KPCB 12-200 Engineering Meet-Up: Refining the Engineering Team (Part 3 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 third post of a four-part series.

Clip 6: When You Get It Wrong: How to Fire People

Sometimes even the smartest manager will make bad hires. How should you deal with underperformers?

How to fire weak engineers was discussed at length during a recent panel on hiring engineering teams hosted by KPCB general partner Mike Abbott at the KPCB offices in San Francisco. Participants included Abhi Khune, Engineering Manager of infrastructure at Pinterest; Flipboard CTO (and Kleiner alum) Eric Feng; and Nest founder and engineering VP Matt Rogers.

Feng says the key is to manage the situation quickly and decisively. He believes that 99% of people are actually relieved, if not necessarily right away. A lot of them actually call to thank me, he says. “You have to pull off the Band-Aid. You can’t have a problem and not confront it.”

Khune notes that the toughest situation involves people who aren’t terrible, but aren’t living up to expectations, either.

And according to Rogers, Nest spends 80% of their time on the top 20% of performers. “We need to keep the racehorses running as fast as possible,” he says. Rogers adds that he’s not a believer in annual performance reviews – that they give feedback on a continual basis. “We do reviews every day,” he says. “Our team appreciates it.”

Clip 7: Creating Code: Thinking about the Process

So, you’ve started a new company and you’re busily writing code. What processes do you need in place to manage your creations?

Feng asserts that the required processes depend largely on what stage of evolution your company has reached. He sees three stages. (1) In the early days, with a small team, you can have a loose structure. (2) As you build out a large team, you need to delegate work and find ways to boost efficiency. (3) You have teams of teams, and need more processes to keep things under control.

Clip 8: Software Testers? Nope, Don’t Need Them Anymore

Think you need to hire people to test your software? Not anymore – at least if you happen to be a consumer-facing Internet company.

Feng compared the software testing processes at his former employer, Microsoft, and Facebook: Microsoft has a 2-to-1 ratio between testers to developers, while Facebook’s approach is to test things by rolling them out to users, making testers obsolete.

Rogers notes that Nest is more like Microsoft, spending a lot of time and money on testing (Which makes sense for a company that just rolled out a new smoke detector).