Developers: Be Passionate About What You Build
Posted by Bob Warfield on December 30, 2008
I’m parsing carefully Seth Godin’s latest post on expertise and passion. He’s asking questions like:
Should the person who runs the customer service operations at a ski school also be required to love skiing?
Can the CFO of a large church be an atheist?
Does the head of marketing at Kodak have to have a passion for chemicals?
He winds up preferring passion for what you do to passion for the product its associated with, although he freely admits he’d like both. Isn’t it ironic he talks about Kodak as involving passion for chemicals rather than photography, BTW?
I’m left a little uncomfortable with the whole post. It seems very un-Godin-like. He’s usually unequivocal in his views, and yet he seems to allow for the possibility of someone who likes being a CFO but could care less about what the organization does.
Where startups are concerned, and especially when it comes to software development, I can’t be so unequivocal. Looking at my own personal experience running development organizations, it would be impossible for me to do that well if I wasn’t passionate about the products we were building. Perhaps you don’t have to love skiing to make sure customer service operations at a ski school are making customers happy. But I don’t see how you can build insanely great software if you have no rapport with the software or its users. Software Engineering is one of those disciplines where it’s all too easy to lose the plot and become infaturated with tools, platforms, languages, patterns, and any other thing that the customers often can’t see at all. It leads to all the wrong things, and ultimately, to poor software.
So when you’re building your development team, when you’re hiring its members, find a way to tell whether they’re passionate about what they’re building and who they’re building it for. It’s important. The oft-repeated mantra to hire people who are “smart and get things done” just isn’t good enough. In fact, I would take “passionate, and gets things done” first if I couldn’t add smart into the bargain. For a startup, you need to insist on all three.