June 5th, 2013 NYC Tech Startups: From Developer to CTO to Market Dominance
On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, OLC attended NYC Tech Startups: From Developer to CTO to Market Dominance, featuring three panelists: Evan Spielberg, co-founder and CTO of roopstigo; James Cropcha, CTO of Fashism; and Alec Hartman, Managing Partner of NYC DevShop. The event was moderated by Richard Fallah, the organizer of NYC Tech Startups.
Richard Fallah: What made you first start programming?
Evan Spielberg: It was in seventh grade. I programmed a math bot to solve equations for me, which I would write out by hand on the assignment.
James Cropcha: At my elementary school, we had mandatory programming classes since third grade. I got interested in business and because I had some tech background, I picked up Ruby on Rails. I got into tech in a professional sense that way.
Alec Hartman: No one could get a job done regarding payment, so I got frustrated and I learned to program while running a company.
RF: What’s the difference between junior developers and senior developers?
AH: A junior developer is someone who doesn’t know where they’re going. They’re still learning. A senior developer is someone that has experience and knows how to teach people. They’re mentors.
JC: I advise people to score a CTO title. The term CTO is a little inflated....
ES: If you’re in a startup and you’re a CTO, you have a C-level developer—you need an additional level of coding and presenting.
RF: How did you make the shift from junior to senior?
ES: Time management was tough to learn. It came down to learning to prioritize what you needed done.
RF: How do you manage the relationship between developers and designers?
JC: I really prefer people who do design work. What I find in the practicality of building things—in terms of a designer interfacing with a developer, so maybe it’s taking 80 percent of what’s completed. It’s taking people who understand business.
ES: Pixel perfect doesn’t really matter in the startup world. You need to find people who invest in customer experience.
AH: It’s really hard to balance design and development. You’re going to be wrestling with if design makes the product or development make the product. You need to focus on the balance. I wouldn’t let a designer and a developer go one-to-one. You need a third party there to break the deadlock.
RF: What do you think about the MVP [Minimal Viable Product]?
AH: My company only builds MVPs. The big difference is that when you’re building your MVP, you’re validating your assumptions. An MVP is intended to figure out if your core assumptions are right.
ES: MVP is the proof. Prove it, spend as little money as you can, get funded, save as much money as you can and iterate.
RF: From experience, what is the best open-source language?
JC: I like Rails a lot. If I was not a technical founder, I would hire a technical person.
ES: There’s about half-a-million frameworks out there. Find a language that fits your company and has a pool of developers.
AH: For open source, choose the most popularized language and make sure your developer comments the hell out of the code.
RF: How important is documentation?
AH: Comment your code. It’s very important. If you’re a technical founder, it’s difficult to explain code to people under you. Break things up into modules to make it easier to explain.
JC: I look at documentation and think about scalability and hiring procedures. It’s automating procedure. If you’re going to grow, ignore this, but if you’re going to hire and grow small, there’s no need to document.
ES: Document as much as you can. Also document processes.
RF: How do you deal with security and intellectual property?
JC: I take it on a case-by-case basis. I generally like to work with people that I trust.
ES: If someone wants to steal from you, they’re going to do it. Have some security measures in place, but don’t make it so that you bog down and prohibit your employees from working.
AH: I wouldn’t restrict very much if I was a startup, but implement security for outside hackers.
RF: How do you deal with scaling applications?
ES: The whole point of business is to grow. Make it scalable. Make sure your code and servers can support that.
JC: My advice is to determine where the bottlenecks are—where the slow down in your business is.
AH: Scaling won’t be problem until you need to a week before. Get SSDs and cloud service. Separate your database and nodes. Scale horizontally, not vertically unless you have to.
RF: How and where do you find good developers?
ES: I looked at college campuses in the area.
JC: If you’re not a technical founder, you need to find your first technical founder. The rest of the problem follows after that.
AH: Finding a technical founder is one of the hardest things to do, which is why I set up the DevShop. Get your potential hire vetted by people you know.
RF: Do you recommend outsourcing?
JC: I would advise people, especially if you’re short on cash, to work with someone technical here, in their own city. If two people can be just cool and work on something, I think you’ll see the best results.
ES: If it’s core products, you need to do it internally. If not, outsource it.
AH: Traditionally, going with outsource is very disadvantageous.