Finding an expert engineer is certainly not an easy task. In fact, it is widely regarded as one of the most significant roadblocks that startups face when attempting to scale. With all tech startups competing against the FAANGs’ deep pockets – median compensation at Meta and Alphabet almost reached $300,000 in 2021 – learning how to not only recruit but also retain brilliant engineers is more important than ever.
We will delve into the most common obstacles when trying to recruit and retain engineering talent, making it easier to identify and address any issues relevant to your organisation.
The Interview process
The interview process is the first major issue that can prevent your company from engaging with great candidates. When comparing two processes, a candidate will always choose the one that takes fewer hours and allows them to assess whether the company is a good fit for them while the company evaluates the candidate. Companies that understand this and take the time to convey the company’s working culture to candidates will always rank higher than companies that try to rush candidates through with little regard for their time.
When looking at the technical side of things, a key obstacle in the interview process is only hiring engineers who are experts on your stack. Within two or three months, a truly talented engineer can learn a new framework and be shipping code on it without supervision. By making a non-negotiable at the stack stage, you might very well miss out on some really great talent.
Salary levels below the market rate are always a turnoff for any candidate. One of the most effective ways to attract talent is to pay competitive salaries and make them public and transparent.
While base salary is usually the most important factor to consider, it is not the only one. Some people prefer large equity packages and are willing to accept a lower starting salary in exchange for a larger equity package. I’ve noticed that companies who give candidates package flexibility ensure that they meet candidates’ compensation preferences, resulting in a much higher offer to acceptance ratio. For example, allowing a $10,000 trade either way of a stock package to base salary.’
As a RetailTech engineering recruiter, I’ve recently noticed that the base salary has become more important due to the inflationary environment, particularly in small stage start-ups where the equity benefit is greater but slightly riskier.
When deciding where to work, people consider where the company is located (or, more importantly, where you’ll be expected to be). Candidates relocating to a different country or city can find it life-changing, and while relocation packages and moving assistance can be beneficial, local candidates are more likely to be interested. A significant caveat to this is the massive increase in remote working over the last five years. Many companies now allow their employees to work entirely from home, and they frequently hire people from all over the country. Most engineers are drawn to this, and a well-publicized work-from-anywhere policy can result in a significant increase in applications, as seen by Airbnb.
A company’s engineering culture is critical for both recruiting and retaining top engineering talent. The Pragmatic Engineer Test: 12 Questions on Engineering Culture was created by Gergely Orosz to reflect healthy software engineering cultures. He felt that the now 20-year-old Joel test became a baseline expectation at a lot of companies, despite it lacking in many areas that you would expect from great engineering organisations. Some of the key points include equity sharing, code reviews and testing, a healthy on-call process, internal open-source, and 360-degree performance reviews. The test is beneficial to both candidates and companies, with higher scores indicating companies with more engineering-friendly and predictable cultures.
Another element of culture is related to our previous point about location. A fully remote workforce raises concerns about team cohesion, and for employees who prefer to interact face to face in the office, this approach can frequently have a negative impact on culture which causes them to avoid working for fully remote start-ups. Many RetailTech and eCommerce startups in the engineering space require an in-office or hybrid approach to try to create a collaborative engineering culture. What this can do is create a culture in the office where people don’t want to come in and would rather be at home, making the office a less pleasant place to work. Allowing engineers to come into the office on days when they want to make the office a much happier and more productive environment.
Flexibility and Autonomy
One of the easiest and most fundamental things to establish within an engineering department is flexibility. This can be as simple as giving reasonable work-from-home instructions, being adaptable to short-term changes due to personal circumstances, and ensuring that employees are not constantly monitored and micro-managed. Since the vast majority of engineering roles are now hybrid, if not entirely remote, being required to come into the office on a non-negotiable schedule would quickly result in the organisation losing fantastic engineering talent.
Storm5 At Your Service
One of the most difficult challenges that start-ups are facing is recruiting and retaining talent. Your growth and future will be a lot brighter and less stressful if you can nail the main factors we highlighted and establish a reputation as a great place to work for engineers.
This article was written by Ben Watts, Storm5’s expert DevOps & Engineering Senior Associate. Are you looking to make your next engineering hire? Or are you searching for your next engineering role? Get in touch. Alternatively, you can learn more about our Engineering function and the other roles we work with here.