Commandos, Infantry, and Police

I recently stumbled upon a metaphor for three types of engineers: commandos, infantry, and police.

Commandos lead the development of new products in risky ventures. They’re the most creative and visionary of the three types.

Imagine a dedicated hacker who gets v1.0 up and running in his garage. That’s a commando. He and his startup might be called disorganized, but that’s because they dislike bureaucracy and need to move fast. Once they finish, the prototype is great for early adopters and is ready to be taken to the next level.

Infantry are the tsunami of people that follow the commandos. Once the commandos have built a prototype, the infantry take it to scale. They flesh things out, productionize the code, and make it workable for mainstream users.

Naturally, this requires a larger amount of rules and processes, but infantry are generally okay with some bureaucracy. And the potential rewards are smaller for infantry than for commandos, but it’s also far less risky.

Finally, the Police arrive. The police aren’t soldiers like the commandos and infantry. In fact, they want to maintain order, not disrupt it.

The Police are the engineers that work best on established products at established companies. They make incremental improvements, polish the infrastructure, and ensure the product continues to serve users. There’s plenty of bureaucracy, and the police don’t respond to changes in the market as fast, but that’s okay for them–the product is relatively stable.

Every project needs commandos, infantry, and police during its lifetime. My question is: which type describes you and your project?

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