What Makes a Great Engineer?

I have hired a lot of engineers. In different locations, in the US and globally. Men and women. Super experienced or straight out of college. I’ve learned that the best engineers don’t conform to any specific demographic (gender, age, race or ethnicity). 

Hiring is really hard. To be successful, you have to have a solid strategy that absolutely includes technical questions and demonstrated ability to code (yes, I know some people don’t like this, but if I’m applying for a job as a car mechanic, it seems reasonable that I have to demonstrate I can, ya know, work on  an engine.) Even with the best strategy, a hire can turn out to be average, or even below average. 

There are three key traits that are found in the really great devs:
  • Aptitude - Fearless because they have the ability to quickly learn new concepts, programming language(s), tools, environments, operating systems, etc. 
  • Self motivated - Internally driven by the desire to solve hard problems. 
  • Integrity - Transparent, even when the news isn’t good. Tells it like it is.

All you have to do is interview people and hire the ones that have all three of these traits. Easy right? Actually, it isn’t easy at all. If we drew a quick Ven diagram, it would look something like this

Depressing but accurate in my experience. I sometimes joke that the intersection on the diagram means that about 5% of the world has all three of these attributes and that seems to be about right.