Three reasons engineers are more valuable to Aussie startups than just their tech skills

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It’s no surprise Silicon Valley has retained its place as the startup capital of the world in the recently released Global Startup Ecosystem Report. Over the last 10 years I’ve seen firsthand an endless stream of eager entrepreneurs, coders and tech engineers flock to the bay area in search of success.

While the potential to replicate this environment in Australia is strong, a lack of growth has caused Sydney and Melbourne’s startup scenes drop down a few places in the report’s global rankings. One possible reason for the slowdown, highlighted in recent weeks, is a lack of tech talent to fuel the local sector.

That view is supported by an ACS/Deloitte study that found there isn’t enough IT graduates coming through the pipeline to meet industry demand with 100,000 extra ICT workers required over the next six years to fill Australia’s HR gap.

Nitro’s Chief Scientist Alexy Khrabrov. Photo: Supplied.

The contrast between Australia and San Francisco at the moment poses a chicken or the egg question: is it Silicon Valley’s vibrant startup ecosystem that makes it one of the engineering capitals of the world? Or, is it the other way around?

Everywhere you look in the Valley, software startups are popping up and innovating every industry under the sun. A quick search on CrunchBase lists over 1,000 within one mile from my company’s headquarters in the SF Financial District.

Physical products are also being redefined through hardware companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, the latter of which has reached a level of engineering previously reserved only for NASA.

No industry is being left “undisrupted” and it’s the hardcore coders and engineers around the world that are making these disruptive ideas come to fruition.

No matter how well Internet startups diagram, communicate, brainstorm and build synergies, in the end it is the code comprising them that makes them work.

But it’s not just the technical skills and brainpower that makes engineers so valuable. From my experience the work culture ingrained in engineers is also the foundation of any successful technology company.

Here are three key values of engineering culture that continue to drive Silicon Valley’s startup boom:

1. A high standard of work

Engineers can’t afford to have something go awry — a click or tap that leads to a HTP 404 page ruins the user experience and, potentially, the sales funnel. Consequently, engineers are relentless perfectionists who know how critical their performance is to their organisation’s bottom line.

The same set of obsessive, perfectionist behaviors that keep an engineer debugging a site also enables him or her to wake up from an error alert and fix the site if needed at 3am. Engineering is so integral that many startups pride themselves on how simple their code and integrations are to adopt by companies at any scale.

2. Self-motivated, lifelong learning

With new programming languages continually entering the fray and established ones evolving, engineers need to stay on their toes. Although it is possible to have a successful career by mastering a single technology stack, most are motivated to cultivate expertise in a number of languages. A popular way to stay up to date is through meetups, with folks gathering in startup-heavy areas in the evenings to learn about the latest open-source software or algorithms. In the next month I could attend hundreds of these events in San Francisco or dozens in Melbourne and Sydney.

Meetups, conferences and tech talks are self-organising, and engineers often find jobs, co-founders and projects this way. I find them particularly useful when I’m working on a new product and looking for inspiration, I attended many sessions recently while we were in the midst of developing Nitro Pro 10. The more engineers explore these coding languages the more today’s businesses will enjoy an online presence that speaks to their customers in exactly the way they need to be successful.

3. Diversity

Engineers come from around the world, including Australia, to descend on Silicon Valley, bringing with them diverse perspectives and cultural customs. We recently started seeing a strong drive among male engineers to be more inclusive of women in tech as well. Conferences actively reach out to female speakers, reserve seats for women who code, and so on. This is good news for everyone as organisations that strive for dynamic, diverse cultures lead to the greatest products and strongest performing companies that our startup economies rely on.

Overall, there has never been a better time to be an engineer. Whether it’s Silicon Valley or Australia, top tech talent is in serious demand and I believe it’s the culture of engineers, more than just their technical skills, which is the real driving force behind a strong startup ecosystem.

Alexy Khrabrov is chief scientist at Nitro, an Australian-founded tech startup with offices in San Francisco, Dublin, Nitra, and Melbourne. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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