Your ideal technology partner combines a stellar ability in at least one important technology area (big data, system administration, Java, C#, etc.) with great people skills and organizational abilities. I have included a short list of things that you as a business partner should look for in your technology partner.
- Strong technology skill(s) – your technology hire should (ideally) be your first technology hire, the person that can kickstart your development process. The exact skill that they have should not be the main reason for the hire – for example, if they have exceptional organization or people skills, it does not matter that their expertise is Java and your company is C#; however, they should have an actual skill that can be applied to your company.
One of the things that I have had to work on recently is refreshing and refurbishing my own technical skills – I have taken to working on some Java open source projects to get those skills back up to scratch, and am teaching myself Ruby on Rails to give myself another great startup skill and refresh my abilities in modern web design.
- Experience outside of code – your ideal technology partner has had experience doing a lot of things other than code. Examples are writing and selling procedures and policies to their previous organization, doing strategic planning, presenting business plans to senior leadership and executives, and other such activities.
- Good communication skills – your technology partner will communicate with outside vendors, investors, and other groups so you need to ensure they represent the company well. Ensure that your candidate both can write well and is comfortable, if not enthusiastic, with public speaking and presenting to groups. A great way to assess both of these skills is to ask your candidate to prepare and give a talk on some topic relevant to your needs to a local meetup group – this has the added benefit of exposing how your candidate reacts under pressure and extemporaneously during the question portion of the talk.
- Great people skills – your technology partner is going to be responsible for building your technology group, including all of the people. Your candidate should have experience hiring, firing, assessing, and motivating people. This is a huge area of discussion and we can do no more than scratch the surface; however, your candidate must be both able to and comfortable with leading people and correcting behaviours as required. I have discussed some of the criteria for identifying a good technology manager during an interview in a previous post. Ensure that you find someone interested in collaborating with others to build a good team, and that can take and give criticism equally well.
Note – a number of these skills are not those that your stereotypical programmer has; they require significant leadership experience. This will exclude a lot of technology personnel who are at an earlier stage in their career and who that have not attempted to lead teams – this is by design. Straight technical ability is great and needs to be present in your company; however, at the senior leadership level, you can not afford to have solipsistic people setting the direction for your technology group or leading your people.
Once you start hiring other people to help your organization start moving, your technology partner will spend more and more time dealing with people and leadership, and less and less time writing code. Ensure that you have someone that will excel this and wants to do it.
What experience have you had with hiring senior technology people at your company? Which critical criteria have I missed?
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