I loved this talk by Emily Middleton (who is a Tech Lead at Elsevier) talking about how to have a high performing tech teams. Here are her tips, and you better get ready to grow your own -- because that's the premise of all of this advice.
Hire juniors*. So you want to recruit, and you think you need a senior person (rare as gold dust, and seriously in demand.) Realistically, anyone coming in will need to understand your company, your business model and your code base -- so how big is the senior advantage?
*Disclaimer: This takes work, because you need to love, guide and direct them.
Don’t get hung up on specific qualifications or kinds of experience. In Emily's team, they’ve got a web developer / accessibility guru, a self-taught career switcher, a physicist who will pick up any ticket, and a mathematician who is a dashboard queen. Look at people in the round and help them apply their superhero skills.
So then what do your seniors do then? Oh don't worry, there's plenty. Get them to step up to the things that help you increase the overall bandwidth of your team and support your juniors in their learning, also creating succession:
Specific experience doesn’t matter – Technology changes all the time. Very few people are using the same tech they did 10 years ago. So it's useful to concentrate on finding a competent person and trusting them to (and supporting them to) cope with any tech stack you throw at them – whoever you are, at every level, learning new technology is part of the job.
You do need to create a culture where this way of working can thrive, though -- and here is Emily's secret sauce for that:
Interview for problem solving ability. Put real live problems that you've had in your business before in front of people in interviews – and use this free form approach to steer the interview towards strengths that emerge in your interviewee. When you're growing your own, you're looking for potential.
“Teach me something”. Ask your interviewee to teach you something and you might learn a lot about what makes them tick. But don't surprise them. You wouldn’t spring an annual review on your existing employees so don’t catch out interviewees. If they don’t cope with being put on the spot they may not look good as a candidate – so no surprises, give them time to prepare to do well in their interview. Tell them, 'I'm going to ask you to teach me something' or 'We're going to do a task as a part of the interview - would you like me to explain to you how this will work?'
Make the interview comfortable. People come from all personality types and not all of them suit our interview techniques. Anxiety or shyness in answering interview questions doesn’t mean they won’t be good. Make people comfortable enough to showcase their best self, like you would if they were already in your team.
Key point, especially in tech: candidates are interviewing us as employers as much as we’re interviewing them. Show what a supportive employer you can be.