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What's a Fractional Head of Engineering

In the fast-paced world of startups and business initiatives, finding the right technical expertise and leadership can be a daunting task. Whether you're starting from scratch with an MVP, scaling a successful product, or embarking on a new venture within an established company, the need for experienced engineering talent is crucial. However, the traditional routes of hiring full-time employees or relying solely on freelancers may not be enough. That's where a Fractional Head of Engineering steps in, offering a unique blend of expertise, strategic guidance, and flexible commitment.

Imagine a few scenarios when it comes to building a new software product.

You have an idea and want to put together an MVP. It lacks a lot of features yet is challenging enough that can't be implemented by a junior developer or using no-code tools. Finding a technical partner who not only has the necessary experience but is also willing to bet on your startup can be a tough challenge. A full-time employment commitment doesn't look like a wise financial choice at this stage either.

Or you might have already tested an MVP and won the product-market fit lottery only to realize that the MVP can't be scaled to the next level. It was created in a rush with some sort of no-code tool or by a junior developer, which was a wise choice to get you here. But it can't handle the growth anymore, and it's not easy to add new features without breaking things, if possible at all. You're in a rush and might lose the opportunity window if you don't move fast.

Another possibility is that you're kicking off an initiative for an already established business that requires building a new product or feature. All engineering and leadership capacity is (over-)booked for the next few quarters. You probably don't have enough budget to hire the best and most experienced talent. Like always, time is of the essence, and you don't have 3-4 months to spend on the vetting process of hiring new full-time employees. Hiring freelancers seems like a good option. The vetting process is faster without a long-term commitment. Still, someone technical needs to be involved to either help find an experienced independent engineer or play the role of a liaison between the business and the freelancers, or potentially both.

This is exactly where a Fractional Head of Engineering comes into play.

You can use the same budget to hire a fraction of a 10x engineer who has leadership capabilities. They are not generalist but specialist in multiple areas. Their knowledge and experience are still 10x while you don't need to use them full-time. They can't degrade their judgment of a design trade-off to one-tenth of their full capacity, yet you can have them part-time for as long as you need.

They save you time and money by helping you make the right strategic and technical decisions early in the process. They recognize which types of works should be delegated to a different level of expertise and help hire the right talent to save costs while making themselves redundant as a full-time employee. They help you prioritize and focus on what's important since they have to generate measurable value within their limited time.

They will wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to ensuring your success because the success or failure of a client has more impact on the career of a Fractional Head of Engineering than a full-time employee. It's easier for an employee to find another full-time job if their employer fails. But a fractional leader is constantly under evaluation based on their past success rate. Most of their new clients come from referrals from people they've worked with, their word-of-mouth campaign. Each failure is like deleting a graph node connecting them to a cluster of potential new clients.

A Fractional Head of Engineering is usually a hands-on keyboard engineer, as much as a leader. Since they often work with startups or greenfield projects, they tend to wear the individual contributor hat and contribute to the most critical parts of the products while also working on shaping the team and processes in parallel.

With the fast pace of growth in tech, staying away from the actual work turns a leader's wisdom into a mere opinion — another reason that makes fractional leaders a good choice. Their incentives are automatically aligned to keep them relevant and up-to-date.

There are also fewer risks when it comes to incorrect matches. You'll know if they fail to meet your standards within weeks, rather than months. Both you and your fractional leader expect a termination of service if you're dissatisfied with the results. It's usually part of the agreement. No strings attached!

By choosing a Fractional Head of Engineering, you gain access to a skilled professional who understands the nuances of your specific challenges and can provide tailored solutions while helping you build your team and processes. It gives you flexibility based on your needs and budget without compromising quality. So, whether you're a startup founder, a product manager, or a business leader, consider harnessing the power of a Fractional Head of Engineering to achieve your goals.