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In defence of large teams

Seen on the twitters:

1) Bad reasons why tech startups have incredibly large mobile teams even though from an engineering perspective they don’t need it.
This is the No True Scotsman fallacy, as no true software department needs more than, say, 20 people.

I’m not going to get into the details of what you do with hundreds of mobile engineers. Suffice it to say that the larger-team apps I’ve worked on have been very feature rich, for better or worse. And that’s not just in terms of things you can do, but in terms of how well you can do them. When you in-source the small details that are important to your experience, they become as much work to solve as the overall picture.

Make a list of the companies that you think have “too big” a mobile software development team. Now review that list: all of those companies are pretty big and successful, aren’t they? Maybe big enough to hire a few hundred developers to work on how their customers access their products or services? No true software department needs to be that successful.

And that’s what I think of as the underlying problem with the “your team’s too big, you’re doing it wrong” fallacy: it’s part of the ongoing narrative to devalue all software. It says that your application can’t possibly be worth enough to spend all that developer time on. After all, mine isn’t, and I’m a true software developer.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Jack Nutting | May 8, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    As someone living in Stockholm, I’m mostly thinking about the large mobile teams I’m familiar with at Swedish companies, where I often have friends etc. Spotify is one example of a company that may have “too big” a software team; They are certainly “successful” in terms of having a popular, heavily-spread product, but AFAIK they’ve never turned a profit. I don’t know enough about their finances to know whether halving or quartering their dev team would be enough to make it profitable. Another example is Skype, which has had its core dev team in Stockholm since forever, but just recently announced that they’re shutting the office down, moving development to other locations. In either case, it’s not clear to me that having such large dev teams has been helpful or necessary to produce the products that they have. I can hardly think of one new feature or improvement in either of those apps during the past 5 years that has notably improved the user experience (for me, at least).

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