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Learning To Trust Another Developer

This entry was posted in CEO Thoughts on May 25, 2018 by Mark Maunder

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was learn to trust another developer completely.

In 2012, after being a developer in my own startups for almost a decade, I wrote Wordfence which is our flagship product now and it became the leading security product in the world for WordPress. Kerry, my wife and co-founder, and I had learned quite a lot about business by then and Wordfence turned into a rather busy enterprise thanks to her insistence from the beginning that we wrap a solid business model around Wordfence.

Wordfence took about 8 months of full-time work to create, test and launch the first version and I was full-time developer on the product for the next 2.5 years. By early 2015 it was still just the two of us and we were run off our feet and we had to scale or risk losing our minds.

We made one customer service and one engineering hire. Tim Cantrell and Matt Barry joined us. Matt was our first dev hire. Much has been written about entrepreneurs who can’t  separate themselves from the hands on work they do and how that stifles growth, and I wasn’t going to be one of those guys. So I made the call to hand over all dev work on the Wordfence product to Matt.

That’s so easy to say now, but it was a really tough call for me. That meant I was no longer a developer. And if everything worked out, I would never be a dev again. I was now a business guy along with a whole lot of other roles which I had not yet hired for. Ultimately we filled those roles over time and the team is now 33 incredibly talented people.

I think if you are a developer, it’s not hard to tell if another dev is good, and Matt is very good. I knew that within days of working with him. I never checked his code or did any kind of code audit, but the outcomes made it clear he was, and is, incredibly talented. As a dev, it doesn’t matter if you can talk a good game but don’t ship great code. Shipping code that works and makes customers super happy over and over is what separates great developers from everyone else.

Today, if I try to dissect what helped me make that break, I would say it was crisis, necessity and the good fortune of working with someone exceptionally talented. It helped that I had a few false starts before we launched Wordfence. It also helped that I simply had an awareness of the risk of a founder not being able to hand over the reins.

As our organization scaled, we brought Sean, Ryan and James on board, our other senior developers, and we currently have a team of four very talented people in that very core role. As we have grown, our developers have begun to have the same experience I had, where they need to help hire talented people, step back from certain roles, and trust them to do an amazing job.

Matt wrote the core firewall code in Wordfence and he had to take a step back when we brought Ryan on board and Ryan took over development of the Wordfence product, while Matt has taken on other projects. Matt helped hire Ryan and has had to trust him. Ultimately Ryan will help bring another team member on board that may take on some of his responsibilities.

The experience of having to step back at various points in our company’s evolution and in my personal evolution has made it very clear to me how important ‘trust’ is. Watching our team grow and go through the same evolution has made it clear that this growth mode extends throughout the organization. So much so, that we have one simple core value in our organization and that is ‘Trust’. We expect to be able to trust each other completely and we do on a daily basis.

Today as a CEO of a productive technology company, I still feel the pull to write code, but I avoid it. If I dive into code that our team is working on, it will disrupt their flow as a non-developer tries to keep up with full-time engineers who are very good at what they do. It also breaks that ‘trust’ dynamic, whereby I share the business needs with the team and they make it happen. Me diving into code might lead to effects like micromanagement, debating minutia and dragging them into conversations that are more about bringing me up to speed than actually discussing the issue.

Our team collaborates closely on many issues and projects, but I think they are also aware of the same risk as they have grown in their roles. As the organization has grown, there has been a smooth transition of responsibilities.

It’s not often that we open a senior dev role at Defiant, but about a week ago we did that and today we started actively advertising the role on Stackoverflow – which by the way is probably the best way to connect with amazing technical people. If you are deeply interested in security and are a senior level PHP developer, we would love to hear from you.

Mark Maunder – Defiant Founder & CEO


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