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?