Working with a non-technical CEO
Succeeding as a senior engineering leader when your CEO “doesn’t get it.”
Q: “I joined as a VP of Engineering at a scaleup with aggressive growth plans. My CEO is not technical. How can I set myself up for success?”
Working with a non-technical CEO is a common challenge at scaleups and startups. I’ve heard this question asked by Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Vice Presidents of Engineering (VPE) joining seed-stage, Series A, Series B and later stage companies.
To answer this question I pulled in my friend Paulo André. Paulo is a former VP of Engineering who now coaches engineering leaders, full-time. He is high on the list of coaches for senior engineering managers and engineering leaders whom I recommend. He also writes a weekly newsletter for technical leaders – sign up for it here.
So, as a new VP of Engineering, how can you set yourself up for success with a non-technical CEO? Over to Paulo:
Buckle up because it's going to be bumpy, painful, often frustrating, and potentially wonderful. At this point, you are no longer “just” building a product. Now, you’re building a company, too. The choices you make at this particular stage will have an outsized impact upon the future of the business. No pressure, right?
Through the lens of my own experience as a VP of Engineering (both as an operator and now coaching many who are knee-deep in it), I will attempt to boil down this key role to its essence. When things get crazy – and they will get crazy – this will help keep you grounded, principled in the decisions you make, and confident in the actions you take. It won’t tell you what to think, but it will help you in how to think.
We will cover:
Start with the end in mind. The importance of this approach.
Your role as a leader. What is it, really?
The mindset of an effective VP of Engineering. Approaches to have more good days than bad.
Learn, adapt and improve. And how to do this all the time.