[YS Learn] Top techies look for these attributes while hiring key engineering talent

From curiosity to the ability to code, and becoming an expert, top techies look for these while hiring engineering talent.

[YS Learn] Top techies look for these attributes while hiring key engineering talent

Tuesday November 24, 2020,

7 min Read

Engineering talent never goes out of demand. Even during these pandemic times, people look to hire tech engineers with specific skill sets that are particularly important now, when the world is moving faster towards a digital transformation. 

A recent McKinsey report said that the right combination of talent and culture can help industrial companies set up effective technology functions. The pandemic has removed geographical boundaries and constraints, and there is no hesitation any longer to find and hire talent only from cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru. People are being hired from different cities and geographies only on the basis of their skill set and their ability to get work done. 

The job scenario is not what it used to be either. While there is always space for technology talent and workforce, engineers today need to focus more on what they can build and their ability to adapt. 

In conversation with YourStory, top techies in the industry talk about the core elements they look for while hiring tech talent. 

Learning mindset

Vikalp Sahni, Co-founder and former CTO, GoIbibo

“I always look at the way people approach a problem and their mindset. Quoting Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, he says “The cost of brilliant jerks is way too high.”  

“Techies need to be open to learning, but more importantly, to unlearning as well. Whatever you were doing three years ago is not sensible now. Question the status quo; as the dynamics always change. And don’t get emotional about a particular code,” Vikalp says. 

Natasha Jetanandani, CTO, Kaleidofin, the fintech startup 

"There are two important things to look for — learning and the willingness to learn. It is a given that you need to be good at your basics. Your core ability to look through problems and the ability to solve for them comes from the basics, which need to be strong. I also look for people who dabble with things - building products and apps outside the work matter. It shows passion."

Laks Srini, Co-founder and CTO, Zerodown, and Co-founder, Zenefits

While hiring people, Laks now looks for curiosity and willingness to learn. “If one is curious about their work, everything falls into place. Seeing people describe their work reveals if they are proud of what they do,” he says. 

Abhinav Lal, Co-founder and CTO, Practo 

Advising techies, he says, while it is important to learn something new every day, it is also important to go deep in one expertise. “There is value in having in-depth knowledge - not just the technical expertise and utilising tech in itself, but how do you take a new piece of tech that is still evolving, and solve real world problems? How code is written has not changed in the past 30 years, but it is the craft that differentiates a good engineer from a great one. Therefore, one thing I look for is passion. It is not just about technology. I always ask about the first application code they wrote, and a passionate engineer can go on for hours, the topic does not matter. I was talking to an engineer on the physics of how the table tennis spin works, and we spoke about it for hours on end. That is passion.” 

What can you build? 

Richard Brown, CTO, R3 

One thing that Richard Brown, CTO of enterprise software firm R3 looks for while hiring a software engineer is to check if they can actually write software. A lot of people cannot write software - they can maintain software written by other people, they can follow tutorials, they can tweak things, but inhabiting a problem, building something from scratch, and doing that correctly is a pretty hard find, says Richard.

“I’m not looking for a superstar, I am not looking for the world’s best programmer, I just want to see evidence that this person can write a program.” 

“Become an expert, master something and know something inside out. It is how I went from being one among 90 or 100 people to a select few. I was an expert in the product I worked on, and that gave confidence to people higher up on my abilities. You can’t be an expert as you get more senior because you have to cover so many more topics. So work to be an expert beforehand,” says Richard. 

Ramakrishnan, CTO, Near Store 

“You may not be able to do everything, but you should have an understanding of what happens in the frontend and the server. Make sure to understand the system,” he says. His advice to techies is to “try doing things end to end”. “Especially when you are starting up and learning. I have seen close to 90 percent people do not know where their skills lie. Looking at the complete process shows you interesting things that you can learn at every stage. Explore as much as possible and build things end to end,” Ramakrishnan says

Kailash Nadh, CTO, Zerodha 

“We first built something, and only when we needed more hands did we bring someone else. Hiring was and still is very informal. I can relate only to hobbies that developers have built. I am still a hobby developer, and it is an unhealthy addiction,” Kailash says. 

Prashant Malik, Co-creator of Facebook’s Cassandra

“I have always been a doer, and I really respect people who have built good systems and have architected stuff. Open sourcing is a great test,” says Prashant. Advising all new techies, Prashant says, “Everyone who is graduating today wants to build a startup. While that is great and positive for the ecosystem, before jumping in, get to know a startup. Work for a startup, get a feel of the culture and understand the DNA, and then grow that DNA.

Building startups are hard, there are several ups and downs, and there are times when you want to give it all up. If you have worked for a startup and have been part of it, you will understand the path and will be better equipped to handle things.”

Swapan Rajdev, Co-founder and CTO, Haptik 

Speaking about what he looks for in a candidate while hiring, Swapan says, a great attitude is important. “We see if we will enjoy working with the new person, and look at their ability to raise the bar at Haptik - not just from a technical standpoint, but it’s also about the unique perspective they will bring in. 

Can you work with the team?

Mohit Aron, Founder and CEO, Cohesity, Co-founder and former CTO, Nutanix 

In my second company, I have realised that it is all about the team. It is here that I also learnt how to act like a leader. As engineers, we tend to believe we can move mountains ourselves. But no matter how good you are, it is always about the team. The more you can facilitate, enable and improve the team, the better off you are. If the team works well with each other, then, you can move mountains. I have had to shift my mindset into the importance of the team. 

Vivek Ramachandran, Founder, Pentester Academy 

Learn how to showcase and market your work. Many technical people do not do that well, but that is an important skill too.” 

Edited by Anju Narayanan