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Forage engagement

Forage was launched in 2017 to help students from less advantaged backgrounds discover and land jobs they never thought possible. Forage's virtual job simulations are built to give students a chance to really learn what it is really like to work at a company. They work with companies to give students the learning and advantages to get them ahead in their careers. Forage are free, student-first, and open to anyone wanting to learn; which has allowed Forage to assist over 1.7 million students, work with over 100 client companies, and helped students on the platform become up to five times more employable.

Forage engaged Blackmill to work with the engineering and leadership teams to ensure code, systems, and processes were meeting industry best practices. Partway through that engagement, the VP of Engineering (VPE) resigned and recommended the CEO bring Lachlan in as Interim VPE until the role could be permanently filled.

Lachlan stepped into the role of VP of Engineering at Forage on a six month interim basis (after consulting for the company during the year beforehand).

In this role, Lachlan led our team of thirteen software engineers, and played a crucial role in the company’s leadership team. Building an engineering team at a high-growth early stage startup is difficult at the best of times, but Lachlan made it look easy as he embraced the role and our mission with determination and empathy.

The coaching, support, and guidance he provided as an engineering leader was instrumental in shaping our engineering culture, our ability to execute on our product goals, as well as building a world-class platform that could support millions of users. Lachlan was also critical in finding, hiring, and onboarding our next permanent VP of Engineering.

If you’re looking for a driven, kind, experienced engineering leader to assist with coaching, leadership, or general engineering consulting, I could not recommend Lachlan and his team highly enough — the Forage team is extremely lucky to know him.

Tom Brunskill, Co-founder and CEO, Forage


  1. A fast-growing startup cannot be without their VPE for the time it takes to do an effective executive search.
  2. Ensure that the engineering org and technical code base can scale from startup to Series-B and beyond
  3. Build confidence that the engineering teams are working well and on the right things.
  4. Revise and enact the existing hiring plan and role descriptions to bring more seniority and diverse experiences into the team.
  5. Craft appropriate goals for the engineering team, develop strategies to meet them, and follow through.


  1. Lachlan did not take a caretaker approach; the company needed an active VPE. Lachlan established 1:1s with key stakeholders and representatives of each team to keep informed of what was needed. He regularly presented at All-Hands sessions and the company off-site to educate and inform the rest of the company about Engineering and the Product Delivery Group's work and goals. He was a key participant in the company leadership off-site, executive meetings, and team meetings, developing strategy, making vital decisions, and fulfilling the role of VPE.
  2. Lachlan instituted processes to revise and update tools around code linting, dependency security checks, and automated tests. He worked with the engineering managers to increase the number of unit tests along key application paths and supported a code spike investigating more effective integration tests, and a development database approach.
  3. Lachlan worked with an engineering manager to create and test a new development lifecycle for their specific team, then collaborated with the VP of Product and product managers to ensure it was given space to prove itself.
  4. Elle worked with the previous VPE and key team members to create and revise a career progression rubric for the engineering team, from Junior Developer to Tech Lead and Engineering Manager. These role descriptions were also used to guide hiring. She also facilitated conversations around the VPE role with relevant stakeholders.

    Lachlan promoted and hired experienced developers and leaders into leadership roles, revising and completing the hiring plan to budget.

  5. Lachlan led bottom-up quarterly goal-setting for the Engineering teams and worked with the CTO and VP of Product to combine those with company objectives into goals for the Product Delivery Group. He worked with the engineering managers and product managers to ensure goals were realistic and supported by process and focus to become achievable.


  1. Lachlan's interactions, presence as-needed, and delivery was such that the CEO often commented that he would forget Lachlan was part-time rather than full-time.
  2. After a six month period, every ignored linting rule was met and no longer ignored, and thousands of errors had been corrected. The main application had zero major or minor security updates pending, and the teams shipped with confidence in their automated tests.
  3. That team now ships with momentum, carries zero bugs for more than seven days, and has met all their goals. That engineering manager is now rolling their development lifecycle process out to the other product teams.
  4. The Engineering team has a full complement of team members as per the hiring plan and budget, with clarity on their role expectations and promotion opportunities.
  5. Engineering met all goals for each of the three quarters where Lachlan led the goal-setting, with one exception — a project that was delayed due to external dependencies.

After six months of Lachlan’s work as VPE, the team now ships with confidence and momentum, carries zero bugs for more seven days, and has been meeting their goals. The voice of Engineering is heard across the organisation through regular comms at All Hands and offsites. The engineering org is well placed to continue scaling under new leadership beyond Series-B.

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