“What do you think of Kevin?” Our VP Engineering asked me.
“I like him. He’s clearly strong technically, and his experience is spot-on. I think he will fit our culture too.
“The one concern I have is he’s been jumping from job to job every two years or so. And we can’t have that happen with us.”
“I know,” the VP Engineering responded to me. “Let me do the reference checks and get back to you.”
The VP Engineering did the reference checks on Kevin, and they came back positive. The one concern his references pointed out was that Kevin was “emotional and high strung.” Kevin, we were told, sometimes had trouble working with others.
It’s so difficult to hire really talented engineers, and Kevin was brilliant technically, so we took a chance and hired Kevin.
Kevin turned out to be everything we expected. He was technically brilliant, creative, and he worked fast. And Kevin was emotional, high strung, and he had one fatal flaw: Kevin didn’t like being challenged technically by his peers.
Kevin lasted all of six months before he quit with no notice.
Being emotional is okay. Being high strung is okay. Not being able handle being technically challenged by your peers is not okay.
So, what are the qualities you want in a great startup engineer?
A. Integrity. It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant you are. What do you have if you don’t have integrity? Nothing.
And, I’ll argue that part of having integrity is the ability to handle being technically challenged by your peers.
B. Technically brilliant. You need the best engineers if you are going to compete. Brilliant engineers push the ball forward in a way that no one else can.
C. Passion. It’s not enough for your engineers to have integrity and be technically brilliant. You need your team to be passionate about your company and the work you are doing.
D. Cultural fits. Often overlooked, culture plays a critical role in the success or failure of your company. Don’t overlook the cultural fit of the engineers you are bringing on your team. You’ll pay the price if you do.
One last quality that makes for a game-changing engineer: Elegance.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most brilliant engineers in the history of my industry. Their design skills and expertise were each different, but they shared one thing in common:
The ability to create truly elegant solutions.
An elegant solution is a technical solution that is simple, but difficult for us mere mortals to come up with. Then when you see an elegant solution, you say, “Of course.”
Elegant solutions move a company forward in a positive, non-linear way.
You can skip two or three generations of product development with an elegant solutions. That’s what makes finding engineers capable of developing elegant solutions game-changers for your company.
For more, read: How To Keep From Hiring Superstars That Kill Your Company.
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