How to recruit top engineering talent in 2020

Codility CEO Natalia Panowicz talks to ZDNet about how traditional enterprises can compete against the Google's of the world for top tech talent.

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Codility CEO Natalia Panowicz 

As companies across industries aim to become software-driven, the demand for developers is skyrocketing. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, software developer jobs will grow 24 percent between 2016 and 2026 -- much faster than the average rate of other professions.

With that kind of growth, attracting the right talent can be challenging. ZDNet spoke with Codility CEO Natalia Panowicz about what it takes to appeal to candidates with strong engineering skills.  

"Engineers have a lot of power right now," Panowicz said. Both employers and prospective employees, she said, "have to figure out, is this a good fit? Is it a good idea to work together?" 

Ultimately, she said, the choice for engineers comes down to the question of, "Do I want to solve these problems for you, with these people?"

Founded in 2009, Codility is a software platform that helps tech recruiters and hiring managers assess job candidates' skills by testing their code online. The company supports "the Amazon's and the Microsoft's of the world," Panowicz said, but also every other vertical that decides engineering is a strategic part of their business. Codility's business has evolved to serve customers in the financial sector, gaming, automotive, retail and other industries. 

The past decade has given Codility perspective on what engineers are looking for from a potential employer, as well as the trends and challenges driving the hiring process. Here's a lightly edited version of the conversation with Panowicz: 

How do traditional enterprises get started? 

"If we think about the engineering hiring process, it starts with building a pipeline of candidates," Panowicz said. "This is where typically non-traditional [engineering] employers struggle the most." 

Traditional enterprises should start by reviewing their branding and ensuring that they've positioned themselves as a viable place to work for engineers, she said. 

"One thing I would say is very different is the amount of candidates that naturally inbound to tech and nontech employers," Panowicz said. 

"Once you build this pipeline and convince a set of candidates they can give you a chance... how do you assess them?" she continued. "If you have a strong engineering team already, they'd lead the process. From our perspective and the journey we see our customers taking, there's a lot of figuring [that] out." 

Competitive salaries only get you so far

"Let's say the assessment process works and you want to give an offer to that person," Panowicz said. "Then, how do you compete against the Google's of the world?"

Salaries for engineers have already inflated so much in comparison to other roles, she said, that offering a big paycheck can only get you so far. 



"From our qualitative and quantitative research, what matters [beyond a paycheck] is what problems will I solve with this company and what will I learn as an engineer, who will be my mentor, what technology will I work with?" Panowicz said.  

"If I could give any advice to companies competing against Google, it is really to have a lot of clarity around what interesting problems engineers can help them solve and what is the learning path for this top engineering talent when they join them."

How and when to hire remote workers

As technologies like videoconferencing enable remote work, the idea of building a decentralized team can become appealing. 

"If you are an employer in San Francisco, you very quickly exhaust your pool of candidates," Panowicz said. "At a certain scale, it becomes a must."

However, before committing to building decentralized teams, she said, you must "really know how your remote team members will work with your team. Will they be expected to come to the office? What communication will they have? Is the majority of team in the office?"

Once you've made conscious decisions about how your remote engineers work, "It's really crucial to know who you want on the team," Panowicz said. "On top of assessing pure engineering skills... communication becomes an even more crucial aspect.

"What starts to be super important is how clearly you can communicate and collaborate. If you are open to dispersed engineering teams... you need clarity as to who does what, who does what when, the roles in the team -- that becomes super important."

According to Codility's own research, engineers generally prefer flexible work arrangements, Panowicz said. The research showed that the ability to work remotely with regular time in an office setting is correlated with high feelings of success among engineers.  

"If you go for a fully remote team, perhaps establish some sort of setup in which the team can meet and learn to work together," Panowicz said. "It's actually going to impact the quality of their work going forward."

Assessing engineers with real-world challenges

Increasingly, both employers and prospective employees are interested in job application processes that simulate what it's like to actually work at a specific company, Panowicz said. 

Gone are the days of simply testing skills learned in a university setting. 

"The more I can offer my potential potential engineering candidate a glimpse of what problems they would be solving if they join me... the better the experience for candidates," she said. "And I get a better read on their skills, too... This is something that I think wasn't necessarily the case 10 years ago, or wasn't that widespread."

Tackling gender bias 

Codility published a report earlier this year, analyzing more than 1 million candidate sessions to learn whether gender affects scores in online coding tests like Codility.

First, "we tried to see how many female candidates our customers really are screening for engineering positions," Panowicz said. While candidate pools are still predominantly male, "the number of women in the pool was steadily increasing. We think this is driven by both a conscious effort by employers actively looking for engineers, and an influx on the supply side of female engineers entering the profession."

Some companies, Codility learned, have imposed a 50-50 gender parity requirement on their talent pool. "They actively say, in order for us to have a fair outcome and a diverse team, we'll have a quota not on hiring but on pipeline. It's an interesting intervention.... With quotas on hiring, you might actually discriminate."

While Codility's research showed no difference in performance between male and female job candidates, the report did show some different behavioral patterns. Specifically, female candidates were on average more inclined to test their code while writing it than male candidates, Panowicz said. 

That suggests that hiring managers may want to "be mindful of different patterns and styles of work," she said. "In engineering, we don't think there's one style of work that pretty much is the norm and is going to give the best outcome. Be open to different flavors of your engineering candidates."

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