Skip to main content

If You're An "Ideas Guy", You're Doing It Wrong

There's a disturbing trend that I'm seeing more and more of lately in Silicon Valley, and it's the commoditization of engineering talent in the minds of non-engineers. I'm not sure what they're teaching in business schools these days, but I keep meeting freshly-minted MBAs who "have a great idea and just need some devs to implement it". So lemme just throw this out there:

If you're an "ideas guy", and "just need a couple of engineers" to build your company, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

See, for instance, this recent TechCrunch article which blithely implies that engineers are "coding themselves into irrelevance", and before long, "the business founder [will have] the advantage that today's technical founders enjoy." Huh? Guess what - in healthy companies, it's not such an adversarial relationship. If it is, then you're doing something wrong.

There is no greater turn-off to a prospective tech co-founder or engineering hire than insinuating that they are nothing more than a replaceable tool. Last fall, I even flew to Korea to tell an auditorium full of engineering students that they are not tools, but instead are the engines of innovation for their future companies. Ideas are a dime a dozen - if you can't execute on them, then you are the replaceable part, not the devs you're looking to hire. A good experiment for any company is to switch roles for a day and see who is more productive - the "business guy" given a codebase and a problem to solve, or the "engineer" given a full day of "product strategy review" meetings. I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

Lest I be misconstrued, I'd like to point out that some of my best and most respected friends in the Valley and elsewhere are "business guys" (and girls), but what sets them apart is that they know their shortcomings (the same holds true for good engineers), they're willing and excited to learn about the tech world they do business in, and they treat engineers as partners rather than pawns. As a result, their teams are stronger than the sum of their parts. They have fostered an environment of mutual respect, where ideas can flourish and roles are not necessarily so artificially constrained. If you're a "business guy" that's just starting out, or you've been struggling to find good engineers, maybe it's time to reflect on your approach rather than decrying "how hard it is to find talent".

Remember: Engineers are people, not tools or commodities. Treat them well, and together you will build something great.




Comments

  1. I'm sorry Darren, but I couldn't disagree more. Engineering is a marketable and commoditized trait. I can pay $X for Y engineering hours. Different engineers have different skill levels, but engineering work is something you can buy and this is completely independent from the ability to discover and execute on good ideas. There are as many bad ideas that come from engineers as from non engineers and if you look back at the most prominent founders of the last three or four decades you will find that they never finished an engineering degree at all and/or most of the engineering work was not done by them at all.

    I don't know where this myth of "only engineers can come up with good ideas for anything that requires engineering work" came from, perhaps Google, but it's very silly. Maybe brick layers believe they are the only ones who have good idea for "successful" buildings?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I almost completely agree with "Unknown".

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why Korean Is Hard For Native English Speakers

A couple of days ago, as an experiment, I wrote my first blog post ever in a non-English language. It was an attempt to explain some of the reasons that Korean is hard to learn for native English speakers, so I figured I might as well try to write it in Korean. Those of you who actually read Korean can see how awkward the attempt was =).

In any case, the post came from an email conversation I had with The Korean from Ask a Korean, a fantastically well-written blog about all things Korea from the perspective of a Korean who moved to the United States during high school. Since I tend to geek out on language things, I figured I might as well post part of that conversation. An edited version follows.

---------

Out of the languages that I've attempted to learn so far, Korean has been the hardest. I've done a lot of meta thinking about learning Korean, and I think there are a number of reasons it's difficult for non-Koreans (and especially Westerners) to learn:

1) Obviously, the…

영어가 모국어인 사람들은 왜 한국어를 배우기가 어려운 이유

이 포스트는 내 처음 한국어로 블로그 포스트인데, 한국어에 대하니까 잘 어울린다. =) 자, 시작합시다! 왜 외국사람에게 한국어를 배우기가 어렵다? 난 한국어를 배우고 있는 사람이라서 이 문제에 대해 많이 생각하고 있었다. 여러가지 이유가 있는데 오늘 몇 이유만 논할 것이다.

1. 분명히 한국어 문법은 영어에 비해 너무 많이 다른다. 영어는 “오른쪽으로 분지(分枝)의 언어"라고 하는데 한국어는 “왼쪽으로 분지의 언어"이다. 뜻이 무엇이나요? 예를 보면 이해할 수 있을 것이다. 간단한 문장만 말하면 (외국어를 말하는 남들은 간단한 문장의 수준을 지낼 수가 약간 드물다), 간단한 걸 기억해야 돼: 영어는 “SVO”인데 한국어는 “SOV”이다. “I’m going to school”라고 한국어로는 “저는 학교에 가요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I’m school to go”이다. 두 언어 다르는 게 목적어와 동사의 곳을 교환해야 한다. 별로 어렵지 않다. 하지만, 조금 더 어렵게 만들자. “I went to the restaurant that we ate at last week.” 한국어로는 “전 우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당에 또 갔어요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I we last week went to restaurant to again went”말이다. 한국어가 왼쪽으로 분지 언어라서 문장 중에 왼쪽으로 확대한다! 이렇게 좀 더 쉽게 볼 수 있다: “전 (우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당)에 또 갔어요”. 주제가 “전"이고 동사가 “갔다"이고 목적어가 “우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당"이다. 영어 문장은 오른쪽으로 확대한다: I (S) went (V) to (the restaurant (that we went to (last week))) (O). 그래서 두 숙어 문장 만들고 싶으면 생각속에서도 순서를 변해야 된다.

2. 첫 째 점이니까 다른 사람을 자기 말을 아라들게 하고 싶으면, 충분히 …

Don't Take Korean Language Advice From Kyopos

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but the last people you should take Korean language advice from are kyopos (foreign-born or raised Koreans). That being said, if you do follow their advice, you will get many laughs from Koreans. Some of my personal favorites, all of which actually happened to me:

- When I first got to Korea, I was at some open-air event, and during a break I started talking to one of the hosts. He said he was only a part-time host, so I asked him what his full-time job was, and he said "백수" (which is slang for "unemployed guy"). I asked him what that was, and he replied, "Comedian". So then the next few people I met, I proudly told I was a baeksu. (Edit: Actually, this guy was Korean Korean, not kyopo.)

- Next, a kyopo who lived in the apartment I moved into back in 2010 asked me what I was doing in Korea, and I told him I was starting a company, and asked how to say that in Korean in case people ask. He told me…