Building a Dream Team

July 9, 2014

(This post is based on a lightning talk I gave at Geekfest last year.)

If you work in the tech industry, you're probably familiar with the following words which recruiters use to describe their ideal candidate:

And my personal favorite:

Dr. Evil doing air quotes with the caption "Full Stack Developer"

I'll take Mythical Creatures for $800, Alex.

You may consider yourself a full stack developer but let me explain why I have beef with this term.

When we talk about "The Stack," we're talking about the technologies we use to build websites. There's HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Maybe you're into Ruby on Rails or you live on the cutting edge of JavaScript frameworks or you're keeping it real with PHP. You probably have a MySQL database. And all the stuff beyond my expertise, which I collectively refer to as "server shit." A full stack developer should be experienced and at least competent in most, if not all, of these areas.

We could easily expand the stack to include things like user experience, content strategy, typography, and Photoshopping people's heads onto funny bodies. At this point it becomes more of a spectrum of skills than a stack of technologies. Along this spectrum you have people who can do any number of these things, but they tend to specialize in one particular area. People on one end of the spectrum are labeled as designers and on the other side, developers.

The stack as a spectrum

No shit, right? I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Bear with me.

In basketball, player stats are tracked in a box score. While some most players excel in a few areas, others - LeBron James, for example - are known for "filling up the box score." On any given night they can provide huge numbers in any and all metrics in the box score.

Do you consider yourself the LeBron James of web design/development? Probably not. (I'm closer to the Brian Scalabrine of web development, myself.)

Yet so many companies pass up perfectly qualified candidates because they want to hire a bunch of LeBrons that can do everything. The fact is, you're lucky to find one LeBron, much less a whole team of them.

Some NBA teams have tried. The 2012-13 Lakers had one of the all-time greatest players, Kobe Bryant, and a versatile big man in Pau Gasol. They had already won a couple of championships together. They added Steve Nash, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, and Dwight Howard, arguably the best big man in the game today. And just for shits and giggles threw in Metta World Peace, a.k.a. Ron Artest, who, as a Chicago Bull once applied for a job at Best Buy so he could get the employee discount.

How'd this team do? They barely squeaked into the playoffs on a five-game win streak and were swept in the first round.

Okay, I get it. Maybe you're not a basketball fan. Let's talk superheroes. Think about the Incredible Hulk. How cool would it be to have the Hulk on your team, just smashing shit left and right? What's better than that? I'll tell you: FIVE HULKS. A team of five Hulks is FUCKING AWESOME... if you need shit smashed.

The Avengers

Sometimes, though, you just need a dude on your team who all he does is shoot stuff with a bow and arrow. But he's REALLY good at it. Throw in a billionaire genius, a super-strong and agile World War II vet, a Norse god with a powerful hammer, a foxy, red-headed ninja, Samuel L. Fucking Jackson and Robin from How I Met Your Mother and you've got a pretty formidable team.

But if you're anything like me, the closest you'll ever get to being a super hero is THIS. And the closest you'll get to being LeBron is THIS.

Hiring a team is a lot like online dating. You have this ideal person you're looking for but, the truth is, that person is not online looking for dates. They're out at the bar every night getting laid.

And companies looking to hire the LeBron James of web design/development are not the Lakers. At best they're the Cleveland Cavaliers. They may luck into a LeBron once in a generation but ultimately he's going to take his talents to South Beach and win a couple of titles there instead.

So how does one build a Dream Team then?

Hire some hungry, young talent. They might be a little raw, a little rough around the edges, but if you surround them with good teammates they can turn into something special.

Hire a Hawkeye. Steve Kerr is a five-time NBA champ and pretty much all he did was shoot threes. But he's the all-time leader in career three-point percentage in NBA history! And he worked cheap.

Bring in some savvy veterans to mentor your younger team members. The Knicks signed 40-year-old Jason Kidd a couple of years ago. He didn't have much left in the tank but his experience was invaluable in developing their young guards. Now he's a head coach.

Hire a good manager. This may be the most important aspect of a great team. Someone who knows how to get the best out of everyone. Phil Jackson won 11 championships as a coach. He was known for getting his star players to put aside their egos to work together and got the best out of his role players.

Finally, take care of your team. You don't want them to become unhappy and go someplace else to be successful. Mark Cuban is famous for providing nothing but the best for his players. His Dallas Mavericks have made the playoffs 13 of the last 14 seasons (including two Finals appearances and one championship) after missing the previous 10 straight playoffs.

Cuban also has some great advice for being a dream teammate:

Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is. Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world. Love what you do or don't do it.

I'm Mike Aparicio, Principal Design Systems Engineer at Turquoise Health. I'm interested in helping companies large and small improve collaboration between design and engineering through the use of design systems. I specialize in creating custom CSS frameworks that empower engineering teams to get from concept to production quickly, while writing little to no CSS themselves. I write about web design and development, video games, pop culture, and other things I find interesting. I live in the Chicago area with my wife, three sons, and a dog.

You can find me on most places on the Internet as @peruvianidol.

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