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The process of building great tech teams is broken — here’s how we fix it

Today’s world of software development is different from the proprietary software of years past. Open source enables speed, agility, and flexibility. APIs connect disparate processes into ecosystems of solutions that easily plug into each other and speak a shared language.

While software development itself is now extremely collaborative, I’d say the process of hiring and upskilling talent in this world is just the opposite.

It’s fragmented with siloed teams and technologies that don’t work together. Individual recruiters, hiring managers, HR teams, and strategic leaders work independently like the legacy software that the developers they’re hiring, in many cases, are replacing.

Misaligned expectations between recruiters and hiring managers is a common pain point, but the problems with building great tech teams go much further up the organizational pyramid than you might expect.

For example, Chief Learning Officers rarely consult with hiring managers when they develop L&D initiatives. At first glance, that might make sense… but not when you really think about it.

If you want to start prioritizing certain skills at your organization and develop entire courses to promote those skills, wouldn’t you want to understand the skills that are being prioritized when hiring prospective employees from day one?

This is why I believe we need strategic communication between teams so that everyone is aligned on who to hire, why, and how to upskill them into the most complete talent that fits the technology trends and business needs of the present, AND the future.

Here are some ways we can get there:

1. Build a skill-based organizational culture

Some cultures are fun. Some are rigid. The joke in the VC world here in Silicon Valley is that the culture of Venture Capital firms can be summed up in one item of clothing: Patagonia vests.

But culture of course far exceeds clothing — and it starts in the hiring process.

As I’ve argued in the past, the idea of hiring for culture fit is changing. Organizations used to hire archetypes that looked and felt the same, risking inclusivity in the process. Today, culture fit is more about aligning values at every stage of the interview process.

These values must be inclusive at their heart, but once you know that a candidate has a similar world view, a hunger for excellence, and customer-centricity, for example, then you simply must prioritize skills.

What my team and I do is put skills at the heart of our organizational culture. We hire for skills, agnostic of gender or racial background. In fact, we mask personally identifiable information like name and gender during screening and even, sometimes, during interviews so that unconscious bias won’t impact a hiring decision.

I think everyone can recognize that interviews are often a source of subjectivity where it’s easy for someone’s decision to be based on personal preferences over actual skill.

We ensure that objectivity is at the heart of coding interviews by designing a way to accurately measure skills, even during a face-to-face interview so that there is absolutely no room for subjectivity or bias in the process.

But we go further than just hiring. We design our learning and development programs around strategically prioritized skills. That way, we know we have a pipeline of developer talent that will meet our needs, but we can also tailor L&D programs to further strengthen their skills and make them future-ready.

With our skill-based organizational culture in place, it was easy to get stakeholders to collaborate to define skill-based objectives and work towards helping new and old developers alike grow in a strategic manner.

This is also something that we’ve put into our solutions for companies worldwide. We not only help you hire based solely on skill, and nothing else, we also enable you to identify skill gaps within your current organization so that hiring and even L&D programs can be aligned seamlessly.

2. Continuous assessment to ensure continuous learning

People who develop products often follow this procedure: design, test, iterate. 

I’ve found that many learning and development programs don’t emphasize the last two steps. Companies design these great programs, but it’s hard for them to understand and quantify success.

In fact, Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends Report highlights that reskilling and upskilling programs must “gather and act on workforce data that provides a real-time view of workers’ skills across the entire talent ecosystem.”

Part of this will, of course, be gathering employee feedback on individual programs, but you also have to test their skills in quantifiable ways. Can you build an assessment that gauges their ability to code in Go, a highly sought-after programming language, for instance?

Their assessment data then needs to be tracked against performance data. Are they succeeding in their role in the way their assessments might predict? Why or why not? How can the L&D program be tweaked to impact real-world applications of skills?

If you aren’t assessing the skills that you’re prioritizing, you’re building skill infrastructure blind.

3. Apply D&I insights to your upskilling programs

Though the corporate world doesn’t necessarily have a strong track record of supporting diversity and inclusion, something did seem to change in the aftermath of last year’s BLM protests. Many organizations have prioritized D&I hiring initiatives, but where their efforts fall short is in upskilling and promoting diverse talent from within.

For instance, women are more likely to take a career break than their male peers, and D&I upskilling programs can be effective ways to help them quickly reacclimate to a different work environment that places emphasis on different skills.

With the skill gap very much heightening competition for tech talent, your HR department can add a lot of value by simply working with your hiring managers to highlight these upskilling programs as an attractive draw to your organization.

On the flip side, the hiring managers themselves can really help inform elements of these programs by communicating areas of growth needed from their candidates.

This collaboration allows you to not only hire diverse talent, but also tailor programs to their needs to put diverse talent in positions of leadership.

The connective tissue to build great tech teams

It’s funny how sometimes we fail to learn lessons from the things we study day after day. We focus on the minutiae of execution rather than seeing strategic changes as they happen.

When it comes to tech, we’ve embraced the collaboration of APIs, but we haven’t sourced, screened, interviewed, and upskilled our tech talent nearly as comprehensively.

It’s time to build connective tissue between the structures of tech employee lifecycle management so that organizations can act and move as a single unit when building great tech teams. 

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