Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Non Tech People in to Tech positions

So, two posts ago I was asked about a non-tech person getting in to business management in a tech company. What would I look for? I will add to that and say What would I ask in the interview? What would I expect you to know?

This is, becuase it is all I know, limited to the biotech world. It may carry over to the computer world, but I am not doing tons of interviews there so I can't really say that. My previous company was a bioinformatics company, and I only did a few interviews there and they were on the sales side of things.

So... with that salt helping..

What am I looking for?
  • You better know some of the tech. If you don't you are dead. You better have taken some courses or have some link to the technology. I don't think we can take a complete Biology virgin and do anything with them.
    • That said, for an associate product manager, which is the bottom of the bottom for marketing, this would probably get waived IF you had a some (1-3 years) of business experience in a related field.
  • You better, more specifically, know OUR technology. Take classes, talk to people in the field, read books, but you have to do have done something so that I can think you will be able to learn what you don't know
    • The risk we are taking is that you won't learn it, so to overcome that you have to show me that you have learned some and will be able to learn the rest. I will have to, at the interview review, be able to say "I think he can learn what he needs to know" or "She seems bright enough to pick it up" or variations on that phrasing. Essentially, you will have to get the tech eventually to some level so I have to beleive that you will be able to do that.
  • Stratagic thinking goes a long way. I am specifically talking about marketing or business development here. The tactical stuff that I do on a day to day basis could, I think, be taught to a rather bright monkey. Take license pass to legal. Take Red-line and send to customer. Take product brochure and buy advertising....etc. The day to day stuff you have to get right, and is critically important, but does posess a high degree of "programmable" work. The trick is looking 2 months to 5 years out. Where are those tactics taking you? Why are you placing ad's? Why are you licensing this technology? Why are you....doing any of the day to day stuff you are doing? What is the context and the goal?
    • SO - that leads me to try and figure out how well you think strategically. Given that if you are better than a reasonably bright monkey, we can teach you the day to day stuff. But will you take it to the next level? Will you be able to contribute to bigger picture ideas? Will you be able to be more than a smart monkey?
    • This, for a non-tech person trying to get in to our company is a ticket they can have that the tech person may or may not have. If I beleive that you will have something to add there becuase you "Think differently" (to borrow from Apple) or whatever you want to call it, then you stand a better chance than the average Joe/Jane.
      • BE CAREFUL. If you trot out some Thinking Different and I get the sense you are being overly clever just to impress me, then you will get dinged hard. Being different just for the sake of being differnt is terminal. It needs to make sense. It needs to be a good idea. It needs to flow from you naturally (related to my interview point of "be yourself") or it will just sound like a contrived thing that you have trotted out there in order to try and set yourself apart during an interview. I am likely, in a fit of boredom, to just try and rip it apart. My comments during the review are likely to be "engaged in verbal masturbation" or some such. These are not the comments you want flowing from my mouth as they do not lead to your employment.
    • This does NOT have to be some big thing, but can be just a series of little things.
    • If possible, see if it has been tried in our field before. This is related to know our company. If you are going for a marketing position, it would be a good idea to have looked at what we are doing now and understand our position and placement of advertising and positioning. If business development, you better know where our CEO said we are going. You better, in fact, know everything publically said about where we are going. Some ideas about how to get there will help you.
  • The non-tech person will have a higher bar on business questions than the tech person, so the above comments are more required for them than the tech person. You have to realize that "Doesn't have the tech backgroud" is something that is going to be said, so given that hole, you need to have ideas about other stuff to get over it. You need to be more prepared than the tech person to answer business questions.
Book learning doesn't count. I don't know how to say this any more bluntly, but I don't care what you did in class in your MBA. While interesting, and a good sign that you completed, it doesn't actually tell me how you will work. I have been through more school than you have, and it didn't teach me too much, so I don't give you too much credit for it. It is a ticket that you have that gets you in to the interview, but don't rely on it for too much more.
  • Example of a good way to use it " I haven't done this, but an idea from class would be to do X, how do you think that would work?"
  • Example of how NOT to do this " I would do X." with no further qualifiers.
If X is stupid, then in the first example, I will explain that nicely. In the second example I will just think you are a know it all book worm who will be a pain in the butt to have around as you will keep doing theoretically interesting stuff that doesn't earn us money or is stupid for some technology reason that you don't know becuase you don't have the tech background to catch yourself.

Non tech people have a harder road to get started, but this falls away after a few years. I would say them getting in the door is MUCH harder, but once in (assuming they are bright) that they are fine.

I think that they are capped in how high they can rise in many companies. No all, but many. For Biology, you see an awfull lot of MD's and Ph.D.'s in the CEO office.

I want to point out here on the end a significant point. If you are outside of biotech, which is inherently technical strategy to some level, then this won't apply. For the head of many companies in the computer space, they are essentially developing commodity goods. The software programs are being sold to a non-tech audience and so having a non-tech person in charge, and having many non-tech people on the business side, is probably fine. In fact, it may even be an advantage as they won't get wrapped up in the technology and will be able to look at the product and go "Dude, this sucks" whereas tech people, with an inherent understanding of a lot of the background, will not catch a lot of the problems.

SO - that is just a further qualification of the "This applies to biotech" that I started with.

Suhit - you stated in a previous comment that you didn't agree with some points. Please spell that out and either I will explain myself more fully (which may lead to you agreeing even less!) or soften what I was saying. Either way, I would be interested in hearing that.

1 comment:

Suhit Anantula said...


Thanks for answering my question. This really helps a lot.

The theoritical stuff we learn at school is not the real world, I know that as I have been in there for 6 yrs...not much but just enough to know the real from the BS.

You basically pointed towards two things you are looking at:

one, the tech part.

two, the strategic thinking part, the future, competition etc part.

My belief is that with my background and personality I am good on the strategic part of it. The entire problem is the technical part.

And here is the issue. You have asked that "i need to know the technology".

How do we do that? Yes, books are a way. So are reading white papers.

My idea was to learn technology and understand it the way I would do if I was investing in the stock market. Enough stuff to differentiate between what the individual companies are doing and its strategic importance and the direction of the entire industry but not as much as a tech guy.

Is that a good way to think about it?

What do you suggest? How do I get upto speed on something?

Also, how will you assess what I know?

But yes, your points were very good. Know the market, technology, company, future interests, strategic thinking...cool...you must be good at your job.

I agree that the biotech companies will be more technical than "IT" or other products based tech companies. But your points will hold good.

Ok, now coming to the part which I did not agree with your previous post.

I was wondering about what you mentioned in the last paragraphs about how your schedule would fit in the course of the interview and how your situation would depend on that.

I know, that's how life is. But it does show a lack of respect for the person coming to the interview. As much as the individual needs the company, the company needs the individual too. Especially, in the 21st century.

I believe that "people decisions" are the most important decisions that we can make.

Thanks once again. This is good learning.