Recently I attended a few seminars/meet-ups/opportunities-for-free-snacks (call them what you will) on recruiting and engaging developers, during which several engineers shared how important a company’s culture and office environment were to them and several non-engineers present were openly surprised by this.
There seemed to be two extremes of where engineers were perceived to stand in a company’s culture. Either they were shut away on another floor in a battery hen farm of coding or they were hailed as heroes and put on pedestals front and center. To my mind neither is a truthful or helpful view.
Engineers are obviously important to a tech start-up. Successful work is invaluable but often by its very nature specialised and somewhat insular. Does this make them any more or less involved in the company’s culture?
When we started Axonix we knew that our engineers would have to be fully aligned with our Sales and Operations teams to ensure that we would be truly agile. We needed to be able to collaborate and innovate in a clear and consistent fashion. To that end we took the conscious decision that our team would be recruited locally, be physically in the same space and sat alongside the less technical functions of the company. This obviously had an impact on our approach to recruitment, leading us to refine our view of not just the technical competencies sought but also the types of people we needed to hire. In short, it went beyond coding.
I knew from personal experience the type of engineer who wouldn’t fit in.
Prior to Axonix, in my first week at a larger company I asked where the engineers were and was sent along a bare corridor, down a flight of stairs to a darkened doorway. I looked into a pitch-black room where half a dozen coding demons sat in a row, their pale faces illuminated only by the eldritch glow of their laptop screens. I said hello, they looked up, I introduced myself and one by one they silently hunched back over their laptops in a sine wave of dystopia.
I went back to my desk and asked my boss why they were sat in the dark. Her reply: “Oh we put in lights, they keep taking them out.” But here’s the thing: they were happy. This particular group of coders had resisted all forms of integration and liked nothing better than to be fully plugged into the matrix. And that’s neither wrong nor right, it’s simply about fit. We knew we needed engineers who were at ease working directly with non-engineers and seeing firsthand the impact of their work. Basically coming out of the cellar and taking their place in the larger team.
In this way we have consistently hired for cultural fit. In fact this attribute slightly edges technical knowledge. Skills can be taught, temperament cannot. We’ve found that it’s vital to be crystal clear about the ethos of the company and ensure that the prospective engineer will feel comfortable in our environment. And over the last three years we have seen the very positive results of this as the collaborative work culture became a given, even as we opened offices in other countries.
To summarise, you own a business making toy cars. The engineers carve them, the operations team makes sure the wheels work, the marketing people paint them and the sales crew sell them. All these working together as a unit make you successful, if one falls over it all falls over and you end up waist deep in oak automobiles with the bailiffs pounding on the front door.