Our company didn’t start out as a company. We started by building an app for the Broadway show “Hamilton” – the first commercial Flutter app built outside of Google. It was a feature-rich, multi-platform, shoot-the-moon, very fast effort, and its success put us on the map. So our DNA isn’t “Let’s start a business to leverage the rise of open source.” It’s “Let’s develop amazing products based on technology that people will love using.” By nature, we’re engineers and developers first. Then we set out to build a very good company.
Any growing company has the same challenge: hiring high-caliber people who will contribute to your growth. Our team of 50 people and counting works remotely and globally. But we’ve got innovative practices in place that bring us together seamlessly as a unified team, and we apply the same approach across the board – no matter what industry we’re working with.
Three pillars of a great hire
Let’s say your goals include rolling out a great process, bringing great ideas to the table, showing your clients you know what you’re doing so they have confidence that you will meet their needs, and, of course, creating great products. Those aren’t unusual goals. But to execute, you need great people. Any lapses within your team will detract from your ability to deliver. Knowing that, I look for three essential characteristics in our hires: technical skills, great communication, and reliability.
1) A technical foundation – and willingness to evolve
Realistically, technology is constantly changing. So, while technical skills are important, they may not always be most important. The technology we’ll be using in five years might not even exist yet. I find that people can certainly gain skills with solid coaching, mentorship, and practice. That said, I need them to have a solid foundation as well as appetite for learning if that collaboration is going to succeed.
A strong technical foundation gives a developer the confidence to experiment and push the limits but in a disciplined, intelligent way. It also makes it easy to partner and work with outside teams – something we do a lot – and work to create the solution they need. Working with Flutter, for instance, requires a broad range of expertise – specifically, fluency in programming languages and comfort in multiple platforms, such as Android and iOS. Programming isn’t a siloed endeavor today. You need to be able to work with whatever you need, even if you’re not 100 percent familiar with it.
On a deeper level, and especially with experienced developers, I look for people whose programming shows a kind of empathy. I don’t mean stirring up emotions. But there’s a way to write code that makes it easy to work with: it follows a pattern that can be applied by someone else down the line. Our engineers appreciate that their programming will go through different hands, so they write elegant code that can be changed fast and effectively. A big part of our culture is sharing and honoring that mindset.
Hiring only for technical skills isn’t enough. Whatever the project, the outcome depends on good communication. Your engineers need to be able to convince both your teams and clients that the solution you’re offering is the right one. Again, one’s organizational culture will help or hinder this openness.
Culture can only go so far, however. Being remote and global requires strong communication skills. It’s not about having perfect English – I’m from Spain and work with engineers from everywhere. Whether in Chicago or Rotterdam or Madrid, the best developers can make themselves understood respectfully and honestly and therefore productively.
Finally, for clients to depend on your company, you need to be able to rely on your people. One of the biggest services a strong consultancy offers is much more important than any app: trustworthiness. Instilling confidence requires total reliability: being on time, accountable, proactive, and ready at every phase of a project. That’s an important differentiator some otherwise great companies may miss when it comes to how they deliver. You’re only as reliable as your people are. Consistency – a simple value – is a huge part of it.
How to build a culture of growth
My advice to expanding companies looking for great talent is to stay open, and welcome participation and interaction. You might just find your next developers that way.
We see a lot of external engagement due to the open source nature of our work. People send us their resumes and news on their projects that apply our methods because they want to be more involved with what we’re doing. We just had an engineer join the team who came from a former client. I also keep an eye on the people in the open source world making contributions to our public tools.
Support your people with education and training so they can grow within your company. I came across a jarring statistic recently: only 15 percent of U.S. employees would not leave their current job for any reason. It’s not enough to attract great people. Give them a reason to stay. Work to build a culture that nurtures your people over the long term.
At VGV, we hold our software to extremely high standards and test rigorously. Above all, we celebrate teamwork and intellectual capital. That’s partly due to our industry, which embraces exchange and collaboration. We see ourselves as ambassadors of that ethic; it is our fundamental philosophy. You can’t dedicate yourself to creating robust solutions that scale and last if you don’t also want your company to last and make a difference.
Technical skills, communication, and reliability are the best predictors of a culture where great development teams carry an organization’s vision forward into the future.
Jorge Coca is Head of Engineering at Very Good Ventures.