Tips for Startup Founders: How to Build a Great Engineering Team

Sandra Petrova

Sandra Petrova

Remote Work Researcher

Are you on an ambitious mission to build a successful engineering team? After all, a great engineering team can help move your company forward. However, finding top-of-the-class engineers who can help you build your product has become time-consuming, expensive, and not exactly a walk in the park.

To help you in your sourcing and hiring efforts, we’ve put together a practical guide. It walks you through the stages of building a great engineering team.

Why is it so hard to hire good engineers?

Today, we are witnessing a large supply and demand gap with technical talent. There are more jobs available than there are developers to fill the vacancies. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the tech industry’s unemployment rate is 1.9 percent.

Understandably, companies are having difficulties filling positions and developers can be picky about which job to take. Nearly 89% of companies reported that they find it challenging to find and hire technical talent.

If you’re a founder of a startup company, hiring good engineers can be a very time-consuming and tiring process. It can take you a lot of time to even convince a developer to talk to you about a job. You need to send tons of messages, make plenty of phone calls, and do lots of interviews. In many cases, most of your efforts will turn out to be a waste of your time.

Luckily, there are some steps you take to improve your hiring process and build a highly effective software development team.

challenges of finding technical talent

What are the best places to hire an engineer?  

Personal networks

Hiring engineers through your personal networks is a smart idea when building your core engineering team. Especially if you’re making your first hires. Hiring someone you’ve worked with before or someone you know has worked with can be of significant advantage. You’ll avoid hiring the wrong people and spending extra resources on turnover costs.

Here are some tips for hiring from your personal network:

  • Make a list of every good engineer that you know and then get in touch. Meet with every person on that list and ask them to join your company.
  • If they’re hesitant about joining your company, offer them a tour around the office so they can picture themselves working there.
  • Don’t be afraid of getting rejected. If you want your startup to be successful, you have to find the courage to get rejected.
  • Ask your friends to give you a list of suggestions for good software engineers.
  • Include your team in the hiring process. Ask them to suggest a list of people they think would be a great fit for the company. Offer referral bonuses to your team for suggesting people.

Marketplaces and Communities

Online marketplaces and communities for technical talent have gained in popularity in the last few years. Their popularity can be traced back to the difficulty in recent years to hire good engineers.

How these marketplaces/communities work is that both companies and engineers create their profiles. Candidates interview with employers and discuss the project options. Some marketplaces/communities require to tell them what you need help with, and then they find your ideal match.

The best thing about marketplaces/communities is that they solve problems on both sides of the market. Developers get to find work, and employers gain access to great tech talent. You can hire an engineer very quickly without wasting time on sourcing and recruiting.

To make the most of marketplaces or communities, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Engineers will be getting a lot of offers, so make sure you offer them a good benefits package.
  • Hiring from a marketplace/communities can be expensive, so be ready to spend some money.
  • As the demand exceeds the supply, it’s usually the company that needs to reach out.

Linkedin

Linkedin is also worth mentioning as a great place for finding great engineers. It’s a large directory of engineers online. You can easily find developers here through keyword research. Once you’ve found a developer, reach out by sending them private messages and asking them to join your company.

However, keep in mind that in recent years, the reply rate on Linkedin has dropped significantly. Developers are bombarded daily by recruiters who’re dealing with the tech talent shortage themselves.

Here are some tips:

  • You’re going to have to send lots of messages just to find a few interested candidates.
  • Dedicate some time on researching Linkedin. Discover engineer who you think would be a great fit for your company and analyze their profiles.
  • Once you find skilled developers, send them a personalized message. Explain to them why you think they’ll be a great fit for your company.
  • Give them proof that you’ve read their profiles and you like the work they’ve done.
  • Avoid spamming.
building a great engineering team

Should you use recruiters to hire good engineers?

There are many reasons why companies work with recruiters. It saves them time and helps them find skilled talent.

There are different types of recruiters to choose from, including:

  • Contract recruiters: this type of recruiters work for many clients at the same time. You can hire them on a short-term basis to help you fill various job positions.
  • In-house recruiters: these are full-time recruiters that are a member of your team. If you’re a startup founder, you should consider starting with contract recruiters. Recruiters can deal with the sourcing part of recruitment, and you can take over the interviewing part. When this becomes too time-consuming for you, consider hiring an in-house recruitment team.
  • Agency: agencies are teams of salespeople that source engineers and send their resumes to interested companies. Working with an agency is a good idea if you can’t afford to hire an in-house recruitment team. Consider working with an agency if you plan on hiring regularly (about once a month).

How to evaluate a candidate’s technical skills

To build a highly effective software development team, you need to make sure the engineers you’re hiring are top-of-the-class. There are several ways of evaluating an engineer’s technical skills.

  • Resume screen. Look at the candidate’s resume. Do they look like someone who would be a great fit for your company?
  • Recruiter call. This includes a short call to know more about the engineer’s background, experience, culture fit, etc. If you don’t have a recruiter working with you, it’s you who needs to make the call.
  • Technical screen. This is usually an hour long screen where the candidate will talk with another engineer from your company. They will discuss technical stuff like technology, languages, projects, testing practices, research, etc. Some recruiters like to give candidates a technical home project to complete.
  • Coding challenge. Coding challenges are a great way to assess your candidate’s programming skills. You can give them the assignment before the face-to-face interview or during the technical screen. Check out HackerRank and Codility for more information.
  • Onsite face-to-face interview. You invite the candidate to visit your company for an onsite interview. It’s a great opportunity for them to talk with your other engineers. You’ll get a sense of how the engineering team will function as a whole. If you’re hiring remotely, have a face-to-face interview using a tool like Zoom.
  • Decision meeting. You should gather everyone that’s part of your hiring team. Together,  you need to come up with a decision whether you’ll hire the candidate.

How to make an offer and close a candidate

Let’s imagine that you recruited a good engineer from your personal network. Their name was on that list of suggestions your employee gave you. You looked at their resume and found their experience to be quite impressive. The technical screen went perfectly, and the entire hiring team decided that the candidate would make a great addition to the engineering team.

Now’s the time to think about making an offer and closing that candidate before they get snatched by another company.

You need to act fast. If you think they would be a great fit for your company, tell them the good news. Always be available to answer their questions.

Speed is always a hiring advantage over other companies. Larger corporations might take months to go through their hiring process. Use this to hire the best talent.

Talk about your company culture. The majority of candidates will be interested to hear more about the diversity policies at your company, your transparency, and employee freedom. They want to hear more about their co-workers, the challenges, and the atmosphere.

Encourage your team to reach out to the candidate and answer any further questions they may have. This will make them feel a part of the team.

To compete with tech giants like Google and Facebook, consider offering your employees a great benefits package. Employees today want:

  • learning opportunities
  • career progression
  • flexibility
  • mentorship
  • on-site amenities

Lastly, make your offer 100% transparent. Give the candidate all the details about their salary, startup equity, and benefits package.

Conclusion

Building an engineering team can be a hassle. If it doesn’t go well, it can cost you time and money. But if it does, you’ll have a high-impact team that can supercharge your projects. By following the tips mentioned above, you’ll manage to hire the right team to put your mission into action and your vision into reality.