Good engineers like BIG challenges. Challenging work – above all else – is what fuels them into the wee hours of the morning. The simple reason why: startups hit a point where their software will either be performing so well that there’s minimal work needed for maintenance or it’ll be performing abysmally, with no hope for improvement. In both scenarios, there are diminishing returns to an engineer’s impact, unless you have the next big challenge ready for them to tackle.
As a leader on your startup’s dev team focused on keeping your engineers engaged and attracting new ones, you must constantly ask yourself, do we have big problems for engineers to solve? Building a website is not a compelling challenge these days and neither is building an iPhone app, especially in San Francisco. Let me share the top questions I’m constantly asking myself as a software engineer & lead technical recruiter at Shippo:
Are we using too many buzzwords without backing them up? My inbox is constantly hammered with “cloud,” “principal engineer,” “top machine learning scientists,” “internet of everything,” etc… I almost feel like recruiters have been using a recruiting-clone of this tool (or its predecessor) to generate their email content. Here’s an illustration of a typical recruiting email by my buddy @snikolov, an engineer at Twitter:
Seriously? Who wrote this?!
Long emails filled with buzzwords will only work well on clueless recent college grads, so don’t be a predator. If you discover an engineer you like, make a genuine attempt at forging a genuine connection with them and, if you capture their attention, that’s your signal to try even harder to gauge chemistry. If you’re not sure how to make a genuine connection, then you have to figure out why and fix that: it’s your responsibility – not only as a recruiter, but also as an engineer trying to grow your team.
Am I leveraging my engineer’s talent properly or am I having a hard time putting their skills to good use? If you answered the latter, then perhaps you’re not the ideal manager for them, in which case you need to find a way to make better use of their skills asap. Captivating challenges are important, but anyone who can build a good product on their own doesn’t need you to tell them what to do.
Will this job further his/her career? S/He’s helping you with your vision – are you helping them fulfill theirs? Your investment in their career has to be obvious and primary, not secondary. If what they’re working on is not 100% in their best interest, it’s OK to not hire them and to just remain friendly. Still, maintain contact with the person – you’ll expand your network by +1 and might even be recommended other candidates by them. It’s a healthier long-term strategy to not force fitness.
How do I ensure that I’m doing everything I can to 10x the momentum of our engineering team? Building technology is a team game; the culture of your team will prosper if your team naturally feeds off of each other’s energy and naturally maintains momentum. You might not think this is important to the recruiting process, but you’re wrong. Talented engineers have a nose for strong team leaders and they will spot any deficiencies within team dynamics and velocity during the interview process.
Lastly, Why should this engineer join our company instead of the other 100 “hot (insert your buzzword here)” startups out there? If you can’t give them a good reason, then you probably don’t have one. Go find one first, then reach out. If you’re having a hard time building a convincing argument, that might mean you’re not convinced of your team’s strengths.
All of these questions are top of mind when I interview developers for Shippo. If you’re a strong engineer, then you’ll be able to demonstrate your skills during an interview from both sides of the table, as an interviewer or interviewee. Coming up in my next post, I’ll dive into how to conduct the best technical interview.
Shippo is a multi-carrier API and web app that helps retailers, marketplaces and platforms connect to a global network of carriers. Businesses use Shippo to get real-time rates, print labels, automate international paperwork, track packages and facilitate returns. Shippo provides the tools to help businesses succeed through shipping.