David Heinemeier Hansson

January 6, 2022

It's harder hiring managers

We just opened a position for a Director of Engineering to help us manage our rapidly expanding technical teams at Basecamp. We already have more programmers on staff than we've ever had, and we intend to double that crew within the next 12-18 months. We're going all-in on becoming a multi-product business again, and that means hiring the managers needed to to cope with those ambitions.

Not just because of this rapid growth on the technical teams, but because the rest of the company is growing along with it. We'll be bigger than we've ever been this January, and before the end of the year, we'll be much bigger still. Wild to think that after almost twenty years in business, we're suddenly on a fast track to crack a hundred employees.

It's even more interesting because eight years ago we stood at the same crossroad, and we made a different choice. Back in 2014, we choose to Become Basecamp, and shut off signups to several other successful products because we didn't want to grow the company. That still feels like it was the right decision at the time, even if we're making the opposite one now.

Well, opposite is a big word. For now we're committing to being a business capable of doing two major products, and that simply requires a much larger crew. Partly because we were already running a very lean operation just with Basecamp, partly because HEY had the most explosive growth of any new product we had ever launched.

We choose to freeze the size of the company back in 2014, by shutting off signups to two products and spinning off a third,  because we knew there was a tipping point coming. Between 40-60 people, we felt we could get away with having essentially no full-time managers. It was just Jason and I at the executive level, then a crew of working team leads, and then individual contributors. But push beyond that, and it was clear even in 2014 that the lack of middle management wouldn't work.

Now that we're consciously pushing through that ceiling, and embracing the larger company, it's clear that we do need some of those full-time managers. We already took the big leap last year by bringing on Elaine as our new COO, and now we're taking another big step with this director of engineering role.

But hiring managers is hard! Much harder than hiring individual contributors who can be evaluated in large part on the strength of their individual work.

With programmers we do multi-hour at-home tests for finalists, with designers we hire them to do a week-long project, and with customer support we ask them to answer a couple of tickets. It's incredible how much it helps the hiring process to be able to see someone's actual, real work on a realistic assignment that mirrors what they'd be doing if hired.

But what's a take-home assignment for a director of engineering? Or for any manager? I'm sure you can come up with something, but it won't in any way be as representative as it is for those programmers, designers, or customer service representatives.

Not that this is exactly a novel problem, but its never the less a real gap when you're used to having realistic work samples be a big part of the equation.

It's also a lot more time consuming to do without! We spent fifty-plus hours in interviews with a little over a dozen candidates for the COO position before we hired Elaine. That was incredibly exhausting. Yes, also incredibly satisfying when we finally knew that we had the right candidate, but I wasn't exactly eager to go through that again right away.

Elaine has been here for a while now, though. And it's been a real blessing. So now I finally feel we're ready to give it another go.

But I do wish we could come up with a solid at-home test for managers. (Know of any?!)

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.