Episode 3: Sandeep Panda on building a developer community, working with a Venture capital firm, and Software development practices in a startup

In this episode, I talk to Sandeep Panda, CEO and Founder of Hashnode, a friendly and inclusive developer community. Sandeep shares with me his entrepreneurial journey and all the lessons he learned along his way.

We talk about:

  • building a developer community from scratch, 
  • getting investors to fund your projects,
  • the ups and downs of entrepreneurship,
  • transitioning to remote work,
  • and software engineering practices in a startup,
  • code reviews, testing, deployment, and keeping technical debt at bay. 

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Highlights and overview for you:
  • The first 30 minutes: the entrepreneurial journey
  • Starting from 26:00: we talk about the development processes 
  • How and why Sandeep started his developer community (1:00)
  • How he met the investor firm Accel and asked for funding (5:54)
  • How he seeded and kickstarted the community (11:27)
  • How they spend time building a different pivot system – blockchain-based community (14:43)
  • How focusing on the wrong things led them down the wrong path. The friendly community wasn’t existent anymore. (21:15)
  • Sandeep explains what it means to be working with a VC firm (23:17)
  • Does Sandeep feel like an expert for software development? (26:09)
  • Sandeep’s experience with Next.js and MERN (Mongo, Express, React, Node)  tools? (27:05)
  • How does their development process look like? (28:55)
  • How do they check for site reliability and security issues? (32:14)
  • Do they run static analysis tools? Do they measure test coverage? Which testing practice do they follow? (33:48)
  • Why do they run a remote company? (38:29)
  • What about their DevOps process? Who has access to the production server, and how does deployment work? (42:13)
  • How do they deal with technical debt? (44:27)
  • Which books is Sandeep reading currently? (49:18)

All questions by McKayla:

  • Sandeep, you’re running a developer community, are you a developer yourself? (0:50)
  • So how did you become a developer? What was your way? Are you a self-taught developer or did you go to university? (1:00)
  • Did you have the urge to start your own company already during University or did it just come later? (1:45)
  • And, what was your first-day job after college? (2:40)
  • And when you started Hashnode, did you do that full-time immediately, or was that as a side project again, so in addition to your nine to five job? (3:11)
  • So how did you decide which technologies to use? How Hashnode, you know, this community should look like? And how did the whole process start? (3:45)
  • And did you choose that tech stack because you wanted to make progress really fast and because you knew those technologies very well from your previous jobs and side projects you built while at university? (5:07)
  • How did you validate the idea of Hashnode? (5:54)
  • Can you tell me a little bit more about Accel, the VC firm? (7:18)
  • Was Accel the first firm that you ask for money and pitched your idea, or did you also try somewhere else? (7:46)
  • Was it sort of a smooth ride after talking to Accel or have there been ups and downs before you actually got they funding? (8:30)
  • After you pitch your idea, do you just wait or ping them multiple times? (9:27)
  • Do you have an idea of how many people used DevMag after the Producthunt launch? (10:50)
  • How did you know to kickstart the community from scratch? (11:27)
  • So your focus was really on building the community and not the system anymore, right? (12:49)
  • Was your first hire a community manager? (13:33)
  • How did you find your first employees? (14:09)
  • Are the same people still at your company or have you had to turn in your employees? (14:36)
  • What is a blockchain community? (15:42)
  • Why did this idea fall apart? (16:27)
  • OK so that’s actually another sort of pivot of your company, right? From this Q&A style website to blogging functionality for developers. So how is that going? (17:47)
  • Did you raise money for that as well? (19:09)
  • What’s your vision for this Devblog? What should be the end result? (19:18)
  • And for some of the monetization strategies that you brainstorm is there the blockchain coming back? (19:42)
  • With all those pivots, have you still been able to keep this 70-30% split between development and community management? (20:06)
  • And in these six months that you stopped attending so much to the community what happened? (21:19)
  • Does the venture capital (VC) firm give you some feedback on big decisions? (23:17)
  • Do you have to ask the VC firm for permissions for big changes that you want to make? (24:16)
  • Does the VC firm also have opinions about the software development side of the project for example best practices you should follow or which technologies you should use? (25:17)
  • Do you feel like an expert for software development? (25:57)
  • Which technical decisions were really good decisions? (27:05)
  • How much of the codebase was really rewritten? (27:56)
  • So how does your development process in general look like do you do testing or code reviews? (28:53)
  • And so, there’s at least one person that has to look through the code review? (30:41)
  • And it doesn’t matter who that is? So, if that person says that it looks fine to me than you can actually push it to production? (30:45)
  • If they push it to production and there are any bugs how would they revert it? (31:11)
  • How can a user report a problem? (31:41)
  • How do you address site reliability issues and security related issues? (32:14)
  • Something else I wanted to talk a little bit more about is testing. Do you follow some testing methodology, like test-driven development or is that up to everybody on the team to decide? (33:48)
  • Do you do Test Driven Development (TDD)? (34:19)
  • And do you have something like code coverage to know if you’re covered enough of the code? Do you use metrics like that? (35:31)
  • Do you use other static analysis tools? (36:27)
  • And why did you stop using static analysis tools? (36:44)
  • So, is this your way of reducing the overhead while you just figuring out the features and what the product will look like? (37:57)
  • So, a little bit before you told me about the offices that you actually got an office with the VC funding, but that you are remote. What’s the story behind that? (38:29)
  • And why did you decide to go from being two people in an office to hiring all over the world and working remotely? (39:41)
  • Did you adjust the way you work or the tools for remote development? (40:48)
  • And have you ever met your two European employees already? (41:46)
  • So especially remote work is really built upon trust. So as I can imagine at the beginning you have to put a lot of trust forward, how was that for you?  (42:13)
  • So, one of the other things I wanted to talk to you about is your DevOps and your deployment strategy. Has everybody access and the right to deploy to the production or is there some specific process you follow? (42:54)
  • Do you have a specific time that you deploy to production? (43:50)
  • How do you deal with technical debt? (44:27)
  • Do you have rules or processes or tools that help you not to introduce new technical depth? (45:24)
  • So you say you’re having no hard deadlines. Would you describe your way of working sort of an agile way working? (46:21)
  • So, if you would hire now let’s say, two other people, what would their roles be? (47:25)
  • What’s the key metrics that you think help you go in the right direction? (47:52)
  • Is there some budget that people can spend like on books or conferences to learn? (48:34)
  • What are the books you are looking forward to reading? (49:18)
  • Do you have some ideas on how AI can bring your developer community to the next level? (49:42)

About the Author
Michaela is passionate about making the life of developers and engineers better. She hosts the SE Unlocked podcasts and also researches and helps to make software engineering processes and tools better. She writes about her work on https://www.michaelagreiler.com.

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