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Hiring in Tech based on Emotional Qualities

Hiring in tech is an oft talked and written about topic, but most of the content out there tends to focus on technical skills, interview questions, and whiteboarding. While finding a technical fit is at the core of the task, it’s often a cold, needlessly judgmental process that ignores the value of finding a candidate who can join a team and contribute more than just code.

A while ago, I listened to a Special Sauce podcast interviewing Danny Meyer. Danny Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, the organization behind Union Square Cafe, Shake Shack, and a slew of other notable restaurants. He believes there are six emotional qualities that are critical to a team member’s success. Here they are, and how they relate to being a successful tech hire.

Optimistic kindness.

Team members need to be hopeful. Nothing shuts down a team quicker than someone who is pessimistic about new ideas and creativity. There are tons of code problems that are solvable, and treating them as such helps create a team committed to moving forward.

Curious intelligence.

Curiosity has two important ramifications; introspection into a candidates own ideas, and willingness to explore weird problems that crop up.

In tech, things change ridiculously quickly. New frameworks, methodologies and services pop up every day, and that makes every day is an opportunity to learn and apply something new. Without curiosity and introspection into the how of our work, skills stagnate.

Treating features as experiments is critical to discovering what works, and being deeply curious about interactions will help build domain knowledge for the team. When things go sideways, and they often do, in weird and unexpected ways, a sense of open curiosity is incredibly helpful in tracking down, understanding, and fixing problems.

Work ethic.

You can’t train or incentivize someone into giving a shit about doing the work right. Many don’t realize that the success of their own work translates to success for the entire team.


Be aware of the wake you’re leaving, and care about what it does to others. Everything we say and do has consequences. Ignoring requests for help, or failing to document and discuss the work you do makes it more difficult for those you with to build on what you’ve done.

Self awareness.

Understanding what your personal weather report is, and how it affects others. Know your weaknesses, and ask for help on decisions and work you know you are weak in. Also, understand your mood, and how it affects work. When you’re feeling in a funk, understand how to get out of it.


Does the candidate have the judgment to do the right thing, even if that thing is not in their own self interest.

The entire podcast was great, but click here to hear Meyers’s take on hiring.

With all the challenges of hiring, and vitriol around whiteboarding, focusing in on just emotional qualities is a great way for an organization to set themselves apart from the competition. Everyone needs a job, but few can have one where they have a team of great people.

Published Jan 21, 2017

Thoughts on about software, tech, leadership, food and ceramics.