Like I need to tell you who Joel is. Anyway, here’s a snippet from a recent post he made:
“It’s ok! I have great advisors standing on the shore telling me what to do!” they say, and then fall off the board, again and again. The standard cry of the MBA who believes that management is a generic function. Is Ballmer going to be another John Sculley, who nearly drove Apple into extinction because the board of directors thought that selling Pepsi was good preparation for running a computer company? The cult of the MBA likes to believe that you can run organizations that do things that you don’t understand.
People say that Product Management is the breeding ground for CEO’s. Because that’s the place where you get to touch all aspects of the business (for your little product), and that’s the one place that could possibly prepare you for being responsible for every aspect of the business (the CEO role).
I think that while you may happen to find a lot of those folks in Product Management at any given time, if you look back even further, to what they were doing before they were Product Managers (at least in a software company), you’d better find that they were developers – and good ones at that – you know, hot shots.
So many people think that to be a good CEO you need to come from a sales and marketing background. If people are finding their CEO’s among the ranks of Product Managers, don’t overlook the ones that were developers before that (vs. just the ones that were bag carrying sales people). Building a company afterall is: architecting. It’s a system you’re trying to build – something that hotshot developers happen to be better at than anyone else. They understand interfaces, scalability, performance optimization, exception handling and quality assurance. All great stuff to know if you’re trying to build a company. Plus, they know the product – I mean really know the product!
For the longest time, Bill G. was the only “developer turned CEO” that most people could think of. Apparently, Cognos’ Ron Zambonini (ex-CEO) was VP R&D before he got the top job – and you DON’T get to be head of R&D anywhere without deeply understanding the technology – the team would eat you alive.
That’s not to say that the average developer would make a great CEO. But of two great executives that climbed the ranks of their own accord, the one with a deep understanding of technology is going to have a significant advantage over the one that’s never sat down at a keyboard (for a software company).