October 20, 2016
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10 Strengths That Make Developers and Engineers Great CEOs

By Larry Gadea, founder and CEO of Envoy.


You have a pet project. It's wild, untested, and way more interesting than your day job. But when your friends say, "Why don't you start a company?" you find all the reasons not to.

"Uh, I don't want to deal with lawyers, accounting, sales, investors, office leases, and [fill in anticipated misery of business]", you think to yourself. "I'm more like Richard Hendricks than Jack Welch".

Supposedly, leadership is for MBAs who speak in jargon-ese and look like they jumped out of a stock photo titled "synergy." As an engineer-turned-CEO, I disagree. Your experience building new things will make you a badass leader too—especially in a company where you initially created the technology.

Someone who says, "Just do these 10 things and you will be the next Zuckerberg," is lying. Usain Bolt could give you 10 running tips, but they wouldn't make you an Olympian. Even so, you have underestimated strengths that give you that ever-important edge.

1. Developers Future-proof Businesses

Our job is to make stuff that doesn't exist yet. We're giddy about testing the latest tech (be it tools, programming languages, or more), so we understand what will be relevant in three years. That gives us a leg up on leaders who obsess over market sizes and case studies.

2. We Are Perfectionists

Unlike a nonsensical phrase in a sales deck, one line of flawed code can ruin everything. You've forged the tenacity to face seemingly intractable problems that could otherwise haunt your company later. Beware though: extreme perfectionism can backfire when you have timelines to follow, budgets to obey, and customers waiting.

3. We Experiment

"Best practices" are the default processes, models, and formalities businesses use. Engineers, often unaware of business best practices (to their credit!), have an advantage. We're more likely to experiment and discover unique practices that no other company uses.

4. We Think on the Periphery

Engineers constantly consider the "edge cases" that can lead to breakdowns in code. This requires imagination and discipline. When leading a company, peripheral thinking helps you uncover opportunities and plan ahead for use cases your customers might unexpectedly depend on.

5. We're Great Bird Hitters

By that, I mean we hit multiple birds with one stone. The typical CEO will ask customers, "What features do you want?" The developer asks, "So, what problem are you trying to solve?" This question leads to a more creative solution that might address other problem areas, too.

6. We "Get" Developers

That means we can more easily attract excellent engineering talent. Doubt that? Well, ask LeBron James which coach he'd rather play for: Someone who played 11 years of NBA ball or someone who ice danced for 11 years.

7. Merit over Bravado

You won't hear engineers call themselves "ninjas." They don't have to brag—their GitHub or other published code will speak the truth. Developers evaluate real actual work, not what people say about their work. As CEO, we see talent others often fail to perceive.

8. Data Junkies

Our ability to ingest prodigious amounts of data (and caffeine) set us apart from average CEOs who "know" they're right. Developers test many hypotheses and are comfortable making hundreds of mistakes before deciding on a direction.

9. Open Source Experience

We've learned to collaborate with complete strangers online. We put aside appearance, culture, and other misleading cues to work together. A GitHub pull request is a pull request like every other. As CEOs, we practice a form of collaboration that has evolved for innovation.

10. Developers Are Lazy

That's right; laziness is a virtue that teaches us to automate everything. Why waste my time doing what a computer can do way better and faster? As lazy CEOs, we accomplish more with fewer resources.


So, finish that pet project and share your gift with the world—as a CEO this time.

About the Author

Larry Larry Gadea is the Founder and CEO of Envoy. Larry started his career as a software engineer at 17, having been recruited by Google out of high school. He later joined Twitter as one of the early people driving its ability to scale. Wanting to build a similar global company, Larry went on in 2013 to build the initial Web site and app for what eventually became Envoy. Larry holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Carleton University.

This article was contributed for exclusive use on Developer.com. All rights reserved.

Tags: open source, developer, CEO, engineers, experimenters

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