Startups live and die by their speed of execution, and their ability to react quickly to new changes in their industries. This requires not only great leadership, but also the ability to keep in mind both the user's needs and the overarching business goal. The same should go for any early team members that are a part of the startup's growth - especially interns.
Product sense in engineers is their most important differentiator.
It's crucial for an early startup's engineers to be entrepreneurial, and have the user's needs in mind when building any features. The number of small decisions an engineer makes in shaping the product far exceeds the amount that can be reasonably documented and collaboratively discussed at a startup, where execution speed trumps all.
The users' best advocates should be builders.
With that in mind, a startup needs their builders and creators to have some kind of product sense, so that these small decisions always have an advocate for the user, even if they're tiny.
For example, if there's no time or dedicated team member for creating well thought out designs, the frontend engineer becomes the de-facto design lead. You want that to be well thought out. If there's a checkout flow that hasn't been completely fleshed out, the engineer is in charge of asking the questions for implementation, or just choosing something that makes sense and pushing it out.
All of this is to say, a startup should almost always default to a product oriented engineer over a domain expert if they're forced to choose between them (ideally those are the same person).
How to find product oriented builders
When screening resumes, look for candidates that put business value first, as opposed to purely focusing on technical accomplishments.
- This is subjective, but a point like "Saved 40+ salespeople 10-15hrs/month on data validation using custom built internal tool using React + Node" is more enticing as an early hire compared to "Architected internal tool for webscraping 13 sales related sites using React + Node."
- Ideally the point would contain metrics for both technical and business value created, but a business focus generally seems to indicate more of a product minded builder.
Other small things to focus on include how many products, projects, or features that a candidate has built involve a direct focus on users. As a general personal rule, a project that's been used by people is almost always more impressive than one that hasn't (many exceptions apply).
During the interview itself, try to ask questions around how users were considered by the interviewee during their previous builds. Questions like "what did you consider when creating this?" or "What flaws do you think exist in the current system?" are a great way go gauge what viewpoint the interviewee has.
That's it! If you're looking to begin expanding your team of builders, why not start with an intern? We're always looking to help startups hire the best intern talent at Techintern.io. If you've got any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org