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How to Talk to 'Nerds' and Why You Should For non-technical entrepreneurs, bringing a developer on board is only half the battle. You also need to be able to communicate. Here’s how to get it right.

By Jeff R. Lamb Edited by Dan Bova

As an entrepreneur, you probably think that if you can just get your business idea out into the world, the money will start flowing. The only problem is, your developer just can't seem to get your vision right or he bailed in the middle of a project or worse yet, he is taking your startup way over budget.

This obviously can't continue. You need to find and keep healthy relationships with developers. Your business’s success absolutely depends on it.

I have the privilege of helping entrepreneurs and startups on a daily basis in my role as one of the Nerds at QStart Labs. As the founder, I hired all the developers on the team and I’m the programmer all of our clients are introduced to first. So a lot of my job involves bridging technology and business.

In this role, I've learned a thing or two about communicating with techies. Here are six factors to remember in your interactions:

  • 1. Be aware of the job market for developers. Do you know the starting salaries developers earn? Do you know the firms that are trying to recruit your developers? If you are outsourcing to another company, do you understand how hard it is for them to find and keep talent? Be respectful of the fact that they are in demand, and, like it or not, you need them way more than they need you. Just having that insight will keep from saying something stupid to them.

  • Action step: Subscribe to and get the daily summary. At least read the summary of any article related to developer pay, talent, etc.

  • 2. Listen first. Recruiting developers will be one of the many full-time jobs you have as an entrepreneur. Spend time on it. When you encounter that rare mythical beast in the wild -- a.k.a. a developer willing to talk to you -- listen to them first. Don’t fall into your natural pattern of trying to pitch your business idea to everyone you meet. Ask yourself honestly if you can offer something that this particular person or development shop cares about.

  • Action step: Force yourself into a conversation with a developer where your only goal is to learn as much about that person as possible without even thinking about what's in it for you.

  • 3. Proximity matters. I know it’s a big-bad connected world, but it's also a human world -- and collaborating matters. And there's nothing like having your boss physically present for meeting deadlines and finishing projects.

  • Action step: If you outsource to another city, make sure you budget for travel to get everyone that matters in the same place at the same time. Then, get to work.

  • 4. Great is way better than good (so keep trying until you get to great). We’ve all heard that great programmers are so much better than good programmers. That’s true and it means that you're going to run into lots of "just good" developers. When you decide a developer is just good, if your project can handle it, replace her. She'll land on her feet -- even a good program is still a programmer, after all. If you work with an outsourced firm, ask for a different developer or get a different firm.

  • Action step: Go through your mental list of every developer you've worked with or are working with. What were some common characteristics of the great developers? Search with those traits in mind.

  • 5. They are not like you. They may or may not care about the things you care about. Give them the respect and the freedom to be different, to like different things, to be motivated by different things.

  • Action step: The next joke you hear from a developer that you don’t understand, ask about it privately later.

  • 6. They are just like you. Every developer doesn't go home and play video games. Most developers also don’t actually speak Klingon fluently. (Note: if any developers are reading this that do speak Klingon: I am unworthy to even polish your bat’leth). The stereotypes aren't typically true, and developers often have more in common with you than you think.

  • Action step: Tell a joke to a developer that you think everyone would enjoy.

How have you best handled interactions of technology personnel? Let us know in the comments section below.
Jeff R. Lamb

Founder and chief Nerd at QStart Labs

Jeff R. Lamb is the founder and chief Nerd at QStart Labs, a web development and startup advisory-services firm Columbus, Ohio. The team at QStart Labs launches 10 or more new technology startups each and every year. A serial entrepreneur with multiple exits himself, Lamb is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and is always willing to take time to share thoughts and advice over a coffee or (better yet!) a beer.

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