Monday, March 03, 2008

Get your hands dirty

One of the common Bschool misconceptions is that we will (after we graduate) spend all our time sitting behind fancy oak desks, and making strategic decisions. That our life would be like the typical Hollywood depiction of an executive. Fancy suits, ties, shiny shoes, board meetings etc etc. Some of that actually does happen, but what we miss is the grind behind all of that.

I have noticed a strange reticence to step in and actually do some of the grunge work, be it coding if this is a technology company, or operations, or something else. The common thought is, "Hey, I went to Bschool to escape all this! Why would I do this again?". However, the truth is that it is practically impossible to make the right decisions for your team/startup/product/company unless you took atleast some time out to get down and get under that hood. This tenet probably applies to those with operating roles more than the others. Services can be a different story. The only exception might be folks in Venture Capital who tend to be better if they have seen some of the mess that they invest in firsthand .

The more you come up through the grind, the more respect you have for the folks sitting across you, the more credibility you have when you are trying to influence others into buying into your vision, and finally, you are more insightful when you have to make those great strategic decisions from behind those lovely oak desks.

I spent some time last week at an operating site. For that week, I was an understudy to a great engineer who taught me the details of the product that I was supposed to be building. I worked with ground floor technicians who explained to me the intricacies of the hardware we used and the deficiencies of the software we build. Now, I am back home and have a 10x better understanding of my team, our product, and know how to optimize things much better than I could earlier.

So my learning from all this? Don't be afraid to muck around the code, get under those machines, work as a underpaid technician for day, learn the details of your business bottom up and then make decisions from the top.
"Get your hands dirty!"


aneesh said...

I wholeheartedly agree. As a developer, it is so much nicer when the PM-type person on the team is highly technical, and has gotten their hands dirty in code.

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Whether they are highly technical or not, they should have a willingness to learn and understand the issues that developers face. And what better way to do it than to sit down and poke under the hood.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I feel relieved that all the all the hard work I have put in getting under those machines to write code will finally be valuable one day when I can make better decisions and command more respect from others in the organisation!

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Yes you will. You should fill out your experience with some business expertise (either through a formal MBA program or real-life business experience if you can get the opportunity), and then you will be good to go :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Punit,

There's been a lot of bad press regarding Google and their hiring practices lately. I don't think it could be as bad as they are making it out to be.

"Googler's complaint: Recruiters should lie more artfully"

"The policy of hiring MBA graduates and fast-track promoting them is guaranteed to incubate middle management mentality. "


Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Take it with a pinch of salt. If you are good, then you are usually treated well. If you are not good...well, things will not work out well for you, and then you may have grudges.
In my experience, this company has treated its employees like no one I have seen in my career.

Ramesh said...

I am a management consultant and (beleive it or not), face similar issues all the time. I am not talking about (god forbid) coding but about the level of details you need to dig into to get "things done". As a management consultant with an MBA, (as you so aptly said) it is not about hey i have an MBA and I dont want to be bothered with low-level details but if you need things to work right, you just need to get your hands dirty, no matter where you are coming from ...

Good post touching on practical aspects of everyone's job.

On another note, I used to be at Cadence until 06 (worked there for 8+ yrs). Maybe we should catch-up and chat on our Cadence days :)

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

good hearing from you...ramesh. Ping me directly through my email link, and I would love to connect.