Hiring the right candidate for any role is a difficult task so hiring a technical team as a non-technical founder only makes this more difficult. Hiring the wrong person in the technical or software development team can be quite costly in time, money and the future impact on the product.
So how can you assess the technical abilities of a candidate as a non-technical founder of the business? Well, the simple answer is you can’t, unless you have the technical knowledge it will be difficult or even impossible to assess the technical abilities of the candidates.
I frequently get asked by other founders about how to hire a technical team and I thought of summarising my process as a blog post so that everyone can benefit from it.
The first hire in any department of a business is very important, this person sets the culture of the department and will be key to convert strategies into actionable tactics. In a technical team, it is even important to get the first hire right. As this person will eventually have the role to provide technical leadership for the team along with setting the culture of the team this makes it crucial to hire the person with knowledge and the right attitude.
Ideally, you will be hiring the technical head or the CTO as your first hire, having the technical head from the early stage of the company will build a strong bond with the founder. The result of the first hire can be very exponential for the business, for instance, if you hire a very talented technical lead with the right attitude that person can take the lead on hiring more talented technical team members like him/her. When hired right this will also release the non-technical founder from the daunting task to hiring technical people and leave it to the technical head who might enjoy the process more.
One of the hidden issues in hiring the wrong person is the technical architecture of the products/services company is building. Even though this might not look obvious initially the problems could surface when the company decides to scale. I have experienced this issue many times in various businesses where a poorly architected product by the first developer or the outsourced company limited the ability of the product and what my team could do.
All non-technical founders go through this chicken and egg situation where you need to hire a technical head to hire more technical people, but you need to have the technical knowledge to hire the technical head.
My simple approach to this problem is to ask for help from a technical friend, most of us might know someone technical in one way or another. Find a person who has hired senior technical people like CTOs/Head of Development/Senior Developers and requests that person to sit on the interview with the candidate. They can discuss the technical side of the role and dive deep into the details like code, programming, architecture and so on while you can assess the attitude of the candidate towards solving problems.
Look for problem-solving abilities rather than programming abilities, a person who has the right approach to solving a problem rather than their programming skills in Java or Python.
Please don’t get me wrong you need people with the programming skills as well but with your first hire prioritise the problem-solving ability more. As this person develops toward a more technical leadership position it will be more problem solving and solution finding that will be needed from them more than the programming in a particular language.
Even though I wouldn’t recommend the approach of hiring short-term contractors as your first technical hire but there are some situation where that will be the only choice left. This approach will certainly give the non-technical founder some time with the person to find whether they are the right fit using the real scenarios until fully committing to the person. But I would recommend this approach only in scenarios where the founder cannot get a technical friend to sit in the interview of the first hire and the founder is not entirely confident about the hiring process.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t recommend this as an approach in many cases.
If you cannot get the hiring right, you can end up spending a lot of money and time on the person. Every time you switch a person the technical design and philosophy of the development of the product could change.
Many contractors are contractors for a reason, they either like working on a project in the short term and move on to another interesting project or like the high pay that comes with contracting. When you are starting a business and hiring your first technical team member longevity can be key which might not be the case with contractors.
Once you made your first hire the focus should be to empower this person to perform at their best. Keep this person updated with everything going in the business with a say in the direction of the business and even equity.
One of the main tasks for the non-technical founder must be to make this person integrated into the team so that they can go ahead setting the technical direction of the company along with hiring some exceptional individuals in the team.
As I focused throughout this blog, hiring the first technical lead or CTO is one of the most important steps toward building a technical team. Empower the person your first hire to hire more talented and include them in the strategic decision making of the business. If you are not sure how you could hire your first technical team member ask a friend who is technical or you could even email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.