Great tech talent is more than just a well-performing employee. There is a minor, but important, difference between employees who are high performers and those who are tech champions. It’s not a fancy degree or the ability to execute, but instead passion and aptitude to learn. In my experience, a great developer will work harder and stay longer if you take the time to develop them. When hiring for a new position on my team, I look for the Freddie Mercurys in a crowd of great performers.
More often than not, everyone is striving to be a top performer. They execute tasks well and on time, and make more money to boot. Sounds great, right? It can be, but anyone can be told what to do and be managed until they perform to a standard. But it’s the self-sufficient Freddie Mercurys of the tech world who are the true ‘Queens.’ They are eager to learn, willing to fail, can see the bigger picture, and know how to evolve as technology progresses.
Freddie Mercury was trained in piano, but taught himself how to play a six string. He was able to write and compose music that crossed genre lines. He was multifaceted, continually developed his craft, and pushed boundaries in music. Great developers hold many of these same traits. They want to do it all and are eager to learn and try new things. Much like Freddie Mercury, a great tech person should be able to write, produce, work outside the box, anticipate future trends, and hold themselves accountable for their contributions.
Know Your Team’s Passions
Many of these potential tech legends are hiding in plain sight. You could miss them if you don’t look or listen hard enough.
Ask yourself: Do you know what your employees are passionate about? What do they like to do in their free time? The answers to these questions could surprise you as they’ve surprised me.
I recently found out that a long-time employee was teaching himself how to build PCs and code in his spare time. Not only did he have the passion to become a developer, he also had the aptitude. But while this was great to uncover, he also had a few barriers — for instance, an evening job — preventing him from exploring this further. Time, money and training are all common barriers that plague potentially great developers.
As a manager, I try to alleviate as many barriers as possible when investing in my team. After all, providing your team with training opportunities and granting time off for boot camps, seminars and hack days is only going to benefit your company in the end. In my employee’s case, I asked him to quit his night job and take three months off to attend a full-time boot camp. As a manager, compensating Dave before he started this journey helped me eliminate his barriers and let him focus. At the end of these three months, I’ll have a great developer waiting for me.
Be Aware Of The Red Flags
Although Freddie Mercury took a spin at a solo career, he never attributed Queen’s success to himself. A common red flag when building a great tech team is how often your developers use the word “I” when referring to things the team has done. Employees who take credit for a team effort are self-focused and can ultimately destroy the team’s culture.
Shireen, a leader who I have worked with over the years, is a perfect example of this. She has lead many diverse teams: development teams, process teams, data center teams and infrastructure teams. Although she has been highly successful in both individual contributor roles and leadership roles, you never hear her use the word ‘I.’ It’s always about the team, whether direct or indirect.
Look Beyond Simple Execution
Developing your employees doesn’t mean you’ll have a champion right out of the gates, but the potential of gaining an indispensable technical developer is much higher. The continual investment in employees who show passion and aptitude ensures growth and knowledge within the company. Freddie Mercury didn’t become the front man for Queen overnight. He was Frederick Bulsara the graphic designer first, but his never-ending artistic prowess and love for music led him to be the legend he’s known as today.
Great developers are never complacent and forever butting up to the bleeding edge, while performers are often satisfied with consistency and routine. So try to look beyond hiring talent that just executes specific tasks. You can train anyone to perform, but you can’t teach passion. You can use extrinsic motivators to achieve performance, but true passion demands intrinsic motivation.
Choose passion over performance and find your Freddie Mercury.