Chief Technical Gardener
‘Technical co-founder’ may sound like a dream to the common coder. However busting out code is only one responsibility for a new technical co-founder. While technical competence is important, there are other more ‘human’ facets to the role:
- Responsibility for initial technical decisions and execution of first prototype
- Plant the seeds and tend the fledgling development process and procedures. ie - tooling, deployment, engineering culture
- Be a solid rock the CEO and business can trust to make sound technical decisions based on business needs
- The human face of the engineering team! :)
Hacker chops wrapped in sound business judgement
What differentiates quality technical founders isn’t technical wizardry, but judgement - the ability to correctly and effectively in weigh technical tradeoffs against business objetives. These decisions are tough, and the company may have to live with the outcome of these decisions for a long time. The measure of a good decision is the abilty to forsee the ramifications when circumstances outgrow the solution. Good judgement differentiates hype from fact and doesn’t make technology decisions based on shiny.
Tending a tidy garden for others
When coding in a rush, the project can get a little out of whack - bad or no convention, poorly named files, blasphemous hacks; it happens. Especially if you are a single founder or with a small team. Tribal knowledge is a killer It’s a real time waster to bring another dev up on an unconventional design all because the technical founder was too lazy to follow a convention. Keep things tidy, write conceptual documentation, write tests!. Prepare the garden as if others were coming to tend.
Maintaining the daily rhythm, sans drum circle
As the chief uber hacker, the technical founder sets the cadence of the fledging development team. Daily standups serve as a fantastic foundation to the days activities. Critical bugs, dev tasks and other miscellaneous dev detris are prioritized and tackled. The team must make progress every day to be successful; daily success requires short, daily planning. Later when the company is successful, a scrum master and PM may fullfill this duty.
Technical debt can be tricky to keep under control during the early times. Code reviews via Github or BitBucket are an amazing way to keep the team aware of changes and address bad designs before they make it into the product.
Regular internal demos allow the team to really shine and show off work accomplished during the last iteration. It’s important to keep motivation high by reflecting on progress and congratulating those who kicked ass in the last sprint.
Good leaders lead, great leaders delegate
One of the best pieces of advice for new technical founders is the 80% rule. If a junior developer or outsourced help is 80% effective at a task, delegate it. Review their work before the code makes it into the project and provide feedback. Trust in others on your team will allow them to become more involved in the company and take personal ownership of features. Each team member will eventually tend their own plot of land inside the codebase.
Don’t Over water -
No developer is an island; as much as one would like to paddle out in the ocean to a peaceful place devoid of people to get some coding done, the technical founder must remain plugged into the daily goings on of the business as the human face of the development team. As the key interchange in which business needs are turned into business value through technical implementation, decisions here will either make the business scalable and profitable, or crash prone with no customers. This interchange works both ways - It is also the duty of the technical founder to inform the business when they have absolutly lost their minds with technically infeasible fever dreams. The technical founder works with the CEO by managing development commitments and explaing tradeoffs and impacts. The business needs an antenna on Mars ? that will impact timelines somewhat …
There’s more to gardening then fresh fruit
While technical in nature, the role of the technical founder includes much more ‘human’ skills than it’s name implies. Building a great engineering culture, keeping technical debt under control all while keeping business needs in mind is tough, but deeply satisfying. For a developer, it’s the best thing out there to further your craft and make yourself more valuable and well traveled.