In the summer of 2020, I joined a startup as its first software engineer. Today, I am head of its growth team. What appears to be a random career transition was actually set in motion before I even joined.
I first met Zach via Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. Zach told me he wanted to build a company—at the time called Denver—around the terminal. I was applying for a job as their first software engineer but I told him that I ultimately planned to build my own startup and that I wanted to join to learn how to be a good founder. I suggested dividing my time between engineering and
sales1 go-to-market. He diplomatically said “Sure, but we need a product first.” And that’s how I found myself fighting Apple’s terse Metal shader documentation for a year. The first prototypes of Warp were built during this period.
But eventually I got a chance to try my hand at go-to-market work. Once we were ready for a private beta, I volunteered to run the launch. This mostly consisted of setting up feedback channels and running user interviews, but it later led me to implementing our original analytics stack and building the first Amplitude dashboards. At this point, the work took only 10% of my time.
But as the user base grew, I struggled to keep up with both engineering and go-to-market. I remember desperately attempting to hold onto both. I blocked off Fridays as maker days2, but after consecutive weekends cramming to meet deadlines, I knew my split focus was eventually going to hurt the business.
Going forward, I picked up fewer and fewer engineering OKRs in favor of more aggressive go-to-market goals, with the occasional exception of a telemetry feature. (Except for a few months I was also the owner of the backend? Which wasn’t that big a deal because Warp is a local-first native app. But it was still weird that the majority of the git blame on that repo had my email on it when I was working on it <5% of my time.)
With Zach’s help, I hired and built out a team that combined marketing, product, and data. Today we call this the “growth team,” but in reality it is just all the non-engineering functions rolled into a business-side chimera.
While I had always planned to move into go-to-market, I am thankful that I started in engineering. I don’t have a grand thesis for why an engineering background is helpful on the business side, but it helps me in small ways every day3. It also doesn’t hurt that we are building a developer tool.
At the time, I called all business functions “sales.” Naval always said “Learn to sell, learn to build. Learn both and you will be unstoppable.” So I assumed that everything that wasn’t engineering was sales. ↩︎
This is a topic for another blog post. Everyone on the growth team has an engineering background. ↩︎