Great Startup Engineers

Early stage startups aren’t for everyone, and they certainly call for engineers with a certain set of qualities. Typically, engineers who have

But it takes more than that to make an engineer a great startup engineer.

Focus #

You can focus, and refocus, effortlessly.

In a startup, things crop up all the time that scream for your attention. And you have to respond – whether it’s a bug on production, or a sudden re-prioritization of features. You keep juggling no matter how many balls are hurled at you.

Focusing on a single feature is easy. Having the discipline, attitude and agility to refocus spontaneously is hard.

Compassion #

You have compassion for your users. Engineers traditionally tend to lack this, as layers of product managers and customer support form a pretty cozy insulation. At a startup, all that is ripped away.

It’s easy to get entrenched in shipping a feature and lose sight of your users. And yet, you understand that getting people to use and love your product goes beyond the realm of engineering. Having this in mind frames your work, and keeps you constantly thinking about improving the product from your user’s perspective.

Balance #

You are familiar with the tradeoffs that are always at play – engineering optimization, business metrics and user experience. The right balance should, more often than not, err on the side of your users.

But that doesn’t mean cutting corners. Instead, you figure out the best solution to achieve the right balance of the three at the very moment before iterating forward.

Responsibility #

Responsibility is broad. To me, it’s about your approach to your work.

A bug cropped up that you didn’t cause? You fixed it yourself and didn’t pass the buck. Finished a feature? You saw it through from deployment to fixes. In other words, you’re selfless team player.

On the flip side, responsibility also includes your well being. You know when to rest and recharge, and that pulling 18 hour days is not a badge of honor. You know that the quality of your work will suffer, and your burnout will be a liability to the company. You know that your company can’t afford to lose you like that.

Openness #

Open communication is key in startups. You ask questions, challenge the norms, and hold on to your beliefs. And you will justifiably be proven wrong, disagreed with, and not have things go your way. But when that happens, you accept and absorb it with an open mind, just as the rest of your team would.

After all, that’s how learning works. You’re there because a startup is an education.

Startups, don’t let your search for the stereotypical “rockstar” or “ninja” take your eyes off what matters. Great startup engineers go beyond amazing code and help you craft your product. And more importantly, they think for the team, and for your users.

Catch me on Twitter over here, and join the discussion on Hacker News.


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