There’s a lot of conversation around the needs of startups and fast growth companies for more tech talent, but very little for what engineers and programmers should be doing to build their own careers.
The way companies are run today is more data driven than ever before, which is opening the door for tech people to take on more responsibility.
For example, consider the sales process in the US. Over the past five years a lot of tech companies have built products for different pieces of that process: building leads, closing prospects, marketing. This results in lots more data augmented into the business decision-making process.
Technologists tend to have analytical minds, and to excel at data driven decision making. They also have the ability to hold informed discussions with engineering and product management, an increasingly valuable skill to have. Mark Roberge, formerly of Hubspot, is a great example of a tech person who excelled in a business leadership role. He came from an engineering background to become CRO (chief revenue officer) at Hubspot. He was brilliant at it because he uses data to make decisions and is smart about not having models that were locked in stone.
If you’re a developer or engineer, your career path no longer stops in the engineering department. And it’s not just a question of how far you can go working for someone else, it’s whether you want to build and lead your own business. For any business there is huge value having a tech CEO. For startups this is magnified 10X. That’s why at Availer, one of our key goals is to create pathways for tech talent to become leaders of the startups we found.
There are some key elements for a tech person transitioning to lead a business.
Develop empathy for customers
It may be a stereotype, but it’s true that empathy can generally be lacking the less engagement there is with the customer and that is an issue among developers. Firstly, developers need to think a lot more about the consumer of their technology, and how much value does it add to them. It’s not always so simple as "X solves Y pain point". You need to place yourself in the buyer’s shoes, to understand how much value your product really adds. To do this, you have to be as smart as possible to find a way to be in front of customers and have a first hand knowledge of the customer’s buying experience.
Learn to sell through authentic storytelling
Another issue with tech people is that, as most haven’t been customer facing, they haven’t worked in business development roles before. There’s a perception that tech people are introverted, and you need the opposite to sell. But that’s a myth – not all sales people are brash, extroverted storytellers.
It’s far more important to have intellect if you’re selling technology. You need to be able to explain what the technology does. If you’ve built something, you know it better than anyone else, and that gives you the ability to build a narrative about it. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, but express it in your own way, it will be powerful if you do so. Deliver your message in the way that fits you as an individual and plays to your strengths.
Broaden your mind to competitors and culture
One important thing is to get demonstrations of rival technologies to gain understanding at a deep level of what’s out there and what it does, so you can understand where it might be inferior. I see very few people doing this, even in the commercial world.
Another major leap is to appreciate that not everyone thinks the way you do. When you’re leading a company, you want to hire a spectrum of people, with diversity in character, so you have different ways of thinking to solve problems. Technical requirements are a given, but for culture, you need different perspectives.
Don’t let the perceived view of technical people as being introverted, or difficult to be around people, be a reason not to step up to lead a company. Many introverted people have run very successful companies. Don’t be afraid to take on non-technical roles and responsibilities, because the skills that come with a technical mind are very transferable in managing people, driving revenue, and in other factors of the business.
Above all, remember that technology is transforming how every industry works – so as a tech person you are in a great position to lead, and found, a business.
Remo Carbone is a co-founder of South Australian-based agtech betaworks Availer, which builds startups by commercialising research and next-gen technology. He spends his time between New York and Adelaide, where he helps Australian startups break into the US market.