“Our engineers are all weirdos.”
If all companies end up becoming technology companies then the technology people end up having power. And power corrupts. We have all heard of stories where everyone has a dress code apart from the product development team who all ride scooters around and shoot nerf darts at the sales team as they try to give tours to prospective clients.
And we have also heard stories of very talented engineers who’s skills are not appreciated because of their demeanor (um, smell) or awkward social habits. Even something pretty harmless like their 365 piece set of Pokemon stuffed animals that are rotated each day can make managers feel like they aren’t “leadership material”. (Well who the hell do you think is leading all those Pokemons?!)
These are separate problems but all lead to a “ceiling” existing for advancement for people who act in these ways and lead to a technical team that doesn’t scale.
Minimum Viable Personality
When I hire I always try to imagine if this person has the Minimum Viable Personality to survive talking to someone two or three levels above them in the organizational chart. Can they whiteboard out the solution and discuss its pros and cons without coming off as arrogant and not open to criticism? Can they shift gears when business priorities change even though the component they are working on is the damn prettiest thing they ever saw? Can they have small talk with the CEO in the elevator with bringing shame to the technical team and their families?
And in an interview – a short slice of time – I look for any signs of arrogance. Confidence is one thing, but if you are a jerk even a little bit to an interviewer it is a safe assumption that there will be a multiplier on this behavior and as you gain stability in a job you will be harder and harder to handle. An interview is a very odd situation: you are given a good deal of attention and if it goes well some praise. Humble people will respond differently in an interview than arrogant people. They both will talk about their accomplishments but the color of their language will differ. “We” is a word that I hear less with those that end up being bad hires. “Well I built the system from scratch” vs. “my team built the system from scratch and I was the tech lead”.
If they have the minimum viable personality to survive they will grow and learn more quickly, and if they aren’t arrogant then the power they attain will not lead to bad behavior that undermines your goals.