Sunday, 31 December 2017

Year in Review 2017 - Startup Engineering

I'm Kedar, and I work as an Engineer at a startup. This post is inspired by patio11's tweet and his posts on the same topic. It's a summary of thing's I've learnt over the past year working on PaySense's platform.

Shipping on time and quick iterations matter. Time now is more valuable then money later. Below are a few (opinionated) engineering practises I've found to be useful.

Keep complexity low

Whether this be the tooling or deployment, the simpler it is to understand, the better it is to manage. Unless you've got a large team, utilise resources where they matter (shipping product).

Don't solve all the problems

The best problems are the ones you don't have to solve, those that you can avoid altogether. Buy or outsource your way out of ones you think are not important (but may be urgent). If it can be put off until later, do so.
For those that you're not so sure about, spend some time figuring out. If you need an hour to figure out if something (that will take +10 man-hours) really needs solving, do it! Even if you're wrong 8 times out of 10, you will be better off. At times you may be also be able to find other solutions, from your investigation, that don't take as long.
The better you know the ins and outs of critical systems, where data is stored and how it flows through your systems, the more effective you can get at problem-solving.

Make it work, make it right, make it fast

Make it work - Handle 90% of the use cases, show value, serve the customer first. This is your "MVP".
Make it right - Keep refactoring code, adding tests, ensure and improve the base level of quality.
Make it fast (if you really have to) - This one's highly opinionated, but I believe you should solve performance issues when they become a problem. This is difficult to get right, since you must keep an eye on run-times (does it increase day by day) and side-effects (does it subtly impact other systems), but will save you time and resources that you can deploy elsewhere.

Bugs and prioritisation

Not all bugs are created equal. Define them by how many customers they impact, and at what stage in the funnel. Prioritise those that appear later in your on-boarding funnel first. Customers at the end of the funnel are more likely to put off (and may also end up complaining, making noise on social media) than those at the beginning.
If you're spending too much time fixing bugs and/or they keep cropping up, it's probably a sign of bigger issues.

Monoliths and Microservices

Start with a single system and database. This keeps operational complexity low.
Microservices arise for several reasons, identify poor ones: .e.g hype-driven (BIGCO is using it), for sake of using another language, engineer(s) wanting free reign, "solutions seeking problems", over optimising (primary intention is of "make it fast") right from the start.
Develop in "modules" instead that you can pull out (these won't exist from day one, but you can factor them in when "making it right").

Team and Hiring

Use languages, tools, and frameworks that you and your team are comfortable and experienced with.
Hire people who are comfortable with your team. Make use of references, trust but verify.

Ship early, ship often.

Ship as early as you can. Validate ideas before it gets to the customer. If you can experiment without building it out completely, do it!
Better to "make it work" in a month, than ship with a "right & fast" product in 3. Because when you launch after 3 months, it's likely you'll scrap or end up redoing most of what you did. More time it takes to ship, the more factors you need to consider: e.g. market change, competition.


All of these might seem obvious at first, but I've come to learn and appreciate as they've allowed me to become better at what I do.

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