Getting things done when no one will listen: Working with engineers at AngelList

Working at AngelList can be frustrating if you’re not an engineer or designer. Engineers and designers are the gatekeepers. They resist being managed and make their own decisions about what to work on.

This is intentional. We want our team to buy-in to product ideas. We don’t want one person directing everyone else. This approach can take more time but, on balance, results in a motivated team with better ideas and a better product.

So if no one is going to do what you say, how do you get anything done? Here are some tips on working with our engineers and designers.

1. Be excellent

Build credibility. Be a person that others want to work with. If people see that you’re extremely competent at your primary role, they’ll give you the flexibility to do all kinds of things. People will trust you. They’re more likely to listen and work with you.

2. “1-person startup” doesn’t mean 1-person does everything

Yes, we like to talk about the idea that everyone at AngelList is a 1-person startup. But don’t let that prevent you from talking with engineers or designers about your ideas before you get started. Whiteboard it with them. Make it a collaborative process. Leverage the expertise of others. You may find out that your idea had been tried many times before or was already on someone’s backlog.

3. No one likes a know-it-all

If you’re attempting to solve a problem with an engineer/designer, begin your conversation by talking about the problem, not your solution. Ask THEM for solutions. When you do talk about your solution, keep it high-level. Engineers and designers may know more details about how your solution could be implemented, edge cases, etc.

4. A landing page can be better than a Google doc

We don’t like requirements documents or other cryptic descriptions of a product idea. If you want to pitch your idea, a good early step is to put it in a landing page. Design it yourself or ask a real designer for help. It’ll force you to clarify who your audience is and explain to them the value of your product or feature. Added bonus: a decent landing page can make your ideas look real.

5. No one cares about one user’s opinion

If you’re using data to make your point, avoid using anecdotal data. Anecdotes can help add ‘color’ to your point, but you’ll wield more influence by presenting statistically significant data. Learn SQL and run database queries yourself. Check your work with an engineer before posting on Slack.

6. We like hackers

If you truly believe that you have a great product idea and want to get immediate traction, try to find a way of prototyping it that doesn’t require engineering or design. Many non-technical team members use email and Slack to try product ideas.

7. Don’t hog credit

It’s generally best to let the engineer announce any launch you’re working on, but if you do it yourself, be sure to give credit. Failure to give credit is the best way to ensure that people will not want to work with you again.

8. Know where to put it

Some requests from important users require one-off quick fixes by engineers. In those cases, use the appropriate Trello boards. These boards are no guarantee of immediate response, so you may need to do a little more work, like get agreement with an engineer ahead of time that you’re going to write up next steps in a card.

9. Defer to those who can

Some non-technical folks have attempted to learn to code or design. That’s great. But when building a product or feature with the goal of shipping it to our community, lean on the expertise of those who have been trained or have experience.

10. Be resilient

Don’t be disappointed if no one wants to work on your idea at first. Take the feedback you get, make it better and try again. OK ideas tend to get ignored or get little support. The really good ideas tend to get worked on.

Thanks to Dave, Kapil, and Paul.

We’re hiring.


Originally published at blog.angel.co on October 20, 2015.