Why Hiring More Developers Isn’t Always the Solution…

Stumbled across this great Q/A answer from game developers Riot Studios and felt I just had to share this wisdom! As a future manager and web developer I thought this was incredibly relevant!

Hiring is a powerful tool in the developer toolbox, but it isn’t the best tool for every problem that comes along.

For starters, hiring takes a very long time, especially for somewhere like Riot where we want to make really sure that any new Rioters are aligned to our company missions and values. If you want to spin up a new team to tackle a problem, and then you need to hire a lot to staff that team, my rule of thumb is to expect it to take 6-12 months (and sometimes much more) before that team is staffed.

Second, just because you can hire more people doesn’t mean you should. Having more developers requires more overhead. It requires a larger office space. It means changing your company processes and developing a deeper (and typically slower) hierarchy. Growing too quickly can put a huge strain on a company’s culture as you struggle to get all the newcomers to understand the way you think about things. For example, Riot strives to measure what we work on in terms of gamer impact. But what that means can be really open to interpretation — it’s not something that is easily summed up in an employee handbook. Instead, it has to be learned by working alongside folks who already get it. The faster you grow, the more that ratio of folks who already get it gets diluted.

More bodies just means that it requires more conversations to make sure all questions get answered. If you hire more junior folks, it means also hiring more senior folks who can manage them. I am a big believer that Dunbar’s Number is a thing, especially in an organization that eschews a conveyer-belt style development methodology and instead thrives when people collaborate quite a bit on gnarly problems with ambiguous solutions. You will almost never, in this business, find developers who love working on really large teams. Instead, they will all pine for the day when their dev team was 15 people because it’s just so much easier to stay in sync and to get shit done quickly when you’re small. I’m not offering some huge insight here — it’s the subject of tons of research into businesses and why they grow and how that often causes them to slow down.

Third, just because you have more people doesn’t mean that the priorities of what you would work on would change. If we had six competent engineers magically appear, that doesn’t mean that the best allocation of those folks would be on some neglected feature of potentially marginal value. It may make more sense to bite off a larger project or to make sure some big problem got solved faster. How we prioritize features or work is a larger question (and this is a long answer already), but suffice to say that we greatly value player impact, and we do try to make room for smaller quality-of-life requests and meme-killing things alongside major reworks, such as Runes Reforged.

Fourth, I should invoke the “mythical person month.” Throwing bodies at a problem isn’t a proven solution to make things happen faster. This gets into some of the points I already made above, but I just wanted to point out that business often acknowledge that more people isn’t the answer to everything. Related, you wouldn’t want to hire someone just for a three-month project and then fire them again. Some companies are fine with that approach (a lot of Hollywood still works that way), but Riot really wants to be a place staffed by lifers who want a long-term career here, not hired guns who jam out a project and then move on to the next gig.

Design Director, League of Legends

 

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