Guest Post: Grow And Nurture Your Tech Teams

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Sasha Bilton is the Chief Technology Officer at My Tutor Limited. As a 20-year veteran of software engineering, Sasha has worked primarily in finance or media, on both web and desktop application development, in tiny start-ups and tier 1 investment banks. Today, I am delighted that he is sharing his insights with The Art of Navigation on how to grow and nurture your tech teams…

I’ve found finding and retaining good technology people difficult, frustrating and relentless. But over the course of hundreds of interviews, I’ve uncovered a few patterns that have helped.

Most geographic locations have fewer technologists than there are jobs for them, and the key to competing with other companies is pace. If you can move from seeing a CV or code repo to making an offer in 48 hours, you will be more successful hiring more and better candidates than those who take longer. This means setting aside other priorities during a period of recruiting and making it your number one focus. Let your colleagues know you’ll be having to cancel meeting for interviews. 

Drop coding challenges that candidates have to pass before an interview, because unless you’re a highly sought after technology employer, excellent candidates will have several interviews lined up already. This means the better they are, the more likely they are to be made an offer elsewhere before they even think about doing your coding test. So, you end up filtering out a great deal of excellent candidates. 

My preference is for a 30-minute call, of which 10-15 minutes are spent on explaining and selling the role, followed by a few technical and philosophy questions to filter out obvious people who aren’t right for the role. As soon as possible after that, I ask for a 3-4 hour face to face interview which establishes their problem solving strengths, technical ability through a pair programming challenge, the candidates’ emotional intelligence and their interest in the product, company and role. Remember that a big part of the role of interviewer is to create an environment in which the candidate can shine. 

I rank candidates into three groups, right for the role, not right for the role but right for the company, and not right for the role or company. Never have a ‘maybe’ in there. More often than not you’ll regret hiring a maybe person. If they are right for the role, make an offer to them on the spot if you can, and that day if you can’t. Always give constructive feedback when it’s a ‘no’, you never know who the candidate might be friends with and a positive experience for someone not right for the role can bring in more leads. Your feedback might have an influence in them becoming a ‘yes’ some time later. 

So, now you’ve found your new team member, how should you approach the initial onboarding stage? There is nothing worse than turning up on your first day to face the uncertainty of not having a desk with your new team and a machine to work on. Ensure hardware and seating are planned out before they arrive. Over the course of their first week, set up 30-minute introductory meetings with key people outside of their team to explain the wider business and processes. If you have some hierarchy, make sure they get to meet a few more senior people as well, so that they see that the hierarchies aren’t barriers to communication. 

Trust them immediately. If you don’t feel able to trust new starters, improve your hiring techniques so that you have more confidence in who you hire. Treat them as adults and fellow colleagues immediately, so that they see they are part of a group who take their shared responsibilities seriously. Socialise with them, so that you both have an understanding of each other and can support each other better when life goes through one of it’s difficult periods.

People in general, and tech people especially, often respect a few overarching characteristics. Lead by example, and if you have to make exceptions for yourself, explain why it’s happening. Be open about uncertainty you feel and mistakes you make, so that you aren’t inadvertently creating a culture of infallibility. Tailor interactions to each individual, so that their sense of team spirit still allows for individuality. Recognise when your own negative mood might have an impact on others and give yourself some space to recover, because caring for yourself makes caring for your team a great deal easier and more effective.

Leading teams should be immensely rewarding, both in terms of emotional gain and valuable business output. If you’re finding that one or both of those are lacking for you, reflect on why, and how to improve the situation. Fixing one often fixes the other.     

Connect with Sasha on LinkedIn

Look out for The Art of Navigation’s 30-Minute Guide to Hiring a CTO coming very soon…

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Matt MowerComment