Category: Engineering

Inside the Palantir Mafia: Secrets to Succeeding in the Tech Industry

Inside the Palantir Mafia: Secrets to Succeeding in the Tech Industry

In the world of technology, engineers are not just cogs in a machine; they are the builders, the dreamers, and the ones who solve the problems they see in the world. And sometimes, those solutions turn into billion-dollar businesses. This is the story of the “Palantir Mafia,” a group of former Palantir employees who have left the data analytics giant to found their own startups, just like the famed “PayPal Mafia” that produced companies like SpaceX, YouTube, LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies, Affirm, Slide, Kiva, and Yelp.

1. Introducing the Amazing People from Palantir

The “Palantir Mafia,” akin to the renowned “PayPal Mafia,” comprises former Palantir engineers and executives who left to tackle meaningful problems with technological innovation, creating substantial impact and wealth. Unlike ex-consultants from firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, these tech leaders leverage their deep technical expertise to solve complex issues directly, resulting in profound advancements and successful ventures.

Key Figures and Their Ventures

  1. Alex Karp – Palantir Technologies
    • Former Role: Co-Founder and CEO
    • Company: Palantir Technologies
    • Focus: Data analytics
    • Market Penetration: Widely used across government and commercial sectors
    • Revenue: $1.5 billion annually
    • Capital Raised: $3 billion​ (Wikipedia)​​ (Business Insider)​
  2. Max Levchin – Affirm
    • Former Role: Co-Founder (PayPal, associated with Palantir founders)
    • Company: Affirm
    • Focus: Buy now, pay later financial services
    • Market Penetration: Significant presence in the consumer finance market
    • Revenue: $870 million in fiscal 2021
    • Capital Raised: $1.5 billion
  3. Joe Lonsdale – 8VC
    • Former Role: Co-Founder
    • Company: 8VC
    • Focus: Venture capital firm
    • Market Penetration: Diverse portfolio, influential in tech sectors
    • Assets Under Management: $3.6 billion
  4. Palmer Luckey – Anduril Industries ( could be the blue blooded Musk of 2020-2030s)
    • Former Role: Founder of Oculus VR, associated with Palantir through ventures
    • Company: Anduril Industries
    • Focus: Defense technology
    • Innovation: Developed the Lattice AI platform for autonomous border surveillance and defense applications
    • Market Penetration: Contracts with U.S. Department of Defense and border security agencies
    • Revenue: $200 million annually
    • Capital Raised: $700 million
  5. Garrett Smallwood – Wag!
    • Former Role: Executive roles at other startups before Wag!
    • Company: Wag!
    • Focus: On-demand pet care services
    • Market Penetration: Operates in over 100 cities
    • Revenue: $100 million annually
    • Capital Raised: $361.5 million
  6. Nima Ghamsari – Blend
    • Former Role: Product Manager at Palantir
    • Company: Blend
    • Focus: Mortgage and lending software
    • Market Penetration: Partners with major financial institutions
    • Revenue: Estimated $100 million+ annually
    • Capital Raised: $665 million
  7. Stephen Cohen – Quantifind
    • Former Role: Co-Founder of Palantir
    • Company: Quantifind
    • Focus: Risk and fraud detection using data science
    • Market Penetration: Used by financial services and government sectors
    • Capital Raised: $8.7 million
  8. Vibhu Norby – B8ta
    • Former Role: Engineer at Palantir
    • Company: B8ta
    • Focus: Retail-as-a-service platform
    • Market Penetration: Transforming in-store retail experiences
    • Capital Raised: $113 million
  9. Joe Lonsdale – Addepar
    • Former Role: Co-Founder of Palantir
    • Company: Addepar
    • Focus: Wealth management technology
    • Market Penetration: Manages over $2 trillion in assets
    • Capital Raised: $325 million
  10. Raman Narayanan – SigOpt
    • Former Role: Data Scientist at Palantir
    • Company: SigOpt (acquired by Intel)
    • Focus: Machine learning optimization
    • Market Penetration: Utilized by top tech companies
    • Capital Raised: $8.7 million (before acquisition)

2. Engineers Make Better Founders in the Tech Industry

Unlike ex-consultants from big 3 who may excel in strategy and communication but often lack the technical depth to truly understand the intricacies of building a tech product, these ex-Palantir engineers come armed with both the vision and the technical chops to bring their ideas to life. They’ve spent years wrestling with complex data problems at Palantir, and they’re now taking those hard-won lessons to solve new challenges across a wide range of industries.

Engineers bring a problem-solving mindset that focuses on creating practical, scalable solutions. This technical acumen has allowed former Palantir employees to launch transformative companies that push the boundaries of what’s possible in various industries.

3. Market Penetration and Success of Palantir Alumni

The success of these Palantir alumni is evident through their market penetration and revenue. For instance, Palantir Technologies itself is a major player in the data analytics field, with a revenue of $1.5 billion annually. Affirm, led by Max Levchin, has made significant inroads in the consumer finance market, generating $870 million in revenue in fiscal 2021. Anduril Industries, founded by Palmer Luckey, has secured substantial contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, contributing to its $200 million annual revenue.

Other successful ventures include Blend, with its deep partnerships with major financial institutions, and Addepar, managing over $2 trillion in assets. These companies not only showcase the technical expertise of their founders but also highlight their ability to penetrate markets and achieve substantial financial success.

4. Engineers vs. Consultants: A Compelling Argument

The technical depth and problem-solving mindset of engineers make them particularly suited for founding and leading tech startups. Their ability to directly tackle complex problems contrasts with the approach of ex-consultants from firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, who often focus more on financial and operational efficiencies.

While consultants excel in operations-heavy startups, where strategic planning, financial management, and operational efficiency are paramount, engineers thrive in tech startups that require innovative solutions and deep technical expertise. The success stories of the Palantir alumni underscore this distinction, demonstrating how their engineering backgrounds have enabled them to drive significant technological advancements and build successful companies.

Conclusion

The Palantir Mafia’s engineers have leveraged their technical expertise to create innovative solutions and successful ventures, driving significant impact across various industries. Their ability to tackle complex problems directly contrasts with the approach of ex-consultants from firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, who often focus more on financial and operational efficiencies. This technical depth has enabled these former Palantir employees to become influential leaders, pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation.

References & Further Reading:

  1. https://www.getpin.xyz/post/the-palantir-mafia
  2. https://www.8vc.com/resources/silicon-valleys-newest-mafia-the-palantir-pack
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_nO6RW7ddQ
  4. https://www.businessinsider.in/the-life-and-career-of-alex-karp-the-billionaire-ceo-whos-taking-palantir-public-in-what-could-be-one-of-the-biggest-tech-ipos-of-the-year/articleshow/78198300.cms
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Karp
From Soaring High to Stalling Out: How Boeing Lost Its Engineering Edge

From Soaring High to Stalling Out: How Boeing Lost Its Engineering Edge

The world’s largest aerospace conglomerate turns 108 this year. Boeing’s 1st plane, a Boeing Model 1 officially took off on 15 July 1916 when Wong Tsu (A Chinese graduate from MIT) completed the construction at the Heath Shipyard. As of 2023 September, a total of 78000 aircraft have rolled out of Boeing factories (excluding license-produced models elsewhere) with a total of 500+ unique aircraft designed across civilian, military, concept, prototypes and experiential designs. Boeing, really used to be a powerhouse of aviation technologies.

Boeing, once synonymous with aviation innovation, has hit turbulence in recent years. The company’s gradual decline can be traced to a shift in focus, prioritising short-term profits over the long-term commitment to hardcore engineering excellence that built its reputation.

P&L of Boeing across last 10 years.

P&L trend of Boeing, Infographics source Statista

A Legacy of Innovation Tarnished

Boeing’s history is a testament to American ingenuity. From the iconic 747 “Jumbo Jet” revolutionising passenger travel (over 1,500 delivered) to the technologically advanced 787 Dreamliner boasting superior fuel efficiency (over 1,700 delivered) [1], the company consistently pushed the boundaries of aerospace engineering. However, a gradual cultural shift began prioritising financial goals over engineering rigour. A Harvard Business Review article [2] highlights the pressure placed on engineers to meet aggressive deadlines and cost-cutting measures, potentially contributing to the tragic crashes of the 737 MAX aircraft. IMHO, The Boeing engineering disaster had roots in Welch’s deeply flawed management doctrines which were spread across American industry by his acolytes.

Lost Market Share and a Bleak Future

This shift in priorities has had significant financial consequences. The 737 MAX grounding, coupled with production delays of the 787 Dreamliner, significantly eroded Boeing’s market share. In the single-aisle passenger jet market, the crown jewel of commercial aviation, Airbus, Boeing’s main competitor, now holds a commanding lead of over 60% [3]. While Boeing struggles with a backlog of unfulfilled orders (around 4,000), Airbus boasts a healthier backlog exceeding 7,000 aircraft [4]. This translates to a stark difference in profitability. In 2023, Airbus reported a net profit of €4.2 billion ($4.5 billion) compared to Boeing’s net loss of $3.7 billion.

Examples of Lost Focus:

  • 737 MAX: The faulty design and subsequent crashes of the 737 MAX (over 100 undelivered orders due to grounding) exposed a culture that prioritised speed to market over thorough engineering review.
  • 787 Dreamliner: Production problems with the Dreamliner, including issues with electrical wiring and fuselage construction (hundreds of delayed deliveries), further eroded trust in Boeing’s manufacturing capabilities.
  • X-32 JSF: The loss of the JSF contract to Lockheed Martin in 2001 was a major blow to Boeing, as it represented the most important international fighter aircraft project since the Lightweight Fighter program competition of the 1960s 

Can Boeing Recover?

The road to recovery for Boeing will be long and arduous. Rebuilding trust with airlines and passengers will require a renewed commitment to safety and engineering excellence. This may involve significant changes in leadership and corporate culture, prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term gains.

Boeing’s story serves as a cautionary tale for any company. While financial goals are important, sacrificing core values and engineering expertise can lead to devastating consequences. The future of this aviation giant remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: regaining its former glory will require a return to the principles that made it great in the first place.

References and Further Reading:

Why Startups Need To Architect Cloud Agnostic Products

Why Startups Need To Architect Cloud Agnostic Products

Nobody plans to leave AWS in the startup world, but as they say, “sh** happens.”

An image of multiple clouds over a desk

As engineers, when we write software, we’re taught to keep it elegant by never depending directly on external systems. We write wrappers for external resources, we encapsulate data and behaviour and standardise functions with libraries. 

But, When it comes to the cloud… “eerie silence”

Companies have died because they needed to move off AWS or GCP but couldn’t do it in a reasonable and cost-effective timeline.

We (at Itilite) had a close call with GCP, which served as our brush with the fire. Google had arguably one of the best Distance Matrix capabilities out there.  It was used in one of our core logic and ML models. And on one fine Monday afternoon, I have to set up a meeting with my CEO to communicate that we will have to spend ~250% more on our cloud service bill in about 60 days.

Actually, google increased the pricing by 1400% and gave 60 days to rewrite, migrate, move out or perish!  

The closest competitor in terms of capability was DistanceMatrix and a reliable “Large” player was Bing. But, both left a lot for in the “Accuracy”. So, for us, the business decision was simple: make the entire product work in “Reduced Functionality” mode for all or start differential pricing for better accuracy!  In either case, those APIs must be rewritten with a new adaptor. 

It is not an enigma why we do this. It’s simple: there are no alternatives, there is no time to GTM,  But maybe there is. I’ll explain why you should take cloud-agnostic architecture seriously and then show you what I do to keep my projects cloud-agnostic.

Cloud Service Rationalisation

The prime reason you should consider the ability to switch clouds and cloud services is so you can choose to use the cloud service that is price and performance-optimized for your use case.

When I first got into serverless, we wrote a transformative API on Oracle Cloud (Bcoz we were part of their Accelerator Program and had a huge credit.) but it fed part of the data that the customer-facing API relied on.

No prize for guessing what happened?

It was a horrible mistake. Our API had an insane latency problem. Cold start requests added additional latency of at least 2 seconds per request. The AWS team has worked hard to build a service that can do things that GCP’s Cloud Functions simply can’t, specifically around cold starts and latency.

I had to move my infrastructure to a different service and a revised network topology.

Guess we would have learned the problem by now, but as we will find out, we did not.

This time it was a combination of Kafka and the AWS Lambda that created an issue. We had relied on Confluent’s connectors for much of the workload interfaces and had to shell out almost $1000 per month per connector!

Avoiding the Cloud Provider Killswitch

Protect Your Business from Unexpected Termination

As a CXO, you may not be aware that cloud providers like AWS, GCP, and Azure reserve the right to terminate your account and destroy your infrastructure at any time, effectively shutting down your business operations. While this may seem like an extreme measure, it’s important to understand that cloud providers have strict terms of service that can lead to account termination for a variety of reasons, even if you’re not engaged in illegal or harmful activities.

A Chilling Example

I recently spoke with a friend who is the founder of a fintech platform. He shared a chilling incident that highlights the risks of relying on cloud providers. His team was using GCP’s Cloud Run, a container service, to host their API. They had a unique use case that required them to call back to their own API to trigger additional work and keep the service active. Unfortunately, GCP monitors this type of behaviour and flags it as potential crypto-mining activity.

On an ordinary Sunday, their infrastructure vanished, and their account was locked. It took them six days of nonstop effort to migrate to AWS.

Protect Your Business

This incident serves as a stark reminder that any business operating on cloud infrastructure is vulnerable to unexpected termination. While you may not be intentionally engaging in activities that violate cloud provider terms of service, it’s crucial to build your infrastructure with the possibility of termination in mind.

Here are some key steps you can take to protect your business from the cloud provider killswitch:

  1. Read and understand the terms of service for each cloud provider you use.
  2. Choose a cloud provider that aligns with your industry and business model.
  3. Avoid relying on a single cloud provider.
  4. Have a backup plan in place.
  5. Regularly review your cloud usage and ensure compliance with cloud provider terms of service.

By taking these proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of your business being disrupted by cloud provider termination and ensure the continuity of your operations.

Unleash the Power of Free Cloud Credits

For early-stage startups operating on a shoestring budget, free cloud credits can be a lifeline, shielding your runway from the scorching heat of cloud infrastructure costs. Acquiring these credits is a breeze, but the way most startups build their infrastructure – akin to an unbreakable blood oath with their cloud provider – restricts them to the credits granted by that single provider.

Why limit yourself to the generosity of one cloud provider when you could seamlessly switch between them to optimize your resource allocation? Imagine the possibilities:

  • AWS to GCP: Upon depleting your AWS credits, you could effortlessly migrate your infrastructure to GCP, taking advantage of their generous $200,000 credit offer.
  • Y Combinator: As a Y Combinator startup, you’re entitled to a staggering $150,000 in AWS credits and a mind-boggling $200,000 on GCP.
  • AI-Powered Startups: If you’re developing AI solutions, Azure welcomes you with open arms, offering $300,000 in free credits to fuel your AI models on their cloud.

By embracing cloud-agnostic architecture, you unlock the freedom to switch between cloud providers, potentially saving you a significant $200,000 upfront. Why constrain yourself to a single cloud provider when cloud-agnosticism empowers you to navigate the cloud landscape with flexibility and cost-efficiency?

Building Resilience: The Importance of Cloud Redundancy

In the ever-evolving world of technology, no system is immune to failure. Even industry giants like Silicon Valley Bank can outright disappear over a weekend or AWS’ main Datacenter can go offline due to a power fluctuation, highlighting the importance of proactively safeguarding your business operations.

Imagine the potential financial impact of a 12-hour outage on AWS for your company. The costs could be staggering, not only in lost revenue but also in reputational damage and customer dissatisfaction or even potential churn.

This is where cloud redundancy comes into play. By running parallel segments of your platform on multiple cloud providers, such as AWS and GCP, you’re essentially creating a fail-safe mechanism.

In the event of an outage on one cloud platform, the other can seamlessly pick up the slack, ensuring uninterrupted service for your customers and minimizing the impact on your business. Cloud redundancy is not just about disaster preparedness; it’s also about optimizing performance and scalability. By distributing your workload across multiple cloud providers, you can tap into the unique strengths and resources of each platform, maximizing efficiency and responsiveness.

In our case, we run the OCR packages, SAML, and Accounts service on Azure, our core “Recommendation engine” and “Booking Engine” on AWS. Yes, having a multi-cloud will involve initial costs that might be prohibitive, but in the long run, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Cloud Cost Negotiation: A Matter of Leverage

In the realm of business negotiations, the ultimate power lies in the ability to walk away. If the other party senses your lack of alternatives, they gain a significant advantage, effectively holding you hostage. Cloud cost negotiations are no exception.

Imagine you’ve built a substantial $10 million infrastructure on AWS, heavily reliant on their proprietary APIs like S3, Cognito, and SQS. In such a scenario, walking away from AWS becomes an unrealistic option. You’re essentially at their mercy, accepting whatever cloud costs they dictate.

While negotiating cloud costs may seem insignificant to a small company, for an organization with $10 million of AWS infrastructure, even a 3% discount translates into substantial savings.

To gain leverage in cloud cost negotiations, you need to establish a credible threat of walking away. This requires careful planning and strategic implementation of cloud-agnostic architecture, enabling you to seamlessly switch between cloud providers without disrupting your operations.

Cloud Agnosticism: Your Negotiating Edge

Cloud-agnostic architecture empowers you to:

  1. Diversify your infrastructure: Run your applications on multiple cloud platforms, reducing reliance on a single provider.
  2. Reduce switching costs: Design your infrastructure to minimize the effort and cost of migrating to a new cloud provider.
  3. Strengthen your negotiating position: Demonstrate to cloud providers that you have alternative options, giving you more bargaining power.

By embracing cloud-agnosticism, you transform from a captive customer to a savvy negotiator, capable of securing favorable cloud cost terms.

Unforeseen Challenges: The Importance of Cloud Agnosticism

In the dynamic world of business, unforeseen challenges (and opportunities) can arise at any moment. We often operate with limited visibility, unable to predict every possible scenario that could impact our success. Here’s an actual scenario that highlights the importance of cloud-agnostic architecture:

Acquisition Deal Goes Through

This happened with One of my previous organisations, we tirelessly built this company from the ground up. Our hard work and dedication paid off when a large SaaS Unicorn approached us with an acquisition proposal.

However, during the due diligence, a critical issue emerged: Our company’s infrastructure was entirely reliant on AWS. The Acquiring company had a multi-year multi-million dollar deal with Azure and the M&A team made it clear that unless our platform can operate on Azure, the deal is off the table!

Our team faced the daunting task of migrating the entire infrastructure to Azure within a limited timeframe and budget. Unfortunately, the complexities of the migration proved time-consuming and the merger took 5 months to complete and the offer was reduced by $2 million!

The Power of Cloud Agnosticism

This story serves as a stark reminder of the risks associated with a single-cloud strategy. Had our company embraced cloud-agnostic architecture, we would have possessed the flexibility to seamlessly switch between cloud providers, potentially leading to a bigger exit for all of us!

Cloud-agnostic architecture offers several benefits:

  • Reduced Vendor Lock-in: Avoids dependence on a single cloud provider, empowering you to switch to more favourable options based on your needs.
  • Improved Negotiation Power: Gains leverage in cloud cost negotiations by demonstrating the ability to switch providers.
  • Increased Resilience: Protects your business from disruptions caused by cloud provider outages or policy changes.
  • Enhanced Scalability: Enables seamless expansion of your infrastructure across multiple cloud platforms as your business grows.

Embrace Cloud Agnosticism for Business Continuity

In today’s ever-changing technological landscape, cloud-agnostic architecture is not just a benefit; it’s a necessity for businesses seeking long-term success and resilience. By adopting a cloud-agnostic approach, you empower your company to navigate the complexities of the cloud landscape with agility, adaptability, and cost-efficiency, ensuring that unforeseen challenges don’t derail your journey.

My Solution

Here’s what I do about it, now after the lessons learnt. I use Multy. Multy is an open-source tool that simplifies cloud infrastructure management by providing a cloud-agnostic API. This means that developers can define their infrastructure configurations once and deploy them to any cloud provider without having to worry about the specific syntax or nuances of each cloud platform. While Multy provides an abstraction layer for deploying cross-cloud environments, you will also need to incorporate cloud-environment agnostic libraries to really make a difference.

References & Further Reading: 

  1. https://kobedigital.com/google-maps-api-changes/
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/geoguessr/comments/cslpja/causes_of_google_api_price_increase_suggestion/ 
  3. https://multy.dev/
  4. https://github.com/multycloud/multy
  5. https://github.com/serverless/multicloud 
  6. https://aws.amazon.com/startups/credits
How to Manage Technical Debt in 2023: A Guide for Leadership

How to Manage Technical Debt in 2023: A Guide for Leadership

In this article, I will summarise effective strategies and best practices to tackle tech debt head-on.

Technical debt is an inevitable reality in software development. But, it can be leveraged just like a financial loan/debt can help you achieve your goals, if managed properly.
It can be used to drive competitive advantage by allowing companies to launch new products and features faster, experiment with new technologies, and improve the scalability and performance of their systems. However, like all loans, it need to be “Repaid” properly and at the right time, failing on it will create a downward spiral.

If you’re not careful, technical debt can quickly become a major burden that slows down development and makes it difficult to add new features or even fix bugs in a timely manner.

We will discuss how to identify technical debt and the signs of poorly managed debt, and then provide a strategy for reducing it. We will also discuss what a healthy level of technical debt looks like and how leaders can use it to their advantage.

Good Tech Debt Vs Bad Tech Debt

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, famously said:

Bad debt takes money out of your pocket, while good debt puts money in your pocket.

– Robert Kiyosaki

The same is true of tech debt.

Technical debt is the cost of not doing things the right way the first time. Good technical debt is accrued when you make trade-offs to meet deadlines or deliver new features quickly. Bad technical debt is accrued when you make poor decisions or cut corners.

Bad tech debt will probably make your PMs, Sales and CEO happy for a quarter or two. But after that, they will be asking why everything is behind schedule and dealing with customer complaints because things aren’t working properly.

Now that I have presented the obvious in a familiar “Quadrant”, you can actually skip the terminologies and definitions part of this article! 😀

For my verbal brethren, Which is the Tech Debt you’d need to ruthlessly hunt down to extinction? Obviously, it is the untracked, undocumented ones. And the ones which are dragging your team on a downward spiral (immaterial of whether it is tracked or not)

Why does your Tech Debt keep accumulating?

Before we can think about building a strategy to solve tech debt, we need to understand how it gets out of control in the first place.

It’s called “impact visibility”.

Fixing code debt issues is impossible if:

1, You’ve no record of what technical debt issues you have

2, You’ve got a backlog, but you can’t see which issues are related to what code

In both cases, you can’t prioritise tech debt over shipping new features.

We need to get more granular about what impacts these two tech debt cases above.

  • Issue invisibility — There’s no source of shared knowledge. Codebase health info is locked in (few) engineers’ heads.
  • No code quality culture — Shipping fast, whatever the cost, like it’s going out of fashion.
  • Poor process — Tech debt work sucks. Nobody likes creating Jira tickets. “Jira” has become a dirty word.
  • Low-time investment — Justifying the time to fix tech debt or to refactor is a constant uphill battle. After a point, engineers become silent!

Lack of context — Issues in Jira are a world away from the hard reality of the codebase. They’re not related in any way.

So what’s the source of this? Let’s talk strategy.

Spoiler… It’s about changing organisational culture and developer behaviour to track issues properly.

Creating a strategy to reduce technical debt

Track. Issues. Properly.

Good tech debt management starts with team-wide excellence at tracking issues.

You can’t have a tech debt strategy without tracking.

The engineering leader’s job is to make that “issue tracking” easy for your team. There is supposed to be a software for that – Jira, Asana, Rally or something of that sort.

The problem is, I’ve never believed they really get to the bottom of the problem, and after speaking with scores of engineers and leaders about it, they usually don’t either. My personal belief is most companies suffer on the velocity after their Jira rollout! It is a bit like,

No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.

Thomas L. Friedman – in The Lexus and the Olive Tree!

As a leader, You need to find a way to…

  • Show engineers when they’re working on code with tech debt, without them having to jump thru 3 hoops.
  • Make it really easy for team members to report tech debt.
  • Create a natural way to discuss codebase issues.
  • Integrate tech debt work into your workflows and involve PMs if required.

There are multiple ways to achieve this, the easiest is to not address it. Ie: not address it intentionally, just tweak your existing pipeline. This can be done by,

  • A very robust linting & integration to the IDE
  • Tighter Git rules for commits
  • SAST which runs on the pipeline
  • and can feed into the IDE

Prioritising impactful tech debt

At this point, it should be obvious, but prioritising the right issues is only possible if you’re tracking the impact of these “issues” and it could be direct or indirect (Dependency, Sequencing, Rework avoidance etc) .

Once you’ve got them, you should regularly and consistently use them to decide what to address. This usually happens during the backlog grooming or sprint planning sessions. But, this decision-making process needs to be strategic. Not at all tactical, ie: DO NOT delegate it to the whims and whimsicals of your TL/PM or even EM.

You or someone with a context of the organisation and position on sales, clients, revenue etc., should be doing this.

A good way to start is by choosing a theme each time you prioritise issues. For example, you could prioritise issues that…

  • Are impacting a specific feature you need to work on in the next quarter
  • Are impacting the customer’s UX
  • Are affecting efficiency/morale on the team
  • Are impacting the security posture

This is often straightforward if you’ve got high-quality issues that traceable to code and tagged as such.

Most people wonder how to get the time for these “Tasks”. I have two recommendations.

  • Take an entire sprint every quarter to repay the tech debt (Will need high-level buy-in, It is slightly harder to align your CXOs)
  • Allocate 15-20% of bandwidth in every sprint. (Easier to achieve buy-in from CXOs, harder to drive with engineers)

Engineers generally won’t prioritise tech debt work by themselves because of the conflict of interest/pressure of shipping fast. This was evident from multiple high velocity/impact software engineering teams including ones at AirBnb, Netflix and Spotify. A commitment to code refactoring and maintenance work should be endorsed and supported from the top and reinforced regularly.

How much Tech Debt can you take on?

Managing technical debt is like managing financial debt. You can use it to your advantage, but you need to be careful not to let it get out of control.

Your technical debt budget is the amount of technical debt that you are willing to take on in order to achieve your business goals. You should not try to solve all of your technical debt at once, but instead focus on the most important items.

Prudent technical debt is debt that you take on deliberately and knowingly, in order to achieve a specific goal. For example, you might take on technical debt to launch a new product quickly, or to add a new feature that is in high demand by your customers.

If you manage your technical debt properly, it can be a powerful tool for gaining a competitive advantage. However, if you let your technical debt get out of control, it can lead to serious problems, such as increased costs, delays, and security vulnerabilities.

Concluding remarks:

Technical debt is one of the most neglected areas of software development. It is often only given priority when it is too late and has already caused serious problems.

However, when leaders work together and develop a consistent and process-driven strategy, technical debt can be effectively managed.

The best engineering teams are constantly thinking about how to use their technical debt budget to their advantage.

References and Further Reading:

No McKinsey, You got it all wrong about developer productivity!

No McKinsey, You got it all wrong about developer productivity!

Disclaimer: I have been an enormous proponent of Developer Productivity and have tried to implement automated metrics collection in 3 orgs with varied success. In my Mentoring sessions with early-stage startup leaders as well, I (re)enforce the importance of being aware of Dev Productivity. So much so, that I have written a 2-part article on the same here, here and here. I have also been a huge fan of McKinsey and how they seem to get answers which eluded the attention and resources of mega-corporations or governments alike. However, this article is written to communicate an entirely different perspective. In my opinion, McKinsey has got this entire “framework” thing about “dev productivity” wrong.

Introduction:

About a month back, McKinsey published an article claiming that they have developed a framework to measure productivity. They also acknowledged the fact that they were simply rehashing some of the existing metrics (like DORA and SPACE), which were used by Engineering Leaders and have simplified it (without the context) and are pitching it to their traditional buyers, the C-Suite executives in Mega corporations. Actually, some of these metrics can be useful tools if used correctly -One example is Hand-offs. But, the main reason I have chosen to write this article is their central focus seems to be “Coders should code”. It also appears to have A) missed the context of every metric, OR B) Omitted the context so as not to burden their target audience.

Finally, there is a mix-max of things to track, metrics to monitor and Opportunities to Focus, which looks like

Captain Ramius Pointing to a young Jack Ryan that Admiral Halsey was reckless!

Captain Ramius Pointing to a young Jack Ryan that Admiral Halsey was Stupid!

The Legendary Kent Beck has written a deep 2-part piece on countering the conjectures presented by McKinsey and elaborating on the gaps that engineering orgs are traditionally bound to manifest. It is very well written and covers almost everything. There are also a bunch of other eminent Software Engineers who have written on this and I have tried to give a quick lot at the bottom of this article.

What Was I concerned about?

Focus On Activities

I was primarily concerned about the lack of focus on Outcomes and Impact and a focus on the “Activities” in the proposed framework!

Any engineering leader or manager will tell you that Code Review Velocity and Deployment Frequency have nothing to do with measuring outcomes. While I will not discount Cycle Time or MTTR (I take pride in building multiple teams with one of the lowest MTTR and Cycle times in the ecosystem). They are indicators of some process elements/activities that could lead to outcomes. If we want to measure something, it should be Outcomes, not activities!

Focus on Optimisation of Irrelevant Metrics

Code Review Velocity:

If you want to time-motion the code review process in the entire stream map, you’ll find that async code review is killing your productivity. Pairing improves that dramatically. Instead of trying to sub-optimize for code review, measure the thing we actually want to improve. Which will be “Cycel Time”.

Story Points Completed:

Let’s agree on a basic fact. A “story point” is a made-up number. It was conceived as yet another way to obfuscate estimates for thought work that is difficult to estimate. As originally conceived, it represented the number of mythical “ideal days” of effort. There’s so much time wasted on getting better at “story pointing,” arguing about the Fibonacci sequence, “planning poker,” and other story point nonsense. Frankly, it is one of the “Bad” elements of Scrum! As a leader, you should find and remove handoffs and wait times. Story points are useless for anything and even more useless for this goal. Track throughput instead. 

Handoffs:

This is a good one. Good job, McKinsey. You got something right. Stop using testing teams, use pairing instead of code review, operate what you build, and don’t have any people doing anything manual to the right of development.

Contribution Analysis and Opportunities focus

In the other focus areas, they have listed metrics at the individual level that can be useful unless you measure “developer satisfaction,” “retention,” and “interruptions” at the individual level. These should only be measured in aggregates to prevent any cognitive bias. IMO, Things start getting really toxic in the “Opportunities focus” section, though.

I have been part of organisations and processes where there was a focus on tracking and measuring the outcomes of individuals. It did not play out well, ever. My Conclusion after reading the article for the second time is that McKinsey thinks their intended audience (CEOs and CFOs) cannot understand “systems thinking.” Now, If you roll out this or a similar framework and announce this and what do you think will happen?

You have a group of people all working on the same backlog but not acting as a team. Code review suffers, mentoring sufferers, pairing is hard, work breakdown suffers, etc. Anything that requires more than one person to conduct/conclude, including helping someone get unstuck, will get deprioritised!

Overall, The inferences seem to be based on hard facts, but the conjectures are all flawed.

Why This Now?

At this point, I want to highlight what “Triggered” me to write this, read the following.,

For example, one company found that its most talented developers were spending excessive time on noncoding activities such as design sessions or managing interdependencies across teams. In response, the company changed its operating model and clarified roles and responsibilities to enable those highest-value developers to do what they do best: code.

McKinsey’s Article on the purported Framework

Wow. I pray for that company.

So, I believe after McKinsey pointed to the fact, that developers are involved in irrelevant things like design, architecture etc. They created separate towers of responsibility for design. In that case, I am puzzled about who will be responsible for the minor things like dependency management, prerequisites, versioning, capacity planning, concurrency, scalability etc.

Did they get anything Right?

Yes. There are tonnes, but they are buried at the bottom. Their focus on Hand-offs and cycle times are really worth tracking in any engineering org. To the authors’ credit, they have also identified some of the core issues with measuring Developer Productivity. But, someone higher in the firm seem to have suggested to soften the blow. So, they have diluted and buried those sections. I will share 2 gems here.

To truly benefit from measuring productivity, leaders and developers alike need to move past the outdated notion that leaders “cannot” understand the intricacies of software engineering, or that engineering is too complex to measure.

The real problem is that in many large organisations, “The Management” doesn’t understand the work they manage. Management can understand the intricacies of software engineering if they become leaders and study the work they manage. In a large behemoth, not all managers are leaders. They want a framework and will enforce it with an iron fist. Now, McKinsey has delivered them a framework!

Learn the basics. All C-suite leaders who are not engineers or who have been in management for a long time will need a primer on the software development process and how it is evolving.

This one Nailed it! The primary reason “Management” finds it difficult to measure the right thing is because they sometimes do not understand the work they want to measure. Leaders who understand do measure the right things. My primary concern with this framework is, in trying to solve this, McKinsey has made the problem worse!

Just google “McKinsey developer productivity” and you’ll find more articles on how this framework is flawed than the original article link!

Anto’s Response to the Article and the purported Framework.

References & Further Reading/Watching:

1, Mc.Kinsey Article – https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/yes-you-can-measure-software-developer-productivity
2, Kent Beck’s rebuttal – https://newsletter.pragmaticengineer.com/p/measuring-developer-productivity
3, Redidit – https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/1650595/measuring_developer_productivity_a_response_to/
4, Level Up Coding – https://levelup.gitconnected.com/the-developers-productivity-can-t-be-measured-in-mckinsey-s-way-an-analysis-4d81924279ae
5, Measuring Developers Productivity… McKinsey what’s the point? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjQn8nnkXTs
6, Can We Measure Developer Productivity? A Reaction to McKinsey’s Article – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETa24ErdcwQ
7, HOW TO MEASURE ENGINEERING PRODUCTIVITY? – https://nocturnalknight.co/2022/11/how-to-measure-engineering-productivity/
8, Business Value delivery by Engineering Teams in StartUps – Part 1 – https://nocturnalknight.co/2021/10/business-value-delivery-by-engineering-teams-in-startups-part-1/#comment-773
9, Business Value Delivery by Engineering Teams in StartUps – Part 2 – https://nocturnalknight.co/2021/10/business-value-delivery-by-engineering-teams-in-startups-part-2/
10, Space Metrics – https://www.harness.io/blog/space-metrics-get-started
11, DORA Metrics – https://www.leanix.net/en/wiki/vsm/dora-metrics
12, Dave Farley’s Response To The NONSENSE McKinsey Article On Developer Productivity – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuUBZ1pByzM

Why Engineers Hate your “Boiler Plate” Job Descriptions?

Why Engineers Hate your “Boiler Plate” Job Descriptions?

How to Attract the most relevant applicants with great job postings

One of the main problems in SaaS/Software engineering hiring is the way job descriptions are written. While I knew this for some time (read years) The problem is, I was too lazy to change anything about it! That is until recently, one of the candidates I was interviewing for an Engineering Manager Role said this in our introductory call,

Me: Hope you’ve had a discussion with Ms.ABC (our HR) regarding the Roles and Responsibilities. If there are questions on it I can answer them, or we can get into the agenda.

Candidate: Yes I had a discussion with Ms. ABC. But, quite frankly it was your boilerplate JD. I’d actually want to understand what exactly I’d be doing. What will I be in charge of? What will I move?

Needless to say, I spent the next ~30 minutes walking through the current team structure, where he’d come in, what will he own, what the growth trajectory looks like etc. Ultimately, we did 2 more calls before both of us were satisfied that there are mutual synergies and went ahead. It made me reevaluate all of our Job Descriptions over the weekend and rewrote almost half of them to include factual details on projects, outcomes expected, tools available, glimpse of growth among other things.

After this, I asked the HR to send this “revised” JD to the candidates once again.

 And the result was visible from Monday!

Either candidates that the HR thought super suited started dropping voluntarily from the process or candidates started expressing interest, doing more research on our stack, infra, product proposition and competitor benchmarking, before the call. Some even did a cold reach-out on Linkedin.

So, I wanted to share the small titbit here.

Why General Descriptions Don’t work? 

Most Job descriptions barely resemble “specifications” at all, but feel more like generic stubs. Sort of like the equivalent of shopping for a car with as much details as “red and goes fast” or “black and built to last.”

 It leaves too much open to the imagination for it to be a successful criterion to enable fitment. With criteria as broad as this you’ll end up spending an inordinate amount of time executing the search, since so many things appear to be a match. For me, Red and goes fast is always a 1971 Ford Mustang, for you it could be a 1998 Ferrari 365.

The truth is that statements like the above — or its equivalent in engineering hiring — “Get me a backed dev with OOPS in Python/Java/Go with 5 years experience” — guarantee a similarly frustrating shopping experience. You’ve made it needlessly difficult for yourself and your HR/TA team to identify the specific talent you want. In this trite example you’ve indicated that you’re looking for a mid-level engineer that knows OOPS, but that basically includes everyone that ever graduated with a CS degree in the past 5 (to 10?) years. Surprisingly, many job “specifications” we see contain rarely any more info. These are the “Boiler Plate” Job Descriptions.

How did we find ourselves in this mess?

I understand why hiring managers do this. Sometimes they’re not exactly sure what they want — after all, it takes real time and effort to work out the specific vision for the role. But instead of acknowledging this and then solving the real problem (their own laziness), they delegate the JD writing to their Team/HR and it turns into generic tech JD. But the hiring manager is unfazed — “I’ll know the right candidate when I see them,” they say. Really? It could be true in some instances. Sometimes, we start with a Backend developer, then we come across a candidate with experience in building a full pipeline or a payment system. Then we expand the role to cover wider scope and evaluate against it. But generally,  How will they know the right candidate if they can’t write down specifically what the candidate looks like?

Another reason for generic job specs is because a hiring manager is recruiting in a talent-constrained market (sound familiar?), and it feels like a smart move to cast as wide of a net as possible. Theoretically, one should be able to get more candidates into the top of the funnel this way, right?

Perhaps. Theoretically. But in my experience, this approach usually, and utterly, backfires. Here’s why:

Boiler Plate Job Descriptionsaren’t designed to appeal to any engineer in particular

In the current job market, engineers are faced with a wide variety of options from some amazing established companies and lots of seemingly “sexy” startups. (after “the great resignation”)

You need to take your opportunityto stand out! The more specific you are about the challenges a specific engineer will get to work in a specific role, the more traction you’ll get with (the right) candidates.

The idea is to make an engineer excited when you describe what they will “Get to do” in the first 12-15 months in the role. 

Be very specific, 

  • Talk about the product/modules they will own/drive/be part of, 
  • Talk about the outcomes and metrics they will own and drive,
  • Talk about the toolchains & frameworks they’ll use (or get to choose), 
  • Talk about What’s hard/challenging about the role, How are they a great fit. 
  • The more details you can squeeze into the spec to help them visualize their role and the projects they’ll be working on the better.

Boiler Plate Job Descriptions don’t arm others to help you

Another bad thing about generic JD is that they don’t help others help you. Think of how much reach could you get by using everyone in your network as a recruiter. But in today’s scenario, “everyone else” is already asking them if they know any Python Engineers or React Developers or Go Engineers. Why would they help you? Because you’ve taken the time to get specific about what you want? Maybe. 

Take a look at the following Job Description. Anyone in software engineering who had some deployment, infra-planning & communication seems to be a candidate for the role. 

I recently got a request from a founder friend of mine to refer a Sr.Tech Lead/Engineering Manager for an early-stage startup. When I saw the JD, it was so generic it did not even have the primary stack on it. Assume sharing it from your handle. I politely declined to share it and asked for some more information and said will come back once he shares. (I believe he is very busy and hence hasn’t come back) 

The bottomline is, Make them want to help you — give them a JD that’s so amazing, well-written, specific, (even entertaining)  — that they can’t help but pass it on, post it, tell their friends about it, etc. If you make it stand out — you’ll get more attention from the folks that can help because you’ll arm them with something interesting & effective that they can use to reach out to their network.

Boiler Plate Job Descriptions don’t enable you to know what success looks like

This is a very simple point — see above — if you can’t explain what the ideal candidate looks like, how will you know when you’ve found them? The JD shared by my friend looks as vague as this.

Typical Boiler Plate JD

Actually, his company was looking for a guy who could not just do Infrastructure Architecture. They wanted someone who has architected/built a cloud native SaaS application. His team has built the application and has no idea how to convert it to truly cloud native format to scale without breaking the bank!

The main idea here is about not being willing to settle for less. I realise the market is tough right now, and maybe you’ll need to make compromises. But do you want to start at the wrong end of the pool? When you go out the door with a generic description, you preemptively give up the battle. If you need to settle — fine! — but know exactly what points you’re compromising on.

The larger problem is that if you don’t know what the best candidate really looks like then the other people involved in making a decision likely don’t know what s/he looks like either. A well-defined, specific description of the role enables everyone involved in the interviewing and hiring process to be on the same proverbial page.

Now go get started!

Fixing your job descriptions will take some work(as I found out). To get to specifics, you’ll need to dig in and make additional efforts. You might also need to do some retraining in your organization and teach others these principles, too.

But when you get through the hard work, your postings will turn into valuable weapons that will,

 a.) appeal to the engineers you want to reach,

 b.) enable others to help you expand your outreach, and 

c.) get your hiring team on the same page to quickly come to the right decision.

If you’re curious to see what roles we currently hire for, we have a lot of openings in Product, Design and Engineering:

It ranges from Kubernetes Architect, React Native Mobile Dev, Sr.Backend Dev, Tech Lead-Mobile Technologies, Engineering Managers, Associate Product managers, Product Managers etc.

More details can be had at https://angel.co/company/itilite-1/jobs or you can ping me 🙂  

How to select SSO Standard for your SaaS Application.

How to select SSO Standard for your SaaS Application.

For anyone developing any application on the cloud, the major concern is always how is security implemented. Typically, you start with an authentication system viz. Usernames & Passwords. As your application grows in size of use cases and adoption, you’ll soon find a necessity to improve your security posture, these could range from MFA, Federated Identity management and finally authorisation. You now have customers who ask if you can support their AD authorisation or OneLogin or Okta etc. 

This is when you’ll think about implementing a Single-Sign-On. But, the choice of how to keep data and identities secure begins much earlier for software architects and developers: selecting the standard that should be used to keep federated identities safe. This will involve two things, architecting an authorisation system – could be a separate service or bound with your application – this choice is critical to how you can grow as an organisation. 

Architecture Choice:

If you choose to integrate it with your main product and 2 months later your board directs you to develop a new offering, you’ll end up doing it all over again. On the contrary, if you’re not going to pivot to any new business line, the additional time you will incur in building an external “Accounts service” will be a tax on the GTM. 

Standards Choice:

IT Administrators and Security Architects must first choose the protocol or framework to use to maintain federated identity, or the mechanism of connecting a person’s electronic identity and attributes, safe while designing a plan to keep data and identities secure.

A Single Sign-On (SSO) account has the advantage of allowing employees to log in once to an application or network and not have to log in to several apps or networks during the workday. While this is beneficial to employees in terms of increasing productivity by eliminating the need to remember several passwords, it is also beneficial to IT and Security functions. The Identity and Access Management (IAM) platform responsible for maintaining employees’ credentials can assist make it more manageable by registering fewer passwords in the system.

It is, however, not an easy choice. Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), OpenID, and open authorization are the leading candidates in the federation process (OAuth). Let’s take a closer look at these technologies and determine when SAML, OAuth, and OpenID should be used.

What is Single Sign-On (SSO)?

SSO (Single Sign-On) is an authentication method that allows apps to validate users by using other trustworthy apps. Single sign-on allows a user to use a single ID and password to log into several applications.

SSO is an important part of an Identity and Access Management (IAM) platform for managing access. User identity verification is crucial for establishing what permissions a user will have.

SSO Standards

  • SAML

SAML is a protocol that allows an Identity Provider (IdP) to send a user’s credentials to a service provider for authentication and authorization. SAML allows for Single Sign-On (SSO) and streamlines password management. It is beneficial to businesses because employees are using an increasing number of applications to complete their tasks.

Keeping track of passwords for hundreds of programs used by hundreds, if not thousands, of employees can be difficult. SAML comes to the rescue by providing a single sign-on standard for businesses.

  • OAuth 

OAuth 2.0 is a secure authorization standard. It allows secure delegated access by providing third-party services with access tokens rather than exposing user credentials. It does not, however, authenticate; it just authorizes.

You’ve probably used OAuth 2.0 if you’ve ever signed up for a new app and consented to allow it automatically source fresh contacts from Facebook or your phone contacts. This standard ensures that delegated access is secure. This means that a program can operate on behalf of a user and access resources from a server without the user needing to provide their credentials. This is accomplished by allowing the Identity Provider (IdP) to issue tokens to third-party apps with the user’s permission.

  • OpenID

The OpenID Connect (OIDC) standard is used for authentication. OIDC is used by identity providers (those who generate and administer identities) so that users can log in with their IdP first and then access applications without having to re-enter their credentials.

This authentication option is recognizable if you’ve used your Google account to sign in to apps like YouTube or Facebook to log into an online shopping cart. Organizations use OpenID Connect to authenticate users, and it is an open standard. This is used by IdPs so that users can sign in to the IdP and then use their sign-in information to access other websites and apps without having to log in or disclose their sign-in information.

SAML VS OAuth VS OpenID

OAuth 2.0 is a framework for regulating authorization to a protected resource, such as a program or a set of files, whereas OpenID Connect and SAML are both federated authentication industry standards. As a result, OAuth 2.0 is used in quite different situations than the other two protocols, and it can be used in conjunction with either OpenID Connect or SAML.

OpenID Connect is based on the OAuth 2.0 protocol and uses an ID token, which is a JSON Web Token (JWT) that standardizes areas where OAuth 2.0 provides for flexibility, such as scopes and endpoint discovery. It depends on user authentication and is often used to make user logins easier on consumer websites and mobile apps.

Unlike JWT, SAML does not rely on OAuth and instead relies on a message exchange to authenticate in the XML SAML format. It’s more commonly used in enterprise settings to allow users to log in to several applications with a single password.

Final Thoughts

As technology advances and systems become more interconnected, federated identification becomes increasingly useful since it is more convenient for users. It saves them time by reducing the number of accounts and passwords they have to remember, but it raises some security concerns.

SAML has one feature that OAuth2 lacks: the SAML token contains the user identity information (because of signing). With OAuth2, you don’t get that out of the box, and instead, the Resource Server needs to make an additional round trip to validate the token with the Authorization Server.

On the other hand, with OAuth2 you can invalidate an access token on the Authorization Server, and disable it from further access to the Resource Server.

SAML provides a simpler and more standardized solution which covers all of our current and projected needs at ITILITE and avoids the use of workarounds for interoperability with native applications.

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