Do You Need A Technical Background As CEO Of A Technology Company?

There is a one-word answer for why so many former engineers are now CEOs of technology companies. And that one-word answer is:


Simply put, being an engineer running a technology company gives you some tremendous advantages:

A. You engineering team will be more likely to respect you.

Engineers like working with people that understand what they are doing. So, you have built-in credibility with your engineering team if you are technical. And…

B. You can challenge your engineering team.

I hadn’t designed anything in years when I became CEO, but I still had the ability to challenge the engineering team technically.

Anyone who’s managed high performing technical teams knows how tricky it can be. These are artists you are working with, but these artists need to be managed.

Interestingly enough, in my experience, good engineers don’t mind being managed as long as the managers are fair and technically competent. And…

C. Your customers respect your engineering skills too.

I always felt one of the hidden advantages I had was that I started my career as a customer of the products my company built. I could meet with customers and understand their problems technically.

And your customers feel comfortable talking to you about their problems because you naturally understand their problems.

So technical CEOs have huge advantages running technology companies. But being a technical CEO doesn’t guarantee you success (read: Do All Driven Entrepreneurs Become Successful?), nor does not have a technical background guarantee you’ll fail.

For example, there was someone at Maxim Integrated Products that I mentored early in his career. He was sharp, curious, aggressive, and had what I call an “active” mind.

But he didn’t have an engineering degree. And he wanted to be a business unit General Manger.

Maxim’s founding CEO, the late Jack Gifford, was dead set against non-technical people running businesses. Gifford had good reason for his skepticism.

I’m paraphrasing, but Gifford’s reasoning was, “How would someone who wasn’t technical manage engineers or be credible meeting with customers?”

But this particular person was undeterred.

Through perseverance, skill, and a little luck, he rose through the ranks. Eventually, he became Executive Vice President at Maxim.

Then, a little over a year ago, Marvell Technology Group (Revenue of ~ $2.75B/Year) named Matt Murphy President and CEO. And, from the way things look, Matt is doing a great job turning Marvell around.

So Matt’s success is living proof you can run a technology company without a technology degree.

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View original answer on Quora.