While preparing for an interview as a software manager, I was told that "you need to show how to get from 0 to 1 with a new team". What does that expression "0 to 1" mean in this context? I googled for this expression but could not find anything relevant. Does it mean something like "get the team up and running"?

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    – Neo
    Jan 22 at 15:42

"Zero" is the state where you are not useful. You (or your team) are making no contribution to the team's success (0 days of contribution for each day you work). This is the usual state when a new person joins the team - they don't have tools set up, they don't have access to company databases, and more importantly they don't understand how things work. If you are a developer you need to understand the company codebase. As team lead you don't know the people or what they are supposed to do.

"One" is the state where you are contributing fully to the team's success - i.e. you are contributing 1 full day of contribution each day of time you put in.

What you are being asked is how you plan on getting from "unproductive" to "productive".


Zero to One is actually a pretty interesting book by Peter Thiel. It is popular in the startup set - and as such has become a mini-bible for executives.

"Zero to One" basically argues for the quest for massive exponential growth.

As others have noted, it implies getting your team started from nothing to productive. It's most likely been used in this manner (and not zero to 100 or "get started) because it - the book - is being widely read in the company in question.

You would be prudent to, if not having the time to read the book (although it is very small), to use examples/ideas from the book in your argument for the role.

  • because it - the book - is being widely read. Widely read by whom? In what field of work? In what country? I've never heard of that book, and I've been working in Silicon Valley for 20 years. Jan 21 at 20:22
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    @stackoverflowuser2010 is being widely read in the company in question. You might well have been in the valley for some years, but if you're not an exec then you have as much reason to read the book as an exec has to read an oracle cert book.
    – bharal
    Jan 21 at 20:43
  • That's why I asked the question, right? I hadn't heard of this expression. Jan 21 at 21:08
  • @stackoverflowuser2010 yes, that is why you asked the question. What I'm curious about is why you're commenting here - the book is widely read in the startup scene, whichever company you're applying for probably has it as recommended reading for execs. I'm not really sure why you're asking me who reads a startup book or in what field of work this book is popular?
    – bharal
    Jan 21 at 23:41
  • I don't work in startups. I've only worked in large companies. Jan 22 at 0:14

Honestly, this should be obvious:

0: "None of them have ever seen you before."

1: "You've managed to get them all working together, actually achieving the goals that your business hired you to enable them to do!"

Millions of 'managers' have managed to do this, over these so-many centuries, and most of them survived! Good luck!


This wording is very vague. If this were for a mechanic's position, I'd imagine they'd have said "0 to 60" or ("0 to 100", depending on culture). But for IT? I am not surprised that you came up empty-handed.

It might mean "getting up to speed" as in "become useful as team manager", it might be about whatever "the first step" is ... or it might even be a (silly) test to see how you take this vagueness. Or is the team/organisation in such a shape that it makes sense to interpret it as "turn this ship around" (from loss to profit, etc)?

My best advice is, ask what they mean. It's not on you that they are not communicating clearly, and should not count against you to ensure that you and they are on the same page.

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    I think this might just be a cheeky way of saying "from 0 to 100", i.e. from nothing to highest performance. I've heard computer scientists say "from 0 to 1" instead before, in reference to binary...
    – Peter
    Jan 19 at 18:55
  • I get that, but it's not exactly a common phrase. :)
    – Noughtnaut
    Jan 19 at 18:57

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