Tag Archives: Chief technology officer

Successfully Showcasing a Startup

Gone are the days of free soda,  snacks, and meals!  It’s not that engineers have suddenly become more demanding.  In fact many still don’t know their own value, especially femgineers…

Joining a startup as an engineer used to primarily be about believing in the startup’s vision, team dynamics, technology stack, equity, salary, and role along with employee number.  These are still important factors, but the dynamics of decision making have dramatically deepened due to the increasing number of startups that are competing for a stagnant number of engineers.

It’s become harder to recruit engineers, because engineers have many startups to choose from, and especially within the same category: gaming, marketplaces, payments, SMBs, fin tech, etc.  As a result, recruiting top talent has caused companies to become more creative when showcasing themselves.

One company that recently caught my attention is Medium, originally named Obvious Corp.  Medium was founded by Twitter and Blogger co-founder Ev Williams.  Medium is focused on being a platform where people can share ideas and stories about their lives, creative pursuits, and careers.  It aims to be more collaborative than Ev’s previous product Blogger.  Still in beta, the company is putting a lot of effort into hiring top talent.

I was introduced to Medium by its CTO Don Neufeld.  Don and I met at a previous Femgineer Forum I was hosting at CoverHound.  He candidly shared his approach to hiring top talent, team building, and some of the challenges he had faced when trying to attract technical women.

After meeting Don, I dug in to learn more about Medium, because as a blogger I’m generally curious about what platforms are out there.  What I discovered that was even more appealing than the product, was how the company had built a culture where employees naturally wanted to share their experiences on motherhood and being recruited (as a candidate who needed a visa).

You may think that employees who work there will only want to say good things, but then there are those who are around for a just bit, and feel strongly enough that they want to share their experience.

Medium also understands that recruiting and retaining talent is about the long term.  This summer Don has a group of incoming interns, and wants them to have the best experience possible.  Part of that experience is having me come and host a Femgineer Forum at Medium to discuss a rather sensitive topic: Overcoming Insecurities to Innovate.

While Medium is a young startup, its led by notable veterans, who have learned that the secret sauce to building a tech company is hiring the best talent.  There’s no secret formula to attracting top talent, startups have to become better at showcasing themselves, and creating alignment with a young company’s goals.  What’s working for Medium happens to be an extension of it’s company’s core experience, storytelling.

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How to Keep Your Startup Engineer Sane

You worked hard to attract that so-called rock star engineer, thinking that they would be the golden goose who could bring your vision to reality, but now things have gotten rocky.  Iteration cycles are taking too long, buggy code is being shipped, or you find that your engineer is working on things that are not a priority.  Why don’t they understand your ass is on-the-line?!

Because you’ve probably made 1 of 3 mistakes:

Have you changed your vision or product roadmap more than once in the past 3 months?

Engineers need time to think, build, test, and refine.  If you constantly change your mind then it forces them to have to re-work what they’ve already done.  Here’s a simple example, if you went to a cake maker and said you wanted a chocolate cake, then changed your mind  to vanilla as they were mixing the batter for your chocolate cake, then you decide to go back to chocolate, when will the cake maker actually have time to make the batter, bake the cake, and then frost it?!   Same rules apply.  While software can be changed more easily and with less mess than a cake, there is still a process and your constant changes are interfering with the the final product.  This will ultimately demotivate an engineer, because they’re not solving problems.  It also make it hard for them to gain a sense of accomplishment, because the product is always in a half-baked state.

If an engineer is working on projects that are not a priority, its because you haven’t given them a clear roadmap, and they want to fulfill their need for efficacy by building something rather than nothing.

If you’re unsure about the product roadmap or vision for the company work it out before you start building.  You’ll have a happier engineering team.

Were you desperate to find a developer?

If you are not guilty of changing requirements or putting a very aggressive schedule in place, but still have a product that is very buggy or not being shipped on time, then its very  likely that the engineer you hired just doesn’t have the technical chops.  You need to have an honest conversation with them.  You’ll also need to get better about screening candidates to avoid this situation, and make sure you gauge their skill level.  This might be hard to do if you’re a business founder.  The two easiest solutions are to have someone work on a mini-project for a short amount of time to judge the quality of their work, or find someone who can run your candidates through a rigorous technical interview.

Are you calling the shots for technical issues that are actually outside the scope of your expertise?

People burn out and leave because founders breathe down their neck, and micromanage.  You heard Rails is the rage therefore your engineer needs to learn Rails…  First of all this is not a decision that you should be making.  Obviously you don’t want it built on something esoteric that makes it hard to recruit additional engineers or hard to maintain.  So your conversations should revolve around what is the skill set of your initial development team, how manageable will the code base be using that technology (programming language), and the final is when will be the right time to switch or entertain other technologies, and how to prepare for it.

If you know you hired well then give your engineer the benefit of the doubt.

Now don’t go beating yourself up because your engineer has gone awol 🙂  Its after all a startup, recruiting and retaining talent is hard.  If you think the relationship is salvageable admit to your mistakes and have them work with you on fixing the problem.  If you care about the success of your startup and want to build an effective and efficient engineering team, then take sometime to think through how you can be a better boss for the next candidate.  Technical founders can commit these mistakes too, its just about learning how to manage people, which is a hard and takes time.  Eventually, you’ll want to hire someone who can take this process of your hands like a VP of Engineering or a CTO, but until you have the funds to do so don’t  let your non-technical background stop you from moving forward!

If you’ve enjoyed this post and want to learn more ways you can recruit and retain technical talent then check out our Lean Product Development Course Learn more!

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Warrior Women

In one of my favorite TV shows of all time Firefly Wash is being intensely interrogated, and the interrogator asks Wash about his relationship with his wife Zoe, Wash responds rhetorically with a look of pride, “Have you ever been with a warrior woman?”   I personally have never been with a warrior woman, but this evening I attended the Anita Borg Awards in San Jose, and was in the presence of a warrior woman, Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco.  After her keynote speech I knew how Wash felt.

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of women in engineering that have inspired and challenged me.  My favorite being my Professor at Duke Lisa Huettel.  But, I’ve felt a strange void.  I’ve been looking for someone who symbols almost exactly who I want to be in 10 or 20 years.  Some who is articulate, stylish, and graceful, in essence a femgineer.  And until now no one embodied these traits for me, until I listened and watched Padmasree deliver her keynote.

I’ve attended many keynotes by the likes of Madeleine Albright, Tom Wolfe, and read transcripts of keynotes of Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina, but I must say this was hands down the best I’ve every experienced in my life!  I left feeling inspired but also light-hearted.   There were two points she made that really spoke to me.  First, Padmasree said that she never understood why people talk about balance as if work and life are constantly at odds with each other.  She insteads focuses on integrating work and life.  Second, she said you shape your opportunities.  I don’t think of myself as a naturally talented coder or having an astronomically high IQ, but I think I make up for those two areas with my drive and ambition, and use those as leverage to land opportunities.

So thank you Ms. Warrior for sharing your drive and courage with me tonight, and being a fabulous femgineer 🙂

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