What happens when a company ‘grows up’? An engineer’s perspective 

Typically, when a new organization “grows up,” it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to bring business ideas to full fruition.

 Employees work at website-designer firm Wix.com offices in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Employees work at website-designer firm Wix.com offices in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)

After more than a decade at the helm of Wix’s engineering department, there are several  defining moments that have stayed with me. One of my earliest memories with the company is also the basis for my most important career lesson to date: dealing with leadership growing pains. 

Typically, when a new organization “grows up,” it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to bring business ideas to full fruition. During this period, you mature professionally alongside the company. In my case, I experienced extraordinary steps in the process, which has led to a hypothesis that sometimes “you have to ‘break’ things to know they are working.” With this in mind, let’s delve into three effective ways to manage and lead a team as your company evolves:

1.   Pain equals growth 

While giving a company tech talk some years ago, I was on stage when suddenly my cell phone and other team members’ phones started ringing at the same time. At that point, it was clear to me something terribly wrong had happened; customers were calling to complain about missing essential features on their websites. 

As we investigated the complaints, it turned out that our system had reverted six months back after one of our engineers mistakenly synched our CI/CD server (CI/CD is a set of practices and tools for software companies to release new software) from a backup server which was six months old. This caused our servers to deploy old artifacts, thereby eliminating all new updates and features for users that we had been working on for the past months. In an effort to restore our work, Wix teams in solidarity, spent just one night rebuilding the entire system from source code and deploying back to our production system. Thanks to the solid CI/CD methodology that we had been learning and adopting at the time, we successfully fixed the problem without losing any data or causing permanent damage to our customers. This event also marked the first time we realized that the CI/CD system we have been building and practicing was actually working as planned. You would think that the engineer who caused the whole debacle would be reprimanded, but Wix ended up promoting the engineer at the heart of the system “slip-up.” 

That’s because of the culture we nurture at Wix in which leaders and employees alike learn to take ownership and responsibility early on. In other words, your mistake is also my mistake—let’s fix it together and learn from it. We were able to transform from this unpleasant event a formative lesson for the company as a whole: “break” things to know they work and don’t be afraid to experiment. 

 Aviran Mordo (credit: Alan Tzatzkin) Aviran Mordo (credit: Alan Tzatzkin)

2.   Set guidelines, not rules 

In your own organization, you want to plant the right seedling for improvement and growth. At the same time, you should not limit yourself or your employees - great talents you’ve hired - to rules meant to “be obeyed.” Rather, you should create guidelines that will positively encourage endless creativity and critical thinking so that others can effectively plan, assess and reflect every portion of their contribution. They will learn to take ownership and responsibility. In fact, the key to a fast development process is about the developer owning the product they deliver. 

At Wix, we deliberately choose not to define strict rules of how-to develop a product, solve a problem or even make a website. What I mean is that anyone with a good idea or plan also has instilled in them a sense of fearlessness which lets them try to test new and potentially better ways. We always encourage our people to ask questions and to challenge any assumptions we make. So, my team is given a lot of freedom to explore different solutions to some of the most pressing issues in our industry, as I stand by to help navigate. 

3.   Free up your time to think 

My past experiences as a leader in a fast paced company have included many ups and downs. Yet, in order to strike a balance between reacting to immediate issues and long term strategy, I realized I needed to free up more of my time to think proactively.

To achieve this there are three simple things that you can do: 

Plan your time. Block some time in your schedule to think proactively. This time is allocated just for thinking and prevents you from having meetings, and discourages you from doing other daily tasks. Another good method is to block off a couple days every few months throughout the year specifically for strategic thinking and planning.

Learn how to delegate more. This is usually a tough one for young managers.  You need to trust the people who you’ll delegate certain tasks to, but more importantly, you need to accept that they might do things differently than you.  Even though you think you would do a better job than them, take this as an opportunity to grow your own people skills.

Hire some help. Every manager relies on those they manage. Hiring a great team member who you can trust to take some of your load, will free you to do other things that otherwise you would not have the time to do. 

Many people in leadership positions find it challenging to manage their day-to-day tasks when they actually need more time to think about growth. A thought like ‘If I won’t get to this task, then it won’t get done’ can deter you from focusing on the future of the company. The frustration will only keep growing until you hit a breaking point. To avoid that from happening, you need to become less reactionary and more strategic about what lies ahead. 

The writer is the VP of Engineering at Wix.