So what do Engineers actually want (in a startup they might join)?

This is sort of a followup on a previous question I wrote (link below). You don't have to read it, but it can provide some context. Otherwise jump to "The Q" below.

The Q: 
OK, so lets say you are an Engineer working on your own ideas r/n (or are fully employed). You might consider a startup to join if it had the right ingredients. So lets say that startup does show up? 

What does it look like? Any of these? All?

1. Money - eg: 2x what you are making now. FAANG level.
2. Team - eg: these are awesome humans
3. An iconic leader - eg: [insert name here]
4. Location - Bali? London? Paris? SF? Dubai? 
5. Product - eg: AI being built by Nvidia
6. Industry - you know this industry well
7. Purpose - this makes my soul dance
8. Contribution - their customers need me
9. Stability - eg: 20 year gov contract for rockets 
10. VC funded - if money will take risk, so will I 
11. Position/Title - I get the title that matches my skill level
12. Sprint Mechanics - THIS is how Engineering should be done
13. NO BS - startup doesn't have PMs telling everyone what to do
14. NO Politics - eg: literally its 6 Engineers + Designer
15. Engineering Led - CEO/Founder is a Dev like me

Thanks to commentors for these:

16. Learning - Will I learn from other leaders?
17. Traction - has customers, is taking flight, etc
18. Respects Engineering - gives autonomy, space, time, etc
19. Correct Equity - offers equity commensurate with role/XP
20. Right org type - Product, Tech, Non-Tech, NGO, Gov, etc
21. Remote/On-site - the right mix for me

(Why I'm curious: I figure it's all of the above, but if one or two stand out, its something I might address in future should I ever try to build a funded startup again)

If I were to join a startup as an engineer, these would be my top priorities:

  1. The Team: Are they inspiring? Would I learn anything from them? Do they have what it takes? Are they motivated and full of energy? And ofc - do I like their personalities.

  2. The product: Does it seem to have traction? Do investors believe in it? I wouldn't necessary have to believe fully in the idea myself, unless I have a deep knowledge within the industry. As an outsider, it's difficult to fully understand the demands in the given market.

  3. Title/equity/salary: Show respect and show much you value their skills. This has to be reflected in the salary, equity and/or title. Idk if this is just my perception, but I sense that there's nothing engineers hate more than a bossy business guy that doesn't fully appreciate and understand the work of the engineer. Several times, I've been asked by some MBA guys to take on a CTO role and join as the 2nd/3rd co-founder, but would only offer a relatively small equity share (most recently 16% max in a tech startup before investments). This is a sure turnoff as I don't feel like they value engineering skills enough

Sorry, I might have missed the question if you wanted a "config file"

Oh, no you are good. I was just being silly with the config file thing. Updated the post.

Thanks! This was really insightful. This seems to happen a lot in tech - biz guy hires Engineers but doesn't respect them.

A few things I didn't consider:

  1. Learning - Will I learn from other leaders?
  2. Traction - has customers, is taking flight, etc
  3. Respects Engineering - gives autonomy, space, time, etc
  4. Mis-aligned Equity - offers equity not commensurate with role

Earn enough to pay my bills, don't take up too much of my time and energy (so I can spend it on my own life and projects). Remote only, async bonus - few meetings as possible. Doesn't need to be an engineering-led company, but also don't interfere with them.

For me, purpose, passion, etc come from working with a good team to build the best thing we can. Industry is a bit less relevant, unless it's really low brow stuff.

Sprints, agile, whatever don't matter to me, if it doesn't turn into a grind of the same dumb meeting every day/week where nothing of value is answered.

Product companies over agencies and non-tech companies - with agencies you have to justify your existence constantly (and you're a line item), and non-tech companies just don't understand the work and will undermine you. Product companies are where ideally peace can be found and there's enough stability to grow your career.

Really interesting insights Nik. Especially about agency vs non-tech vs product companies. Never heard that before. Thanks!

Two items I will add to my list:

  1. Remote/On-Site
  2. Company Type

Remote First.

  • Somewhere i know i can make the most impact within the first 6 months of joining.

When I was interested in being an employee (not anymore) at a typical VC backed startup I looked for the following:
1. Consistent and strong revenue growth every month (should be 50%+ MoM for an early stage company, otherwise I'd assume someone is asleep at the wheel) i.e. growth potential. Example: OpenAI grew something like 4000% last year (even as a late stage startup)
2. Above average pay and equity
3. Strong leadership team where I felt I could learn something from them. I didn't care how famous/iconic the leaders were. I just avoided places where the leadership team was checked out or toxic, or made the wrong business decisions, which I figured out quickly by asking employees how they liked the leadership team during the interview. People are surprisingly honest if you just ask them direct questions like that.

I also exclusively interviewed at places where I already had a referral from someone I trusted which weeded out a lot of trash companies.

I did not care about:
- Number of meetings
- Requirement to be in office or not
- Vacation days
- Teambuilding/"culture" activities/events
- Titles

Because I was interested in growing my net worth and scaling up my skills as fast as possible. I was willing to move to wherever to make it happen.

If I had to pick one factor that was the most important, it was the leadership team strength which is what in my experience causes a high growth company to succeed or fail. A lot of other things can be fixed later but toxic or incompetent management is a tough one to deal with.

That's very wise feedback. Without great leadership, nothing gets done. Thanks Ben.

For me it's some mix of 1, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21.

#1 - Money - FAANG level
#7 - Purpose - Makes my soul dance
#10 - VC Funded - If money takes risk, so will I
#11 - Position/Title - Matches skill level
#13 - No BS - Startup without PMs dictating
#14 - No Politics - 6 Engineers + Designer
#15 - Engineering Led - CEO/Founder is a Developer
#17 - Traction - Has customers, taking flight
#18 - Respects Engineering - Autonomy, space, time
#19 - Correct Equity - Commensurate with role/experience
#20 - Right Org Type - Product, Tech, Non-Tech, NGO, Gov, etc.
#21 - Remote/On-site - Right mix for me