Technical Executive

Lead with confidence, show a little bit of competence, and end with confidence again.

Jason Warner1

Being a technical executive means possessing talents as a technical manager, a general manager, a leader, along with generic executive skills. On top of this, they must possess a breath, if not a depth, of technical knowledge. They must be able to communicate technical topics to a variety of audiences. Being a talented manager of managers is a requirement. Spotting change is an important part of being a technical leader. Running on auto-pilot is a common pattern. Spotting what needs to be changed and executing on it is what makes a good leader2. It is important to consider how you communicating as an executive as well as how you communicating to other executives. Presenting periodic updates in executive dashboards is a useful pattern. Will Larson has a quarterly update template for engineering metrics3.

Measuring a Technical Executive

Technical leadership can be measured across the following dimensions1:

  • Impact - value delivered to user
  • Scale - Meeting expanding scale and userbases
  • Reliability - Uptime
  • Deeply Technical vs. People Oriented
  • Competence vs. Confidence
    • Early what you can build is important. later as you scale, your communication and clairty to stakeholders, read confidence, becomes as important1.
  • People, Process, Product
  • Adaptable, Opinionated, Dogmatic
    • How do you hold your beliefs
  • Short-term, Medium Term, Long Term
    • What is the time scale you are focused on for your decision making1
  • Where are you spending your time?
    • Spend time with counter parts in sales and product1
  • Velocity, Quality and Customer Impact
    • Like the CAP theorem for databases you are likely to only be able to get two of: Velocity, Quality, and customer impact1

Finding balance as a leader

Being an executive, technical or otherwise, is about balance. How do you balance your focus on the tactical and the strategic? Being good at tactical execution is likely how you got the job where you handle both tactics and strategy. Tactical tasks will feel comfortable and straightforward. They are also brutally important. Tactics is how you achieve strategy. However, growth and success rely on solid strategy, therefore neglecting strategy in favor of tactics is missing the forest for the trees. One approach to help draw yourself up into strategy is to make it a part of your process. You should block time in your calendar specifically for working on strategic problems. Ask yourself questions about the future and seek to answer them. For example, if our company makes another 25% in revenue per year in two years, what processes do I need to implement now to support that.

Another important related form of balance is short-term objectives vs long-term goals. Incentives skew towards the former, but a healthy company must invest in the latter. We might want to eschew software tests in order to ship a feature, however too much of this and suddenly our application has low-to-no test coverage. Our public company may do unnatural things to meet quarterly reporting requirements. Enough of these unnatural actions and our company has rotted from the inside out. It’s important to consider that you and your team will often be incentivized to ignore the long term. This is the path of least resistance and is only sustainable if your horizons are short. Ignoring the long term is the executive equivalent of failing to pay your credit card bills.

One of the important factors in this process is that the balance for anyone factor will shift and change with the circumstance. So additionally the manager has to re-adapt and revisit their prior balance making choices.

Career Change

The reverse interview is an important part of locating your next job. Once you have found that new job, you must take your onboarding into your own hands as you start the new technical management job.

Executive Antipatterns

Signs of executive dysfunction


Kant, E. 7 Mental Models For Great Engineering Leadership Athenian. at (2022).
Hedlund, M. Interviewing VP of Engineering thread. at (2022).
Larson, W. Measuring an engineering organization. at (2023).