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How to build better programming teams.

During an eleven-year career as both a self-professed "grunt programmer" and a software entrepreneur, Robert Carr has seen the inner workings of development groups ranging from Xerox PARC and Ashton-Tate to small startups. Carr, who now heads software development at GO Corp., says he's learned one key rule: Software creation is now a team process.,

Carr argues that the growing size and complexity of commercial software products has made the solitary programmer virtually obsolete. Instead, developers now have to learn a new set of skills--how to recruit, structure, and manage increasingly large groups of programmers. Carr, who has hired "close to 30" programmers for GO Corp. in the last 20 months, admits that team-building can gobble up huge amounts of time and effort. But he insists there's no alternative: "All good software these days gets done through teamwork."

Recently, Carr offered a few guidelines for building effective teams: First, define your development style. Before hiring anyone, says Carr, a company should make basic decisions about how it wants to manage its development group. One common approach, especially for "brand-new products or architectures," is the "collegial" model, which brings together a group of senior members who "bounce ideas off each other a lot. "An alternative approach is the "chief programmer" model," which relies on one or two senior programmers to handle product design and act as mentors, with junior programmers writing most of the code.

Hire the best people first. "The first one or two hires are the key hires," says Carr. "if you get a turkey in there, every good guy who comes in and interviews is going to be turned off."

Focus on interpersonal skills. At Go corp, "the number one thing we interview for is teamwork," says Carr. Before a hiring decision is made, candidates are required to meet with at least eight to ten other staff members. Carr adds that some of his worst hiring mistakes occurred because he pushed candidates through despite "lukewarm" feedback about personal chemistry. "Listen to what your troops are saying to you," he says.

Don't be afraid to rob the cradle. "Pcs have been around long enough so you can now hire 18 year olds who have been programming for close to ten years," says Carr. "we've got a guy who was the first employee Mitch Kapor ever hired. He's actually one of our best software developers and he's only 22."

Hire people who've shipped a product. Carr says he always tries to hire programmers who've "actually been through a full product development cycle--and, ideally, have been around to support it and Bee how customers react."

Don't cut corners on salaries. Experienced Bay Area programmers command salaries in the $50-70,000 range, says Carr. Often, they also expect stock (a good rule of thumb: offer stock equal to half the programmer's annual salary, based on the price of the most recent investment round). "If you cringe at paying the kinds of prices really good programmers cost, I'd hire fewer programmers and still pay top dollar to get the very best.'
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Carr, Robert
Publication:Soft-Letter
Date:May 1, 1989
Words:508
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