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Guiding Engineering Principles for Startups

Last month, Indix Co-Founder and CTO Satya Kaliki spoke at the Startup50 conference in Bangalore, India. The event was conceptualized with a very specific goal in mind: to recognize and reward entrepreneurs who’ve scaled their ventures brilliantly. We’re proud that Indix made it to the top 50 list under the “Enterprise Tech” category. Satya delivered a talk on engineering principles for startups, drawing on years of experience building teams from scratch. Here are some highlights from his talk in his own words:

I would like to share some principles that have helped guide us in our journey over the last four and a half years of building our engineering team at Indix. Some of these principles are related to hiring, some to culture, and some are technology-centric. They can be applied at different stages that a startup goes through during its evolution.

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Great teams do not happen overnight. We learnt that hiring people who are hungry for excellence are great assets. Particularly during the early days, when there are no clear roles and responsibilities, no clear processes, it is these people who will keep the momentum going. They need to be driven by not so much their individual roles and titles, but have the passion and aspiration to build a solid product.

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You also want to optimize resources at this stage. When hiring the initial set of engineers, it is extremely valuable to attract T-shaped people who have both breadth and depth of skills. Look for people who have demonstrated the ability to go deep in an area and also learn new skills.

In a startup, it is critical for engineers to be in tune with the product-customer fit. Walk a mile in the customer’s shoes to get a deep understanding of the problem space that you’re trying to solve for. Also, focus on how teams operate in a crisis. This teaches you a lot about team dynamics and what you can do to improve it.

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I have noticed that a lot of engineering teams worry too much about making the right technology choices, and they spend far too much time thinking and deliberating rather than acting. Instead, focus on your product. Follow robust design principles that help you decouple if you have made some wrong choices. An engineering team that is well-versed with new advances in technology will help you innovate, keep up with the game, and build a good product simultaneously.

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Another classic mistake startups can make at any stage is to focus on today’s best practice and in the process, create “sacred cows.” This can be confusing and misleading for newer engineers. At Indix, we encourage our teams to challenge the status quo and make their voice heard. It’s a good way to support new talent, incorporate new ideas, and innovate faster on your technology stack.

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If an idea is to fail, it is better to try it sooner rather than later. Don’t be afraid to try something and fail. You can then quickly iterate and make it better. Often, engineering teams are measured by the amount of code committed instead of what is in production. That practice needs to be checked and revised. Of course, I am not suggesting delivery of bad quality code in any way. You need to focus and build processes that help you deliver great quality code and a superior product experience to your customers/users without compromising on anything.

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I am sure all of you have heard this before: “what is measured gets done.” We learnt that every component and system that we build should have instrumentation. If it doesn’t produce metrics, then it’s not complete or ready for production. Another great design principle that worked for us to is to build human fault tolerance into our systems. The idea is to make it difficult for humans to do the wrong thing. Trust me, this saves a lot of pain in the long run.

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Lastly, when it comes to startups, pivots are a part of the process. They are a natural part of learning and growth. Don’t shy away from them and don’t let them throw you off course either. Learn, act, and move on.

We would love to learn about the principles that have worked for you in your startup journeys. Do share in the comments below.

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