When you were starting out as an engineer, you probably thought that tech and commercial thinking were as different as chalk and cheese. One is the sweetest fruit of your hard labour, to be untainted from commercial desires. The other, a marketing gimmick that your customers would be able to see through.
Unsurprisingly, this pervasive train of thought is why many engineers leave the industry. For example, before we were Fave, we were KFIT, and we focused on the fitness industry. We pivoted from that to the present-day Fave, which is known for loyalty and payments. I witnessed many team members leaving because they didn’t understand the reason for the shift. They no longer shared the same conviction they previously had when we used to be KFIT.
Those who stayed made an effort to empathise with the business and kept themselves informed of changes in the industry to see why we were heading in this direction. Not everyone who stayed agreed with the decision, but they understood the company’s rationale. This understanding sets the stage for a sense of purpose that any engineer needs to have.
Additionally, developing a commercial mindset will help you to communicate relevant information to your team. If you don’t understand why you’re building a particular product as an engineering leader, don’t expect your team to be able to either. Your team can see through your lack of conviction. They’ll know if you’re just following orders or if you truly understand the business context behind a product.
Secondly, thinking commercially will go a long way in helping you to build a better product. Engineering, at its core, is all about trade-offs. Should you spend three months building a product and making it really awesome, or complete a simple proof-of-concept that takes only two weeks for you to launch it? Well, the answer depends on the commercial reasoning behind your product and your business’ needs.
The extent to which it is important for you to develop a commercial mindset also depends on your career aspirations as an engineer. If you’re looking to move into the management career path, it becomes even more crucial for you to understand the business part of things. It is a required skill set to help you manage people under you and to collaborate well with other departments. Otherwise, it will be difficult for you to move up the management path.
However, if you’re hoping to move into a more specialised career path like a Principal Engineer in Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning, technical skills are still foremost. This does not mean that you should neglect developing a commercial mindset. It just means that your focus at the present should be on honing your craft.
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