Why engineers make great IT leaders

If you're looking to cultivate new IT leadership, consider promoting from the ranks of your engineers and developers.

engineers make great IT leaders
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Finding good IT talent is tough -- keeping it is even tougher. If you already have a stable of skilled, engaged IT workers, consider promoting from their ranks to foster trust, engagement and a competitive advantage.

"Your IT talent, especially the software developers and the engineers, have a lot of special traits that will make them great leaders, and that can translate into a competitive advantage. They already know your business and your products. They're already on teams with people they trust and who trust them. And they're driven by making great technology," says Larry Gadea, CEO of visitor registration and sign-in software company Envoy.

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Future-proof

In today's fast-moving, ever-changing digital era, businesses need technology leaders that can keep up, and engineers and developers are constantly thinking about the future and how technology can drive better business decisions, Gadea says.

"They're going to be forward-thinking; always looking at the next big thing in technology, and figuring out how to apply that in their day-to-day work. That's going to show up in the solutions they build. Will the code be 'future-proof'? Will it be resilient? How does it grow and scale? How will it integrate with legacy systems? These are great skills to have whether you're a legacy firm or a start-up," Gadea says.

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Hiring acumen

A stellar engineer or developer is also going to know how to attract and hire other elite talent, because they know from personal experience what to look for and what skills and knowledge are needed to succeed in an available role, Gadea says. IT leaders with an engineering and development background know, too, how to motivate other engineers.

"They know how to screen for rockstar talent. They will look at GitHub repositories, or code samples or programming tests and understand, OK, here's where this person was sloppy or introduced bugs. Here's an area where they took lazy shortcuts instead of putting in the required effort -- or, here's where they used a really effective, time-saving shortcut that was a great choice," he says.

And they know the nuances of the craft; like the 'headphones rule,' Gadea says. In most engineering and development teams, a software developer with his headphones on signals 'I'm working. I'm writing code, and I'm on a roll. Do not disturb under any circumstances.' Or, Gadea adds, if a developer strolls into the office late, it's not necessarily that they're lazy or checked-out - they probably stayed up until 3 in the morning working out a particularly tough problem with the code.

"It's these little conventions and quirks within the engineering and development world that make a difference to other engineers. We all want to be understood and accepted for who we are and how we work, and working with and for other engineers who just 'get it' is something that's really appealing," Gadea says.

Recruiting tools

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Having an engineer or developer in a leadership role can also help attract talent to your organization, says Kathy Harris, managing director of technology executive recruiting firm Harris Allied. If rockstar talent sees that your business values their unique talents and skillsets and actively promotes those team members, it's a great sign that they'd thrive in that environment, she says.

By identifying and highlighting what your software development and engineering teams are doing that's unique and different, you can draw great engineering and developer talent to your business, Harris says. Are you using cutting-edge technology? Are you following a methodology or a process that's different or exciting? Whatever it is that makes your talent love to work there becomes your internal brand, she says.

"Top people want to work with other top people. They know instinctively that they're going to be challenged, that they can learn and grow on those teams. So, if you have star talent, especially in a leadership role, use that as a recruiting hook," Harris says.

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This story, "Why engineers make great IT leaders" was originally published by CIO.

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