Building great tech companies — where devs can get money, purpose, and trust

Our company is currently in search of a new CTO. In Lieu of this process, it has made me think about what is means to build a great tech company. In this article you’ll find my beliefs for doing just that and you won’t be surprised that they apply broadly. It’s the first thing to realize: building a great tech company is about building a great company overall by understanding the relationship you have with your workers.

It all starts with the lowest level, least paid person. It’s these people that are the building blocks of any company. You’re greatness is found in your least greatest person. For whatever short-comings you have at the leadership level will show up in big ways at bottom of your organization. It’s common sense, sure, but how many stop and think about that. This has nothing to do with playing to your strengths. That’s a different topic altogether. For now, let’s talk about the Jane the worker and what she means to you.

Jane the worker

What makes for a great tech company? I’m going to argue that the relationship between tech and business is the heart of the matter. To do that let’s look at the ingredients of that relationship. Jane has agreed to give you some things in exchange for the things you should give her.

What makes for a great job? — Dan Pink

  1. Autonomy — the ability to be self-directed
  2. Mastery — the ability to be very good at your skill-craft
  3. Purpose — a reason to get up and fight the cares of your life and to bring something into existence

In Technical Terms

  1. Skill — it’s the job she does. It’s the skill she is bringing to bear in your company. It’s her willingness to learn a new thing. To keep herself sharp. To take pride in her work. To know that she is a master craftsman.
  2. Teamwork — it’s the lubricant of all human endeavors: willingness to be wrong, taking suggestions from coworkers, willingness to speak up to make things better, ability to align with business values as a compass for the day-to-day.
  3. Delivery — this is the hours spent, the labor, the energy that could go elsewhere but is going to your company.

What does she ask for in return?

  1. Purpose — for Jane’s skill you’ll give her a reason to wield it. Why in the hell should she care about what you care about? I hope you have a good reason, a great, “why” we do what we do. Do not kid yourself by believing that the money you give even comes close to touching purpose. Your company must have a reason to exist. It’s the core identity of your company. Can you name it?
  2. Latitude — Jane needs your trust. She needs to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. She doesn’t need your micromanagement. What she does need is your belief that her skill-craft matters. When was the last time you activity got out of the way?
  3. Compensation — this is the amount you pay her, the time you give her to improve her skills and her life, it’s the overall support and gratitude you provide each day. Because make no mistake you are taking a portion of her energy and therefore her life. What could you be doing to share your appreciation knowing that each person will respond differently? Do you know your people?

The Culture Cure — Let me hear that sweet drum beat

If you hear nothing else, hear this… you’ve got to be the cultural drum beat. You’ve got to wake up everyday singing that beautiful song: skill, teamwork, delivery, purpose, latitude, and compensation. This alignment of desires. This melody of purpose and reward.

Every. Single. Day. — Purpose. Purpose. Why. We. Do. This. Purpose. Gratitude. Teamwork. Mastery. Skill. Boss mode.

That sweet, sweet drum beat. Be the champion of culture. Talk about it all the damn time. You cannot say it enough. Write it down. Rehearse it. Sing it. Write your own song about it. Tell your friends about it. If you’re going to be annoying — be annoying with a damn purpose!

Conclusion — Details and Values

You cannot build greatness without touching the heart and drive of people. The people at the bottom. Jane the worker needs you to be great. So be the drum beat for Jane. Go now, beat that drum you wild and inspiring person!

Part time mad computer scientist, full time lover of the extraordinary.

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