Alone at the Bridge of a Rocketship

I’ve seen many a CTO and VP R&D who have grown their company from the 3-developers-sharing-a-pizza stage up to the 3-digit-head-count state. It is common knowledge that ably managing the former has almost nothing in common with ably managing the latter. Yet, that’s not what I’ve got on my mind today.

A more neglected issue is the community and help the managers get as the company grows. In the founding years, the company is usually intimate and small enough that the entire team has a close relationship and rapport with the manager, and so they are all able to work together, almost entirely as peers.

But, fast forward 4 years, and the situation is usually looking quite bleak. By industry standards, on average half of the developers that were there in the beginning have already moved on. The couple that are still there are probably managing big teams or groups.

Usually quite suddenly, you, the R&D manager, are left without a supporting ecosystem of peers. No sounding boards for considering changes in your organization without consulting your direct reports.

It is crucial for your professional benefit (and mental health) to have a peer of some sort. I’ve heard of closed CTO WhatsApp groups, get-alongs of sister companies with the same VCs, and the occasional appointment of a deputy manager (usually with titles along “Chief Architect”, but I believe “Deputy VP R&D” is more appropriate if there is actual people management involved), and, of course, bringing in a trusted advisor like yours truly.

Whatever may be best for you individually and your company, make sure that you’re not working without feedback for too long. Just as you know it’s important for your team members to get frequent feedback and retrospect in 1-on-1s, so do the leaders.