Nov 24, 2011

Is hiring the be-all and end-all?

I came across an interesting article a few months back on the difficulties that startups face in hiring good developers. I think "retaining" good developers is also equally important, given the scarcity and attractive offers from large organizations and other startups. I want to address the trivial-but-often-overlooked issues that make a lot of difference in the long run. These issues and suggestions will be applicable to startups with a defined business model and an established core team that is already into execution mode.

The new developer should feel "at-home" right from the first day. HR/Admin in-charge should ensure the IT requirements are addressed before hand so the person has access to his desktop/laptop right from the moment he steps in.  A designated space should be made available based on the team members with whom the new hire is supposed to work with. "Sit where there is space" kind of an attitude by the hiring manager could be a turn-off on the very first day.

However busy he might be, the hiring manager should take the time and effort to introduce the new developer to other team members. He should make the new person feel comfortable, appreciate the challenges and learnings of working in a startup and not be intimidated by the work pressures and late working hours required. The manager can also plan for an informal meeting where he takes the new hire out for lunch and explain his role and expected contributions in the next six months.

The developer, having decided to work for a start-up comes in with a lot of expectations on opportunities to grow. A formal training programme should be organized to give an overview of the company’s business model, the current challenges, the organization/team structure and explain where the new hire fits into this whole model. This gives the developer much more understanding of the business and a broader scope where he can apply his skills and explore his potential.  Through this training programme, he should get introduced to the technical leads, designers, product managers and project managers who could explain how the development process works in this startup.

Another big turn-off could be blindly handing over the code base and asking the new developer to dig into it to figure out the implementation and fix the existing bugs. A senior technical person should take the effort to explain the architecture of the product and share the thought processes that went behind the design. I'm not suggesting to "spoon-feed" but rather help the new hire to get started in a phased manner that would enable him to understand and appreciate the nitty-gritties of the product/architecture.

The first 90 days period is crucial for both the company and the new hire. If the developer doesn’t get a clear picture on where he fits in and what his responsibilities are within those 90 days, he will lose interest. Either he might drag along with the job for a few more months or start to look out for other opportunities.

The interesting aspect of working for a startup is the dynamic nature of the work, the role and the priorities. There could be new areas of interest which the developer might want to explore and that could also align with the organization's priorities. So it makes sense that the goals assigned to the new hire are established only for a short term and not really span out for the entire year.

I firmly believe that hiring the right set of people and establishing an inspired team can catapult a startup to greater heights. Please comment if there are any other finer points that startups should focus on in terms of post-hiring processes.

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