The most vexatious problems when scaling up — as told by this hyper-growth tech startup
Traveloka has been growing consistently for years and part of this success is attributed to its leaders.
Mike Dias, co-founder at ScaleUp Academy, interviewed Denni Gautama, VP of Engineering at Traveloka, with the purpose of understanding the biggest challenges behind the rise and expansion of the company.
Let’s retain the key learnings of this ScaleUp Academy guest mentor during the almost three years that he has been performing the role of VP of Engineering.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
I joined Traveloka in early 2016 when it was four years old and had less than 700 people developing and operating two products (Flight and Hotel booking) with its apps downloaded more than five million times.
Three years later, Traveloka has grown to more than 2500 people with more than 20 products and more than 50 million app downloads today.
Our technology centre has also expanded from Jakarta to Singapore and Bangalore within the same period.
I started in Traveloka by leading 10 software engineers in our Accommodation vertical. That group has since grown to over 70 engineers.
Today, in addition to Accommodation, I also manage the engineering teams for our Transportation (Air and Ground transports) and B2B (Affiliates) businesses. On top of that, I lead some horizontal (shared services) teams of software and quality engineering.
Today, I am leading 200 people across Jakarta, Singapore, and Bangalore location. If those numbers don’t tell you a clear enough story, I can rephrase the challenge in two words — scaling up.
Before joining Traveloka, never before in my entire career did I have to deal with this enormous challenge of scaling up — and definitely not at this speed.
I’d be lucky in the past if my team size could grow by 10-20 per cent in a year, let alone with an additional portfolio.
In Traveloka, not only do I have to deal with organizational challenges — hiring, training, and growing people to cope with the super fast growth and changes — but also the technical challenges — scaling products and services for 10 times more users and handling the complexity of 10 times more products.
That involves a lot of reorganization and refactoring activities, without disrupting the stability of the organization and systems as the business has aggressive growth targets.
As you mentioned, hiring is one of the top challenges that engineering leaders face. What is your approach to hiring?
The good thing about hiring for a hyper-growth tech startup is that it’s pretty easy to secure and revise the budget.
I remember in my past jobs that hiring had to be budgeted every year and if I made any mistake in the budget, it was really hard to secure an additional headcount and it required a really strong justification (like replacing an employee who resigned).
As a technology company, we believe that our tech talents are our strongest competitive advantage. They are the people who build and operate our products and services.
Hence, the quality of our tech talents directly translates to the quality of our products and services.
Being founded by co-founders who grew up professionally in Silicon Valley, we aspire to build a world-class technology company with Silicon Valley’s standards and culture. This is reflected on our high hiring bar and company values.
In Traveloka, we are hiring tech talents at every level, from interns to senior architects and managers.
We look for top tech talents early, through internship programs, campus visits to top tier universities, participation and partnership with top coding competitions.
We do these activities in all three of our tech centres (Jakarta, Singapore, and Bangalore).
For experienced and senior candidates, we recruit both passively (through career sites or job portals) and actively (through employee referrals, internal and external recruiters).
We don’t limit our talent search only in our three tech centres. We search for talents worldwide and offer to relocate them to one of our tech centres.
We have hired people from more than 14 nationalities including American, Austrian, Bangladeshi, Canadian, Chinese, Filipino, French, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Russian, Singaporean, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Due to our great cultural diversity, we look for people who are open-minded, curious and have a strong sense of empathy.
As a technology company, we need people with strong technical skills at every level. So regardless if someone applies as an intern, a junior engineer, or even a VP of Engineering, we do a technical evaluation.
We want people who can write real codes and design systems for our production scale.
Does it mean that we hire engineering managers to write codes?
Whether the job requires them to write code or not, we believe that the ability to write codes and design systems is crucial for engineering managers to gain respect and build relationships with their engineers.
For example, through pair programming, code review, and design review sessions.
Leaders who code also make better technical decisions than those who sit in an ivory tower.
On top of the soft and hard skills, we are also looking for people with strong motivation and growth mindset. We hire people who don’t just match the job requirements, but those who want and can continuously learn new things, overcome new challenges, and grow with Traveloka.
If you think I just described who you are, we are hiring.
About ScaleUp Academy: Our mission is to help the leading tech scaleups of today grow into the giants of tomorrow.
This article was co-produced by e27 and scaleup academy
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