Like many web engineers who have built teams as their startups have grown, I do not have an MBA. If you are like me in-so-far as you value management practice over theory, you probably learned to bootstrap & scale as a leader without one.
That hasn’t stopped me from developing my own theories. Reading this quora thread on why many engineers detest their management reminds me, I have a theory that credible startup engineering leadership comes from three places:
- Deep Technical Roots – I’ve found that the ability to code translates to the ability to estimate complexity, foresee and mitigate risks, and manage scale application scale. Once you’ve spent years as an engineer putting out fires you learn to prevent fires. At StepOut, we’ve come up with a set of code standards and architecture patterns that allow us to nip common technical issues in the bud. If that prevent the anti-patterns, then we’ve got code review to give us an opportunity to re-grok them before they make it to production.
- Credible Vision – I’m OCD in that I like to have all of my tasks super-organized. Our product management product, Wrike, is meticulously organized, tagged, and scheduled. This allows me to plan weeks and months ahead. The key is (a) know the business KPIs and (b) to strike a balance between meticulous planning and agility as they shift. That, along with persistent follow-up on each element of the roadmap, allows me to demonstrate progress over time. Another part of having vision is effective communication — My general rule is to over-communicate your vision, thought process, methodology — communication on a regular cadence is the drumbeat of a team marching in sync.
- Treating People like People – I think the most important thing about running a team is to treat the people you work with like people. Be positive. Build a dialogue with your team — start by recognizing each individual member is a real 21st century person, living and breathing, with talents, flaws, warts and all. And don’t abuse your power — make decisions with a clear articulate rationale. Engineers like to know the why behind a policy. It might be a little cynical to phrase this point as “treat a person like a person in order to be a better leader”. A better place to start is probably “Hire people who you are interested in fully knowing and growing with.”
</ soapbox >