Transcribe your podcast

Talents win schemes for teamwork, wins championships.


Welcome to eight players. But guess what? We'll tell you how to target, hire, retain and train top performers for your team.


It came back really loud and clear. I mean, there are two things for segment, and this is a little bit more segment specific. But by and large, the most important thing was our presence in Hacker News and specifically a lot of the engineering blog posts, most of them written by Kevin Perenchio and our founder and CEO, although we did have a couple of other authors that were also writing them on occasion that were fired by and large, like by far the kind of most important source.


And then I think we had a clear secondary source was the number of the open source project that we had put out.


I am Rubbin Show CEO at Higher Suites and we are sourcing automation software that helps Ninan tech companies hire the best times at me. And follow me now on LinkedIn. You want to keep an eye on this? Today we're having tea, though, at eight players. Thanks for joining us today to do so today. He's chief development chief product development officer at segments and he'll tell us a lot about hiring engineers and building an engineering team. It's a great background that Facebook, Dropbox.


So thanks for joining us today to. How are you doing?


I'm doing great. Thanks so much for having me. I certainly love talking about hiring and love talking about hiring a players in particular. So really excited to share my thoughts. Cool.


Can you introduce yourself quickly? Tell us a bit about your background and what you do a segment today? Sure, yeah.


Maybe I'll start at the beginning and move forward. I started my career at Facebook and what I often call the late stage startup days. We had maybe five hundred total employees when I joined something like one hundred two hundred fifty engineers and which was part of a ton of growth at Facebook for about three and a half years between 2008 and 2012. And I just really saw a fantastic team be built and it was more of a new grad software engineer. So I did a little bit less of the building there.


But I was part of a culture of extreme excellence and really a once in a generational company type run. Facebook going from about one hundred million active users, close to a billion monthly active users after Facebook just felt like Facebook was getting a little big and wanted to try my hand at a smaller startup since I missed sort of the earlier Facebook. So I hopped to Dropbox. It was about one hundred employees, maybe a little bit north of one hundred employees when I joined and once again this time playing a little bit more of an engineering management role focused a lot on building a world class engineering team at Dropbox.


I was primarily responsible for the product engineering capability, so much less the kind of raw infrastructure and block storage and back end of Dropbox and much more all of the different products, surface areas. Probably most proud of helping bring the Dropbox for business product into the market, which is now a multi hundred million dollar er business and was there for about three and a half years and then finally joined the segment about four and a half years ago at this point.


I joined originally as the VP of Engineering with the mandate of building out a world class engineering team. And for the last two years or so, I've also been overseeing product design, security, basically our whole R&D division.


I heard about the segment story from Peter Wakame needs a few months ago, and he told us about the bumpy road to product market seats. And you basically join one year after the team found product market seats. And at that stage, there are two new challenges for any startup, especially hiring engineers. The first one is that you probably need to to start building some sort of engineering brand. And the second one is that you need to to work with recutting teams and then start to build a real relationship between marketing teams and hiring managers.


Can you tell us a bit more about the second part first and then we'll talk about employee brand. I know you like the topic as well. Yeah, yeah.


I would certainly say that those were kind of the two problems facing us. I would also add maybe a third problem not having to do with hiring, but just are scaling like crazy and not necessarily built for the kind of scale that we needed and just correctness that we needed and various other things. So it was. Yeah, both of those kind of key hiring problems, as well as just demand for the service exploding and lots of sort of operational challenges around that.


And so trying to balance all three of those was quite challenging. But, you know, on the hiring side, definitely first thing was trying to hire our first technical recruiter.


When I got there, we had worked with a couple of sort of outside agencies and one of our investors had given us a resource to sort of help get hiring off the ground. But given the investment, we wanted to make an engineering team, we had just raised our series B, it was just time to make our first in-house recruiting hire. I think my main advice here is I really do think great recruiting has to be a partnership between the hiring manager and the recruiter.


I think a really tremendous recruiter certainly brings a lot to the table. But one of the mistakes I if you startups make all the time, is outsourcing that completely to the recruiting department and holding the recruiting department. Accountable for hiring those players, but there's just certain things that even the best recruiters in the world can't do, and I really just think it needs to be a very healthy balance between what the recruiting team does and what the hiring manager, hiring managers or hiring management team, whoever is doing the hiring on the actual functional side does.


And so the best hiring, and especially for that sort of top a player talent really, is that the partnership between the two? And specifically what I mean here is, for instance, defining what is needed in the role. What makes this role really, really exciting and sort of the pitch around it, how to actually interview and assess for that? These are some of the things that really I think only a hiring manager can do incredibly well. And then there's a whole different set of things that a great recruiter can do really well, finding lots of talented pipeline, helping give a great candidate experience, get people through the process quickly and efficiently, and make sure that the whole internal team is aligned.


There's a lot of things that each party can do, but either party kind of going off and doing the lion's share without the partnership from the other side ends up just sort of ending and not just a great experience for the candidate or lots of time spent looking for candidates without really understanding the pitch or what you're specifically looking for or how to evaluate. And so just so important that that both sides come to the table for actually doing really great hiring.


And that means that all these process starts the intake meeting between the recruiting team and the hiring manager. And do you have any actionable advice on how to improve the take meetings between hiring managers and recruiting teams?


Yeah, I think I mean, I think the really big thing is there's a bunch of hard things that are really important to iron out. And I think I found in the past and been guilty of this myself as a hiring manager, I think not figuring out some of those hard things. It's tempting just to say let's let's just get going with the pipeline. Let's start building the recruiting machine and we'll figure out some of these hard questions later. And I think that not front loading those hard questions and really figuring them out is very, very detrimental to the process.


And so I do think the perfect intake meeting has quite a bit of alignment on those hard questions. And so what do I mean by those hard questions? I think one of them is what's the pitch? The fact of the matter is a very talented full stack engineer, let's say, could work at literally hundreds of different companies, if not more, and have their choice of which company to go to. So what is actually the thing about this role, this company, this team that sets it apart and the pitch is not an easy thing to to go build.


That's why it's one of the hard questions. But I've just been going through lots and lots and lots of pipeline effectively for nothing, because at the end of all of that pipeline, you still don't have the pitch to kind of hook the candidate. So I think that's that's one of the hard questions. I think another hard question is, what are we really looking for in this role? And I think actually, probably the harder one is what things are we not looking for in this role?


It's easy to make a laundry list of 15 different attributes you want in a candidate. But what are actually the three attributes that if they really, really spike those three attributes are going to lead to success? And then once you have sort of that mental clarity about what you really need in the candidate, then turning that into an awesome interview loop that fairly and objectively test for those areas. I think all of those are maybe I'm not thinking of all of them, but those are some of the hardest questions that I think are just really, really important to get very clear alignment on.


And I think you're basically guaranteed to have a fairly inefficient process if you don't push through to get the clarity on some of those harder questions. So I think my my number one advice is don't be shy to think about those hard questions, debate them. And I think the only wrong thing to do is to kind of continue the process without getting a clear alignment between the recruiter or the hiring manager. Probably the team is important to to have certainly the recruiter or the interview team, but really the broader team that this person is going to join, really getting to clarity on kind of all of those things ends up being essential for successful recruiting process.


And your mistake in your engineering team is split between the Bay Area and New York City, right?


Yes, we actually have three sort of major. Offices, so San Francisco, Vancouver and up in British Columbia with the second one we established, and that was a little bit bigger, and then we do have a third office in New York, which is which is still pretty small, but we're hoping to grow. So, yeah, we're kind of spread across those three offices. And then we actually have a number of people spread across the US as well, just in different states.


So pretty remote friendly and obviously with with covid trending even more remote friendly, although before covid started, you are already probably about 30 percent remote and and leaning even further right now.


OK, and how much how many people is starting in San Francisco?


Yeah, we have probably purely engineering, probably about 60. But I think minority, which has some of the other areas of R&D, is probably more like one hundred one hundred twenty antennas.


Cisco and San Francisco is probably the most competitive place on Earth for engineering coming. So you better have a good pizza. And the answer to that question, what's the pitch can make or break your hiring? Give any advice on how to improve the pitch for their startups listening to you? Yeah.


I mean, I think one thing that often is overlooked is, you know, you probably have a team today, whether it's a team of three people or five people or 12 people, I think going around to the engineers and asking them what attracted you to the company? What what was the most exciting part of the pitch? How did you first learn about the company? I think particularly the really strong engineers where you'd like to kind of repeat hiring engineers like them.


Often you have like a goldmine of information right there that's worth just reflecting on. And it doesn't take a ton of time to conduct five or ten light interviews, whether it's over, slacker quit college, just trying to understand the decision factor and how this person ended up at your company. So I think starting there sounds very simple and it is, but I think that can often be useful. What I found and this is starting to get a little bit into the sort of engineering brand topic, but what I found is every company is a little bit different on how they actually recruit talent and appeal to talent and sort of what communities are really invested in.


And I think it's great. I think it's really a beautiful thing. I've been at these dinners where, you know, there's five or ten different companies sort of explaining how they've built a brand. And literally every single one is very, very different. And I think that's OK. So I would say it's winning a bit to what's already worked in the past and figuring out how could we make this happen even faster, how can we make this happen even larger scale?


And that often is the secret common thing that I've seen is overinvesting a bit in some particular open source library that are very relevant to the business or overinvesting a bit into sort of deep technical talks or deep technical blog posts. Those are fairly common, but often it's actually just something characteristic about the founders. Maybe they have really close relationships with a particular grad school department at a college that they got a Ph.D. in, or it can be a little bit more random as well.


But I think those kinds of things, and often that is how a company hired its first three people. And then it's like, how do we scale this thing that's already working and take it to the next level? And I think that's really what it's often all about.


And who's whose job do you think that is doing that, that certainly with the existing engineers, is that the hiring manager or is that the recruiting team?


Yeah, I would say in general, the the pitch and the brand really does come from the hiring manager, whether it's a founder, VP of engineering, engineering manager or whoever is really on the hook for that. But probably someone on the more senior side and probably someone more on the hiring manager side. I think recruiters are definitely able to amplify and refine and give feedback on a pitch, and especially if it's working or not working. But I think, yeah, really kind of creating that from scratch and creating that from the the deep kind of technical bones that often is the nugget of the pitch.


It's just really challenging for a recruiter to do. Certainly recruiters can help support the effort and maybe help with the survey logistics. But I do think the the deeper synthesis and sort of which direction to take things really does fall a little bit more on the hiring manager engineering leadership side.


And and you didn't mention outsourcing in the process before. And so you mentioned the how to interview and assess the process, the closing, but you didn't mention sourcing. Do you think the hiring manager has a role to play? In the saucing, like you should target that specific community, you should go to that people and look at the contributors. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.


So definitely saucing, I would say, in general is clearly more on the recruiting side in terms of who executes on the task. But I certainly think I would say some of what you just asked about, I can throw a little bit more sourcing strategy and I definitely think a lot of hiring manager intuition. Plus some of this is brand for some of this understanding. Where are successful candidates who have come from? Some of that sourcing strategy is definitely super helpful if the hiring manager is involved.


And certainly a lot of our most successful hiring managers in that segment have done large pieces of both the sourcing strategy and sometimes even testing the sourcing strategy a bit on their own before they the recruiting team really scales that strategy. So, yeah, absolutely. I think creativity there can be a huge differentiator. And I think hiring managers can can play a huge role in sort of thinking creatively about that, especially since they know where the the good engineers hang out and they often have great intuitions around that.


And you mentioned before that the is often hard to balance between the operational workloads. You need to scale the systems and and just improve the actual software and the hiring that helps you build a bigger team and then eventually build a better software. So what's your advice on how to balance that? Should people as a targeting line like I should spend 20 percent of my time hiring or what do you think?


Yeah, I think it's a good question. I mean, certainly I think that the engineering leadership layer is probably more like 50 percent of the time spent hiring and thinking about brand and thinking about really how to get that going, especially if you're trying to start it from a little bit more of a cold position. I do think once you get into steady state, it's probably more like 20 percent. You know, I've never done incredibly well with, like, trying and this is maybe more of a personal preference, but trying to, like, allocate my time to the percentage market and then trying to hit that.


I think the way I've thought about this is like these are goals that are just as important, if not more important than any of my other quarterly goals. And same thing for my managers. And so often will will find goals around hiring and especially both, but hiring volume and hitting a particular diversity type type metrics in terms of outbound funnel, like we'll just include those kinds of goals directly in the same kind of OK, our goal sheet as we would scale and go.


So I think that maybe my advice would be a little bit less around the time allocation, although I do think there's probably rules of thumb around 50 percent to get things started and 20 percent in steady state, assuming you're doing a fair bit of hiring. But I think the bigger thing is you really need to encode these as like the core goals of the business much, much like you would scaling a system or shipping a new product or shipping a feature.


And you mentioned that a few times. It took to about the building to blog building, the content building to the engineering brand. I know that you have a pretty good engineering grant at Sigmon. So what's your advice on that?


How did you create that or thank you for the kind words certainly has come a long way in the last four and a half years. I think it's interesting. I had been a segment for about a year and I had really I think I had not followed a lot of the advice I have given at the beginning of this podcast, maybe since I didn't have it all in my head yet.


But we had really built a lot of the machinery, a lot of the interview. I really don't think we had, like, refined the pitch or the brand a year end. And so our close rates, I don't remember exactly where they were, but they were much closer to 50 to 60 percent, as opposed to what's typically considered best in class, which is certainly north of 80 percent, sometimes even north of 90 percent. Close rate.


Is that is that what you're seeing today, these 80, 90 percent?


Yeah, yeah, certainly. Well, yeah, we could talk a little bit more about I think there's like a little bit of filtering that you learn to do at the beginning of the process to make sure that you're aligned on comp and a couple of other things. But yeah, definitely, I think a best in class is certainly north of 80 percent and they probably closer to 90 percent even for top talent, hard growth type of thing. We could talk a little bit more about that in a second, if you like, but yeah, I think, yeah, we just weren't where we needed to be.


And that led to like an inefficient process in the sense we were spending a lot of time interviewing people and getting really excited about them. And often they weren't closing. And I think that was a frustrating and slow kind of feedback loop. So anyway, we we just said, like, hey, we're going to reset our goals, we've been setting them more about sort of volume of hiring and we're going to just like pause and we're going to really set them around and brand.


And so that was a little bit scary because I didn't know what the heck and brand actually meant, really. And my brand bulls are like notoriously hard to set. But we did a little bit of the the kind of interviewing, surveying that I suggested earlier and kind of started asking people like where they had first heard of segment know what had really kind of attracted them to segment during the process. And I think it came back really loud and clear.


I mean, there are two things for segment, and this is a little bit more segment specific. But by and large, the most important thing was our presence in Hacker News and specifically a lot of the awesome engineering blog posts, most of them written by Calvin Franco and our co-founder and CTO, although we did have a couple of other authors that were also writing them on occasion, that was like fired by and large, like by far the kind of most important source.


And then I think we had a clear secondary source, which is a number of the open source projects that we had put out kind of in the early days. And I think some collaboration on some of those open source and recruiting from recruiting people who were often contributors to those open source libraries was the kind of secondary one. And really, we said, like, OK, well, how do we how do we double down on this? How do we actually scale this thing?


And we weren't really sure. But Kalvin set aside a bunch of time and said, I'm going to write one blog post a month. It's not that we don't have awesome work to to go write about. We just need to, like, spend the time to highlight it. And and by the way, like, these blog posts are very expensive to write in the sense that it takes Kalvin about a week and he's very good at this, but about forty hours between like the initial draft and sort of all of the rounds and getting the graphics into it and giving more revs and maybe not every single person I've ever written, but certainly the really the bigger kind of media ones do take about 40 hours and then at the end of that whole process you're going to like post it to the blog and you're going to hope that Hacker News picked it up because of Hacker News doesn't pick it up.


You know, we don't really have other channels that tend to give us a lot of traffic. So, you know, even I think we got to a pretty good hit rate. But even at the end of that 40 hours, there's still like maybe a 50 percent chance that for whatever reason, like the title or intro is not kind of snappy enough or doesn't pull people in. And so it just never really takes off. Or sometimes we post it up on the blog and then like a month later, it finally takes off.


And it's kind of this somewhat random feeling thing. And I think that part also makes it frustrating. But if you do the math and you have 50 percent hit rate, you can basically invest a bunch of hours and kind of start getting this drumbeat of posts. And I think if you have one pretty popular one that hits the front page maybe once a quarter for a couple of quarters in a row, that that really starts to build some momentum and sort of starts to add up.


And this is a more powerful way. And so for us, it was like the initial insight that that's sort of how we were attracting candidates in the first place. And then it's like pretty simple, like just go kind of build that out and figure out how to how to make that happen more often. And so I think that it was as simple as that. We were really focused on it for maybe two quarters. And I think that really gave us like enough of a sort of escape velocity and recognition.


And we still do to put a lot of energy into it, into the blog. But it's certainly not as singularly top of mind as it was for that roughly six month period. But, yeah, that was kind of it for us. I would also say, like, it doesn't need to be the blog, like other companies have particularly deep investments and maybe a whole team working on a particular open source project that they end up using as a huge recruiting pipeline, whether it's like Carbonetti orchestration or something in some particular like data library or some particular small library, often picking a library that is related to the core business can be can be interesting.


So that's what some companies do know. Some are really into tech stocks and making sure that they always have like a premium slot on the larger tech talk circuits or the larger technical summit type type talks. But yeah, it really it can depend a lot on just each company's particular approach and what works for them. So, yeah, blogging has worked well for us. And I think a lot of that is because Calvin, such a fantastic storyteller, both when he gives talks but even kind of written storyteller.


Yeah, I think it can vary a lot. But I do think sort of this really large investment, especially when you're when you're getting it started, really does does pay off. Frustrating because it doesn't it's not like you launch a blog post and then it hits the front page of Hacker News and then suddenly you have like three candidates that are like starting two weeks later. It's not quite as causal as that, but it certainly is causal if you are paying attention to, like, what's actually happening in the hiring process and during the interviews, it definitely makes a big difference.


And how did you how did you how how can companies measure the success of that strategy? Is that more anecdotal evidence where people mention the blog during the interview process, or do you actually track the sources of the bones if there is the podium? Yeah, yeah, absolutely.


I would highly recommend more like pretty late in the interview process asking things like how they first heard of your company and what what's played a role in sort of like getting you interested and really letting people have pretty open ended answers. I think you'll you'll get a pretty good sense of like people are discovering your company because of this or if it's if like. Oh, yeah, it seemed like some really cool, hard technical problems I was reading about on the blog.


You'll get a sense of this is is playing an important role in the company. I think it's kind of ironic since we helped do a lot of this, more like digital tracking. But I think trying to like think of it like an ad attribution problem is probably not what I recommend, just given that the volumes are relatively low and you can get much higher kind of quality qualitative signal. But yeah, I think it's it's those surveys of people either way in the process as they're considering the offer or maybe even after they joined about how they first heard of the company and what attracted them to the company feels like the right way to to measure this.


And it may not be quite as scientific as you're hoping as are pretty much all brand metrics, but I do think it makes a big, big difference.


And I said a few quick questions before we wrap it up. Sure. My first question would be, what's your main advice to an engineering manager hiring for the first time?


I think my main advice here is it comes back to those hard questions. And I think they are really hard questions. I think really understanding what you need and what you don't need is one of the hardest things to do, too, is easy. If you're just making like a wish list of all of the things you could imagine in the best engineer. I want incredibly talented, distributed systems engineer who also has incredible product sense. He's also a great Safak kind of engineer as well.


Who wants this? I want this and this and this. It's very easy to come up with that long list. I think actually coming up with a very targeted set of things. You need that sort of match. What's available in the market is really challenging. So I think that's the first step. I then think the second step is like, how can I really think outside the box about how to evaluate this person? I think there's like a huge trend kind of moving away from whiteboard interviews and into things that feel a little bit more like programming or take home can be interesting, although a little bit dicey since know not every group has the time to spend on take homes.


And you certainly don't want to inadvertently create bias in the process where people can't do the process if they don't have a couple of hours after hours. So they're doing child care or whatever to spend on the take home. But I think what I like about on the entire programming in general is it tends to exercise people in their natural environment a little bit more and it tends to be a little bit more collaborative. So where possible, I think those kinds of exercises can be really nice at both giving people a sense of what it's like working with the team and also give people a sense of the give people a chance to really give a sense of their real skill set less a fake kind of whiteboard environment.


So I do think taking quite a bit about the right interview exercise and how you really want to get out the signal. And then I think the third thing is just nailing the pitch. What makes this team special and makes this opportunity special? What's the career growth that this person could get, et cetera, et cetera? Like all of those things really are important. And I basically wouldn't really start the interview process until you feel like you have all three of those pretty well down and work with your manager or work with other people at the company who are really exceptional at hiring and and try to get a sense of like how strong your answers to those kind of three areas are.


And I think that's my my number one advice is just focus in on those. Those are the hard problems. Once you get those right, the rest of the recruiting process should be much easier.


OK, thanks for the advice. Thanks for your time today. It's been 30 minutes. Thanks a lot. I know you have a lot of things to do today, so thanks for for sharing that advice and.


My pleasure. Thank you for having me. And, yeah, I think if there's any anything else you want to ask along along the way, I can get with that. I'm more than happy to hop on a call and do a couple more minutes or whatever.


Thanks for listening. That Castillian. If you're still with us, it's probably that you enjoy the players. Eight players is brought to you by myself and higher suites. Well, building a saucing automation software. And we already helped nine other tech companies hire the best science.


To know more about us, go to W-W that higher suites dot com or you can add me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty responsive and always happy to chat. The more subscribers, the best guess will what you want to help you can do a lot in less than 10 seconds. Please subscribe to that podcast, leave us a nice rating on review and share the podcast around you. That really, really helps. Thanks a lot and talk to you soon.