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Developer Career Patterns: Growth Hacker

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Developer Career Patterns: Growth Hacker

The title may sound silly, but this list of skills is in demand for all startups looking for fast traction.

· Agile Zone ·
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Growth hacking got really popular in 2010 when Sean Ellis coined the term, defining a growth hacker as "a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by it's potential impact on scalable growth".  Although describing yourself as a growth hacker can have mixed responses, it's still an in-demand role, especially in Silicon Valley. Here's our run down of what it means to be a growth hacker.


Growth Hacker  A developer who has a good understanding of how marketing works and multiple external systems. Able to quickly get up to speed with other APIs; always looking to increase traction. Knows every social media trick, or at least where to find them.  A combination of an analytical and creative mind.

Related: hacker, hybrid-marketer-developer

Skills Required

Growth Hackers will typically work in the fringes of the main development efforts, building up AB tests where you present the variations to a screen to different users and see which results in more conversions or traction.

The growth hacker will also be responsible for adding social hooks to the product, encouraging users to spread the word about the product. As well as expecting the user base to get more people aware of the app, they will also need to hook into external APIs and products.

You need to be willing to run experiments constantly, and to be able to measure those results effectively. Gathering metrics and making descisions based on those results is an essential part of determining what's working, and what needs to change. 

You'll need to be able to use the various analytics tools, with Google Analytics being top of the list. 

You will also need to be a pretty decent developer who can use APIs, such as those for Facebook, Twitter, and other obscure endpoints as well. 

Along with all of these technical skills, you'll need an appreciation of marketing, and a great understanding of both the product you are working on, and the wider domain that it fits into.

The Tell-Tale Signs

You'll spot the growth hacker talking around the water cooler or the canteen about the latest startup news; who got featured where; who has raised what; and who managed to get a feature on Wired. They are naturally tuned into the startup eco-system.

When events like F8 or Flight come about, they'll be the ones excited about a new set of APIs or permissions that get announced. 

The growth hacker will often rather work alone, and may spend large amounts of time working on long running background projects, because it's very rare that anyone can gain instant traction. 

When you pass by their desk, if you don't see a code editor or API docs page open, it will be a dashboard or analytics report that they're looking at. 

A lot of growth hackers fall into the job; they may feel frustrated by progress, decide to run a few AB tests, and all of a sudden become an authority on the subject

Tips for Your CV: 

If you want to come across as a growth hacker in job interviews: 

  • Highlight any work that you have done around analytics and metrics.
  • Show your capabilities with APIs.
  • The ability to work with scripting languages is essential.
  • Do your research on the company you are interviewing for; suggest at least one way that they could improve growth.

  • Have a good set of AB test examples that you have executed to run through.

How to Succeed as a Growth Hacker

You have to be ready to fail; but fail quickly, learn lessons from your metrics, and go again.

  • You will need to be able to work with APIs.
  • You will need to be imaginative and keep in the loop with what tricks your competitors might have.
  • Working with analytics and metrics must be second nature for you. You'll need to gather measurements from a variety of sources.

  • The most critical element is your ability to report the results and traction to your company. You will be responsible for defining the Key Performance Indicatiors (KPIs) and presenting progress constantly. Be clear, concise and scientific in all your reporting.

Things to Watch Out For

Make sure not to get stuck in long running experiments. Although they may be worthwhile, people will want to see constant output from the growth hacker. For every long running task, pick five quick wins that you can implement in the same period. 

80% of growth hacks that you try out will fail. You need to remain optimistic and resilient in the face of this. Don't worry, every one that works out will make you feel invincible. 

Am I a Growth Hacker? 

Take a read through these questions, and answer honestly. If you find yourself answering yes, then maybe you should think about taking up this role full time

  • Do you want to measure the success of everything you do in a scientific way?

  • Do you see ways that you can help the product succeed outside of the standard development process?
  • Do you have a long list of ideas that you think could catapult your product to the next level?

The State of the Industry for Growth Hackers

There have been many growth hacking courses, books and conferences over the last few years. The classic growth hacks are well documented, but copying these is often inadvisable. After all, they had their time.

Falling in between the developer and marketing worlds, is a blessing and a curse. Developers may think you are "selling your soul", marketers may feel you're moving in on their turf. 

Growth hackers are still sought after, especially for early stage startups. Looking at Google Trends, the term might be past it's point of high interest, but the role will be around, in one form or another, forever. 

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What Are the Long Term Career Prospects? 

Straddling two disciplines, growth hackers have opportunities in many areas. A lot of growth hackers end up in a position like Chief of Growth, Chief Strategy Officer or even Chief Information Officer. 

If you have a small team in your startup, it's worth giving each developer a three to six month stint at the job to see how well suited they are to it.

Examples in Tech History

Mark Zuckerberg kicked off Facebook by grabbing information from static pages lying around the college network, to start the seeds of the most popular social network. His willingness to think outside the box to gather information and build a compelling product that people would talk about is a classic example of how a growth hack can turn into a billion dollar company.

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