What Makes Great Startup Engineering Leaders?
What Makes Great Startup Engineering Leaders, Great?
Over the years, I’ve had the luxury of working with dozens of CTOs, VP’s of Engineering and Technology Directors. Some were great, and some weren’t really. These were men and women of various backgrounds. The ones that proved to be successful shared one common trait, they were passionate about and are able to build their team with the right people.
Generally, a good startup engineering leader should come from a strong computer science background. My favourite technical leaders are always fellows who frequently mention and bloat about their alma maters. This person probably started their careers working at a larger enterprise company, a couple of startups, then moved into leadership positions. As a leader, a proven leader doesn’t think of exits as a 1 in 10 deal, but has a resume to show with 3 or 4 of them. You don’t necessarily need your startup CTO to be a hacker anymore, though it would be cool to see them in the trenches once in awhile (ala Steve Kerr’s frequent shooting competitions with MVP Stephen Curry @ practice).
They have a high level understanding of modern technologies, how systems are built, and how to scale towards break-even and profit as efficiently as possible. Though they don’t need to be as adept as a financier as it pertains to finances, budgetary allocation as it pertains to growth is an underestimated startup tech leader quality. I can write a whole article on some of the things a CTO needs to keep in mind when growing a startup, but knowing how to spend your finances can go into every decision you make such as: knowing how much to spend on remote devs versus in-house, what roles to use recruiters on, break-up of senior vs junior talent, what tech use, cost saving on AWS etc. A good engineering head is always thinking about how to save, while still being as efficient as possible.
Next, a good Startup CTO can bring people of different skills together to achieve a common technical goal. Obviously using the right technologies such as Slack and Asana are important when bringing people together, but what’s imperative is that the person running the ship, is someone who truly cares. When the team knows their technical leader is passionate about their mission, they tend to follow. As I alluded to in the opener, the common trait every good CTO shares is that they are passionate about building with the right people. What separates good from great however is that a great CTO is Actually Able To Execute. Now, what do I mean by this? Well, yeah, everyone wants good talent, but does everyone know the steps required and is willing to do what it takes to attain amazing talent? Hell no. Our most successful clients are when the CTO or VP of Engineering are directly involved in the entire recruitment process. They first set up their recruitment infrastructure, which might include an internal recruiter with external talent partners. Once they’ve screened for the right people to help them grow their team, they work with the talent team in setting an efficient interview process. They have frequent meetings with their recruiters, encouraging them and pushing them forward. They’re able to take constructive feedback about the market, and re-align their hiring goals. These leaders are also one of the interviewers during the interview process. These leaders are willing to court strong candidates, i.e taking them to dinner, and are willing to put all their cards out on the table when they know they’ve got a gem in the pipeline.
The more I work with them, the more I appreciate the hard work they put into building their teams. As a recruiter, it makes my job a lot more enjoyable when I know I’m working with someone who genuinely values talent and recruitment. After all, there aren’t any multi-billion dollar companies that weren’t built on the foundation of solid people, which allowed them to attract more and more of them to grow into what they are today.
Stay tuned — http://bit.ly/2n00eYL
We are soon launching a talent marketplace to connect the US and Canada best startups with talented software engineers, designers and other tech specialists.