Bloated headcount isn't just a Big Tech problem

November 20, 2022
Musk thought Twitter was bloated with engineers. I expect he's right, because most companies are.

I’ve never been a close follower of Elon Musk, but these days it’s practically impossible to not pick up some of the news with respect to his, ehm, reorganization, of Twitter. Especially in this industry.

And boy, is there an abundant supply of armchair billionaires out there willing to offer alternative suggestions… or in turn, rallying behind Musk’s drastic measures.

It will probably be a while before anyone, Musk included, gets to actually say “I told you so,” and until then, I hope we all have plenty of popcorn.

But there’s one thing I’m pretty sure Musk was right about: Twitter was bloated with engineers.

Now I say this without having any sense at all about how complex Twitter’s internal workings are, or even how many engineers they had among their total estimated, what was it, pre-takeover headcount of 7,500?

So how can I be so sure.

Well, one common theme I’ve observed in companies of all sizes is that when there’s plenty of money (whether it be due to healthy profits, or investors), companies tend to over-staff their software engineering departments.

When business is good, an argument might be made that this isn’t a problem. But when that money comes from investors, and not profit, it can be a very dangerous thing.

The obvious problem is that it can be a waste of money. Spending unnecessary money a company doesn’t have is not usually a recipe for success.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. More people means more lines of communication, means more dependency management and overhead. So not only are such companies paying salaries they don’t need to pay, they’re reducing the effectiveness of the people they actually do need.

But what’s worse yet: Hiring, and maintaining a bloated headcount is often exactly the the wrong response to real problems. When software quality output is low, or new features take too long, the first approach is often to hire more people. However, hiring should usually be a last resort for a simple reason: Adding new people to an ineffective team won’t make it more effective; it will make it more ineffective.

If you could use some help making your existing team more effective before spending money on hiring more people, send me a message. I have some have some availability in my schedule for the next few months.

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