Startups without Technical Guidance

I was recently chatting with a prospective client about their need for a technical advisor. They're currently building an MVP for their hush-hush product and the junior devs they had hired had several technical questions.

Should we use TDD?

Should we use Heroku for hosting?

For non-technical founders, these are important questions that are beyond the scope of their understanding. The answers aren't always straightforward given financial restraints or hard deadlines. In an ideal world, these founders would have a technical person who can make the distinctions and provide direction. When they don't, there are 3 options.

  • Trust the junior developers to give you the right answers
  • Find a technical advisor who can devote a few hours a week to answer these questions
  • Hire a CTO

Let's break these down.

Junior Devs to the Rescue!

Junior devs are capable of getting you to MVP albeit quite a bit slower than senior devs. They may not have best practices down and may make decisions that have far-reaching consequences (positive or negative). There is a reason consultancies use the term "rescue project". Like many types of problems, the decisions early on can build one on top of another until making positive progress can prove difficult. Projects don't become rescue projects overnight.

They are not unlike Walter White from Breaking Bad.

One bad decision that leads to another bad decision to another bad decision.

Technical Advisor

Technical advisors can be an inexpensive way of getting the answers you need. They can provide technical direction and even take part in code reviews for your larger features. The ROI can be immense when you consider that the beginning of the project sets the foundation for what is to come. Sandi Metz, who wrote an excellent book regarding Ruby called Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby. In it, she poses the axiom that a minor change in functionality should require a minor change in code (or certainly not a major overhaul). This is how early decisions can help a startup...especially if/when a pivot is required.

Without incurring the cost of a full-time hire, you can get the necessary insight to avoid the pitfalls that some startups find themselves. This option can extend your runway and make your junior devs more effective.

CTO

Finding a CTO to lead the charge may be difficult. How will you interview for the position let alone for junior devs? Unfortunately, unless you have a connection that makes the hiring decision a no-brainer, you'll be investing into someone who you can't properly vet. In many cases, a CTO isn't even necessary if you're building to that MVP with an advisor. What's more is that an advisor will be able to help you on your search for a CTO. He/she should be able to help you find qualified devs that fit your current needs.