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TechEd 2014: Building and managing a global engineering team made simple

TechEd 2014: Building and managing a global engineering team made simple

Owen Evans, CTO and co-founder of Hoist Apps, spoke about the need to hire juniors and female employees, while improving communication and documentation, to get the most out of teams of developers

Building and managing a team of global engineers and developers might seem like a difficult task, but it can be done more effectively, if not made simpler.

CTO and co-founder of Hoist Apps, Owen Evans, explained how this can be done at the TechEd 2014 event in New Zealand this week.

“If you are looking to build a team that is geographically diverse one of the first things you would need to do is put them in specialisation pods," Evans said.

"This means creating groups of developers that focus on and deliver on one single project or product. These pods can be separate in one office, or they can be pods that are geographically distributed, but people working in a pod focus together on solving one problem..

“You also have to understand remote working. The first think to understanding remote working is to try it yourself. Try working out of the office a couple of days a week to see how it changes your interaction with your co-workers. You have to find talent anywhere and grow, and to do that you have to understand remote working and enable it without the edges,” he said.

Evans said that when it comes to working with separate teams of engineers most of the time it comes down to communication and documentation.

“As you grow, communications gets more complex. There are a lot of different tools out there, but engineers will have their own opinions on what they want to use. Run a couple of different tools at the same time, and allow them to make their own decisions on what they want to use. Let them run with it. You also have to enable discussions and ideas that happen by serendipity, both online and offline.

“This has to be supported by documentation. I don’t mean technical documentation, but a record where people can refer to about who to ask, where to find answers and explanations for processes that exist in the firm. All good documentation comes from the idea that there is a question at heart. And keep incorporating questions and answers constantly,” said Evans.

Liberally peppering his talk with examples from his time working at Xero, he encouraged managers to give engineers time to work on their own projects, while protecting them from distractions and meetings that can affect their productivity.

He also stressed the need to build diversity into teams. “The lack of diversity is killing our industry," he said. "You need to check your organisation and see how hard it is to enter and how hard it is to be part of an organisation.

"Key to building diversity is that you have to have female engineers in place to attract more female engineers. You can get that initial set of female engineers by being open to hiring juniors. People look for experienced people to fill senior roles in organisations.

"Instead, look to hire juniors, move workloads that are currently being done by people who have been with the organisation for some time to these juniors, and then give the more experienced person within your team the senior role. Go outside the usual pool of people that everybody tries to tap into – those that have been in the industry for five years."

Evans praised the NZ industry for not yet being as ‘gimmicky’ as companies in Silicon Valley – that offer free breakfasts, lunches and other perks – as the success or failure of any engineering team really comes down to trust, and that managers should motivate engineers to deliver at their best.

Today marks the fourth and final day of Microsoft’s TechEd 2014 that brought together more than 2000 IT developers, tinkerers, vendors and partners to get the latest updates on Microsoft’s solutions and technologies.

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