Convergence KE: Building World-class Technology Teams

What’s the difference between a good engineer and a great engineer? Is there such a thing as a world-class engineer? If so, what cuts you out of the crowd to get the much-acclaimed status of a world-class engineer? As an engineering lead (director, chief architect, technical team lead, et al), what qualities do you look for when building an elite engineering team? How do you ensure diversity in skill, gender, and expertise when assembling such a team?These and many more questions inspired the very 1st Convergence KE event by Andela; a tech ecosystem meetup for technologists and leaders in the tech community who come together to share their experience mix of successes, failures, wins, and lessons learned as they walked that journey.Over 100 attendees, mostly mid-level to senior technologists (engineers, designers, product leads) joined us at the iHUB (one of the leading Innovation Hubs and hackerspace for the technology community in the region) to listen in, share, and learn from a richly diverse panel made up of; Wambui Kinya - VP, Partner Engineering, Andela (moderator), Diana Wanjuhi - Lead Product Engineer, Africa’s Talking, Edwin Kaduki - Software Engineering Director, Mastercard Labs and Alexandre Augusto da Rocha - Co-founder & Chief Architect, CloudBolt.I led a small team of brilliant minds at Andela to bring The Convergence KE to life, and below, I’d like to share some powerful soundbites by tech leaders who joined us on the panel. Let’s dive right in!

andela engineers

On good vs great engineers;

All panelists agreed that a great engineer often goes the extra mile; whether that extra mile means continuous learning, a keen attention to detail, being relentless, focusing on great solutions rather than job titles or ranks, and ultimately, the famous “what drives you”, or, if you like, what you want to achieve (fame or impact).

On the wildly “world-class engineer” phrase;

This evoked mixed reactions amongst the panelists, with some agreeing that a world-class engineer is more lucrative as s/he can cut across geographical, cultural, demand boundaries to work on building solutions for problems across the different sectors. Some, however, were contrary to the idea of labeling engineers as being world-class because technology is on an endless changing cycle, with new versions, new platforms, new technologies being released every waking day, hence trickling down to the fact that engineers never reach “an ultimate” in the sense of amassing knowledge and experience in tech; there will always be a new challenge, a new platform to explore and learn.What are your thoughts on that?

On qualities that tech team leads look for when hiring engineers;

There’s definitely a keen focus on your technical capability; past projects worked on, proficiency in a language or stack or platform, etc.However, a lot of the qualities highlighted and underscored by the panelists stretched across a good number of soft skills; being able to communicate (across distributed teams, and different time zones, in good time, clearly and precisely to be understood), handling failure and bouncing back from it, active listening (within your team and customers/clients alike), being self-reliant (being able to pick up when the team is not readily available to step in).This is one of the key reasons why our values, at Andela, are all anchored on 4 soft-skills that need to be consistently upheld by all Andelans; Excellence, Passion, Integrity, and Collaboration, if you like EPIC values.Does this come as a surprise to you?

On Remote and Distributed Teams;

The panelists all echoed the fact that this is where the world is headed (especially with the current software engineering talent shortage in the world.) At Andela, we believe that brilliance is evenly distributed but opportunity is not; a mantra that strongly shows why we are a remote-first company, with most of our engineering teams being made up of engineers spread across Africa and across the globe where our partner companies are located.It was also emphasized that a diverse mix of skill and experience is a key factor in the success of remote/distributed teams.Finally, this fired up panel shared a few pieces of advice to mid-level engineers, which I will wind up with:1. Do not let titles or ranks be your only key driver, work towards being a GREAT engineer (whether you are a junior engineer or a senior engineer) and the rest will follow.2. No failure, no learning. Simple. And this is because some of the toughest, yet pivotal failures are what have taught the best lessons, not just in life generally but also in this tech industry.3. With the ever-increasing growth of tech-enabled businesses, one should mainly focus on their skills (both soft and technical), and the market will come looking for you.4. Previously, experience was garnered through the industry but now, the main channel is through education (read: online resources) and mentorship programs, so strive to also be a part of these.5. You have to see the bigger picture; you are not simply taking a feature into production, or simply working on documentation for a given platform, but rather, adding a functional piece to a bigger plan, which you need to identify with from the onset. This is also great advice to keep you going when things get tough!Interestingly, the panelists had had other careers in mind when growing up, but even more encouraging was that none of them regrets pursuing a career in technology because not only is it challenging and exciting for them every day, it also gives them a bigger platform to shape the lives of millions out there who are using solutions they have worked on and/or contributed to.An epic discussion no less!--------------------------------------------A huge thanks to the Nairobi tech community for showing up and being a great interactive audience, and to all the Andelans who worked tirelessly to bring the event to life!Let’s meet at the next Convergence edition!

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