My friend and former colleague Dmitry Shkliarevsky has built and scaled customer success and technical services organizations within large software companies like VMware and growth stage startups like Appsense. Below, he shares his thoughts about what sorts of people will be successful working at a startup and advice about pursuing an MBA. –John
How has your technical background helped you as you’ve moved into management roles? Any specific examples of how that background has made you more effective?
Generally you need to understand the subject you are managing to be an effective manager so it does not hurt to have a technical background.
I will say, however, that the more that you get involved in management the less technical you become over time. It comes down to where your interests and passions lay. If you have passion for working with technology and with people then there are natural synergies.
Personally, I believe that the discipline of management is going through a transformation and more progressive companies look to management and good managers as enablers – enablers that can create systems that interoperate and position people to leverage their strengths.
In this paradigm everyone does not need to know everything as each person’s skills are complimentary to the skills of the rest of the team members. You can see evidence of this transformation with companies like Google to up-and-coming startups, where it’s not about “leading from the front” and conformity but creativity, impact, and transparency.
Management needs to be more about fostering a culture that enables innovation, shared-value, and sustainable development that helps shape futures – technology is a means to this end and people need to organize around problems and solutions to generate ideas that work.
You recently decided to pursue an MBA. What were the drivers for you in thinking about applying and then deciding to attend? What were the things you were looking for in an MBA program?
The process of learning should never stop. Clearly education does not always have to take the form of a matriculated degree program but if you are serious about developing your business skills, an MBA will help you. It’s about focus and being able to leverage theory and practice as a basis for understanding the language of Finance and Business.
My reason to pursue an MBA was to gain knowledge and be able to apply this further in my professional and personal life. In the end, it is a personal decision which hopefully fulfills a drive or ambition and is not simply about financial gain. In terms of choosing a school, for me it came down to price, reputation, and curriculum. I am a firm believer in “any opportunity is what you make of it” and although I was accepted to a higher price tier-1 school I chose a tier-2 school and to carve the time out of my life to pursue fully for personal development.
You’ve worked in management roles at very early stage startups, as well as later stage companies who are much further along in their growth. What kind of people do you typically see thrive at both types of companies? Is it the same types of people or do you see that certain people are more well-suited to early stage companies vs. later stage companies?
It fundamentally comes down to infrastructure. Early stage companies simply do not have a lot of it and you find yourself needing to jump in and get things done regardless of title. Certain people need more structure than others so it’s about evaluating realistically as to what you prefer.
Each respective stage of a company has its merits and needs respective skills. In other words, the profile of team needed to grow a company from $0-30M versus $300M-1B in revenues is fundamentally different. If you feel strongly about being a pioneer and taking on more risk then the choice is clear. If you are more risk averse, then perhaps a defined role in a larger company would be a better fit.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if you could redo any portion of your career, or re-make a decision, what would it be?
Personally I believe that things that happen in your career are for a reason and even unpleasant or difficult situations can provide a learning experience. Looking backwards with uncertainty or regret just means you did not consider your decisions or options carefully.