Building a high-performance software engineering team is the greatest challenge for every tech company in London at the moment. The demand for talent far exceeds the supply, so individuals can afford to be selective about where they work – even down to the office’s location within the city. So how do companies attract the best talent and build great teams in such a competitive market? Salary is important to a point, but we believe that engineers are driven by something more special: a sense of purpose, exciting new technology, a disruptive market and being part of a team on a mission.
In this post, we look at seven of the key issues CEOs can address, from hiring the best leaders to marketing the brand, in order to construct and retain a high-caliber, collaborative and effective team.
1. Hire a great leader
Business leaders often prefer to hire a big name, particularly if they aren’t technical themselves, but this can be an expensive and unnecessary option. Established CTOs can demand salaries upwards of £200,000, plus 2% equity, even at an early stage. Watching the industry for up and coming commercially savvy engineers and developing their talent in-house provided a good solution for Shutl in the case of their Head of Engineering, Sam Phillips. He joined from Evently as Head of Devops and was promoted to his current position within six months.
2. Hire a great deputy
When a company scales quickly, the CTO needs the support of a deputy (VP Engineering) who is happy to play a hands-on management role, performing day-to-day code reviews and leading informal mentoring. Andrew Porter, CTO at ERP software company Brightpearl, has managed this balance perfectly with the appointment of Jonathan Holloway as his Chief Architect. Simon Lambert at the online beauty booking service Wahanda seems to have found a form of synergy with his deputy, Technical Architect Steve Storey: the two previously worked together under a similar dynamic at Moo.com.
3. Utilise your own network
When former Reevoo CTO Kyle McGinn joined Marks & Spencer as their Head of Digital Labs, he was tasked with building a large, high-quality engineering department in a short space of time. Fortunately, he was able to call on a career’s worth of contacts and the fantastic reputation he’d built, and not just in his immediate circles. He’d spoken at conferences, attended meet-ups and made contributions to the wider software community, so his name, and the positivity attached to it, preceded him. CEOs and CTOs with broad and meaningful networks have a natural advantage when it comes to hiring as they’ve built a following, and they’re able to attract great people as a result.
4. Invest and truly partner with recruitment agencies
Make sure you use specialists rather than generalist agencies and perform some due diligence on their track record and reputation. Once you’ve selected the right suppliers to cover your disciplines, invest some time in them and make sure they have all the tools and information that they need to do their job efficiently. You want them to be motivated, so pay good rates – you will get better people if you pay higher rates as your roles will be prioritised – 20% being the maximum for contingent agreements. Make sure you’re available to provide good feedback, and they will strive to find you the best candidates on the market as a result.
5. But be accountable
Don’t outsource or delegate your recruitment within the company: as the head of this function, it is your responsibility to manage the process and sell the idea to all parties. Your role in this is incredibly powerful. If it’s a senior hire, you should be the first person a candidate speaks to and the last word on whether or not they get the job. If the hire is more junior, find a way to involve yourself into the process at some stage.
Remember that in this fast-paced market, speed can help to secure the right talent. One fintech CEO, who runs a company with funding of over £20m, personally sends an apology note to candidates if the process runs for longer than 10 days. This is a good rule of thumb and helps everyone involved to work to an achievable metric.
6. Make your name
Global household names like Facebook and Google have internal recruitment functions to manage the consistent incoming flow of employment applications from high-caliber engineers. But for other companies, it can be more difficult to attract the best talent, so building the brand and proposition is key.
One way to do this is to define your ‘pitch’ – the aspect that really sells the role. For peer-to-peer insurer Guevara, the draw lies in its complicated technology and bold, new idea, whereas Blockchain, a bitcoin wallet, attracts engineers with its impressive funding levels and hot space potential. Try several angles and ensure that you communicate the one that works to everyone involved in the hiring process.
Another way to be seen is to sponsor relevant events. A successful example of this is Yammer, the social enterprise network, which hosts Ruby ‘Hacknight’ meet-ups in its Shoreditch office and has a great reputation in this space.
7. Maintain your standards
It’s a saying we all recognise the value of: As hire As and Bs hire Cs. Egress, an encryption software firm, has adamantly lived by this rule and raced ahead in their field as a result. It isn’t just about talent and intellect: company values and standards are equally important when constructing a successful, high-performance engineering team.
Building the team, however, is only part of the challenge: holding onto top engineers is important too. Although they’re not solely motivated by salary, they’re certainly aware that this is their market, so avoid dipping below the market average to maintain your retention levels. As a rough guide:
Junior: £45,000 – £55,000
Mid: £55,000 – £65,000
Senior: £65,000 – £90,000
Lead/Architect: £80,000 – £110,000
In conclusion, building a high-performance engineering team isn’t easy; these individuals can be difficult to read and they’re acutely aware of their worth on the market, which can complicate negotiations. There is no one simple answer, but applying these principles around influence, positioning and process in a consistent way will greatly increase your chance of hiring and retaining the right team.
This post was produced in partnership with James Goodrich at Albany Partners.