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Career Spotlight: Product & Engineering Leader

"Why do you do what you do?" is a question I have often asked over my recruiting and coaching career, to allow me to better understand the person more from a big picture perspective. One can never assume why someone likes it or how they got to that point in their career, and because of that, I love sharing stories of people in my network that inspire and show folks that there are many ways to reach the same goal - not all of them how you might assume! For my blog in 2021, I'm focusing on highlighting a variety of professions to share with folks out there who are either still figuring out their next step, or know what they're interested in, but could use a little external motivation!

My next spotlight interview is with Wade Minter, who I met eons ago when he was a candidate for one of my tech startup clients and we've kept in touch over the years. Wade's a great example of how multifaceted one can be in their career, from the variety of work he's tackled and products he's worked on, to the moonlighting he does in areas seemingly far, far away from the tech world.

I'm stoked that he's agreed to share with us not only what his work as an Product & Engineering Leader encompasses, but also how he got there, the fun stuff he does on the side, and really strong advice for job seekers both in tech AND in leadership as a whole...

Describe what you do for a living!

If you asked my mom, she’d say “He does something with computers.” And, you know, she’s right. I’ve done quite a bit of different stuff in my 20+years in technology: system administration, Ruby development, architecture, product management, and organizational leadership (VP Engineering, CTO, etc). I’m at Dualboot Partners, who provides software development services. I help clients take ideas from a concept to working products, or to take old, unmaintainable software and rebuild it to last another decade. While my title is Product Principal, my job is half-CTO, half-architect, half-product manager, half-project manager, and half-goat. I’m on point for a number of different development teams and clients, and wear a lot of hats to ensure both sides work well together.

Outside of my day job, I'm also the arena PA announcer for the Carolina Hurricanes and North Carolina State Icepack hockey teams, the ring announcer for GOUGE Professional Wrestling, a 22-year veteran of the ComedyWorx improv group (check out our weekly online improv show that I created during COVID lockdown), and an adult-league ice hockey defenseman and goalie. Yeah, I stay busy.

What do you enjoy most about this kind of work?

I love solving problems with technology. Seeing something that could be possible with technology, and then watching it come to life, is one of the most rewarding parts about working in this field. Even on my side projects, I like doing silly things like writing an application to watch the NHL API and start my car when a game is over, or to build a registration system for improv festivals.

Describe your career path to get here - is this something you always wanted to do, or...?

I grew up in a rural area of southern Virginia in the 90s, so I had computers fairly early on, primarily used for gaming. I thought I'd be a journalist, but after taking a couple of Computer Science classes, it turned out I had an aptitude for it, so I got my BS in Computer Science (CS).

Initially I started in the systems/infrastructure field, then moved into software development. I’ve still gotten a lot of advantage in my career by being “the computer person who can write”, so I do encourage folks in the field to work on their writing.

My first foray into management was when I joined a startup. I’d already been doing infrastructure and development for them, and as we grew, someone needed to recruit and organize the department. I stepped up and did the job, and found I had both an interest and talent for the role. Growing that organization set me up for doing similar work in future companies. A combination of right-place/right-time and a willingness to try something new were key factors.

How did you gain the skills to do the work? What (or who) helped you advance?

My CS curriculum was interesting for understanding how software works at a low level, but I use very little of it in my day to day job. Technology is not the end, but merely the means.

The problems that you’re solving with technology are what you should care about. You solve problems by understanding what your users need, and thinking of ways to make what they want even better. Collaborating with fellow developers, customer support, marketing, sales, product folks, and more, who are just as responsible for the success of your product as software development. You solve problems by making sure the people building your product look as much like the people who will be using your product as possible. That means a team that has diversity of race, gender, sexuality, age, socioeconomic status, language - the broader the perspective of your dev team, the better chance that you’ll build something great.

I credit a lot of my growth to my side hobby in improv. Understanding how to accept failure, how to build collaboratively, how to make the people around you better - all of those skills translate very directly into being a part of a successful engineering team.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to get into this line of work?

The technology industry simultaneously needs new people to join its ranks, while at the same time is known for being unnecessarily hostile. That’s an industry problem, not a you problem, but you need to be aware of it. If you’re coming from a non-CS background, emphasize how your previous life outside of software can help a company build better products. Demonstrate that you know how to work in other people’s code, with collaborators you don’t know, making some contributions to your favorite open source projects. And, if you’re looking to catch on with a company whose product has an API, come into the interview with a small, clever API integration - that will show that you understand their product and have a point of view on how to make it better.

When managing teams, your goal should be that your organization is known as a net exporter of talent. It seems somewhat paradoxical to actively want your people to leave, but consider this: If you are able to support and grow talent to the point where your people are so good you can’t challenge them anymore, and they need to go elsewhere to continue to make use of their talents, you have not only made them and the industry better, your job of recruiting new people to work with you has become exponentially easier. As a manager, your job is to help your people be the best versions of themselves, not to show them how smart or powerful you are.

Come join us. We need you - there is plenty of work to be done!

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