How to attract top talent
Most talented graduates are most drawn to a small number of tech companies (FAANG for short: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google). New grads start with six figure salaries (or more), bean bag chairs, catered breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as the cachet of saying “I work for Google”. So how do companies compete, especially when their core business isn’t technology related?
Top tier technical talent will be drawn in by interesting technical problems regardless of industry, company or even sometimes pay. If you can find a problem within your organization and package it to technical people in a way that makes them want to solve it, that is your best recruiting technique.
No technical debt
Companies run by people without IT backgrounds can be difficult for IT staff to work for. Oftentimes any tech that had to be implemented used piecemeal contractors. There was no plan around database infrastructure. Systems were built in a haphazard way and are frustrating to maintain. To recruit top talent you need to show them that there isn’t a lot of technical debt and they will have the freedom and autonomy to solve interesting problems, not burdened by bad code.
How to choose candidates
Now that a number of people have expressed interest in a role, you have to choose who to hire. THis can be really tricky if you do not have other technical people on your team. You will need other technical people to tell you if the person you are talking to is a smooth talker or an expert.
Find a third party
If you currently have no one technical on staff, or no one who is specialized in the area that you need to hire in, you need to use a third party to help vet their person’s technical knowledge. If your company is particularly small with a limited budget, I would try to find a friend with a technical background to help. If you can afford it, use a third party service. Investors can also be a great help for this.
Ask them to explain a technical concept to you.
Now that you have found someone that knows what they are talking about, you need to see how well you can work with them. As I’ve mentioned in another article (top 10 mistakes section_) for technical people being right is far more important then being nice. This is a good thing. You want someone who is direct and can explain what will work and what won’t. You don’t want someone who will not highlight problems, or be direct. That being said, you need to understand what they are saying.
When hiring, focus on communication skills not people skills. Ask them to explain some technical concept you know nothing about (try ACID for example). Do you understand what they are saying? Can they take big concepts, break them down and make them easy to understand?
How to retain top talent
Now that you have an exceptional hire, how do you make sure they stay and grow with the organization? IT staff can hold alot of organizational knowledge, and retaining those skills can be critical to success.
Autonomy and respect
General management principles apply, but here are some pitfalls that are common when people without IT backgrounds Hire IT staff. It’s very important to respect what programmers do. To some IT can feel like a financial burden that doesn’t significantly improve the bottom line. IT workers often demand salaries more in line with managers or directors. They work from home, progress can be slow, and can be hard to understand. All of these factors can lead a manager to micromanage employees, and a culture where their contributions are not acknowledged or respected. IT is one of those things that you only notice when it’s broken. Try to notice when it’s working too.
If you want to attract and retain top tier technical talent you need to compensate them well. Depending on the size of the organization, that may mean that they are the best paid in the company.
Room for advancement
Smaller companies with limited tech teams usually have work that is fairly mundane and easy to complete. There is little room for growth or advancement. Try to offer educational opportunities outside of the office, whether that is conferences or online courses to help them gain additional skills.
Most technical people have very little opportunity to explore non technical areas, and often those experiences are what can lead to the biggest career growth. Think about how you can help involve the employee in other areas of the business. This will also help keep boredom at bay.
What to do if the work is boring
Most great technical hires will get bored easily, and need a challenge in their work. As previously mentioned most companies without an IT focus can be rather mundane to work for. If you are looking for greater engagement and satisfaction amongst IT staff consider letting them explore other areas of the business. Maybe once a week they can do some marketing operations. Ask them if there are any improvements they could make. Would a different IT system save time and money? This can offer a fresh and interesting perspective for the employee. Similarly you can have a day where the marketing team learns about IT decision making. Cross functional teams often result in the most amount of innovation.