5 Characteristics of a Great Engineer

Engineers are in high demand these days. For tech startups, early engineering hires are the fuel of the engine. Get it right and magic can happen. Get it wrong and you risk hindering the business’s chance for success. Even for larger companies that may already have tons of engineers on staff, the risks are the same.

Our very own Jason Konesco, CEO of ClearScholar, always talks about how in his personal experience, it takes 13 great hires to overcome one poor hire. Jason previously worked as President of Harrison College and found that the math doesn’t change much, regardless of the size of the organization.

The difference in value of a great engineer versus an average one is massive. When brought in, 10Xers can be 10 times more effective than other engineers based sheerly on how they handle their role, making a major difference in the experiences and products a company creates.

Over the years, I’ve seen many different types of engineers. I’ve hired great one’s, average one’s, and not so great one’s. But the great one’s all seem to have a ton of similar characteristics.

Here are the top five that I’ve noticed:

Ambitious

The best engineers know they’re good at what they do, and with that, they want to use their skills to tackle meaningful and worthy challenges. When confronted with a simple problem they’ve experienced before, the great engineer will hack together a quick solution and try to move on rather than trying to create a novel solution to a problem. Of course, the problem they solve has to be meaningful to them — if the engineer is unengaged with the problem, the solution they create will be just as un-engaging.

Experimental

Great engineers want to be free to take the problems they are faced with in new and meaningful ways. Engineers see opportunities to create innovative solutions to problems. Without the proper support and framework for them to experiment, the solutions they provide can fall flat. With great talent has to come great trust in order for the talent to truly come out.

Intentional

Great engineers often write more than they actually code in the sense they think about what they’re going to code more than they actually code. These engineers often think about the problem deeply. They consider many different solutions and play out the process before they even touch a key. You’ll find these engineers whiteboarding, talking, and critically examining solutions in order to build a high level of conviction in their path or solution.

Proactive

The best engineers actively seek out mentors and code review. Engineers should want to improve themselves and that means they don’t hide any code and definitely don’t want to sit around without a mentor. This shows if an engineer is coachable and is able to take feedback (not just from other engineers, but potentially product managers or customers) and make meaningful strides forward with it.

Eclectic

The best engineers often have interest in an outside hobby that uses their hands — something like woodworking, or gardening. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it has to do with them being a craftsperson and taking care in the products they are creating. I’ve always noticed that there’s a deep passion for something that doesn’t involve computers or coding in some of the best engineers I’ve worked with.

If your candidate for an engineering role has all of these characteristics, you’re likely talking with someone who can really push your product forward in new and meaningful ways, which ultimately means that you’re able to delight customers more often and create a better overall business. And when you find them, act quickly. Because great engineers are in high demand!


High Alpha is a venture studio pioneering a new model for entrepreneurship that unites company building and venture capital. To learn more, visit highalpha.com or subscribe to our newsletter.

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