Today I’m gonna talk to a developer

Recently, we got some new office space for our Podio HQ. We were already almost sitting on each others’ laps (don’t think of Jimmy Saville now), so it was about time. One of the things that I don’t like about it, though, is that the product team (developers and designers) and the business team (user engagement, communications, and marketing) are now separated on two floors. So I remembered how it was in the beginning when I tried to make the first contact.

Business studies fail at many things but one of the most fundamental flaws is that most of them do not bring business and tech people together.

So if you come out of one of those business studies, didn’t participate in a STARTupLive or startupweekend, and also don’t count any developers amongst your friends, you’ll have no clue.

And if you think you don’t have to work together much with developers in a startup when you join as a marketer or on the sales side, you have a huge problem. The developer ninjas are where the shit happens. They do seriously impressive stuff. Even if it’s just an ecommerce startup, you better spend some time with the devs.

How I approached developers

This is probably not the best way but that’s how I did it in the beginning

– I ping them on skype whether they got a minute. The answer is yes? Run over to their desk – now or never!

– Sometimes I forget to ping them and just walk over. If I see either a black or white screen with lots of stuff I don’t understand I keep on walking, passing their desk and pretending I was just on my way to the kitchen for a coffee. You don’t want to interrupt their flow. If their screens don’t look like code war I just start talking.

– if they seem busy but I’m sort of eager to talk to them I just stand behind them until they acknowledge my presence…chrm…chrm

– you might feel engineers are by default grumpy, which really is not true, but they might not be in the best mood during bug fixing times. This post explains why and gives some more great insights. So unless you got the latest tech gadget as a present for your developer or your question is about life or death, consider asking it later

Ok so now you are at the point where you ask your question but here comes the next hurdle:

Communicating to a developer

This is where I learned a lot. Sometimes the hard way. And I’m still learning:

– how I can be precise
– how to communicate the bigger picture, reasons, and goals for a required action in a simple and short way
– how I can involve the developer early-on in the creative and decision process and not just push an isolated task in the end of that process
– to know what I want – or make clear I need their input first
– to make sure we both have the same understanding of what we just agreed on
– to include all information in a structured way

Oh and don’t give up only because you get a “no that’s not possible” at first – that goes for many things of course.

Go back to your desk with a big smile and pat yourself on the shoulder – you’ve just successfully established contact with a developer! Carry on, you’ll find out how amazingly nice all of them are.

Generally, don’t assume they don’t want to talk if they don’t initiate the conversation. Don’t assume they only want to talk tech stuff, or are not interested in what you’re doing. Some might really only live in their code but most of them are just people like you and me, just a little different, and that’s good:)

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What’s your fancy job title?

After the acquisition, I was sitting in a meeting with HR who gave me the run-down of my new contract, policies, the new benefits – and my new title. I got the longest title in the entire team. Here it is:

Associate CRM Marketing Programs Manager

Wonder what that means? I’ll tell you: nothing.

There is probably nothing less important in a startup then titles. In fact, I’d argue that titles contribute to a lot of the bad in large corporations.

Relatively in the beginning of my journey at Podio, there was this big tech conference in Germany called Cebit. Podio was invited to a panel but neither our co-founders nor CEO could go. So they asked me whether I wanted to go. I’d sit on a panel with the general manager EMEA of Yammer, some VP at Moxie Software, and some other important people judging from their titles. I was doing business development back then. Comment from my CEO was simply:

‘At Podio you don’t need a big title to do big things’

This definitely stuck with me and I recently remembered it again when I felt weird to put a title onto my linkedin profile.

Here’s why I think titles specifically in startups are bad:
– they can limit you
– they become a false goal and means of motivation
– they create hierarchies
– they might cause jealousy
– they erect and keep separations existent
– they can give wrong impressions
– they can be an excuse to not make important decisions

It can of course be argued that titles serve a number of important functions in big companies for orientation, hierarchy, coordination, and power distribution.

However, they can lead people to establish a wrong value set. What’s the meaning of a promotion to a manager title when you are neither managing anyone nor having more responsibility? Instead at looking at what people contribute and the value they create, the focus is shifted to the title. Titles for the sake of titles. Promotions for the sake of promotions is probably a closely related topic.

So, the next time you look for acknowledgement of your work – instead of more money and a higher title, what would really make you happy?

Btw: The only title that matters and that no one can ever take away is no real title: (co)founder

The shortest hiring tip

Look at the candidate’s shoes.

Ain’t they shiny.


And no, I don’t mean that they should be clean. Neither do I think they should look like that, at all. In fact, the guy wearing these kind of shoes turned out to be the biggest mishire, ever. So look at the shoes but more importantly: listen and trust your gut feeling.

If you’re one of those who live for joining startups and love wearing patent blacks – don’t forget it’s illegal to wear them in Cleveland, Ohio. Then again, that might have been the reason you started wearing them?