Scaling Sparta: Military Lessons for Growing A Dev Team


Scaling systems is hard, but we’re developers — that’s kind of our thing. Scaling people? Well, that’s significantly harder. Humans are complicated.

Broadly speaking, companies have three stages of development: infancy, those awkward teenage years and — if they survive the trials of adolescence — adulthood. An infant startup is so drastically different from its adult incarnation that they can be considered different companies. Each will have a unique mission and culture.

Scaling isn’t just about making what you have bigger. An ant can’t be scaled to the size of an elephant. Because the internal structure is fundamentally different. Instead, companies have to evolve.

But companies aren’t living, breathing organisms. They’re collections of people — families, tribes and civilizations.

So how do you scale a team of two to twenty? The answer starts over 2,000 years ago in Sparta.

This talk will focus on three distinct military organizations: Spartans, Mongols and Romans. Sparta’s standing army numbered 10,000 whereas Rome’s peaked at half a million. We’ll look at the structure of each military and apply the lessons learned to our development teams and organizations.

Speaker

emily-freeman

Emily Freeman

 

Emily Freeman grew up in the “swamp” as Trump lovingly refers to it. With politics in her blood, she chased after her dream of living out an episode of the West Wing. After four years of arguing — pretty much sums up a PoliSci degree — she left school disappointed that campaigns are more about recruiting 20-year-olds to live in poverty than it is to wine and dine Koch brothers.

Her dreams of Aaron Sorkin-level dialogue and Michelin-star dinners dashed, Emily took up ghostwriting. No, those bloggers you read with millions of followers don’t write their own articles. Sorry to disappoint.

After many years of typing, Emily had a slightly-older-than-quarterlife crisis and made the bold (insane?!) choice to switch careers into software engineering.

With no experience at all, she packed her six-month-old daughter, blind dog and a few boxes into her anti-mom mobile of a sports car and drove across the country to attend the Turing School of Software Development and Design in Denver.

Emily completed seven grueling months of code reviews, pair programming and learning Ruby on Rails. After falling in love with Denver, a city as vibrant as she is, Emily decided to stay and currently works as a developer advocate at Kickbox.

In her (nonexistent) free time, Emily competes as a powerlifter, deadlifting over 265 pounds. Powerlifting has formed the foundation of her work ethic. Her value system is based on 10 principles which include: always show up, smile, appreciate slow progression, ask for help and never, ever give up.

Emily speaks and blogs about technology, culture and team management at emilyfreeman.io and erratically tweets as editingemily.