This Tech Leader Does Job Interviews Over Email and Chat -- and Maybe You Should, Too

Nathan Kontny believes that if you're a stronger writer, you'll be a more efficient leader.
This Tech Leader Does Job Interviews Over Email and Chat -- and Maybe You Should, Too
Image credit: Highrise

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How Success Happens is a podcast featuring polar explorers, authors, ultra marathoners, artists and more to better understand what connects dreaming and doing. Linda Lacina, Entrepreneur.com's managing editor, guides these chats so anyone can understand the traits that underpin achievement and what fuels the decisions to push us forward. Listen below or click here to read more shownotes.

Tech people aren’t always seen as great writers or communicators. But they’re also not folks who’ve been trained as nuclear chemists, either. Nathan Kontny is both.

The CEO of customer-relationship management company Highrise, Kontny is a founder whose career has followed a somewhat unconventional path. Trained as a nuclear chemist, he snagged a summer job in an uranium processing plant, a place where staffers passed through geiger counters and carried gas masks at all times and where Kontny once had to don an acid-proof suit.

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When he broke his ankle that summer, everything changed. The lab kept him in a trailer away from experiments and the rest of the plant to ensure his cast wouldn’t get contaminated by uranium. He spent the rest of his internship working on a computer, doing programming tasks. And while this shift might have been heartbreaking for a different biochem major, Kontny realized something he may not have otherwise: He loved the control and problem solving of programming much more than chemical engineering.

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He retooled his career, training himself to be a software engineer, even staying late at one job to use the company internet so he could teach himself programming languages. He went on to be part of two Y Combinator classes but after realizing he didn’t have the enthusiasm for “advergaming” that he’d need to make one startup, a “Zynga for advertisers” truly successful, he focused on his interest for writing. He started blogging regularly and even developing Draft, the writing software that would later lead to his current position at Highrise.

His unconventional background helped make a new change in his life. It also helped him see the benefit of writing as a tech founder, a skill he says helped him be a better leader. Says Kontny, clear writing and top-notch reading skills are essential for modern tech teams who work mostly in chat rooms. In remote environments, the ability to read something closely, and with nuance, can help teams catch important cues about how a project is really going or how staffers are truly feeling.

Writing is a skill leaders that leaders can build in teams to make them more efficient and productive. He says just typing less in chat, as a leader, can cue staff to provide their own ideas and get comfortable articulating their own insights. But writing well is a critical way founders can set an example for how staffs communicate.

“It’s time, as leaders,” says Kontny, to stop sending cryptic chats and emails that create more problems than they solve. “We’ve got to own this.”  

The written word is so important to Highrise, only those who’ve mastered it can proceed through its interview process. Highrise requires potential candidates to submit an initial email with responses and then participate in an interview over online chat. His CTO will even play devil’s advocate in this conversation and coax candidates to defend a position, all through chat. “If they have difficulty with this, they’re going to have difficulty” as an employee at Highrise.

In this week’s podcast of How Success Happens, he’ll talk about passion and the importance of letting it lead you. He’ll also share how he reads for nuance and how that helps him better steer his remote team to help them get things done.

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