Conventional wisdom used to be that if you wanted to be a CEO, you should get a degree in finance. But times have changed - seven of the ten most valuable companies in the world are led by engineers. Not surprisingly, many of those companies are tech outfits in Silicon Valley: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon, Facebook and Tencent.

Before becoming an entrepreneur and CEO, I was a software engineer. I didn't know how little I knew about building a business until I started one myself. I had to learn a lot of things on the job -- like how to nail product and market fit to the importance of structure and organization.

But nonetheless, here's how my engineering training has been helpful:

1. Problem finding and solving.

My first job in tech was as a Q/A software tester. That has never left me as I'm always trying to identify bugs before any customer would. I have dozens of Tiles in all different shapes and sizes, including ones that are in development. As I go through my day, I try to experience our product from our customers' perspective. Where do they get stuck? What isn't working the way it should?

Once you identify a problem, the problem solving kicks in. When you study engineering, problem solving is one of the most important things you learn to do. There are numerous strategies for identifying problems, as well as processes to find the answer. Most engineers will tell you that when they were kids they took apart electronic devices like the toaster, the remote control, a video game console and according to my mom, I even took apart the bathroom sink.

Engineers aren't destructive, they are simply curious about how things work and breaking things apart is a great place to start. There's no better way to learn the inner workings of a product than to open it up - whether you put it back together or not!

2. Failure is part of the process.

If you want to grow your company quickly, you need to take big risks that have the potential for high reward. Doing so means you might fail every now and then. If you fail quickly and learn from it, you can recover and grow -- hopefully faster than your competition.

While many people feel insecure about failure, engineers know it means they are one step closer to the answer. Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've only found 10,000 ways that won't work." That's the heart of discovery and invention.

3. A culture of constant learning.

We are living in an era of constant, radical change. (Can you believe the iPhone is only 10 years old?) Thankfully, engineers are trained to be voracious learners. When you're in school, you might learn a couple of programming languages, but chances are, those skills are out of date by the time you graduate. As an engineer, you constantly need to learn new tricks to stay relevant. That's also true in business. To truly get ahead, you need to spot emerging trends, figure out how they work and then find a way to capitalize on them before the competition notices.

Being an engineer has its advantages, but it's important to recognize your weaknesses, too. Most engineering programs don't teach other critical business functions such as marketing, sales, finance or human resources but learning along the way can be humbling too.

I still remember the accounting primer I read in the early days: Basic Accounting Fresh from the Lemonade Stand. The key to transitioning from an engineer to a CEO? Stay humble -- and curious.

Published on: Nov 10, 2017