I never considered myself a great engineer. I thought I was a good, maybe even clever, engineer, but not great. And that was when I actually still designing hardware.
Then I went into general management, and my days as a practicing engineer were over. Even though I did get all my patents after I stopped being a full-time engineer.
By the time I started my company, I hadn’t designed anything in well over a decade. Yet I had a vision and I was still technically strong enough to at least work with, and gain the respect of brilliant engineers. And therein lies the key:
You don’t have to be technically brilliant, but the engineers you work with better be.
Building a technology company doesn’t require you to be a technical genius. Steve Jobs proved that when he started Apple.
Jobs had Steve Wozniak to help bring his vision to life. Later, in Jobs second act as Apple’s CEO, he had Jony Ive and many of the most talented engineers on the planet to bring his vision to life.
Here’s what else you will need:
A. You’ll need to be able to build a technical team.
And that team starts with a great VP Engineering. Ideally, your VP Engineering will be able to recruit other great engineers, and your VP Engineering will be hands on.
Plus, and this is critical, you want your VP Engineering to have really good business instincts and skills. A technically strong VP Engineering that has bad business instincts can destroy a business. A technically strong VP Engineering with great business instincts will be your partner along your company’s journey to success.
B. You’ll need to be involved in the recruiting of your technical team.
You can’t just wash your hands of anything technical just because you have a great VP Engineering. You need to be heavily involved in recruiting top talent.
You’ll want to interview every candidate that comes in. The idea isn’t to technically grill the candidates, but you will be looking for cultural fit with the rest of the team.
And great engineers want to meet the CEO. It’s a great opportunity for you to help close candidates with multiple options to work with your company.
C. You’ll need to be able to execute.
Your involvement with the engineering team never ends. You’ll want to work closely with your VP Engineering to help your team execute the plan.
Try and attend as many engineering meetings as you can. Go to the design reviews. Go to the status update meetings. Listen, learn, and help out as needed.
D. Don’t try and be something that you’re not.
You’re not technical, so don’t try and pretend you are technical. The second you start to pretend you’re technical, you will lose the respect of your technical team.
Remember that your technical team joined the company knowing you’re not technical. They’re okay with it.
Just be comfortable with who you are, and you’ll be fine.
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