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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Recruitment, Retention, Finding The Right Job, Onboarding People in a Remote Environment

Recruitment, Retention, Finding The Right Job, Onboarding People in a Remote Environment

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, first spoke to Chase Kocher of aim4hire about improving the recruitment process, finding the right people and finding the right job as a candidate, then to Kate Wardin, Engineering Manager for Developer Productivity at Netflix, about the challenges and opportunities when onboarding someone new in a remote environment and building developer experience that creates joy.

Key Takeaways

  • There is high and growing demand for tech talent across all industries and organisations today
  • The Great Resignation is real - if you haven't lost your people already, paying attention to how you retain them, how you keep them happy, how you adjust your compensation offering to that of the market will be vital 
  • Candidates on average have four to five offers to chose from so you need to find ways to engage and excite them 
  • Referrals are the number one way companies hire, so tap into your network is the best advice for both candidates and recruiters 
  • The biggest challenge with onboarding new remote employees is overcoming the feeling of isolation
  • Developer experience is about sparking joy rather than increasing efficiency 


Shane Hastie: Good day folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. Today we have two episodes back-to-back. First, we have Chase Kocher talking about finding great developers and the employment process. And then we have Kate Wardin talking about developer experience. Enjoy the show. 

Chase, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Chase Kocher: Thanks for having me, Shane. I'm very much looking forward to the conversation.

Shane Hastie: So you're in Austin, Texas, and you are the founder and CEO of a company Aim4Hire in the recruitment space and, from what we were chatting earlier, specifically focused on technology recruitment for startups. Give us a little bit of your background, and what is about technology recruitment for startups?

Introducing Chase Kocher  [01:26]

Chase Kocher: I honestly fell into this space straight out of college in more of an enterprise tech recruiting consulting type organization. Quickly saw the supply, demand, and the need for high level technical talent for big companies at that time. Was fortunate enough to get recruited away by another recruiting firm that wanted a presence here in the Southwest region of the US. So got to build up an Austin branch and then discover how to do that through mostly midcap type companies between that 500 to 1000 employee range.

And from there, I started to get more and more exposure. Austin is a huge tech startup hub, so got to work with more and more of those types of companies. And eventually led me to starting Aim4Hire with my brother who was in the software sales realm. And we really hyper focused on hyper growth.

Often we seek backed tech startups that they have unique, disruptive technical products in most cases. Now they're kind of hitting that challenge of scaling and maintaining the quality of talent that they've built from the beginning and competing with the other companies in town or across the US for talent. So it's been a journey, but honestly, technology's clearly impacting as much as anything these days, certainly with COVID and the shift of industries that usually don't use tech. They've even been forced to kind of adopt software, whether it be healthcare or even retail, restaurants, delivery, food services, you name it.

So it's just only increased the need, demand, and likeness of needing tech talent at your company to succeed. So it's been a ride, but it's been a good one for sure. And certainly a space that's very exciting and competitive.

Shane Hastie: So if we think of the InfoQ audience, they are the people that you're targeting in terms of recruitment, but also some of them will be responsible for recruiting in these organizations and competing for people. So how do we go about creating an environment where we can get the best people and retain them?

The Great Resignation is real and retaining people means understanding their real needs [03:20]

Chase Kocher: Great question. Any listeners, always feel free to reach out. But I would say the greatest challenge right now at this very time is, COVID obviously shifted a lot of things for the technical realm or just for companies in general. Our world. Now we are seeing a mass exodus from various companies. They're calling it the Great Resignation of people and talent that maybe valued job security and benefits more than they did career mobility or things they're passionate about or even money in some cases.

So during the COVID times, those were the top priorities and with light at the end of the tunnel now, that's certainly caused a shift. You have, in the US, I think it's about an average of 4 million Americans are resigning their jobs per month, the last three months. So it's a major opportunity for some companies. And for others, if you haven't lost your people already, paying attention to how you retain them, how you keep them happy, how you maybe adjust your comp offering to that of the market now. Those are some of the greatest challenges you're going to face if you have a current team and you're a little concerned about maintaining that team, much less trying to grow it.

I would say overall, it's a tough landscape to acquire talent. You have to be bought in and willing to put in the hours to see the results. The market's just too competitive. It's too tight. There's too many other companies trying to hire that if you're serious about it you have to really double down, and in some cases maybe use outside help to support that.

Shane Hastie: What does that doubling down look like? What do I need to do as a technical leader who doesn't want to lose the team, but also needs to grow the team. So wants to pick up some of these people?

Understand the market and be prepared to meet the going rate to retain your people [04:57]

Chase Kocher: As a technical leader, and I'm biased obviously as a recruiter, but I think talking to people that know the market. What is the value of a senior software engineer in that area that you are currently employing someone? I think doing the market research and understanding maybe I'm overpaying, maybe I'm underpaying, maybe I'm right at the average level. I think that's an important first step on the retention side.

As far as the acquisition side and looking towards talent, doubling down in the sense of ensuring you know what you're looking for and what your budget will allow you to acquire. Flexibility around being fully remote or being a hybrid model where you're coming into the office part-time or a couple days a week. That's obviously something that I think every company's trying to figure out, and there's no perfect answer. But I think understanding those pure requirements that you have for each role and then going out and trying to acquire talent versus just sitting back and waiting for them to apply to your job, that's kind of what it takes to win for solid technical talent in this market.

If you are just posting a job, it's doing your best to differentiate your job posting from 1000 other ones that are posted by other companies that are also hiring for the same talent. So I think the most critical part, to me, in doubling down as a hiring manager is knowing what you want, and when you find it, you need to act. You need to have your ducks in a row. You need to have your interview process well polished.

The shortened time between interview and offer 

And what we're seeing at least here in Austin is one week to a week and a half is about how much time you have to first interview to final offer stage, need to get someone through the process. So eliminate redundancies. If you have interviews where people are asking the same questions, and it's just different people, how can you find maybe a better strategy towards questioning them and getting the knowledge you need, but also maybe even kind of selling them on who you are or why you think they might be a great fit and what the future holds for your company, or at least what you think the future holds.

So in a candidate's market like this, candidates have a lot of leverage. So the companies need to be a little more willing to do those types of things to win.

Shane Hastie: There's been an adage for quite a while, hire for culture, train for skill. How does that play out in this competitive marketplace?

Hire for culture, train for skill – be prepared to take on more junior people and train them up [07:07]

Chase Kocher: That's a great one because if you have the infrastructure in place, so if you are maybe a bigger company that has a training program that has engineers that have time to train junior hires, then I think you're well positioned to acquire some of that junior mid-level talent.

Because right now I will say in the market, the demand is most specifically on the senior folks that don't require a lot of handholding early on, that are more the technical fit as opposed to what you're saying is the culture fit and maybe they can learn the skill. I think companies, especially the startups we work with, they don't have the infrastructure in place where their lead engineer can take the time to really train up juniors. So their hand is kind of forced that they need to find people that can hit the ground running from day one.

And because of that, sometimes they do lessen up a bit on their culture fit. Because to them, they have to decide is the culture or is the actual software the most critical part? And that's probably a trillion dollar question of what side is right or wrong. But I do think in this market, if you have the infrastructure in place, you can really acquire a lot of quality junior mid-level talent, because the market is demanding a lot of the talent that has experience that doesn't require that training.

I do think there's unique opportunity there over some companies that are structured to do that. But overall, I would certainly say culture to a startup is critical. I mean, you make the wrong hire at an early stage of your company, it can only end in bad. But I think people are starting to understand that they can only get certain talent and they might have to lessen their requirements around culture or skillset.

Shane Hastie: So let's dig into those skillsets. What are the technologies? What are the skillsets that you are seeing in the startup environment that people are looking for?

The wide range of skills in demand [08:49]

Chase Kocher: All the above when it comes to open source, front end, backend, full stack type of coding skills a lot. And within the infrastructure, data security, cloud security side. And then even merging especially into data engineering. I mean, we all know data, in a lot of cases, is what can drive a company's valuation. It can drive their potential value to get bought or acquired at some point. So I think more and more companies are understanding that there's investments to be made into data science, data engineering teams that are utilizing a lot of Python and other big data software tools.

But I would say, the front end, it's obviously different JavaScript libraries, a lot of React, some Angular. On the backend it's predominately, again, non .NET. Not that there's anything against .NET. There's certainly opportunities there too, but there tends to be a lot of Java, Python, GoLang, a bit of Ruby on Rails here and there.

And then when it comes to the cloud side, AWS, Google Cloud, Azure. Those are the big three in most cases. So we see those skill sets as pretty much backend software developers seemingly are the number one, as far as the most common roles we see. Front end, sometimes people are looking more at full stack than they are at just pure front end devs. But yeah, we see a bit of everything across that spectrum.

But I would say overall, part of the attraction for a smaller company is they're usually utilizing the newest, latest and greatest software language software tool and using that actually to attract talent. So that's yet another angle some software leaders can use is if you're utilizing new tech or you're open to bringing in some new tech, that's another way to attract talent as well.

Shane Hastie: So let's explore that. The attract talent. How do I ... in this remote hybrid world where I'm competing with everybody, how do I position myself to get the right people? The best people?

Ways to attract and engage the people you want [10:41]

Chase Kocher: I think if you're an engineering leader or even a company owner, you've got to look at what you're doing on LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is where a lot of folks spend time when they're looking for jobs, but also it's where they connect with their network. And especially in a virtual world, as you alluded to, people like to work with people that they enjoy being around. That they believe in. So being able to look on LinkedIn and determine that, wow, Shane used to work with my friend Jim, and Jim was a pleasure to work with 15 years ago. I'm going to ask Jim if he knows Shane, if he can plug me into Shane's company. That happens regularly.

There's so many opportunities for talent that they're kind of overwhelmed, and they don't always go on and search for jobs. They kind of just sit back. They don't have to. I mean, they're getting reached out to by recruiters like myself, by other companies, recruiters that are at companies.

I think if you're positioning yourself, ensuring that you're kind of building your own personal brand amongst your network and that you're getting that job out to the right types of people to get the right types of eyes on that job.

And then the rest really is like, how are you represented on LinkedIn? How's your company look? Does it represent what you're doing? Or is it kind of an outdated summary that your HR person did five years ago? I think there's a lot of value to be put into updating and ensuring that your LinkedIn page is almost as attractive as your website is, because so much recruitment traffic, so much talent traffic occurs on that site. Now there are other job boards that you could also probably invest some money in, but I do think LinkedIn is one that's, for the most part, free to change your profile and add different segments to it. But in a lot of ways, that's kind of your page for talent. So I'd say investing time and even money in some cases to those things can better position you towards talent.

Because getting their attention's one thing and doing one interview is one thing, but when you get to the offer stage, our candidates on average have four to five other offers when they get to an offer stage with our clients. So it's tough, it's tough. And you've got to do as much as you can to give you the best odds out of those five offers to win. Especially if you can't offer as much money as Google or Facebook or Amazon. Then you got to focus on the things you can win in. So maybe that's speed. Maybe that's camaraderie, the culture you build. Maybe it's the technology or the industry segment that you're disrupting. Maybe it's the opportunity to work with cutting edge tech rather than being a cog in the wheel over at Google. But whatever it is, you need to figure out what those main points are and that you're hitting on those points throughout the interview process.

Shane Hastie: And as a potential victim or participant in that process, as the person being hired, what do I look out for and what are the gotchas? What are the things that will tell me that the veneer is good, but yeah, behind that veneer, it's not so great?

As a candidate make sure you do your on due diligence to find the place that will be best for you [13:26]

Chase Kocher: That's a tough one. Especially. I mean, if you're a candidate that's interviewing at five or six companies at one time, it's really hard to do your own personal due diligence on is this the right company for me? Because as we just alluded to, the hiring company, the companies, the hiring managers, they might be telling you a little bit of what you want to hear versus what actually is going on.

I tell both sides, I'm like, you want to lean on people you trust. And usually those people are friends or former coworkers or current coworkers. So I'm very biased towards LinkedIn, but I love the idea that you can see interconnection and that I can look at the CTO at a company I'm interviewing at, and I can see if he's connected to anybody else that I'm connected to. So maybe I go digging a little bit.

It's a big decision. I mean, joining a company is obviously a huge decision, especially if you are weighing out five other offers. That decision could dramatically impact your career, your lifestyle, whatever that is. So I think taking a second and doing a little bit of background research on looking at that company's employees and seeing if there's any back channel referencing you can do. Seeing if you have a friend of a friend or even maybe a colleague that does work at that company and asking the about it.

I mean, Glassdoor is certainly one that can give you a little bit of vision, though Glassdoor is one of those, take it with the grain of salt type things because there are folks that maybe are a little disgruntled that let loose on there sometimes. But I would say going to the people you trust and whether that's on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever it is, and just seeing if there's any ways you can cross reference and get a little more info to the company.

And then look at their investors. For us tech startups you want to look at who's giving them their money. Where are they going to continue to be able to raise that type of money? Does that venture capital group have a good reputation? Do they have a lot of success stories? That's another thing specifically for startups that you look at because they're relying on that funding to continue to scale. So if they run out of cash, then you're going to be looking for a job.

Shane Hastie: That was looking from the recruiter perspective. What about me as the candidate? I want to get the best offer. I want to get into the best organization. How do I make myself attractive to the company that I want to get into?

Positioning yourself as the right candidate [15:39]

Into in this market? It's hard to get caught up with "there's so much demand, so much demand" but if you're a candidate, just because there's demand might not mean that you're getting reached out to enough. Or maybe you are, but it's not the right types of companies that you want to be reaching out to you. So there are a couple things you obviously can kind of focus on to position yourself for the right companies.

Now, when you think of recruiters, when you think of HR directors, HR departments, that would be reaching out to candidates, they're not always technologists. They're not always former software developers that are now recruiters. So if you are in the technical realm, you do have to keep in mind that those folks that might be looking for you are relying on keywords and acronyms to find and search for talent on LinkedIn or Indeed or They're typing in Java and AWS and other tool names to try to find candidates.

So what I would suggest to candidates is one, to ensure that your LinkedIn page is somewhat reflective of your resume. In a lot of cases, people's LinkedIn pages, there's not a lot of detail on there and sometimes they're worried their current employer will think they're looking if they update it. But I do think if you can find a way to kind of finagle, it doesn't have to be several bullet points. But maybe just kind of what tech stack or what major initiative are you working on? Something that might catch the eye. Whether it's a modernization project or it's a build out of some type of snowflake database system. I think trying to integrate keywords in there to help HR/recruiters find you is a good idea, but I wouldn't go overboard with it and list 3 trillion software languages on your LinkedIn or resume as well.

I think there's a fine line, but ensuring that your current challenges, the things you're interested in are reflective on your resume and on your LinkedIn page.

The other thing I think as a candidate is what you put in is what you're going to get out of process of trying to find your next job. So if you're willing, as we've kind of touched on throughout this interview, of looking at your network, looking at friends that left your current company a year ago and they're working somewhere else, asking around, putting some feelers out. That due diligence will pay off. And referrals are the number one way companies hire. So if you have a colleague somewhere, them referring you in versus me, for example, is a far better option. Obviously that company doesn't have to pay the recruiter fee that I would charge, but they also trust their current employees, and therefore you're already starting at a higher bar than some stranger that they've never met that applied to their job posting.

So as a candidate looker, I would say look at your friends. Look at your network, people that you liked or admired and reach out to them, touch base with them and maybe give them the heads up that you might be looking for something. It's the power of numbers versus you on your own trying to find a job that ... God knows. In this world, there's so many jobs. It's easy to make the wrong decision based off just what their website says they do.

Shane Hastie: Thank you so much. So Chase, if people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Chase Kocher: LinkedIn. Probably a good place to start. Our website is We're a small enough group of 15 that if you do the contact form there, we'll get back to you there as well. But I'm always on LinkedIn. It's pretty much where I live. There, Indeed, all these other job talent seeker type areas. So that would be the best way to get a hold of me.

Shane Hastie: Thank you so much.

Chase Kocher: Absolutely.

Introducing Kate Wardin [19:08]

Shane Hastie: I'm sitting down with Kate Wardin. Kate is the engineering manager for developer productivity at Netflix. Kate, welcome. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Kate Wardin: Thank you so much, Shane. I'm excited to be here with you.

Shane Hastie: Probably a good place to start. Who's Kate? What got you to where you are today?

Kate Wardin:  I can share kind of a brief history of my professional background. So I got into the industry about 10 years ago, and I worked at Target corporate here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So right now where we're recording, it's January. It's very cold here. Big retailer in the United States. I kind of moved throughout Target. Various roles. Found myself in technical leadership, leading a platform team. Then I moved into the supply chain space, then the storage space.

So with that experience, I got to lead engineers, whether they're working on like core API infrastructure or also some exciting front-end experiences for our supply chain. And then also, my last kind of rotation at Target was leading a team who was building mobile applications for our store's team members.

What the Developer Productivity team at Netflix does [20:10]

And then in 2021, last year, I joined Netflix in the summer. So in July, or at least our summer. And as Shane mentioned, I lead the developer productivity team in our studio organization. And so that role ... it kind of varies based on like the day and what the priority is, but you know, the folks on my team might work on one off kind of consulting, like maybe helping teams to reduce their build time. Or maybe it might mean doing longer initiatives to make sure that we have proper observability offerings in place so that application developers can constantly monitor their applications.

And then the other side of my team actually works on building an internal design system so that we can reuse front-end components across all of the studio applications and also actually more applications outside of studio too, which is a really exciting time for my team. So yeah, kind of the high level overview was at Target for majority of my career so far. Pivoted into Netflix now, which I'm super excited about. And I'm in Minneapolis working remotely for the foreseeable future as a lot of us are.

Shane Hastie: Indeed. So let's tackle that working remotely. And one of the things that you've been exploring is remote onboarding. What's different about that?

The challenge of remote onboarding [21:21]

Kate Wardin: I think remote onboarding is a super interesting challenge. And I was able to, at Target, onboard some new folks onto my team remotely, having never met them in person. And then myself, as I mentioned, I joined a new organization remotely and so I got to experience it from that perspective as well. And so through those two different experiences, both recruiting and hiring and onboarding folks, and then also being that person onboarding, I was able to take away some key and some tactical learnings.

Just to answer your question at a high level though, I think the biggest challenge of it is feeling isolated. And what I mean by that is in typical onboarding experience, let's assume that you are in an office like physically present with your fellow colleagues who you're meeting with. That just helps to like build a lot of that trust and camaraderie and get to know people when you can just turn to them and ask a question physically. Whereas, onboarding you're in all likelihood, sitting alone in a room and so there's a lot of friction to say, Hey, I have a question about this or to set up a call.

And so I think communication really is important, especially for managers to set the tone and to make sure that people have what they need and know that their fellow team members and colleagues are accessible throughout the day. And so we can dive into some specifics later, but I think that is one of the unique challenges that comes with the experience pretty much immediately. It's that feeling of isolation and like, oh my gosh, I'm alone here. And finding ways to combat that.

Shane Hastie: You've mentioned a couple of things and, from a manager perspective, making sure that you're aware of this. What are the practical things that I need to do as a manager? I'm bringing on and new people that are going to be remote today. Where do I start?

Advice for managers when onboarding people remotely [22:54]

Chronologically, I would start even before the person starts on your team. That can look like a lot of different things. One, I would say sending an email or just an opportunity for you to share some information that's not necessarily urgent or they don't need to consume it or do anything right before they join. So this might include an email with, Hey, we're so excited for you to join. Here are the reasons why we're excited for you to join. We're like re-validating that decision for them to join your team. Perhaps specific skills that you're really excited to bring on that they come to the team with. Their background. Stories that you discovered in the interview process that you can highlight and say, oh, I'm so excited to work with you. Here are the reasons.

And then little logistical things. Like here's your login info, expect your laptop on this day. I think just setting expectations and all of those questions that they're thinking and just getting that information to them can help alleviate some of that stress in advance. So yeah, that's kind of like the before they even join.

Of course, getting them a laptop shipped right away so that on their first day, they're not like, how do I even connect to this team? And then let's see, I know some organizations, in that box with their laptop, maybe you include some swag so that they can rock your company apparel or that team pride right away. So those are some things that you could do even before day one of that person joining. Paying special attention to the fact that person will be remote and not in person when they join.

Shane Hastie: And then now they're here. They've dialed in. They're on a Zoom call for the first time maybe with you individually or with the team. Now what?

The first experience as a remote person with a new team [24:20]

Kate Wardin: Yeah. Good question. So I would say ... and actually maybe even in that pre email, you could include what their first week will look like. So that, again, they have that expectation. Like, okay, day one, I have these meetings. Like if you can even just take a screenshot of what their calendar looks like, who they'll be meeting with and some context about who each person will be. But yeah, once they log in, they should have a meeting with you or some person right away to say, Hey, welcome. Let me guide you through how to use our systems, our tools. That should be pre-set up. They should know exactly how to access that, to get set up right away. So they're, again, not like feeling isolated and like, I don't even know how to use whatever tools that your team uses.

What other things could we do day one week one? I think also introducing them to the team, of course, having a really comprehensive, kind of like a checklist of onboarding tasks. Like let's get your local environment set up. So maybe matching them with like a peer buddy who can help them do that right away. What are those things that are specific to your team or culture, like historical context about what they'll be working on? And what are those goals for the near future that they can just start understanding and getting to know? What are those miscellaneous developer tools that they'll be using that they'll have access to? What are some of those teams that depend on our work or maybe that we depend on to be successful? So starting to get them up to speed on those types of details.

Don’t overwhelm people on day 1 – give them time to absorb and process what they’re learning [25:34]

Kate Wardin: I would say too, like a caveat is to bring these in a staggered approach. Like as opposed to saying, Hey, here's everything day one, say, okay, today we'll talk through our key partners. Tomorrow let's talk through your developer tools, getting your local thing set up, just so that they don't feel super overwhelmed. It's already going to feel like they're drinking from the fire hose per se, as they're joining. And so, trying to make sure that we're not bombarding them with information that's not necessarily relevant to them being successful week one, I think is going to be key. Do you have any ideas to share that work well for you or your team?

Shane Hastie: Well, one of my personal experiences onboarding remotely has definitely been that building those person to person engagements. You mentioned the buddy, the pairing so that you know you've got somebody to talk to. Who can I reach out to? And I know that the people at Menlo Innovations, for instance, they do everything in pairing and they've picked this up even remotely. So when you join as a new hire, you are pairing up and your time is spent on open Zoom calls or whatever collaboration tool.

Kate Wardin: What a great way to kind of mimic that in-person experience of, like you said, open Zoom calls. And I know a lot of other teams who do that and it's like, oh, you can just say oh, I have a question. And it's not this friction of pinging someone like, Hey, can I reach out to something? You're just already both there. And so it feels like you're almost in the same room. So I really love that idea.

Shane Hastie: Let's jump into your role at Netflix. What does it mean, developer productivity?

Developer Experience at Netflix [27:01]

Kate Wardin: We actually just kind of rebranded to call ourselves instead developer experience, because we've realized that a lot of our mission isn't necessarily to make developers more productive. That's one success metric, but there's also a lot of things that go into the mission of our team. Things like, Hey, while folks are leveraging our tools, what is that experience like? Is that a world class experience? Is there friction in it? Is it not enjoyable for whatever reason? And so sparking this developer joy is actually more our North Star as opposed to just can we save time? Like that's one piece of it, one important piece of it, but it's also the experience as folks are leveraging our tools.

And so it can really look different based on the day. So we're constantly trying to collect signals from all of the folks who we support to figure out what is worth going after right now? Knowing that our team is pretty small, and so we have limited resources and we want to make the biggest impact as opposed to just responding to that latest support request or something and pivoting all of our efforts. And so it has to be really intentional effort to prioritize what we work on. And so that's a lot of our work is just investigating, trying to be a fly on the wall per se, in team meetings to pick up on and hear.

Like what's not going well? What do teams have in common for technical debt that they're trying to address that we could perhaps help expedite or provide tooling around? Again, observability is a big theme in ensuring that folks feel confident to monitor their app. And so yeah, I think developer productivity can really meet a lot of different things based on the context of the organization and what those developers are working on. So be it a front end application, a platform, maybe like big data platforms. I think it really, it depends. I'm curious if you have any perspectives on what developer productivity or developer experience means to you?

Shane Hastie: For that one, I'm going to point people to the developer experience topic on InfoQ and we'll include a link there, because we've got a lot of articles and content there.

Kate Wardin: Great.

Shane Hastie: But what I'd like to explore with you around that one is quite a few of our audience are going to be in organizations that haven't, at the moment, got this understanding of maybe there's value in having a separate group or a team dedicated to that developer experience. So where would they start? How would they even go about thinking about this? If we think of the traditional IT shops that are out there?

Establishing a developer experience function [29:28]

Kate Wardin: That's a great question. In my experience, it's always organically started with just those developers on like a core domain team. And they just find themselves picking up these tasks that help other people be more productive. I don't want to say this, but it's sometimes those tasks that other people don't want to do, but they acknowledge that Hey, this is important for us to continue elevating this code base or stay modern with technology and reduce the amount of tech debt we have. It's just those people who find solutions that can be commonly applied across different teams and that seek out that type of opportunity.

And so I honestly don't know how my particular team formed because I came of course after it was formed, but in my past experience, that's what it's been is like. There's that special niche of a person's skillset and passion where they want to work on this tooling that has exponential impact, but might not be the sexy business features that are celebrated in release launches and stuff like that.

So kind of like the behind the scenes work that is really required to like elevate a lot of different developer teams. And again, being more productive, making that experience better, like more reusable, more consistent too, as you look at the different teams so that every team isn't doing things in a silo. So if you're going to bring it to your organization, look for those people who are passionate about that, who tend to pick up those types of stories or gravitate towards that type of work.

And maybe if it's a gradual approach, say, Hey, I want you to dedicate all of your time to this type of work. Would you enjoy doing that? And you could have those people, not even centrally located right away, but kind of see the impact that they could deliver if they even form some type of working group across those domain teams so that they can still be embedded into their teams, but start to work on some of these cross team initiatives that could deliver more value. Because then they do have the insight of like, Hey yeah, I know what it's like. I know exactly what my team talks about. And in fact that could be a really strategic and intentional approach that could work well if this type of central organization new to your organization.

Shane Hastie: Culture. This is the engineering culture podcast. What is the culture of a team that is about supporting other teams?

The culture of a team that supports other teams [31:33]

Kate Wardin: Culture to me means so many different things. I think it's really a collection of moments over time that builds this culture. It's how people are treated, whether it's the direct people on our team, people we're serving, our stakeholders, our business partners. So I guess to answer your question about this particular type of team. One, it depends on the people, right? Because everyone comes with their own unique backgrounds and demographics and experiences that they bring, but maybe I'll try to categorize. I would say it's innovative. It's people who are seeking to not only solve problems but bring the technical solutions to the next level and see like, okay. Let's see, things are just chugging along and our teams are happy, but how could we bring this next level and make that experience even better?

Because we don't have a product owner or project manager saying, Hey, here's our backlog of work. Here's what we're doing. We have to kind of think up what will be working on? What will we spending our time on? And therefore, it's also like, I think I mentioned before, the culture has to be a little bit strategic. We have to identify, where will we bring the most impact. It's collaborative in that nature, too, because we have to gain all of this insight from our partners and be able to articulate that really well and repeat it back to them to make sure that we're on the right track.

I would say collaborative, strategic. Also like there's elements of psychological safety in, Hey, we could have a collection of folks with a lot of different varying years of experiences. Especially in developer productivity. These new perspectives are so valuable because once we get into routines of well, this is how we do things, that can be a really toxic approach. And so we want to have extremely high and positive psychological safety so that people can say, Hey, have we ever thought about this? Or what if we changed this way of doing things? And they don't feel like their voice is any less than another person's on a team. So I think those are really essential elements of leading and managing and being a part of a dev productivity team.

Shane Hastie: A large chunk of our audience are people who are moving into engineering leadership roles. Often they are highly skilled individual contributors and they're now getting into the ... okay, I've got to start working with the broader group of people, both into and external to my team, whether it's newly minted as a team lead, or even just the individual contributor stepping up themselves and taking on some of that leadership. What advice would you give these people?

Advice for new leaders [33:51]

Kate Wardin: I would say the first is to acknowledge that these new skills ...I mean, there are new skills that are required of pivoting from individual contributor... I'll call it IC for short. To manager, leading people or even mentoring people. I heard a phrase that I really love. It's like going from computer science to people science, and that comes with so many different soft skills, even some hard skills like time management and then things like that to manage our time and our schedules. Knowing that inevitably if you're leading people, you're going to have a bit more meetings that pop up on your calendar.

But yeah, advice. I would say, be patient with yourself and acknowledge that leadership. You'll never reach the end. You'll never be done learning and growing as a leader. These are going to be skills that you're going to work to build over time. And it also comes with this mindset shift that can be really intimidating and stressful for people, because your daily success is going to be a lot less tactical to point to. It's going to be a lot more like abstract. Okay, well, today I had a lot of meetings, maybe unblocked some people in their work. Maybe I chatted with another key partner, but like, what did I actually get done today? And so that can be a really overwhelming transition.

And so again, just to have patience for yourself. One thing I did when I first got into management was at the end of every week ... and actually when joining the new organization. Just write down one thing I was really proud of for that week. And so I could look back and say, okay. I think I made an impact here. I can chat with my leader and say, am I on the right path? Am I doing the right things? Knowing that management is different and new for me and acknowledging that like these skills are ones that I haven't practiced and that I'll need to continue building and I'll always continue building onto these soft skills.

Shane Hastie: Kate. Thank you very much for that. Some really useful advice and good ideas for people to consider. If the audience want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Kate Wardin: I think LinkedIn is probably the best place. I keep an eye on that as I'm doing various recruiting efforts and making sure that I'm following lots of awesome leadership articles on there. So you can send me a message on LinkedIn, and I would love to connect to continue the conversation about your experience and maybe any advice you have for me as you're going through that transition from IC to leadership. Or what are those troubles that you face? I love talking about this and also exchanging book recommendations and article recommendations. So LinkedIn would be the best place to find me.

Shane Hastie: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Kate Wardin: Thank you so much for having me, Shane.


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