Losing a Master Craftsman


November 23, 2015


Photo Credits: Abhishek Sarda

Early last year we hired one of the brightest guys we’d seen in a long time. And then lost him just 12 months later. Let’s call him Guru.

This is a difficult topic to talk about. But I wanna share some key lessons from this experience.

When we hire, we look for both skill fit and cultural fit - and Guru did well in both. So, what went wrong?

This: We learned much later that he did too well on the skill fit side.

Read on.

The initial signs

Guru joined our team a few days after we offered him. The first few months were good. He seemed to gel well with our team and with our customers. We shipped working software together. He seemed happy as well.

Then things got trickier. We landed a large sized project from a customer. And this one came with tight deadlines.

Once again, things looked good initially. But the team found it hard to get into a rhythm. When we dug deeper, we realized that a significant amount of effort was being spent on technical discussions which were important, but not the need of the hour.

There’s this concept called YAGNI - which is short for You Aren’t Gonna Need It. And it seemed like the team was spending a lot of time deliberating on YAGNI stuff. And in most cases, we discovered that Guru was spearheading those discussions.

There was significant friction. As we continued to miss deadline after deadline, the technical arguments escalated into serious discussions around the capability of the team to deliver on the project. We finally made the decision to move Guru out of the project and bring in someone else to help get the project back on track.

That got the project back on track.

But..it’s never that simple, is it?

The turning point

Over the next 6 months Guru worked with another customer. But this time, it was at their location. Different working environment, different culture. Guru seemed happy there, and so was the new customer. When that contract ended however, Guru resigned from Multunus as well.

That didn’t seem like a huge deal at the time. It was a couple of months later that I bumped into the second customer again. We spoke for a while, and then I asked what he thought about Guru. His response? “He was remarkable”.

The customer is always right, of course. And it was time for us to take a hard look at the mirror and rethink our whole approach toward people and teams.

Learnings and changes

We had been optimizing everything around just two key points:

This works in 80-90% of situations. But for folks like Guru, that just doesn’t cut it.

To nurture people like Guru, we need a strong focus on Mastery. We need a culture that both encourages development of mastery. We also need to know how to spot and recognize mastery when we come folks who demonstrate it.

Here’s some changes we’re putting in place to move faster toward mastery:


You’ve heard of the butterfly effect. In our case Guru was the butterfly.