Product Sessions: Maggie Nelson
My friend Maggie worked with me at Flickr in 2010. As one of the few rockstar woman engineers I know, she has a great perspective on life as a maker of tech things. As one of the few do-it-all engineers I know, regardless of gender, she’s always a source for new ideas for me. My coffee sessions with her helps me to think in lateral ways a lot, to consider a view from a vantage point that I don’t often find myself. And she is hilarious! We always giggle every time we talk.
Everything below is based on my faulty recollection.
What’s the one trait a founder needs?
Ovaries. I mean decisiveness! You have to not be afraid to bust some balls to get things done, to get things moving. You have to know your vision and act on it. The good founders I know — they know how to get what they want, and are great at negotiating to get it. And good negotiators know that they have to not hold their punches sometimes. You have to have the willingness to break things, it’s one way to get the vision across, but it’s very important that you have the wisdom to know when to punch. You have to be surgical with these things. When you meet a person like that, they are quite inspiring!
What about engineers? What kinds of engineers are good for [early] startups?
Flexible ones. Don’t be tied to a specific way of doing things, no matter how long you’ve done it at other places. Different problems require different methods. Like, maybe you shouldn’t use php right now. And I mainly was using php before!
Really? What about the young engineer who may not know much vs an experienced one who may not be as hungry?
Well, ideally, you’d find an experienced engineer who isn’t set in their way. What I mean is, you want someone who knows what they’re doing, but they’ve got to be flexible to different things. Like, you can really be fast at building a prototype but if you’re telling me “Everything is done except for the scaling part”… that’s 90% of the work! So what I would look at is — how many jobs have they had in the past 10 years? One? Did they do different things — learned different skills while they’re there? Did they have 6 or 7 different jobs in ten years? Neither is necessarily bad, but it’s worth to check out out the reasons why that is so. If you’re trying to look for someone who’s flexible, if they’ve been in a job for 10 years, what kept them there?
You have to learn how to let go. You can’t be too precious about your code, either.
What about you? What are you interested in now?
Well, you know — how do you learn how to do stuff?
… well, you do it. Trial and error? Stack Overflow, gitHub?
Yes.. but that’s all for known problems. If you’re interested in something, you go look it up, yes? You buy a book and read up on how to code, you ask questions, you try different things.
That sounds right.
Since I’ve started here, I’ve been working a lot more with open source search stuff, such as Solr and ElasticSearch. It’s an area that interests me a lot. I’ve always tended to skew toward the data portion of apps, and this is a great way to explore what it would potentially be like to be a data scientist some day! For anyone you’re hiring, you have to likewise look at what their interests are. What are they into outside of work? What code do they write when not in the office? What do they do?