Picking Winners: How We Hire (and Nurture) Developers at MojoTech
Aaron Snyder is a Developer at MojoTech. Here he shares some thoughts on our hiring process.
No matter how much experience you have, there’s a lot to learn when taking a job at MojoTech. Shortly after being hired and becoming aware of the knowledge/skills gap between myself and other colleagues, I approached our CEO Nick Kishfy. I was concerned that I wasn’t living up to expectations he had when he hired me. He told me not to worry, they hired me for where I’d be in a few months, not where I am today.
He told me to think of myself of as an investment, and that he was confident I would mature.
At MojoTech we’re often hiring on prospectus. We can get a pretty good idea of how good a developer is and whether they’d be a good fit for our team through the interview process; but it’s not an exact science.
(We’re looking for developers and designers right now as it happens.)
What we need to do is analyze where the candidate is today, where they were yesterday and estimate where they will be after a few months / years on our team. In some ways it’s like angel investing; we’ve identified promising talent and need to perform due diligence to make sure that investing time, money and resources into this person will yield the results we’re looking for.
Here are four things we (generally) look for:
Smart people make good investments. One of the first things we gauge in the interview process is a candidate’s relative intelligence. Nick likes to evaluate this based off a writing sample and a brief phone screening. He likes to say that “If you can write well, you can think well.”
We’re not looking for the next Shakespeare. What we are looking for is the ability to convey organized, well reasoned thoughts. At MojoTech our engineers don’t exist in a walled garden. They’re communicating with our clients on a daily basis: in standups or Basecamp or chat. The ability to communicate clearly is a key factor in a developers success. We may hold a position that we know to be correct but if we are unable to help our clients see things from the same perspective, we’ve failed.
But writing isn’t everything. When writing, the candidate has an advantage: there is no time constraint. In a fast paced agency like MojoTech time is not a commodity to be wasted. So in addition to smart people, we need smart people who think fast. This is where a phone conversation comes in.
Phone screenings place the candidate in a setting more akin to their day-to-day responsibilities at MojoTech. It’s important that candidates come off as confident, well-reasoned and personable during the phone screening.
While it is important for all positions at Mojo, the ability to learn well is critical when hiring engineers. Determining whether an engineer learns well boils down to the tech exercise.
The tech exercise usually involves two MojoTech employees and the candidate. We give them an hour to solve a real world problem that contains a few wrinkles.
The first thing we look at is their ability to program. Are they competent with at least one set of programming tools? It’s not important which set of tools they come with because no matter how much they already know, they’ll be picking up new ones as they work on our projects. As long as they can demonstrate an understanding of the mastery of programming, we’re confident in our ability to train them on whatever tools they’ll need to be successful.
We’re looking for candidates that ask questions before jumping into code. Ideally the questions build upon one another, informing us that the candidate understands the compounding effect each decision has on the next.
It’s unlikely that candidates will have all the answers during a tech exercise. We’re pushing and prodding and looking for holes in their knowledge. We like to hear “I don’t know, but I’m sure I can find out.”
It’s important for us to see they’re capable of researching the proper answer. Do they just copy/paste StackOverflow answers until one works, or do they ask insightful questions and tab over to the API Docs to craft a solution? We’re looking for the latter.
Works well with others
During the tech exercise we’re not just looking at code. We’re observing the candidate’s demeanor as they code alongside our team.
When they hit a stumbling block, do they explain what they’re thinking or do they get nervous and type frantically? We’re looking for confidence, humility and above all a cool head.
Beyond the tech exercise, we are generally eager to hear about how a candidate has worked in a team. Whether it’s a sports team or an engineering team, a lot can be learned by hearing what they have to say about their teammates.
A good indicator for success at MojoTech is when people have passion projects that aren’t required by work. For this reason, we’re always eager to see any apps that a candidate wrote on their own outside of a work or school assignment.
This initiative shows ownership and a desire to learn that comes from within. Employees who demonstrate internal accountability are more likely to take ownership over their client work. This attribute especially indicates that a candidate is a good investment.
Crunching the numbers
When it comes to financial investments, we have the benefit of looking at trend graphs to extrapolate future performance. Unfortunately hiring is a more ambiguous endeavor, the four qualities we’ve mentioned are what we look for when determining a good fit for MojoTech. But in order to determine whether the candidate is a good investment, we’re looking for growth in these areas.
This brings us to the heart of the question, how do we determine if this investment is going to grow? To answer that you must look inward. The question becomes: knowing what we know about the candidate, how much can our organization help them grow?
At MojoTech we have nearly 250 years of combined experience building software. Together we’ve determined a formula for success that makes us the 42nd fastest growing software company in the America. Our company grows fast because our employees grow fast.
When we bring on a new employee we immediately begin the mentoring process. This is often a hands-on one-on-one relationship where there are no stupid questions.
We balance out the handholding by giving people space to learn. (Look for more on this in an upcoming article.)
Every week we encourage engineers to spend ‘MojoTime’ working on a project that excites them. We give them opportunities to attend meet-ups and conferences to stay current with the industry. Are they particularly excited about a new technology? Share it with us during MojoTalks, our weekly internal tech presentation.
Once your organization has this forward momentum, good hires find it easy to both come up to speed and eventually contribute to the overall growth of the teams. When individuals advance the team, that is when the investment pays off.
Do you want to be a part of the action? We’re hiring.