Angus Dorney, Co-CEO of Kablamo, and former MD of Rackspace, talks us through 10 ways to attract and keep the best tech talent in Australia and New Zealand – even though many people claim this is impossible.
Not too long ago, a report by the Australian Industry Group (AIG) found that 75% of businesses surveyed reported a skills shortage, particularly around technical trades in emerging and highly competitive areas such as Big Data, automation and Artificial Intelligence. Anecdotally, people complain that great tech talent is far too scarce.
No question that the best tech talent is scarce, but how come some companies get the lion’s share of the best and the brightest? By all accounts our Kablamo team, made up of several globally recognized techies, shouldn’t even exist in Australia, but it does, and we keep hiring and retaining great people. How? Here are 10 ways for organizations large and small that want to do the same.
- Give them choices, change and challenge: The best technical talent needs to live in an environment of rapid customisation and variability – that’s the way they like it. No single solution is ever the same and you can’t do cookie cutter. That means your tech team needs to constantly be able to find unique solutions to unique problems. Give them puzzles, hard puzzles and they will thrive.
- Forget the flash: Focus on skills and substance, rather than superficial polish. No one likes the developer who speaks the loudest but doesn’t have anyone understanding them. You want to promote as spirit of humility in that we’re here to look after each other and our customers and stay committed to achieving the smartest answers – smart doesn’t mean shiny, it means real.
- Talk about humans not Human Resources: Thinking of people as resources to be managed is counter-productive. Don’t have a rigid performance management framework. Don’t do mandatory breakfasts or culture-boosting posters. The traditional idea is building a beautiful office where you have employees who never want to leave from sunrise to, well, sunrise again. That’s old fashioned. Instead, work with a more flexible approach to geographic placement. When you attract the best, you trust and you adapt. And when you’re thinking about building human, rather than transactional relationships, you start to get materially better outcomes.
- The best techs are looking for fast and different: No one graduates from an IT program and says I want to work for a big enterprise tech consultancy. The best tech talent is avoiding slow-moving enterprises and traditional IT vendors because it means a lack of interesting work. They’re not afraid of hard work, but they thrive when each day is different and things are fast-moving.
- Count on gravity: Ultimately, we get drawn to the people we’d like to work with. This is especially true of tech talent. Great tech talent flocks together. Being interviewed by an outstanding technical mind, implies a wealth of opportunity in development and ground-breaking work. It’s the learning environment that pulls exceptionally bright minds together to tackle challenges in AI, Machine Learning, cloud, IOT and more.
- Use real values not phoney corporate talk: Businesses talk a lot about values these days, but don’t even get us started on acronyms which sit on about us pages gathering cobwebs. For example, Kablamo lives open source, without any monetary gain. We actually built tech for techies that will never pay us a cent – we did this because the team believed in doing it. This clearly communicates to the high-end developer community about what we contribute, what we stand for and what world we’re trying to create. Basically, it expresses why we exist and how that has to do with much more than just the bottom line. The right (read: best) people get this.
- Let them roam free: Top tech talent is mobile and flexible. These girls and guys embrace different communication tools and channels in order to make things happen. They work from home, from the train, or during unusual hours of the night – but they do so on their own terms. Unshackle your workforce. The worst trend is companies requiring a return to work-from-base model.
- Treat them like adults and be transparent: You want your tech team to know the things that matter to the business – in other words, treat them like adults. Humans generally like some level of predictability when it comes to major changes to their work environment. It’s commonsense, so we apply that basic knowledge to our business, and remain transparent with our team.
- Drive competition hard but leave egos at the door: We do ‘Thunder Dome’ at Kablamo, but not the Mad Max kind. Our Thunderdome involves someone throwing in a new idea and having 20 or so engineers brainstorm, thrash and debate it over drinks and a good time. It’s run by the engineering team and owned by them, driving a burning desire to achieve outstanding practical outcomes on their own terms – no holds barred. Some of our people spend the weekend coding their own projects. It’s a way of life – so don’t get in its way; encourage it.
- Don’t force roles on great people who don’t want them: Some engineers strive to become managers. Some engineers strive to become subject matter experts. The latter approach shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving significant leadership positions on your team. Some individuals want to keep working with tools, follow a technical career path, and avoid the distraction or lack of passion associated with managing people. Too much to ask for? We tell them they can do that if they want to. A humans-first approach will keep driving both individual careers and your mission forward.