What Traits Should You Look For In The Engineers You Hire?

By Brett Fox

Programmer sitting in front of his computer and working. Cartoon vector flat illustration

About one month after our company went operational, we decided to have an open house. The idea was my cofounders and I would ask our friends to stop by and check out our office. Hopefully, we could convince some of them to join us.

Jeroen, our VP Engineering, much to my surprise invited Greg and Matt to the open house. Greg and Matt were two of my favorite engineers from Maxim, and it would be a coup for us to get either one to join the company.

Greg and Matt were two of the best engineers in our industry, but their skills as engineers were different.

 

Greg: A creative genius.

 

The first project I ever got involved with Greg on was “the Super Reference”. Greg had this idea for designing an unbelievably low drift voltage reference.

His idea was, at the time, about 100X lower in drift than anything on the market. We would dominate the market if we could actually produce the product.

However, we were never able to get the product to market after years of trying. That was the deal with Greg in those early days; you either won big or you flamed out.

As time went on, Greg’s flame outs became less and less frequent. And Greg, who had never been that driven by revenue in the early days, became much more pragmatic. By the time we spoke at the open house, he had a great combination of engineering skill and pragmatism.

 

Matt: An excellent engineer who was organized.

 

Matt was an excellent engineer. He was just really solid. Everything he designed worked, and everything he designed sold well.

Maybe he didn’t hit as many home runs as Greg did, but he was just really, really solid. Plus Matt had one skill that Greg didn’t have; Matt knew how to apply best standards for an engineering team.

Years earlier, when I took over running Maxim’s telecom business in Oregon, I had Matt help me apply best practices to the engineering organization. Matt did a great job.

 

There was also one skill they both shared: They were able to mentor younger engineers.

 

Many great engineers have no management skills, and Matt and Greg were no different. However, they were tremendous teachers and mentors.

You don’t need a huge number of engineering managers when you’re just starting out. However, having senior engineers who are willing to share their knowledge and teach is almost as valuable.

 

We ended up hiring Greg. Matt decided to retire.

 

Greg and I started chatting at the open house. He told me he was unhappy at Maxim, and that he was interested in working with us.

We went into a conference room and negotiated a deal that made sense right on the spot. Greg joined us one month later.

 

Greg was everything you could ask for in an early stage startup engineer.

 

Greg came up some incredible ideas for us. And with his increased pragmatism, he always had his eyes on what would sell.

He hit home run after home run for us. Just incredible execution on his part. Plus he readily shared his knowledge with the engineering team. The result was an explosion of ideas that led to patents, that led to great products.

 

Oh, and Greg was an excellent recruiter too.

 

When you have guru level talent, if the guru is willing to help you recruit, then you can attract more gurus or almost gurus. Greg was more than willing to help us recruit.

 

Put all that together, and it doesn’t get much better.

 

Combine genius level engineering skill with the ability to teach and pass on knowledge with the ability to recruit, and you have an ideal early stage startup engineer. And Greg was a nice guy who fit our culture quite well.

For more, read: How Do You Get Talent From Facebook Or Google To Join Your Company?

 

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