Effective Software’s Chief Technical Officer Seán O’ Sullivan writes about managing a software engineering team that’s based across many countries, and the benefits of setting up a base in Europe.
I was recently invited over to New York to give a talk about having a distributed engineering team in Europe. The event was hosted by Zartis, who have quite a bit of experience setting up Technology Teams in Europe for US companies. The audience was mostly made up of US businesses who are considering opening operations in Ireland or the continent. I was more than happy to share my experiences and wanted to put together a bit of summary for our readers.
Back in 2016, Effective Software had traditionally outsourced all software development to a small Irish based company. We had all the other aspects you expect of a typical SaaS Startup – Customer Success, Sales, Marketing and Finance, but no internal tech team. It had been decided to change that situation, with a view to total world domination (of course) and wanting to have our own in-house product team.
In Q2 2016, we began building out the Product Team with a mix of both full-time staff and contract folks who were well known to us. We had 3 things to do:
(1) Take over the existing system
(2) Propose a new platform
(3) Build that platform and deploy it without disrupting the existing running system
Over the last 18 months we have learned to build and maintain the system ourselves, built the core of our new platform, and started to transition production services to it. Our team is now 11 people in total and we are all the more focused on perfecting our health and safety management software.
Starting Q3 2017, we partnered with Zartis to grow a hub in Madrid.
So, why Madrid? In our case, it started with Raúl Roy, someone we wanted to hire. Raúl was returning to Madrid after spending five years working in Ireland. In thinking through our options on how we might accommodate having Raúl work remotely from Madrid, we settled on the option of working with Zartis. Zartis has a legal entity in Spain, is based in Madrid and is fully set up to deal with all the admin fun that you need if you want to run a base there. Having decided to work with Zartis, we explored options to hire other people to be based there, and Zartis helped us find, vet and ultimately employ two more people for the team. We’re now looking at adding to the team, to bring it up to five people.
Madrid is a great fit as a potential base. For us, it was important that the time difference to Dublin is pretty small, and that it’s easy to get to, with direct flights from Dublin. The most important thing is that Madrid has an accessible pool of technical talent, based both in Madrid and other parts of Spain and Europe. This really helps us regarding being able to offer both Dublin-based and Madrid-based options when we meet potential employees.
We touched on a few topics and pointers around distributed teams, especially in a start-up like Effective Software. If you decide to run a distributed team, it should be obvious that it requires more work, and specifically, more management. Someone must do specific work to ensure that the logistics run smoothly across the locations, that communications are friction-free, and that all the little things you need to make things tick are present and correct. In my opinion, this needs to be a manager who is constantly prioritising to ensure the remote team dynamics work well.
It’s also important to have the whole company buy in. We talked about this in the context of ensuring that you don’t accidentally develop an “us and them” situation between people across locations. It really helps if your CEO and Senior management all believe in it, and if all HQ staff interact with and get to know the team in the other locations.
Lastly, we talked about money. While some companies open a new location as part of a cost saving goal, our observation is that if that’s your only goal, it may not be enough to sustain things for the long haul. It’s much better if you have several elements that you believe in that make a new location viable. For us, the key driver is that it enhances our ability to grow our product team and find the kinds of people we want to work with at Effective Software.