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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Recruiting and Retaining Great Technologists

Recruiting and Retaining Great Technologists

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In this podcast, Shane Hastie spoke to Keren Halperin about what’s needed to recruit and retain great technologists in today’s dynamic employment environment.  

Key Takeaways

  • Technical people are looming for an environment where they can make an impact, where the technology stack is interesting, flexibility in working arrangements and where they can learn from leaders
  • The talent shortage in technology skills is real and getting larger
  • As an employer you need to be clear on the value proposition for the people you want to hire
  • Build hiring plans that attract a diverse range of people into the process
  • Develop a culture of continuous feedback, have frequent one-on-ones and develop managers to become more coaches rather than bosses

Transcript

Shane Hastie: Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie from InfoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. Today, I have the privilege of sitting down across many miles with Keren Halperin. Keren, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Keren Halperin: Thank you, Shane, for hosting me. It's a great honor.

Shane Hastie: You're in Israel, I'm in New Zealand, so we're pretty much at the opposite time of the day and almost as far apart as we could be, but a good starting point is, who's Keren?

Introductions [01:05]

Keren Halperin: Almost 50, proud to say so. Related to my job, I have an extensive background in global high tech and startup companies in rapid growth stages and dynamic environments. I love the hectic phase, you know, when things are not so certain, when things are very hard and difficult, when it looks like impossible, and to see how you can make things possible. I specialize in startup growth. My passion is to see teams growing from scratch and help companies to connect with employees through values, ethic, proactive approach, and better communication.

I truly believe in actions. This is why I choose startups. I truly believe in employee experience. I think this is one of my latest understanding about employee experience. I know it's a little bit awkward for an HR leader to say so, but during the last few years, I realized that it's almost the most important thing for me as an HR leader. I always pray and believe that the company will win and swim, I think it's going to be incredible. But one thing I can promise the employees that they can have a great experience above the money. They paycheck and everything, but the experience is something you cannot compare to a paycheck. So this is one of my biggest missions.

Shane Hastie: Let's explore that a little bit. With your background in high growth startups and technology organizations, what is it that these technical people are looking for today in the workforce?

Things technologists look for in an employer [02:40]

Keren Halperin: Technical people, they have a few things that are major. I think one is the culture. It's the technology stack. It's not a secret. It's important for them. The leaders, of course, they want to see tech leaders with great people skills they can learn from. So they are looking whatever for a great leader or senior developers to be part of the team. They are looking for a great product. Most of them are looking for a product that can make a difference, that really bring values. I wouldn't say about everyone because some of the developers, the technology stack is enough for them, whatever it does. They love like the complexity of tech questions and less about what the value of the product, but a lot are curious about the product itself. I think today, they are looking for flexibility, anything related to work from home, they work-life balance. And of course, they are looking for a great team to be part of.

I know when I talk with developers, they are reviewing the LinkedIn, check each and every person to see their background if they are good enough, if they are a team they want to be part of. So in general, these are the major things that I'm familiar with. And of course, salary.

Shane Hastie: Let's dig into great teams. What do we need to do to create a great team environment?

What’s needed to create a great team environment? [04:04]

Keren Halperin: Wow! This is a big question. You know, each and every company, they have their own secret sauce, but I can say that the best teams that I'm familiar with, and also if you will ask developers, they are looking for a team where they have a good balance of very good people, smart, but at the same time kind and friendly, a great leader. Someone they can learn from, someone who cares for them, who build like career development for them, they can learn from each other. For example, I can talk about Swimm related to this topic. We have a culture of  Swimminars seminars, where people have the chance to teach each other about a specific topic. And in this way, we keep nurturing each other. They want to have fun environment, not just like coding. Also, have fun events, have the chance to go together when work days end and they have the, and to meet each other over coffee, over dinner.

I can say about Swimm team that this is something that I'm really proud of to ... Not me, but for Swimm, that the R&D team here is very, very connected to each other. They have a very good vibe. They even ask to go together for a vacation to London and for The Book of Mormon, because they love to be with each other, which is a very, very good signal.

Yeah, so I think these are the major factors for developers and great teams, trying to think about, like, of course, the ability to experience complexity, the ability to take a feature end to end, to have the freedom to come with ideas. And the leader, the team leader, the team, they are considering their ideas seriously.

Shane Hastie: We're in a world where we hear a lot about the talent shortage today. How real is that, and what can organizations do about it?

The talent shortage is real [06:02]

Keren Halperin: Maybe it's a good moment to share my experience. Like four years ago, I actually started to do some research about the talent shortage. And back then, it was already clear that the direction is very clear that the talent shortage is here to stay, and even going to be worse. I will go into 2020 and I will say when the COVID broke into our life, a CEO asked me, “What do you think? What is going to be right now?” And I said, “I don't know.” And I think some of the CEOs and entrepreneurs, they were assuming maybe now the world is going to change. In a way, it's going to be employers' time. And I said, “I don't know.” But I know for sure that my experience, and I have enough experience to look back and say that always recruitment and talent was an issue.

It's never easy to attract and to hire strong talent. And when we talk about talent, we are talking about the people you want to attract, but it's here to stay. The COVID showed us that technology is accelerating. More and more money is invested in technology because it's a very unique momentum. When COVID showed that technology kept economic transactions, communication between people, helping us to be connected, and more and more investments was in these areas.

So there is a lot of money in technology. There is going to be, I guess, more money in technology and the talent is not growing as much as investments. So I think it's going to be a challenge for at least a few years, if not even more. Not mentioning the digital, I think revolution, that even made it more challenging. Because again, as you, from New Zealand and me from Israel can talk right now, it's happening.

Shane Hastie: So if I'm a manager in a technology organization looking to build out my team and to grow my team, what do I do?

Advice for managers looking to recruit [08:03]

Keren Halperin: I think it starts with a mindset of flexibility, understanding that you need to understand first, what is your challenge? What kind of people are you looking for? If you are in Israel or whatever other place, what are your possibility? What is the competition? What is your value proposition to the talent that you are looking to attract? And do the pros and cons of every option. But when I say flexibility is really to put on paper all the options you have, starting from local team through fully remote, through like maybe friends or friends of friends that are remote, maybe a remote site. You need to put maybe like thinking about looking for more potential and building educational or bootcamp within the company. What are the possibilities? What is your challenge? And put it on paper and see that you are not missing anything.

If you decide to start with a certain direction, that's fine, but you need also to, at a certain point, say, “Okay, do I keep this direction? Do I explore other options that I put on paper?” That what I suggest for hiring managers. And of course, of course, building a great culture is always a very, very good foundation for hiring and also awareness, like brand awareness, help talent out there to recognize you, to send signals, why they should join you? It's important to understand how you compete in market. Do you have a real value proposition to the local talent? Do you have value proposition to other talents out there? It's like when you sell product. Career is a complex product, it's not something that people say, “Okay, I will try it. And if it's not good, nevermind, I will move to the other product.” Career is a very big decision for people.

Shane Hastie: You mentioned flexibility, and one of the things we touched on in our conversation earlier on, before we started recording was the way people earn money today. How do organizations accommodate these very, very different ways, and what are they?

Remote teams require leaders with stronger emotional intelligence skills [10:16]

Keren Halperin: I think for me, it's a question, but not that much. I guess, some big companies are experiencing this in a much holistic way. I think the two main things related to this question are communication and personalization, which means like everything you do, you need to consider that remote is complicated because communication is always difficult. When you write something, when you write on Slack, or email, or other communication channel, it's always less soft. It sometimes can be perceived as more rough. So, you need to be more sensitive. I think emotional intelligence for managers that are managing remote teams should be much, much considerate.

The other thing is personal, be more personal because when you don't see someone, you need to understand that sometimes you can ignore things because you don't see them and you need to be even more, more cautious about how to engage them, how to let them feel you see them, you hear them, you understand them, and they are integrated into the company. So it means like from how you hire through how you onboard people, changing the onboarding process, be more personal, using more videos, using more communication, through how you integrate people with company ceremonies and events and meeting them. It means like more visiting each other, inviting people to the headquarter and so on. So it's an effort. There is a cost effect and a lot of investment, and you need to act as a global organization and also diverse. You can't keep like the headquarter and okay, we have additional people around the world, and that's fine.

Shane Hastie: How do we tap into things like the gig economy?

Multiple engagement options [12:10]

Keren Halperin: I think that's part of the challenge, that today people have more options to earn money. Organization is not an easy environment in many cases for some of the people. It depends on the company. And I think Swimm is not there yet, but I think, again, it comes into a mindset. You measure people on outcomes and less on you see how many hours they work. And of course, it makes things more difficult, but also gig economy is here to stay and it's going to grow. It's not stopping. And you see in the U.S. as much as I understand that people started to develop their income from home, and a lot of people did not come back to the workplace. So it's not going to be easier.

Shane Hastie: Another challenge that we see in the technology industry is a lack of diversity in many, many ways. How do we address that?

Tackling the lack of diversity in technology [13:05]

Keren Halperin: I think it starts from the top of the funnel, and also it starts from the mindset, always the mindset, and mean the mindset, the diversity is good. It's good for the business, it's enriching the teams, and it produce more success. If you understand this, then the rest will follow. So assuming this, it's starting to build like hiring plans that attract a diverse people into the process. I think you don't need to give them a chance in a way of reducing your bar. I think people from all across the board, whatever they come from, they are super talented, and you need to give them the chance to be part of the process.

I can say, for example, at Swimm, we have a process for, by the way, developers. And in a way, it's a story that can give you the idea of how Swimm is dealing with this. Not mentioning using channels that are attracting diverse people. We use a question about coding. We use a question how the person is thinking. It's exceptional. It's not something that we do so often, but we hired someone very young, not coming from a university, even not with experience, only like self-educated, self-sufficient because he solved the question and it was not about coding. We hired him. It took him a while. He worked very hard because he appreciated the opportunity. He was working very, very hard, coming very early in the morning, leaving late. And after like four months, he started to produce in a very, very good way. We bet on him, but we bet on him assuming he knows how to think and not only how to code.

So this is an example for giving a chance sometimes. And when you talk about diverse, I think again, see what people can give you, not only their experience. Because some of the people, they don't have the income or the option to ... You know, their parents cannot afford a university or something like this, but they have the passion, they self-sufficient, they work hard. For example, that's one example. Of course, you can also think about, let's say I have the example of Booking.com.

Booking.com did something very interesting. They did their research, identify universities, very good universities, even in nowhere, in places that nobody will go to, and they started to hire them. And they decided to build their teams by talent, not by location. And they looked for the talent and where the talent is, they will have a site. So this is another way of thinking, not thinking from what is comfortable, but what can help the company bring good minds, great minds. So I don't know if I'm answering your question, but that's what I can say. I think it comes from the top of the funnel.

Shane Hastie: One of those elements of diversity is generational. You mentioned the X and Y generations and people younger than us. You mentioned you were nearly 50. I'm just over 60. So we are at the other end of that, but most of the workplace is not.

Generational diversity [16:13]

Keren Halperin: Yeah. It's a very good question. I'm still learning. I'm still trying to understand their minds. I can read the books about generation Z and generation Y. I'm still learning, to be honest with you, but they need a lot of feedback. I can tell you that we just launched our Swimm Up program that is for performance and development, and we put a lot of emphasis on career. Because these generations are ... And again, considering the talent shortage and their other options and choices out of signing with a company, they ask, “What's in it for me?” And you need to deliver. You need to convince them that they have a real career path in the organization, you really care about them, they can have a great experience. You need to give a lot of feedbacks.

For example, we are not doing the traditional biyearly or yearly performance talk. It's no longer relevant, it's not efficient. And you can talk with someone about something that happened a few months ago. So this is why we are integrating and developing a culture of a continuous feedback, relying on the one-on-ones and developing our managers to become more a coach rather than a boss. So all these kinds of leadership style that is important to attract and drive young people is part of it. And of course, the communication. All the emojis, and Slack, and fast communication. If you update today on Slack something that happened yesterday, it's weird. Everything is happening here and now, it's instant, it's immediate, and this is the way the leadership needs to update the people. For example, Oren, our CEO, after every board meeting, he sends to employees the full letter about what happened on the board. Everything is transparent. They know about everything. So that's part of the change that we are experiencing.

Shane Hastie: You touched on an interesting point. Again, thinking of our audience, these technical leaders, some of them are people who are moving into the field, but others have been there for a while. What does it mean to be a manager as a coach, or leader as a coach?

Manager/leader as coach [18:27]

Keren Halperin: Going through your question, so I think it's a very good practice to promote young people that understand, they have the leadership DNA and motivation, and help them to become leaders because this is a good way for the leadership that is usually more mature with age to help connect with young people. Manager as a coach, it means like you don't tell people what to do. You give them the tools to do the right things. You give them the space. You also take into consideration that they can make mistakes and that's fine. And you support them, and you facilitate their environment, and you let them grow. It's not about, you need to do this, this and that without any reason. It won't work. It simply won't work.

You need to be flexible. You need to be sensitive about their work-life balance. If you are going to be strict and they can feel you don't care about, or maybe they are suspect you don't care about their private life, it's also not a good practice. But a manager as a coach is really to ask the questions, not to come up with the answers, to grow them from within and help them to grow and bring themselves into the environment. It's a process. It's a process, it's not happening in one day. It's relying a lot on, on the job training. Of course, also build with them their career development, their career path. They define where they want to go, and you are the one to help them reach their career goals.

Shane Hastie: This is very different to traditional management.

Leaders as coaches is a necessary positive shift [20:06]

Keren Halperin: I agree. I'm very happy, by the way, that it's happening. I think it's a very, very positive direction. I'm so happy that even though it's a challenge, I learned from those young people, even though it can be perceived as self-centered, but what's in it for me was something that in the past, it was for selfish people. People that asked the organization, “What's in it for me?” You shouldn't ask this question. You are here for the organization. You get money for this. I think it's a very, very positive direction. I really like the young people that they put themselves in the center. I think we can learn from it.

It's a challenge. It's a challenge because it require more sophisticated management. And this is why I think putting younger managers that are skilled and with the leadership DNA in a managerial positions can really help drive the organization because they understand their generation, they understand their people better than me, I can say. I'm sometimes like surprised, but you know, you need to be committed. I think one of the things that we are struggling with as organizations, that the commitment is less than it was in the past. People are less committed. By the way, organizations as well are less committed. The commitment is not that strong as it was.

Shane Hastie: Where do I learn these skills as a manager?

Help people build the skills needed for the new ways of leading [21:26]

Keren Halperin: You know, managers today, I think also in the past, and especially in technology organizations, it's always a challenge. First and foremost, they need to have people skills, which means they need to see the people first and then the task or producing. They need to understand that they're actually managing emotions of their people, of their team, their colleagues, their peers, and so on. And as much as they understand this, if in their mind, they understand that people are humans, then it's a good start. And it means like, see the people, care for them, help them understand where the team goes, where is the focus. Help them to reduce obstacles.

I think one of the things that's really frustrating, whatever developers and I think developers, especially in startups when startup is growing and suddenly you realize that it's very hard to move, and in order for you to code or to produce, you need to ask the DevOps or suddenly things are very difficult. It's frustrating. In many cases, they can even break from such situations. So a good manager knows how to keep their team focused on creation, on coding, on producing, and in a fun and engaging environment. And listen to them, give them feedback, see where they need help, and support them, and guide them. So I don't know if I'm answering your question, but this is when I think about development team and what makes it a good team.

Shane Hastie: Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today. If people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Keren Halperin: They can find me on LinkedIn. LinkedIn, I'm working constantly with it. So that's a great channel. They can also connect with me directly on my Swimm, Keren@swimm.io.

Shane Hastie: Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Keren Halperin: Shane, thank you very, very much.

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