This weekend, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and new Online Services Group President, Dr. Qi Lu, formerly of Yahoo.
Much of the interview orients towards how Microsoft will compete with Google, and how Microsoft and Yahoo might still do a deal.
For me, however, the most interesting statements were in Steve’s clear, concrete delineation from ‘product’ versus ‘technology’. Many miss this distinction and Steve’s statements here are spot on:
WSJ: [Qi Lu’s] predecessor running Microsoft’s Online Business had more of a sales and marketing background. Did you decide that deep technical skills first and foremost were the most important thing for improving your position in search?
Mr. Ballmer: There’s a difference between technical skills and product skills. Both were important. There are a lot of people in our industry who understand the technology, but don’t actually understand really what it takes to build a winning product. So perhaps the most important thing was the product skills, and really the understanding of what people want, and what they’re trying to accomplish and get done. Then it’s also great to have the skills to map that back into the technology itself.
As it pertains to startups or those building out early phases of their career in the tech sector, its important. Really understanding how to build a winning product is a skill set that is fundamentally different than being the most technical. Being technical surely can help, but it is neither required (with some exceptions) nor sufficient.