Mercenaries vs. Missionaries

John Doerr, one of Intel's most successful salespeople, once said, "We need teams of missionaries, not teams of mercenaries."

How does it translate to the tech industry? 🧵👇

Short explanation. Missionaries believe in what they do. They align themselves with the organization's mission. While mercenaries "just" do what they do to get a paycheck.

First and foremost - this isn't a distinction between good and evil. Well-qualified mercenaries focused on their craft can easily do a "10x" with their skills.

But it's more likely that missionaries will focus their skills on the right things - resolving customers' problems in line with an organization's mission.

Resolving customers' problems is more than applying hardcore-level skills to the features we build. It's also a deep understanding of customers' personas, behavior, and motivation for using our product.

Resolving customers' problems is about defining the right features to build.

For software engineers who are passionate about their craft, it can be challenging to give up on coding and go deep into product discovery. They see their job as solving complex problems. And complex problems are architecture, security, scalability, and performance.

It's hard to argue with mercenaries about the importance of that. Of course, architecture and scalability are important. But how important are they in the context of the organization's mission? It's more likely you will get an honest answer from missionaries.

With missionaries, it is also easier to chase long-term technical goals. They'll add 1% each day to tech excellence. Mercenaries will ask for an x-weeks development freeze to do cleanup/migration/hard technical tasks.

Full blog

Build team of missionaries, not mercenaries
Software Engineering Management in 2023