Software Engineer CEO Model
Working at a startup company has its own challenges, especially as a software engineer. You have to take on a bit more responsibility than you would at a big corporate company; you’re no longer just a number on a spreadsheet earning money for the company. You are recognized for your work and are relied on to get shit done. But, what happens when you’re told that you will be a mini-CEO in the company? What the hell is that and what does it mean?
WTF is A Mini-CEO?
I was hired as the DotNet (“.NET”) manager at the first startup company I worked at. I had a team locally in Tampa and 4 more devs working out of Mexico. I had to ramp up quickly, learn the suite of biometric security software we offered, and understand the business. Within a few months, I was flying across the country to meet with clients and help set up their environments; something I wasn’t hired for.
I would find bugs in the fingerprint scanners and have to work with the manufacturer to resolve their API issues. When my wife went into labor, I brought my laptop with me and was on call in case the company's president needed me for something… this one pissed me off.
If you’ve done anything like this… you know, more than what your job description entails; then you have taken on the role of a mini-CEO. Keep in mind that startup companies often operate with little resources and funding, so they can’t hire someone to fill the position you’ve just taken on.
You are essentially acting as a CEO of a startup would. Imagine if you start a company by yourself and you have no one to help you… you’re doing everything you have to do to succeed.
Am I in Charge?
Mmmm…. maybe. You could be in charge of a team or just yourself. Many startups will consist of a small number of people, so being in charge of them is probably not going to happen. However, you can help lead the company by taking charge of specific aspects of the business even though no one has asked you to do it.
You are in charge, but it’s more of different aspects of the company. You’re a software engineer, but you’re also customer service, tech support, dev ops, etc. Over time, you become the subject matter expert (SME) and are responsible until the company can hire someone to take that work on.
Your experience in the field and your ability to lead may put you in a position to actually manage the team. You may think long-term, holistically, and the bigger picture that the other developers will listen and follow your lead. These are the traits of a mini-CEO.
Do I Get Paid Like a CEO?
Yeah, sure… what do you think startup CEOs make in the early years? Most startup CEOs often make less than the software engineers because they have a vested interest in the company. So, your dream of chartering a jet or driving a company-paid vehicle is just that, a dream.
You could be paid a bonus in cash or in shares of the company for going above and beyond. When the company goes public or gets bought out by some giant competitor, then this is how you would get paid as a CEO.
Your ability to perform with limited resources and under pressure can pay you back in spades in the end as you build relationships with the leadership team. These are the people that will vouch for you or may even invest in you when you start your own company.
A mini-CEO is someone who acts as a CEO, doing whatever it takes to make the company successful and willing to take on more responsibility than the job description entails. It is what it is… startup companies may be operating on a small budget and can’t hire the people to fulfill the work you may have taken on.
Does this “mini-CEO” model make sense? What’s your experience in the startup world? What kind of roles did you have to take on in addition to your core job?
If you liked this article, check out some of the others I wrote about startups:
Working at super corporate companies kinda sucks Why I Won’t Work for Super Corporate Companies Again as a Software Developer
Why I’d rather work at a startup Why I Prefer Working at Startup-Like Companies as a Software Engineer
What happens when the leadership team sucks at managing a startup? When Leadership Sucks at Managing Startups