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How to Lead a Tech Team Without a Formal Tech Degree

Personal Growth

10 May, 2021

Bob Kruger
Bob Kruger

Chief Product Officer at Almaden, Inc.

Bob Kruger, SVP Engineering at SunView Software, shares how he honed complementary skills to propel the business forward.

Problem

I have been a CTO, head of Engineering, and chief product officer at some major companies and startups, yet I do not have a technical degree. I obviously had an affinity for technology and I studied on the side (e.g., logic, various programming languages, systems analysis, etc.), as well as learning on the job, but nothing major in the way of formal tech education.

It can be intimidating to work with developers, but what made the difference for me was that I never held myself back. Instead, I exercised confidence and a self-belief that I could get the job done. Too often I see developers avoid a job posting because they assume they cannot do the job. Frequently, this happens when looking at the number of years desired for a role. It doesn’t mean that a more talented developer is less capable than the more experienced person.

Anyone can walk through the door, and the way they present themselves could, in essence, get them the position if they present themselves well and can prove their skillset, creativity, and passion. The fact is that, whether it is engineering or product management, apart from a very specific skill set, everyone is learning simultaneously. Nobody knows everything or understands how all the pieces fit together; often, things are figured out as a team. In short, there is always something more to do than look at years experience; qualifications like smarts, fundamental job skills, challenges met, passion for the job, and motivation matter a lot.

Actions taken

Keep Learning
I have been in the tech industry for a large chunk of my life, so a set of technical skills sank in overtime. Things change quicker than anyone can imagine, and monitoring the pulse of change requires constant reading and conversation with others to stay current. To know the latest languages and framework, cloud services, etc., just not to sound like a dinosaur, does not need an engineering degree. Your sources could and should be as diverse as possible, and reading digests can give you a quick summary and direction.

Build Up Trust
Engage with other leaders, and if you promise to do something, make it happen. As a manager, I always try to mentor my staff and ask them questions. Over time, I built a kit of questions that help drive such conversations. Also, ask your team members to provide you with feedback. The foundation of being a great engineering manager is by getting to know your team, understanding what drives their satisfaction, and being open to criticism.

Present Ideas. Put Something on the Table
Bring something new to the table. You won’t know everything, but at least make an effort . A great team will always recognize such positive efforts, and in that way, you will better understand what drives them. Your team wants and needs guidance to understand the big picture.

Lessons learned

  • Sometimes you do not have to push yourself forward; you just have to stop holding yourself back.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak out. You may not get all the appreciation that you expected — some people may even criticize you for your opinions — but intelligent people will respect you.
  • If you have a clear understanding, and most importantly, motivation for something, passion will be your driving force. Never underestimate the power that comes from something that excites you.

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