending time in Paris with our engineering team is a must, there’s nothing better than face time to get to know each other. The first weeks are dedicated to technical and non-technical workshops, most of them in Paris. Besides, every new developer joins an existing and running development team to get to know the habits, do’s and don’ts—and obviously to start work on our platform. Again, absorbing the culture and truly becoming part of the team is what we focus on.
Onboarding does not stop after the first weeks, frequent exchanges are encouraged. Bringing the team to Paris and people from Paris to Warsaw will not be an exception but rather the rule.
10. Over-communicate all the time
And last but not least, it’s all about communication. That’s what makes interactions work. Privilege face time—either by having the people on the spot or on video conference—and provide all the tools required to get the distance out of the way of people. Messages have to be clear and concise, and above all: passed in the right channel. There are things that need to be said face-to-face, others by email to one or many, or by real-time messaging. Different tools for different purposes.
Just make it clear how to communicate and over which channel, and stick to it. This means
repeat over-communicate, repeat over-communicate, repeat over-communicate.
I want to end this article with a warning. First of all, our second engineering hub is only about to start. We’ll see in a year or two how good we all did. Second I want to say that team building is a social science, meaning that there are no rules or laws of nature. Things that work for us might not work for you, but I’m convinced that it’s worth sharing our experiences in the hopes of pattern matching. This brings me to one last advice: Since we are already around, Poland might actually not be a good choice at all! Less competition for talent is always better ;)