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The Black Magic of Engineering Management

Adam Christian (Sauce Labs Inc)
Culture & Organizational Change
Location: 118/119 Level: Advanced
Average rating: ****.
(4.44, 25 ratings)
Slides:   1-PDF 

Welcome to the jungle

If your startup is growing and succeeding, and your not finding the process; intense, rewarding, painful and scary – you are doing something wrong.

The startup curve

The roller coaster of a life time. It’s a reality and the way you approach it from both the psychological and logistical point of view can have a big impact on your team and the success of your product.

Team culture and recruiting

When it comes to an engineering team, the core sets the tone and culture for the forceable future. They enable you to build stability, and values into how you build code. This heavily influences how you recruit, build sustainable and effective teams, and find the right kind of balance between personality and talent in your new hires. When does remote working, work? It’s an appealing corner to cut in the competitive market, but is it worth it?

Paring down the chaos

There is a time when engineering teams thrive on chaos and immediate interaction, and as you grow you need to concentrate the chaos into pools that simulate the same productivity and balance the inevitable process that needs to be introduced.

Work/life balance expectations

The inevitable all night pizza and beer pre Techcrunch culture is an important part in the growth of a startup. Your core engineering group probably love the memories, but eventually they will take you into a room and tell you that they’ve had it and are about to burn the building down. This is an incredibly important moment.

Divide and conquer

Eventually you will need smaller teams, there is a lot of interesting though around functional, vs cross functional and project teams. What is the right balance for you, and how do you know if its working?


The achilles heal of growth. Your engineering resources are scarce, and everyone at your company is a stakeholder in their project queue. Keeping clear communication, and keeping your teams on track can make or break productivity. Not only that, internal communication across your teams starts to be a challenge.


As companies grow, developers start to feel less autonomous – if you allow that to happen. Don’t.

Let go of the code

Over time, you and your managers will hire teams, and become less and less able to have their hands in the code. It will make you sad, because you and those people put the thing in place that got you here. But, if you can’t make this transition, you become the problem.

Stay awesome

Just because you have a “real” organizational structure now, doesn’t mean you can stop being awesome. Going to community conferences, dedicating time and energy to the Open Source Communities, budgeting for an open bar, beach ball’s and rock and roll conference talks. The most success you have, the MORE awesome you should become, not less. Don’t be fooled, this can be a real challenge.

Photo of Adam Christian

Adam Christian

Sauce Labs Inc

Adam studied Business and Computer Science, followed by an intense Javascript and Python development education working at the Open Source Applications Foundation in San Francisco. He then went on to build front-end automation testing tools for Slide and Mozilla before landing at Sauce Labs as a Javascript and Web Developer. He continued with Sauce Labs, running first the front-end development team, and then taking over the Engineering organization. During the last 4+ years, the company has grown quickly in regards to users, customers and headcount – and continues to do so.

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Chris Cholette
10-12-2014 20:34 CET

Is there a video of the presentation available. The slides are great, but I would love to hear some of the extra commentary.