What motivates Technical People?

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Does this sound familiar: You've been looking for a technical person to join your team for a while now, but you simply can't seem to find them! The technical people you talk to tend to get excited about your business, but ultimately are not interested in joining, or the ones that want to join don't seem to be up to the caliber of technical expertise that you want. Simply put, your startup seems to be unable to attract the smart techies.

And yet, you hear about smart technical people all the time, in the news and doing other startups. Where are these techies and why are they hiding from you?

The good news is that they are not really in hiding or in a secret society that you don't have access to. The even better news is that if you spend some time understanding what motivates technical people, you can dramatically improve your chances of building a world class technical team.

1) Technical people need challenges

The best techies are motivated by challenges. They want to solve the hardest problems and build the greatest things. And when you're talking about your startup, you need to frame the problem you are solving in these terms. A common mistake is to talk about the opportunity that is in front of the startup. While the opportunity is a great motivator, unless it is a challenging problem that needs intelligence, creativity and discovery to solve, it won't make as much of an impact.

Technical people want to build great things - They want to build great products that solve seemingly intractable problems. If you are able to provide this constant stream of challenges, you can keep your technical team motivated and happy.

2) Technical people want to work with other technical people

If you look at the best places to work that attract the smartest engineers - Think about Google, Microsoft, Facebook - they all are filled with technical people at the top. Technical people want to work with other technical people, preferably those that are smarter than themselves. Technology is a fast-moving game, and unless they are in the company of really smart people where they can learn and innovate constantly, technical people risk becoming outdated very quickly. Learning new things on the job is probably #1 or #2 in the priority list of smart engineers.

This can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem for startups that want to build out a technical team. Your best bet is to either hire a group of smart people together that like working together, or hire someone really respected in the tech circles, and give them freedom to build out the team.

3) Freedom to experiment

Google's now-famous 20% time is a fantastic recruiting tool. Basically, any engineer at Google is able to spend 1 day a week working on a problem of their choice. What this does is allows smart engineers to explore areas of interest, trying out solutions and testing out hypothesis. This creative freedom is absolutely essential for your engineering team.

Unless they are able to experiment, try out new things and test what works, your technical team is going to get bored very quickly. You cannot have a relationship where you tell them what to do and expect them to do it just so. Instead, try to frame it in terms of what outcomes you are looking for and what problems you want solved, and leave it to the creativity and ingenuity of your technical team to come up with a solution. Since they understand the technology far better than you, they are much more likely to come up with a highly optimized solution that just works.

The bottom line

Mark Zuckerberg believes that great technical teams can produce 100x the output of mediocre ones, and he's right. But building such a highly motivated technical team requires a lot of patience and effort, and you need to understand what motivates them and what hinders them. Spending the time and effort to communicate effectively and learning how to work with your technical team can provide a massive boost to your startup, and that might make all the difference.

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