How to Successfully Hire Your Initial Tech Team

Congratulations—you’ve successfully raised your first round of funding and it’s time to form the initial team of technical aces to execute on your SaaS vision!

  1. What types of roles should you go after first?
  2. How can you assess their technical acumen?
  3. And how will you create and cultivate a positive company culture?

Answering these questions and making your initial hires are critical to the early success of your company. The technical team will design, engineer, and support a solution that needs to be intuitive, scalable, reliable, secure, and performant while conveying the broader vision of the company. Budget and time to deliver a minimal viable product (MVP) will dictate your short-term hiring plan.

Hiring Your Team

With a small seed investment, I believe you should first consider hiring a:

  • Platform Designer
  • Full-Stack Engineer
  • Cloud Services Engineer (with Solution Architecture experience as a major plus.)

Ideally, you will recruit contributors that are able and willing to wear multiple hats, which is to be expected at an early-stage startup.

The Platform Designer

At High Alpha, the Platform Designer is one of the first keys hires because the design can — and should — be a primary differentiator for your business, profoundly impacting your brand, culture, presentation of ideas, UI, and product experiences. This resource should be prepared to roll up their sleeves, leading efforts in design with Product, Sales, and Marketing.

The Full-Stack Engineer

Full-Stack engineers have the unique ability to develop components and services for all tiers of your product, including front-end UI, middle-tier/API, and the back-end data tier. It’s recommended to encourage your Full-Stack resources to alternate where they focus their development over time so as not to have single-threaded contributors who only develop API resources or front-end UI.

A Cloud Services Engineer

A Cloud Services resource for a SaaS product is critical. This type of engineer has the ability to cherry-pick which services and infrastructure are most valuable to your overall solution. A Cloud Services ace will identify the best AWS/Google Cloud/Azure services that will align with the product’s needs. They will also save you financially in the long run by fueling the solution with services that will scale exponentially while not burning through your financial runway.

Developer Testing Explained

Developer testing is the developers’ intentional and systematic employment of testing tools and techniques to create testable and maintainable software with as few defects as possible.

Unlike spontaneous ad hoc unit testing of things that are easy to test, developer testing requires a structured approach and mastery of several core competencies, of which understanding testability drivers, fundamental testing techniques, and unit testing are the most important.

Developer testing is not a new concept or technique. Rather, it’s a structured approach to quality-related activities performed by developers. Here’s how it relates to some other familiar terms.

By definition, developer testing is mostly a technology-facing activity that guides daily development work. Therefore, it covers the entire lower left quadrant.

Walking upwards in the model, we see that developer testing also covers part of business-facing testing activities that guide development. The most natural application is using various BDD-style frameworks and related glue and automation code to create more complex tests. Actually, all “behind the scenes” kind of code produced from the perspective of this quadrant is, in one way or another, a product of intentional developer work. What developer testing will not help within this quadrant is coming up with the scenarios and stories, deciding on what A/B tests to launch, and evaluating the input from any prototypes. These are activities in which developers are indeed involved, but they require additional expertise and team members with different roles.

When applied in the lower right quadrant—technology-facing tests that evaluate—developer testing translates into technical tests executed in the CI suite (or on special occasions) written by developers. Typically these would be performance tests, but secure programming and automated vulnerability checking would also qualify here. What’s outside the scope of developer testing is Black Hat style penetration testing, security audits, and scripted performance tests launched from multiple sites (the kind you’d buy from a vendor that specializes in this.)

As always please keep in mind that reality is more complex than a triangle overlapping four squares and that the scope of your developer testing activities will depend on the context: domain, team composition, and maturity, organizational culture, etc.

Candidate Evaluation

Once recruiting begins, you’ll need to evaluate each candidate to ensure they have the right mixture of knowledge, skills, experience, and cultural fit to serve as an asset on your new team. At High Alpha, early-stage companies have the recruiting advantage of an experienced team of human resources professionals. If you do not have recruiter firepower, start building your pipeline by intentionally tapping your network for the resources that you and your contacts can vouch for. Post your roles on social media and job boards. Consider using job board services that help automatically qualify your candidates before you ever see a resume. To develop the recruitment skills you can easily engage in online training and get better at identifying the right employee, there are online platforms that can help you develop those skills and also get certified. DevSkiller is one of these platforms that offers a free, online tech recruitment certification course that can benefit you and your team. 

Once resumes start to flow, consider the following assessment path:

  • Have a 15–30 minute coffee (if the candidate is local) to discuss your company vision, assess whether the candidate “gets it”, and see if they are interested in further exploring. If not local, have a 15–30 minute phone screen covering the same topics.
  • Invite the candidate into your workspace to meet additional members of the team, and if you have any specific technical resources, have them provide an informal test to gauge their knowledge and skills. This type of assessment should include both high-level, open-ended questions along with some rapid-fire multiple-choice questions. The open-ended ones help the team evaluate how the candidate processes information and approaches a solution while the rapid-fire questions shed light on the necessary knowledge/skills needed for the job.
  • Make sure to sprinkle in a few company culture questions that will help show the team a realistic preview of what it will be like working with this person. Some example culture questions could include candidate’s work hour and location preferences, favorite book/movie/TV show, etc….
  • For engineering candidates that are asked to return, provide them a small project to complete offsite. This software project should require leveraging skills and technology relevant to the SaaS technology stack you believe your product will be fueled by. This project should take them 2–5 days. Assign a rigid deadline, and require that they ask you questions via email/Slack to assess their written communication skills.
  • Have the candidate return to your workspace (or via video chat if not local) to present to you and the tech team their approach to the project, and have the team evaluate the approach. This will provide you insight into the candidate’s communication skills and general rapport with others along with the technical acumen.

Final word

This project truly defines where the rubber meets the road. Not only does the candidate show you that they have the skills and ability to successfully deliver the project on time and within scope, but that they are genuinely interested in jumping through hoops for you to get the job!

As you build the technical team of aces, pay careful attention to foster a positive company culture. Utilize attributes such as excellence, quality, high performance, transparency, and accountability, and evangelize the importance of a positive culture as it will directly impact your company’s success.

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