My name is Jade Rubick. I build engineering organizations where people can do their best work. Contact me if you’d like to discuss how I might be able to help your organization.
What I can help with
Most startups run into challenges as they scale up their engineering teams. The most common symptoms are delivery slowing or quality problems.
Very smart people run into these problems, because the solutions are the opposite of what you would expect. I’ve been through these scaling bottlenecks many times before, and know the methods I can adapt to your unique circumstances to quickly improve your engineering organization.
I help companies in two ways: by acting as an Interim VP of Engineering, or as an expert advisor.
Interim VP of Engineering
If you’re starting to see issues with the organization of your engineering team, that’s often the best time to bring in someone with the expertise to build an engineering organization. If engineering is a topic of concern in board meetings, or it’s something the CEO is having to think about daily, then it’s a sign you need to build an organization that can scale.
We’ll agree on areas to improve, and I’ll produce results in those areas, while running the organization. After I have achieved our agreed upon results, I hire my replacement.
The advantage of doing this over just spending the time to hire the right VP of Engineering is time, and expertise. Hiring a good VP of Engineering can take 3-6 months. In that time, I can quickly address your most pressing engineering issues, giving you months of precious time to build your company and product. This can also give you the time to find the best candidate for the position. Hiring me will free you up to focus on other parts of the business. I also have considerable expertise in this stage of growth, so I can address issues more quickly than most leaders you’ll find.
Changes I make include:
- the way the team is structured
- the way projects are managed
- how various roles work together
- coaching of team members
- adapting the responsibilities for key team members
- and letting go of people who aren’t able to scale with the company’s success.
Engagements last from a couple of months to six months or more, depending on the nature of your challenges.
If you’re already conducting a search for a VP of Engineering, an additional advantage to having me in place is that I can work closely with your hiring team to make sure your candidates get the best possible experience, improving your chance of hiring the best candidates.
For Interim VP of Engineering engagements, I typically work with companies that meet this profile:
- Technology startups (I work across industries, but focus on tech startups)
- 10-100 engineers.
- Founders have not scaled up an engineering organization before.
- Have product market fit and have paying customers.
- Leadership team is interested in my help and willing to make changes.
- Are growing rapidly.
I’m also available to help as an expert advisor. Typically this means I meet a couple of times a month with a few leaders in your organization, and guide them through the problems the organization is facing. Here are areas I can help:
Leadership advisor. If you have an existing engineering leader who is effective but inexperienced in scaling an engineering organization, I can act as an expert advisor. I help them address the many challenges of scaling an organization that are anti-intuitive (the solutions evade smart people because they often are the opposite of what you would expect them to be).
Hiring (strategy, process). Why should anyone want to work for your company? I can help you work out your strategy for getting the best talent you can in the door. Some companies distinguish themselves by work culture, some by the problem space they are in, or the ability to work on open source. Some companies do it based on the freedoms they give their employees. Engineers are in demand, and that means you have to have a good strategy to get the most talented people to join your company and stay there. Your hiring process also needs to be competitive. The time you take to move candidates through your hiring pipeline is often what decides whether or not you get that candidate to become an employee. And improving the candidate experience can allow you to bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise consider you. I can help you improve the hiring funnel, so that each stage hiring increases the chance you’ll bring the right people into your company.
Distributed work. I have eight years of experience in distributed organizations, and decades of experience in colocated organizations. I can help you navigate setting up the right practices to ensure your distributed organization is effective.
Early stage scaling. For companies that are just beginning to grow their engineering organization, they are often tempted to hire an engineering leader pretty early. I can help you delay the need for hiring a VP of Engineering, by supporting someone less experienced. At the early phase of your company, you don’t actually need that much structure.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Bringing in a white male to help with DE&I may not seem like a good bet, but I have experience implementing practices that actually produce results to improve diverse hiring and retention. New Relic achieved an employee NPS score that was equivalent across demographics, something we thought unachievable. And Gremlin engineering increased its underrepresented population from 7% of engineering to 38% in a little over a year. Typical work here is on engineering levels, compensation, promotion process, and the signals you give to candidates during the candidate process. In my experience, a lot of organizations waste time on efforts around inclusion that don’t actually have a very large impact, and there are a couple of practices which get disproportionate results. Your underrepresented minorities are usually the best barometer of the effectiveness of your company culture, and the improvements you’ll make here will make the company better for everyone — increasing retention and ease of hiring.
Incremental delivery. One of the best competitive advantages an engineering organization can produce is delivering work more incrementally. This results in higher learning during projects, so your projects more often hit the mark. It results in a higher perceived velocity, because projects are decomposed into smaller deliverables that are delivered more frequently to customers. Incremental delivery is an often desired, but often elusive goal for many engineering organizations.
Project visibility. Sometimes the problem in engineering is that it seems like nothing is really happening there. This is often the result of poor project reporting and communication. I have experience implementing patterns that don’t interfere with agility and yet provide good accountability and oversight.
Servicification. I was a leader in New Relic’s servicification effort, and have the scars to prove it. I can help make sure your engineering team is set up to scale over time, and can make these efforts much less problematic.
Engineering levels and compensation. I’ve developed engineering levels three times now, and developed the compensation for engineering several times in the past. These things are hard to get right, and there are usually historical decisions that are difficult to remedy. I’ve done this so many times now that I can adapt solutions to your organization pretty quickly and come up with an effective and fair system that will evolve with your organization and keep your engineers engaged and improve retention.
Reliability practices. If your engineers are struggling with high on call loads, or poor reliability in the services they own, I can help guide you through the steps to making your organization more reliable. Typically, this is setting up tracking and retrospectives for incidents, tightening up and communication expectations for on-call, giving engineers space to fix issues, and implementing a “do not repeat incidents” policy to ensure things actually get addressed.
This blog’s code is based on work by Atte Juvonen and others. The code is on GitHub. Feel free to submit corrections or use the code to create your own blog (but do not host my content elsewhere).