Stripe founder's "absurd" way of measuring engineer productivity.
$50bn payments fintech Stripe is known for having some pretty prestigious engineers, brought in with dreams of earning massive salaries. But how do they earn their keep, in a field where productivity is so hard to measure? Appearing on the Invest Like the Best podcast, Stripe's co-founders, Patrick and John Collison spoke about how they organize engineering teams to ensure they work effectively.
For Patrick, a bigger team is not always a better one. When he's told that he needs "5 heads or 10 heads for a year" to complete an initiative, Patrick says his (joking) retort is to instead measure the team in kilograms. "We need 500KG or 1000KG of engineers," he says. "They're like, but that's absurd! That's the point."
The trouble with engineers and engineers' productivity is that it's situation dependent, said Patrick. It's down to the "legibility" of the issue. A technical solution "could require one month or could require one year if you’d screw it up and do it badly," he added. It makes assessing staffing needs difficult and productivity hard to measure. Framing things in terms of kilograms of engineering power may still be a better metric than lines of code.
Stripe's other issue is hiring visionaries into areas like product management. It likes its projects to have an "auteur" at helm. For each project, John says he likes to ask, "Is there a specific person who has a vision here?" The company has expanded its product suite significantly and there are still "a hundred things" it would love to fund "tomorrow", but it needs the auteurs to do them. It's not just product: John describes software engineering as "half-building a bridge, half-writing a bestseller."
Patrick likes turning software engineers' time into productive outputs, calling it "part of the fun." He says that, if the "elasticity between dollars and good software was straightforward," fintech startups would never be able to compete with financial giants in the first place.
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