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What Makes a Great Startup Engineer?

03/20/2011

(The following is an answer to this question on Quora)

What Makes a Great Startup Engineer?
Working in a startup is both difficult and awesome for the same reasons: very little process/politics, but always more work than anyone has time to do.

  1. Organized & Driven – aka they can Get Shit Done
  2. Smart
  3. Energetic/Passionate
  4. Quick Learner
  5. Not an Asshole, you should enjoy spending time with them

Organized/Driven (Get Shit Done)
This is the hardest quality to screen for, finding a smart engineer who can also manage their own time, prioritize their work, and keep a number of balls in the air. This has proven to be the greatest predictor of success for Engineers in every startup I’ve worked at. Consistently producing results is the name of the game.

Smart
This should be obvious, but your startup should be solving hard problems that require intelligent engineers. A great engineer should have strong opinions loosely held and be willing to evaluate decisions and strategies from first principles, without being a jerk.

Energetic/Passionate
The hardest part of a startup is pacing yourself and staying energized to keep producing work in uncertain or difficult situations. Hire an engineer that energizes the people around them and has genuine passion for their work, it’s a force-multiplier.

Quick Learner
The problem domain, the product, and the technology can all change dramatically over the life of a startup. You need to hire for potential to solve many problems not the one you’re facing right now at the time of the hire. Someone who can adapt to this is key.

Not an Asshole
No matter how smart, talented, or hard working someone is, if they’re an asshole you will regret hiring them and working with them. This is even more true at a startup because you will spend huge amounts of time with a small group. An asshole is someone who consistently leaves people they interact with feeling negative or drained of energy.

  1. mathanas
    12/16/2011 at 5:44 am | #1

    Finally what many Startup engineers have lacked for long, has finally been posted. The qualities displayed are just awesome… It not only illustrates the make-up but what employers ought to consider while seeking their new employees.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

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