Throughout my career as an engineer, I’ve worked with and managed all types of people. Each personality provides different perspectives, qualities, and contributions to a diverse team to help it succeed.
To this day, one of the most valuable attributes an engineer can have is the ability to be business-minded. Why? Engineers who are business-minded, or entrepreneurial, are individuals who understand the complexities of business problems and customer needs and build solutions to fix those problems. These are engineers who can see the bigger picture and long-term vision for a company, and who often go off to start their own businesses. Take Larry Page, Sergey Brin, or Bill Gates, for example — all successful entrepreneurs who got their start as engineers.
And when I joined Opendoor last year, I quickly realized I was surrounded by a team of entrepreneurial thinkers. Our engineers focus on taking complex problems and simplifying them into innovative products. We intentionally structure our teams to operate like startups, running as independently as possible toward defined business metrics, and everyone is responsible for making business-critical decisions.
Whether you’re part of a high-growth startup or a publicly traded company, it’s important to strive to be entrepreneurial in your everyday work. When you understand the bigger picture and couple that with the customer's needs, everyone wins.
Here are four ways you can start performing as an entrepreneurial engineer.
4 Ways to Start Performing as an Entrepreneurial Engineer
- Be an out-of-the-box problem solver.
- Be a team player and excellent collaborator.
- Be flexible.
- Be resilient.
Be an Out-of-the-Box Problem Solver
Entrepreneurial engineers are creative, out-of-the-box problem solvers. And part of being an out-of-the-box problem solver is being a deep thinker — understanding the problem in depth, dedicating time with your team to brainstorm solutions, and thinking creatively about long-term optionality. Often it means reimagining the traditional way of doing something and creating a brand new path.
A good problem solver also understands the priorities of the business and is laser-focused on them. Being in tune with business priorities makes you in tune with the overall company vision and enables you to see the bigger picture, not just the tactical work before you.
Be a Team Player and Excellent Collaborator
While entrepreneurial engineers are self-starters by nature and can work independently, that does not mean that they always work by themselves. It takes a true team player and collaborator to solve the challenging business problems before them.
An entrepreneurial engineer can effectively work across teams and disciplines, from product and design teams to operations and executive teams. They know how and when to tap into other teams, collaborate, and most importantly, get on the same page about the problems that need to be solved and the process of addressing them.
An entrepreneurial engineer is also a flexible engineer. They wear different hats and can jump in almost anywhere — they are chameleons. This is an incredibly important skill to hone, especially while at a high-growth startup because more often than not, there is minimal structure and limited headcount.
Entrepreneurial engineers are ready to take on anything but can also help teams prioritize where they should be spending their time. At Opendoor, for instance, our engineers spend their time on three things: quick and smart wins, big bets, and tech excellence. Quality is of the utmost importance to entrepreneurial engineers, and they strive to produce and ship extraordinary code.
These engineers also thrive in environments where they can learn from and share their learnings with their teams or the engineering community around them. They pass on valuable information and are energized by learning something new.
Lastly, entrepreneurial engineers are resilient. It’s hard to find a successful entrepreneur who hasn’t failed once or twice. Most are successful because they’ve failed, learned, and got it right the next time. Entrepreneurial engineers are the same way. At some point, things will go wrong; bad code will be deployed; systems will break. But entrepreneurial engineers learn from their mistakes through a blameless postmortem and use it to propel themselves forward to find alternative paths to solutions.
While all these skills develop over time, there’s no time like the present to foster a business-minded approach to your work. Take on new challenges, learn from your mistakes, and ask for and incorporate feedback from others.