The Engineering Leadership Podcast · Episode 83

Building Your Digital Technology Org from the Ground-Up

with Anshu Narula & Khawaja Shams

May 10, 2022
What does it take to build a tech org from the ground up? Khawaja Shams (Co-Founder & CEO @ Momento) sits down with Anshu Narula (VP Digital Technology @ Rivian) to discuss how Anshu went from larger companies like PayPal and eBay to scaling Rivian’s digital tech org from scratch. They discuss critical cultural values, early guiding principles and processes for the org, Anshu’s approach to scaling the engineering teams, and a starting point if you’re building from 0.
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At Rivian, Anshu is responsible for the strategic development of Rivian’s digital ecosystem. She leads teams building products and architecting systems across the technology stack, which has her overseeing a wide range of initiatives from to charging software, in order to best serve Rivian B2C and B2B customers. With more than 20 years of experience in product development, technical management and software architecture, Anshu is passionate about technology and building products that are simple, scalable and engaging.

"I started with my leadership team first. Next approach we took, was to go after hiring those engineers underneath them. Because I really needed coders to get through the aggressive growth phase. So those teams then hired all those engineers, once we had the architecture in place.

Then we started layering the managers to help. And started calling out the sub-functional areas. And that's when we started to add in the layer of senior managers...

- Anshu Narula  


Khawaja (@ksshams) is a technical hands-on leader, passionate about investing in people, setting a bold vision, and execution with his team. At AWS, he owned DynamoDB, a highly available fully managed database service serving at extreme scales! It powers much of Amazon retail, Amazon Video, and control planes of critical AWS Services. Khawaja subsequently owned product and engineering for all 7 of the AWS Media Services, responsible for streaming some of the most visible events in the world, including the Super Bowl and the world’s first Live 4K Stream from Space. He was awarded the prestigious NASA Early Career Medal for his contributions to the Mars Rovers.

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  • Being the first digital tech hire at Rivian (1:58)
  • Shaping Rivian’s tech org from scratch (4:42)
  • Anshu’s approach to establishing processes (6:00)
  • Adapting the hiring strategy to the pandemic (8:15)
  • Creating culture in a remote-first environment (9:41)
  • How to build an organization from the ground up (11:06)
  • Deciding how to structure the tech org (13:31)
  • Anshu’s strategy for scaling engineering teams (15:17)
  • Identifying the right candidate for something that’s never been done before (17:56)
  • Prioritizing teamwork in the leadership layer of the eng org (19:36)
  • How to assess teamwork as an attribute in candidates (21:01)
  • Balancing pace of innovation with quality (22:33)
  • Advice for any eng leader building an org from scratch (24:15)
  • Ashu’s takeaways from scaling Rivian (24:57)
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