It’s Time To Treat Engineers As Business People

I am the CEO at Happy Money and have spent my career connecting ‘fin’ and ‘tech’ by uniting the benefits of Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

Employees are seeking new job opportunities, and the “Great Resignation” continues to present challenges for employers. Attracting and retaining top talent in the face of fierce competition is difficult, and even more so for engineering talent.

The “must-haves” for engineers closely follow the broader trends in workforce retention with an increased focus on growth and purpose. More than half of engineers in a survey from Stack Overflow said they are looking for opportunities to learn at work. A similar number said they are drawn to companies focusing on the developer experience.

With this shift in the expectations and mindset of engineers, many companies are adopting new strategies to attract tech talent. For example, traditional financial institutions are reorganizing their tech teams to mimic lean startups. Creating smaller groups and allowing more people to act as entrepreneurs is a great start and demonstrates the opportunity to expand the role of the engineer.

Efforts like these are just the beginning of attracting and retaining engineers. One critical step is for executives across all backgrounds to understand that engineers are business people who are also technologists. This mindset will shift how you attract and retain top talent who can build the systems that will fuel your business success.

What Is An Engineer Today?

The role of an engineer has changed drastically in the last few decades. Engineers are no longer simply building software for end users to install and run; now, they are building and running complex real-world services for many departments, companies and society at large.

An example of this shift: During my time at Netscape, we frequently shipped new versions of Netscape Navigator using CDs (and we thought we were advanced!). We wrote and shipped the software and ran it on our own machines but did not run the software for others. To put it succinctly, we were not creating software on which the business operated; we were shipping products for Netscape customers. By contrast, today’s engineers write software and run the services that they also use in their daily lives.

Technology is embedded in every part of our lives, and we depend on it running smoothly all the time. It’s important to remember who solves those issues when your app is down. Who ensures Slack is up and running? Who solves the problems in Google Maps before you even realize there is a glitch? The engineer. To attract and retain top talent who can fix and solve complex technical problems, it’s time we reimagine the role of the engineer within our organizations.

Reframing Engineers As The Technologists You Need On Every Team

As the role of the engineer has evolved and become critical to organizational success, I am constantly surprised by the perspectives of some business leaders who do not recognize and tap into the full potential of these teams. Even in recent conversations with entrepreneurs building technology companies, some hold the notion that they can be successful by outsourcing engineering teams or exclusively using consultants.

As a technologist, this gives me pause. In my experience, this is not the mentality of the most successful tech companies. The velocity of change within engineering and technology firms continues to increase. A great example of this is the breathtaking pace of new services and features at AWS.

The technologists in your organization are most likely aware of the advancements in this space and are ready and eager to use these tools to solve complex problems and build groundbreaking solutions. With that, it’s worth examining how you engage your engineering teams. For example, do you ask your technologists to just pull XYZ data? Taking a more task-oriented approach like this is extremely limited in terms of the results and solutions you could achieve. And as a technologist myself, I can also tell you that this is not how we want to be engaged. In fact, in a Terminal report, 35% of engineers cited difficulty collaborating or not feeling part of a team. With this sentiment among engineering teams, there is a strong argument that the task-oriented approach will not produce the best results.

The Need To Bring All Groups Along For The Journey

What is the best way to bring your technologists along for the journey? I believe it starts with stating the problem and asking many questions to unearth potential solutions. The key to engagement across engineering, and really all teams, is education and collaboration. Your technologists will be most productive and engaged when they have an intimate understanding of the business. With this knowledge and understanding, they can work cross-functionally to build the products and services that will enable your organization.

This idea of bringing people along for the journey does not stop with your technologists. As business leaders, we need to ensure that all employees are deepening their business acumen by collaborating with one another. These opportunities to learn from one another will help them level up in their roles and grow in their professional development. Your technologists can grow in their understanding of other business areas, and other departments will gain a greater appreciation for the technologists.

One example is the work we do to continuously improve and automate our verifications and underwriting processes. The engineers work directly with the folks in those teams, as well as legal and compliance, so they can provide better automation and tooling support for the underwriting and verification agents. Engineers make tons of tiny decisions as they build these systems. Since they have a comprehensive understanding of the business, they move faster, have more impact and can bring creativity to the work.

Winning The Talent War

It is important to remember that we’re all business people, from marketing to strategy to finance to engineering. A key to success is encouraging everyone across your organization to foster an entrepreneurial approach to maximize their purpose and potential. This will achieve better business results and empower your employees with an owner’s mindset. It is also key to winning the talent war, in engineering and across departments, by giving team members learning and growth opportunities.

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