KPCB 12-200 Engineering Meet-Up: Building And Managing An Engineering Team (Part 1 of 4)

Note: This column and the associated video clips are from a panel at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB)’s 12-200 Engineering Meet-Up on October 24, 2013. At the event, Mike Abbott, Partner at KPCB, Matt Rogers, Founder and VP of Engineering at Nest Labs, Eric Feng, CTO at Flipboard and Abhi Khune, Engineering Manager – Infrastructure at Pinterest, discussed best practices and lessons learned in scaling technology platforms, recruiting top talent, and more. This is the first post of a four-part series.

Clip 1: Everyone’s a Recruiter: Building out an Engineering Team

How does a brand-new startup build out a top-tier engineering team? KPCB general partner Mike Abbott, formerly the VP of Engineering at Twitter, addressed that question to a group of engineering execs recently at a panel discussion hosted at KPCB’s office in San Francisco.

Eric Feng says addressing the problem of rapidly building out the engineering team starts with the idea that everyone in the early days has to be in recruiting mode. Even after you hire recruits, “recruiting is everyone’s responsibility.”

Matt Rogers notes that the first 40 hires at Nest came “purely from my network,” but that he eventually exhausted his own contacts and had to hire a “superstar recruiter.” Says Rogers: “Those guys are irreplaceable.” Nonetheless, Rogers says he still spends half of his time on recruiting new talent.

Clip 2: Tricks of the Trade: Phone Screeners and Code Challenges

OK, so you’re running the engineering team at a hot startup, and you need to hire at a rapid rate. How do you manage the process? How do you find the perfect candidates?

Our panelists teased out a couple of key techniques.

• Abbott noted that you can’t interview everyone yourself, you need to start delegating to others. However, Feng noted that people need to be trained in how to conduct interviews to be most effective.

• Feng noted that it can be a huge time-saver to have effective phone screens before bringing candidates in for on-site interviews – and it also helps to keep track of which phone screeners are most effective at bringing in candidates that actually get hired. Flipboard tracks several such metrics, which help the company maximize their hiring methods.

• Rogers noted that one powerful technique is to make an offer to candidates on the day they come in for an interview. “The chances are they will accept a lot faster,” he says.

• Both Khune and Feng have some candidates solve coding problems ahead of the interview process; Feng says it provides key talking points for the phone screeners. He uses that technique in particular with candidates they meet at college recruiting events. “We have people explain their solutions,” Feng says. “You can’t copy. You can’t cheat.”