I’m not sure what infrastructure companies she once worked at, but my experience contrasts hers. In the early days of building a startup, for example, top-notch engineering talent is required to convert an idea into a product that customers will buy. In Cerent’s case, co-founder Ajaib Bhadare’s first three engineering hires were a systems architect with a hardware design background, a software engineer, and a hardware engineer. This hardware-software balance was required to develop the initial version of the startup’s product–the Cerent 454. Functions such as sales and marketing were not invested in until the product was ready to ship to customers for deployment. For good startup management, it’s not a case of undervaluing other skills, it’s a business decision surrounding cash burn rates that mandates a timeline for when specific skill sets are hired.
Kane follows her response with, “We often end up with companies with great technology that are nonetheless dying because they could not execute from a nontechnical standpoint.” Once again, at Cerent, this was not the collective experience. Carl Russo, Cerent’s CEO, believes to this day, “Cerent’s ability to execute is a testament to its legacy.” His comment applies to the entire organization, not just the engineering department.
Leading requires a culture to be established, which enables a strategy, and then, in turn, demands execution. Carl explains, “The culture of the company must be set . . . the first thing you should do with a company is establish a strategy. You’re not going to figure out what the culture is or what the organization structure is, you’re going to go figure out what markets you’re trying to address and what your strategy is to address it.” Maybe Kane’s own experiences embodied companies lacking in leadership where culture, strategy, and vision for the company were not clearly articulated to her satisfaction.
Rex Pugh, Cerent’s former product management director and a Hewlett-Packard employee, adds, “Today, business units should cooperate better to produce solutions from various product lines, otherwise competing interests slow execution, complicate product planning, and stifle innovation. Often, there are too many influencers and managers to satisfy in order to gain any form of alignment for rapid execution.”
And there’s the rub. Possibly Ms. Kane joined a number of Silicon Valley infrastructure companies that were beyond the startup stage, where her managers were busy focusing on competing interests, instead of overcoming external competition and winning business from interested customers.
 Q+A Feature, MIT Technology Review, Vol.118, No. 1, p.26
 Extracts taken from Robert K. Koslowsky’s 2014 book, The Upstart Startup.