On Being Jealous of What your Team is Doing

This past 2 years at Auth0 has been the ride of my work life. Eugenio and Matias have created something very special, in both the product and the culture which binds us all together.

I now have battle tested experience of being part of a true hockey stick growth company. While interviewing I’m consistently asked what my time at the company has been like and what I tell the candidates is that Auth0 has changed enormously during my tenure, almost in 6 month iterations. From when I joined: spending everyday writing code to build the foundational security architecture side by side with our DevOps team. To this past last year, where after Auth0 hired our CISO - we built, at an incredible pace, the security teams and organisation we would need to support the company we were becoming.

Being part of a fast growing start-up is not something I would recommend to everyone. But if you’re someone who says they want to grow and be stretched and truly means it then there is unlikely a better way to do that. And, the range and rate of new experiences can be hugely rewarding.

There is a phrase that encapsulates this hyper-growth experience perfectly and it’s one I keep coming back to from everything I’ve read in the last few years about start-ups and management: “Give Away Your Legos”. Molly Graham used it in a piece about her time at Google and Facebook during periods of high growth. It’s about trying to become comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of giving away your Lego’s - be that the code, infrastructure or process you’ve built and cared about. Because: “at a scaling company, giving away responsibility — giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building — is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things”.

“Giving away your Legos” captures the almost existential need to scale yourself and your teams as quickly as you can. The importance of hiring the right people is a tech cliché but you’re truly unable to achieve this unless you do. Critically this means keeping the bar high, not letting it drop because you’re tired and you think another pair of hands will make a difference anyway. And, one of the hardest things to do is course correct quickly if you make a hiring mistake; which you will.

We have reached a size which allows specialisation in both the Security and the Engineering teams I lead. And, the plans for each team have been met with the head count and the process to make them come to life. As that happened I kept being struck with a feeling of jealousy when creating roles or starting projects. I’ve literally stopped and thought, “huh, I actually wish I was building that”. Now, jealousy is not always an emotion that’s going to lead to positive outcomes - so you do want to be careful but I’ve been using it as a feedback loop. And one that is telling me we are on the right track. Having gotten through the expansion phase with happy, engaged and productive teams is a huge pay-off and one that is worth reflecting on.

Sometimes you write a post to capture an idea or to teach others. And, sometimes you just write one for yourself. This post marks a changing of the blog to focus on Security+Engineering Leadership as well as tech. I’ve added a section to preserve the securi-tea pun as that’s probably the best thing I’ve ever come up with - and, actually my wife did.

Duncan Godfrey

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