This is part two of a two-part post on the general categories of
software engineers. To pick things up at the beginning, check out the
Big problems with lots of unknowns. Don’t know where to start. Call in
someone who’s good at dealing with ambiguity and doesn’t have a
blank-sheet problem. You’re in need of a Researcher. They’ll
dig/read/experiment from here to (some sort) of solution, but you’d
better not rely on being able to put their code to use as-is. It will be
the result of a million tweaks, changes, and re-jiggerings that result
in a mess that only its creator can even begin to unravel.
Rare is someone good at solving big abstract problems who can do it
cleanly. Don’t let the researcher title make you think you need a Ph.D.
Many Ph.D’s will have the right sort of mind/skillset for this type of
work, but it’s not exclusively their domain.
The best product managers are engineers who fit, or at least know, your
target audience and care. This person/role runs everything through a
filter. Is this the right thing for the user? Will it make the
experience better, solve the problem more quickly, and/or make an
appreciable difference for the company? They won’t necessarily be the
strongest coder, but they have a vision for where things need to go and
a knack for ignoring/shutting down things that won’t help get there.
Hard to find. Even harder to interview for. Leadership is in the
details. This is not a manager, it’s a technical lead. They get the best
out of a team and grow all of its members. They have to have enough
technical chops to earn their peer’s respect. People will come to with
questions rather than being forced to run things by them (a la code
A great leader can recognize someone’s strengths and weaknesses and help
them to find a path that fits the strengths and shores up the
weaknesses. They recognize roles and know how to best allocate the team
in to them.
The truth is every position involves a bit of each of type and everyone
has a bit of each in them. Neither people nor roles are one-dimensional,
but there are benefits to understanding and being able to identify them.
You’ll have a happier team, less turnover, and more quality/production.
The next post in this series will start to discuss how to find and
interview candidates for specific roles. As always, let me know what you