The “Business” Side

This Techcrunch article has been doing the rounds recently – if the solitary founder of a startup cannot code, what does she do? The way the sentence is framed is immediately apparent that – cet par – the solitary founder of startup who can code should find herself at a significant advantage over one who cannot. This sounds reasonable as startups never execute on known business models – they are looking to find a business model. So what good is a business guy who will dip into his hat for known tricks. Rather have someone who can discover her way to the MVP and write mean code – and keep pivoting – all along the way. This truism however does not reflect in my experience of having a fair number of technology folks who walk up to seek career advice. “How can I come over to the business side”, they invariably ask me

So what’s so great about this business side? It is not entirely apparent if you don’t dig a little deeper. The main reason is not to come over and start running with sales targets or marketing campaigns but a much ingrained desire to work with customers and users. Work, as in continue with what they are doing but understand the customer context behind all that. And if there are trickles of customer context flowing in, how can that be bettered to put the customer or the user at the center of what their primary job functions are. Sadly – and I am writing this from an Indian standpoint – careers of technologists have become relegated to back office functions, pushing them to seek out. They see their current engineering functions as a cul-de-sac and want to take an exit to a different lane before it is too late. Not able to sometimes articulate their desires correctly or in their naivete of picking up whatever comes their way that smells of a customer, solid engineering talent can easily get wasted in filling up RFPs, running account plans or going around asking users to fill up surveys. What a colossal waste

So if you are an engineer and have this desire to work with customers, the first thing you must do is congratulate yourself. You are thinking in the right direction. But at this stage do not take the wrong turn to walk to the nearest “business” guy you know. The better approach is to look into your chain of command and those adjacent in the same function to identify who in that is working with – or has the chance of working with – customers (and please, ditch that definition of “internal customer”. A customer is only those who write checks for the firm you work with. All the rest are your partners). Now this guy you reach might not be your boss (in most cases he will not be your boss as in that case you would be working with customers and not have this issue to start with) but that should not worry you

As an engineer who wants to work more with customers (or users) you should leverage your strengths, which I am assuming is in building technology solutions to customer problems. Hit that sweet spot with all you have. That’s much better than walking across to the “business” side trying to figure out how much discount to give a customer so he will buy a substandard, poorly engineered product