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February 4, 2010 / ryancshih

Dreamers, Doers, and Guardians

After spending a number of years in software development of varying organizational sizes, I’ve noticed tendencies towards three types of roles. Because of these differing viewpoints, conflict can occur. However, by realizing and successfully leveraging these personalities, the whole becomes greater than its parts. These three roles are the Dreamers, the Doers, and the Guardians.


The Dreamers are the innovators. They focus on fresh ideas, and get most excited about what is possible. In short, if it’s been done before, a dreamer will become restless and bored. Some dreamer engineers move into product roles to work on ideas at a more strategic level. The nice thing about having a dreamer around is that they ensure that the work at hand is meaningful. The irony of dreamers is that while they are most likely to *want* to start a company, they aren’t actually the ones most likely to do so. Often times, they’d probably make much better tech bloggers than entrepreneurs. If not checked, they become lost in their ideas and move on to the next idea before they start even implementing their current idea.


These are the guys you definitely want with you in a new venture. The reason being, quite simply, they get stuff done and they get it done fast. They’ll crank out work, and while it may not be pretty and it may not necessarily work in six months, it mostly works today and that’s enough to test out a hypothesis. Those who gravitate to early stage startups tend to have this attitude, and it’s precisely this trait that helps smaller startups out-maneuver the big guys. They usually can do a lot of different things reasonably well, but are less likely to be an expert in any specific domain. Jack of all trades, master of none.


Guardians are the ones who wrap up the work. They make systems maintainable and keep systems running. With a guardian on point, you can sleep soundly knowing that things are humming along just fine and if changes are to be made, they map out Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D before doing anything. Guardians thrive in the largest companies where large amounts of revenue are at stake. Since they are risk-averse, they always try to figure out how to minimize risk. However, because of their tendency to over-analyze, they lose sight of the big picture and often spend too much time obsessing over minor problems.


Each role provides a valuable perspective into a project. However, the difficulty is getting each role to agree that there is a middle ground and defining what that middle ground should be. For instance, doers may believe that dreamers are overly critical yet don’t follow through with tasks, and that guardians slow down the project. On the other hand, a guardian will think the doer doesn’t think things through and plays things too fast and loose. By being cognizant of these varying viewpoints, and understanding how to take advantage of the strengths each role contributes, what results is a smoothly running, nimble and powerful team.