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4 Key Characteristics Of A Great CTO

These days I am helping a couple of startups with their technical recruiting processes and organizing their engineering groups. One of the things that I find interesting is how much non-technical founders emphasize on hiring experienced people. While I consider experience a very important factor in a great tech executive, I don’t believe experience alone can help you build a great technical team.

A few years ago, when I was still a computer science student, I had a very interesting conversation with a very wise professor about this topic. At the time, I was evaluating offers for engineering leader at several large organizations but was second-guessing myself due to my lack of experience in the industry. During our conversation, my friend enumerated some of the factors that are required in great technical leaders:

  • Knowledge: Being extremely, and I mean extremely, knowledgeable about the technology market, ecosystem, new trends etc is key to lead a great engineering team. Experience alone certain doesn’t give you knowledge.
  • Experience: Having “been there, done that” definitely helps to recognize the patterns, techniques and processes that can be effective in specific situations.
  • Perspective: From my viewpoint, this is the most important quality of look in a tech leader and the hardest one to explain. Perspective uses knowledge to overcome the lack of experience and make effective decisions. The thing about perspective is that is almost impossible to teach, you either have it and nurture it or you don’t
  • Analytical and Organized Thinking: Finally, engineering leaders need to be able to look at problems from a very analytical perspective and organize engineering processes in models that can be effective. These challenges require very strong, organized and analytical thought process which is very hard to fund in most people.

I know these are not the only characteristics of a great engineering leader but I consider them the most important. Other aspects such as the ability to listen, team player etc are also necessary but can be coached and learned over time.

I hope that helps. What do you think? What makes a great engineering leader?

 

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Inspire With Your Vision Not With Success

At dinner last night, we had a very interesting debate about different strategies for building great teams. While hiring well is, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult elements of startups, the winning formula seems to be very clear: Hire great people that work great together and are inspired by the company’s vision. The first two factors of the equation need no further explanation; great people that can work well together is a winning formula to build great things. However, great people and great teams are not enough to build great companies; you still need an inspirational vision.

In the early stages of a startup vision is everything. When you don’t have a lot of traction or financial success, only a great visions can inspire people to join your team and help to make your company better. However, after the company grows a little bit and achieves some success, I’ve found that a lot of startups stop emphasizing their vision as the cornerstone of the company and, instead, they focus on inspiring employees with their initial success.

Success can be projected in many ways: industry awards, financial rewards, killer offices etc. Some of those versions of success can definitely attract people to join your company as most intelligent people prefer to join a successful venture than an unsuccessful one. However, success is rarely a factor to inspire people to do great things. When a successful image becomes the center of your company instead of an inspirational vision, you are likely to attract people that are only there in the good times and that can only execute in short term goals. It’s not a surprise that a lot of companies go through a transformation process after they achieve an initial wave of success in order to find their soul again.

As a founder and/or CEO, your MOST IMPORTANT JOB is to clearly articulate your company vision to the key players in your company so that they can communicate it within their teams. A solid vision will keep your team together and focused during the difficult times and it will serve as the inspiration to take your company to the next level during the good times. Financial success, a fun culture, awards are important but rarely inspirational. Selling a great vision can help create successful companies but selling success will only help you to create mediocrely successful ones.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Hiring Tips: When In Doubt Between Two Candidates, Always Go With the Best Writer

I love writing. Every morning, I sat down for a few minutes and write some nonsense blog post that you have the patience to read ;). The reason why I love writing is because is a great intellectual exercise that force you to communicate ideas in a very clear and sometimes concise way. As a startup CEO, I’ve learned to value the writing skills of my colleagues beyond the occasional blog post or article. Literally, I will go as far as saying that when evaluating multiple great candidates for a position I will almost always lean towards hiring the best writer if the rest of the skills are similar.

Sounds drastic? Well, let me try to explain my reasoning….

Writing is one of those skills that we tend to underestimate when building a great team. We can’t clearly quantify the benefits of having great writers in staff in the same way we can with other skills such as programming, sales, etc. Writing is one of those complementary skills which side-benefits become apparent over time and make every other skill better.

Writing is an expression of clear thinking and great communication which are some of the two most valuable assets you can have in a startup. When writing, you are forced to convey a message in a way that people you are not familiar with and have no direct relationship with you can understand and engage in the story. Good writers are often great communicators and great communicators often possess the knowledge and leadership skills that are so necessary and scarce in a startup.

Like any other intellectual exercise, the best way to improve your writing skills is, well, writing and reading a lot. Great writers (and even mediocre ones like myself ;) ) are, almost without exception, prolific readers.

As a startup founder or CEO, my advice would be to nurture and value the writing skills of your colleagues and yourself. Whether you use a public forum like a blog or write privately, continuously writing is one of those unquantifiable assets that will drastically improve your ability to communicate ideas in a concise, direct and easy to understand way.

What do you think? How important is to have good writing skills?

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Talent attracts Talent

I’ve always believed that a talented team is one of the biggest asset a company can offer when it comes to attracting talented people. This is particularly true in creative positions such as software engineers, researchers or artists in which talent is as important as knowledge. Last week, I got a firsthand example of this at Tellago.

A couple of weeks ago, we extended an offer to a top engineer of one of our competitors to join our team. To not disclose names, let’s just call him Andrew. From the beginning Andrew was clearly attracted to join our team but he expressed some concerns about the change. At the end, excepting a significantly higher salary and the opportunity of working in our team, the position had little benefits compared to his current job. We were asking him to leave a team leader position to go back to be a developer, put up with the madness of a fast growing company and transition from being “The Man” in his current employer to being another engineer in our team. To that, you can add that our competitor was doing everything possible to retain Andrew by offering even better benefits.

During a Tellago management meeting, I expressed some concerns that Andrew might not accept our offer. Almost immediately, a couple of my colleagues who had been in similar situations to Andrew’s before joining Tellago asked to talk to him directly. Even though I was surprised by this reaction, I was very intrigued and definitely pleased by the initiative shown by my team and so  gave them the green light to talk to Andrew.

The next day, we received a call from Andrew accepting our offer and expressing how excited he was to join Tellago.

When I asked my colleagues the details about the conversation all I heard was “J, don’t worry, we got this…”

There are a few important lessons to be drawn by this story which, as entrepreneurs, sometimes we forget as we get caught up in the intensity of running the day by day operations of our companies.

Is not about money

You see it all the time with organizations like Google, the US Basketball Dream Team or the MIT Media Lab in which talented people make serious concessions in order to work in more interesting environments in which they have the opportunity to  accomplish things that matter, things that can have an impact in the world.

As a startup, you should look for people who will make your company better and that are passionate about building great things. Money is very important and you should offer your employees competitive salaries, high bonuses, and the opportunity of growing with your company, but I will go as far as saying that, as a startup, you SHOULD NOT HIRE PEOPLE THAT ARE PRIMARILY DRIVEN BY MONEY. In the long run, those people won’t make your company better and they are likely to not stand by your side when you face difficult times ( and, trust me, you will face difficult times )

Nothing attracts talent more than talent

Talented people are naturally attracted to work with other talented people. If you have a uniquely talented team, then other people in the space will be attracted to join your company and it will be up to you to keep the high standards. An important lesson to learn here the best talent are not the people who excel individually as engineers, programmers or architects but the people who, in addition to that, have the ability of making everybody around them better

Let your team recruit for you

Seeing your team market your company and recruit people for you is one of the most gratifying feelings you will ever had as an entrepreneur. If you are truly building a different company, one that makes a difference in the lives of your employees, then your team will be proud to share that message and recruit other people they will enjoy working with.

Highlight your weaknesses 

As a startup, a lot of times you won’t be able to offer the same benefits or working conditions as bigger firms. Things like normal working hours, large offices or big benefits packages are difficult to offer in your early days as a company particularly if you are bootstrapping the company. A lot of startups try to hide those aspects and make artificial promises to their employees instead of focusing on their core values. The fact of the matter is that none of those things is really fundamental to the success of your company. Instead of seeing those things as limitations you should use them to your advantage and tell everybody about it.

At Tellago, it took us almost one year before we decided to open an office but, instead, our employees enjoy working from home most of the time and their productivity levels were incredible. We rarely work 8 hour days but, instead, we guaranteed you will be working on exciting projects with new technologies. More importantly, we are always honest and transparent about the state of our companies and our immediate plans.

Even though a lot of the reflections expressed in this post seem obvious, it took us some time to embrace them and put in practice at Tellago and Tellago Studios. As of this moment, Andrew is scheduled to start at Tellago in the next few weeks and we couldn’t be more excited about it.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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