Hiring For DevOps as an Early Stage Startup CTO

You Just Raised Your $2mm Seed Round

Your startup has just raised its $2 million Seed Round, and excitement aside, you have 12-18 months of fresh runway, need to double your team size, and put some registration and usage metrics on the board… fast. 

First and foremost, you need to roll out a stable, customer-ready version of the platform with all the features the CEO and sales have been promising during the MVP phase. And you need to get it to market fast, as your founders and investors have probably been asking something along the lines of, “we can do this in 3 months, right?” (or less). Your first task to kick this into gear is hiring your engineering team, quickly, and getting some more senior talent in place.

You’re also at the spot where you can finally afford a proper DevOps resource. Chances are, up to now, you and your tech lead have been doing double (or triple) duty and looking after this, or, even more troublesome, everyone is just “winging it.” As you have your CEO’s direction to “make the platform stable and scalable for customers”, this is a critical juncture for setting up your platform, environments, and CI/CD pipeline properly right from the start. We all know the old “oh, that’s just temporary, we’ll rebuild that properly later” never happens. So, the big question looms: can I afford a DevOps resource now and get them in place before all these new features are well underway?


Hiring Specialized Talent Early: Why It Matters

There are 4 big reasons hiring a knowledgeable, pragmatic DevOps resource matters: dev velocity, quality & scalability, smart planning for “future asks”, and cost control. Let’s dive into these, and for when you inevitably need to justify your budget for them, how to translate your tech needs to whoever holds the purse strings.

Dev Velocity
You have a tonne of features to push out quickly, and more than likely, a growing list of tech enhancements and tech debt (that probably isn’t a priority for the product team). Setting up your dev team for success is critical – and so much time is wasted on merge conflicts, untested builds, inconsistent environments (local or cloud), and a lack of reliable DEV and QA environments.

What’s often underappreciated is how much wasted time and developer frustration can be removed when you have stable, consistent, containerized, identical environments. Add in a seamless CI/CD pipeline where all you need to do is “merge to master”, and click one button (or branch merge) to promote environments – and your dev team will never be troubleshooting environment or deployment issues again.

Need to explain this to your CEO? “Hiring DevOps early keeps our dev team 100% focused on hitting our product roadmap, and gives us that consistent dev velocity we’re looking for.”

Quality and Scalability
So many bugs happen from inconsistencies in environments, as well as not having proper, fully isolated DEV, QA, and PROD environments. Despite us all knowing that we cannot build and test in the same environment – the number of early stage startups that do not have a proper QA environment is astounding. Right now, when your AWS footprint is fairly simple, this is your best chance to Terraform your infrastructure from the ground up (aka. infrastructure-as-code).

Putting our technical hats on, it is important to note that Terraform is more or less an “all or nothing” tool – you cannot codify only half your infrastructure, as manual changes will likely get overwritten on the next Terraform “apply”. Maintaining Terraform for quality, consistency, and baked-in scalability is not an easy lift. You need centralized ownership with your DevOps SME (or team, as you grow), and you need to instill that DevOps culture early on (ie. “no, you cannot just spin up anything you want anytime you want”).

Need to explain this to your CEO? “There are 2 parts to making sure our platform is reliable and stable for customers: the infrastructure, and the application code. Hiring DevOps early helps us make sure our infrastructure is never the issue, and ensures our platform is ready to scale as fast as you can sell it.” (feel free to smirk a bit at this point)

Future Asks
If you’re in FinTech, InsurTech, HealthTech, HR Tech, or dealing with fun things like GDPR, you’ve probably come across last minute customer demands such as “our data can never leave our country.”

Translated into tech, done properly, this means fully separate, identical environments in new regions (eg. USA, EU, Australia, Africa, Canada). Duplicating infrastructure is a major lift, and adds significant complexity to deployment, management, monitoring, etc. However, when your DevOps SME has Terraformed your environments (aka. everything in AWS is codified), it is significantly easier to deploy into new regions, and to keep them consistent.

Need to explain this to your CEO? “Hiring DevOps early makes sure our platform can live in different regions, if customers are demanding it. And, to add a cherry on top, if you ever need a dedicated Demo environment for sales, we can easily spin that up and maintain it as well.”

Cost Control
When you centralize your AWS infrastructure with DevOps expertise, you’re not just freeing up your devs; you’re making sure everything deployed is accounted for. Cloud bills can skyrocket easily when services and databases are spun up, ignored and left running, not sized properly, etc.

Need to sell this to your CEO? You shouldn’t need much help here. “Hiring DevOps early makes sure we only spend what we need on AWS.” And if you’re still running on AWS credits or your bill is low, great! As you scale up your team and platform, this will keep it that way.

DevOps: Do it Right, The First Time

Your founder knows the importance of getting the right leadership in place for their startup. However, that extends beyond just the executive team – each department has its own version of this.

Within engineering, one of those leadership pillars is DevOps. If you don’t put them in early to build your tech foundation (ie. AWS infrastructure & CI/CD pipelines) and DevOps culture (which we barely even touched on yet) right from the start, it’s nothing but bandaids and bugs you’ll be dealing with forever.

At the end of the day, DevOps isn’t just about infrastructure; it’s about setting up sales and engineering for success. Sales needs a platform they can rely on, and release dates they can promise their customers. Engineering needs a clear path to focus on pushing out code (not building and troubleshooting infrastructure), so they can deliver on those customer commitments. DevOps is the linchpin that makes this happen. Get your DevOps expertise, and build your platform right… the first time.