December 06, 2000, 11:02 AM —
Like most leadership issues, effective techniques for hiring and team-building are
highly idiosyncratic: They must be matched to the personality of the CTO employing
them. My personal playbook is based on finding creative people and empowering them to
take the ball and run with it.
Here's how I go about evaluating the people I meet through headhunters, referrals,
and by just hanging around:
When interviewing a candidate, I try to get a sense of the person along four
dimensions: personal security (or self-assurance), intelligence, an understanding of
the role technology plays in business, and domain knowledge. If I can find someone who
has high marks in all of these areas, I probably have a star on my hands.
I believe personal security is the foundation of a team player. This characteristic
is found in people who are sure of their value and intellect and are not constantly
seeking reinforcement by comparing themselves to others. They are not bullies. They are
Frequently, the most secure people are the most humble. They will mumble that they
really don't know much about Linux and then explain how they just fixed a major bug in
the kernel and got a thank-you note from Linus. These people listen and evaluate before
forming an opinion and try hard to see things from every point of view before making a
Experience matters to people who are secure. They will readily change their mind in
the face of evidence contrary to their opinion. Self-confident people see the bigger
picture and their role in it -- and they are willing to do what's necessary to make the
Understanding the role of technology in a business is the next most important
characteristic of a great hire. What I look for in a candidate is the understanding
that technology is a tool to make a business successful. It doesn't matter if you are
in a technology company or an IT shop of a large corporation. If you start thinking
that the technology somehow has value outside of the context of an organization's
goals, you are part of the problem. I love technology and will only hire people who are
also passionate about it. But their passion must be focused on winning the battle at
hand -- not on using the latest cool stuff.
Intelligence is an important attribute required for members of my teams -- but not
at the expense of the first two qualities. Hiring someone who is smart but not secure
or mature about the role of technology is inviting a corrosive force into your
organization. Don't do it -- no matter how dazzling that person's intellect is.