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16 ways to build a better dev team

Paul Heltzel | June 21, 2016
The secret to building and maintaining a great development team requires transparency, flexibility, and yes, good vibes

Sam Lambert, GitHub’s senior director of infrastructure, argues that companies that view managers and engineers differently are destined to underperform.

“Companies need to position managers as strong technical mentors to their teams,” Lambert says. That way, engineering managers “can provide guidance on code and projects, help them navigate technical challenges, and use their personal experiences to multiply the effectiveness of their group.”

Training is a great opportunity for bringing managers and team members together in the same boat. At Booz Allen Hamilton, principal Dan Tucker gets help from a team of agile coaches, who train and coach teams and managers.

“As a rule, we have managers go through these experiences with their teams,” Tucker says. “This helps to level-set on a common language, work through resistance and confusion, and design the journey ahead.”

Trulia’s McConathy also recommends an employee-focused culture and an open door -- even in the face of business-based duties. “I’ve canceled meetings with our president in order to grab coffee with a new employee or someone trying to work through a problem,” McConathy says.

3. Increase business visibility

Giving your developers greater visibility into the business is another way to ensure your technical teams can bring a deeper understanding to bear on achieving business goals. For this, Larry Gadea, CEO of Envoy, preaches transparency.

“Aside from private employee information and customer data, we let employees see everything about the business.” -- Larry Gadea, CEO, Envoy

“Aside from private employee information and customer data, we let employees see everything about the business,” Gadea says. “This includes investor updates, board meeting slides, up-to-the-minute finances -- including bank account balances -- un-redacted calendars, etc.”

Bridget Frey, CTO of Redfin, agrees that exposure to the company’s core business activities is important in helping developers gain valuable insights.

“Our engineers shadow our real estate agents, learning what it’s like to take a customer on tour or negotiate a home purchase price,” Frey says.

4. Break down the walls

If your projects aren’t solving the problems they’re supposed to, it may be a matter of barriers that need breaking down.

Amanda Whaley, director of developer experience at Cisco, attacks silos by targeting two areas: cultural and technology.

“We value an API-first culture. This encourages development teams to build APIs so that it is easy for other teams to build integrations and leverage each other's projects.” -- Amanda Whaley, director of developer experience, Cisco

“On the cultural side, we invest energy into building relationships across the company,” Whaley says. “One example is sponsoring internal unconference and hackathon days where team members from many organizations can work together in a workshop and create connections that can then be used to facilitate collaboration.”

 

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