Cheat codes: 3 startups reveal the traits they want most in engineers

August 24, 2017

Startups are constantly searching for technical talent. But what these companies look for in applicants varies on a person-to-person and company-to-company basis. Whether it’s skill set, professional experience or culture fit, local tech companies have a number of boxes to check before they shuffle a candidate along.

With that in mind, we spoke to three senior engineers about what exactly they look for when they’re hiring. 

 

BCG Digital Ventures is a corporate investment and development firm that creates, launches and scales game-changing business ventures. At any given time, the company is hiring engineers for multiple projects. Lead engineer Rick Porter flexibility is the most important trait in an engineer.

When you’re reviewing an applicant’s resume, what is one specific non-technical trait that jumps off the page to you?

“Startup experience is really important,” he said. “People on our team all have the ability to be scrappy, resourceful and persistent. A lot of the problems we’re working on involve bleeding edge technologies that are not fully tested. Finding a solution as unique as the problem itself often requires our engineers to apply non-traditional methodologies. When I see startup experience on a resume, that immediately tells me this person has worked under time and resource constraints, which is something we deal with every day here at BCG:DV. BCG:DV offers a truly unique set of challenges you won’t find anywhere else, but also with the stability that people may want as they grow in their careers.”

What is one technical skill or experience that matters most to you?

“It’s no secret we’re looking for blockchain engineers these days,” said Porter. “Later this month we’re hosting a “dAppathon” targeted at hacking together decentralized applications (d’Apps), and recruiting engineers in the space is one of the key goals of the weekend. This is a really exciting opportunity to build industry-impacting blockchain organizations right here in LA, and I’m confident we are strategically positioned to do just that.”

Should an applicant pass through the first round of interviews, what sort of practical tests are they put through?

“In the first round, we give applicants general database and algorithm questions,” said Porter. “While it's always ideal when an applicant answers them well, the technical test is only one piece of the puzzle — we also want to see their passion for technology. As an engineer, being passionate about your work is so important. I get really excited about the things I’m working on and I look for candidates whose passion for their work shines through. More specifically, I like hearing about difficult problems they’ve solved and the specific steps they went through in order to solve it. This lets me gain an understanding of both their passion and their thought process.”

What’s the culture like on BCGDV's engineering team?

“It’s easy to find thought partners at DV to help you work through technical problems on your current venture,” he said. “With almost all of our corporate partners, we’re building something that hasn’t ever been done before, so we’re all in the same boat, figuring it out as we go. The environment we have created has a flat hierarchy where everyone has the ability to give feedback and collaborate on projects — no matter what ‘level’ you are in the organization.”

 

Resumes are traditionally used to gloss over experience, skill sets and general information for job candidates. But according to Amit Nayar, VP of tech at El Segundo-based ConsumerTrack, the language being used in a resume is more telling than one would believe.

When you’re reviewing an applicant’s resume, what is one specific non-technical trait that jumps off the page to you?

“We like to see that a candidate has worked well in a collaborative culture,” Nayar said. “Typically, this presents itself in the language used on their resume. People that are highly collaborative tend to use ‘we’ statements more than ‘I’ when describing their accomplishments, while still being able to represent their individual contributions to the team’s accomplishments. If it is evident through a resume that they are a team player, and their technical skills generally align with our needs, we want to meet them!”

What is one technical skill or experience that matters most to you?

“We look for people with well-rounded technical skills,” he said. “There is not really one specific skill or experience that matters the most to our team. We are looking for people who are continuing to learn new technical skills and gain experience in contemporary and relevant technologies. These usually include, but are not limited to, modern cloud technologies and open source tech stacks.”

Should an applicant pass through the first round of interviews, what sort of practical tests are they put through?

“Our interview teams like to assess coding skills by reviewing examples of original code (if available) alongside the completion of a relatively simple coding exercise against a problem we’ve made up,” Nayar said. “This assessment allows us to review how code is created to solve a problem, and we follow up with a discussion on preferred problem-solving methodology. This process is truly reflective of our collaborative tech environment at ConsumerTrack. We also find that this practical dialogue allows the candidate the opportunity to interview us, which is an important part of any hiring process.”

What’s the culture like on ConsumerTrack's engineering team?

“Our culture is defined by solving problems without ego, mutual respect, and making sure that we are working together,” he said. “This mindset allows us to take on really interesting technical problems that might be a challenge to larger teams. A hyper-focus on collaboration has allowed us to be very innovative in our solutions and implement some really cutting edge results. There are no silos, no one team’s domain is hallowed ground. We allow specialization, but we also realize that interdependent teams with smart people do better working on a problem together rather than in isolation. We genuinely respect each other and certainly find time to have fun together as well!”

 

The team leads over at KEYPR, a startup that develops cloud-based solutions designed to change the way hospitality industry operates, know the power of bringing together employees with different backgrounds. According to Nandan Kalle, VP of product, diversifying the team’s collective skill set allows the company to approach new challenges from different angles.

When you’re reviewing an applicant’s resume, what is one specific non-technical trait that jumps off the page to you?

“We love people who have worked in a variety of industries,” he said. “We are reinventing the hotel guest experience by applying the same kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has rebooted many other industries. The best way to get truly creative, disruptive ideas is by bringing in people from diverse industries and backgrounds, throw them onto a scrum team together and sit back and watch what happens.” 

What is one technical skill or experience that matters most to you?

“It’s really hard to pick one skill, but our LA software team has a slight bias toward Django and React.js, though we’ve also got a hardware engineering team with electrical engineers and hardcore firmware developers,” Kalle admitted. “Our Ops team is using pretty much every AWS-related tech. Our Kyiv team has some hardcore Android developers who have modded the OS to support our use-cases. We also have iOS app devs, Java programmers and web front-end devs, and sprinkled in there are a couple of natural-language engineers. When you’re laser-focused on delighting the hotel guest, you need to give them multiple ways to engage with the hotel, which means we are covering every type of front-end UI that you can think of. The only way to hire for this kind of environment is to look for engineers who love getting out of their comfort zone.”

Should an applicant pass through the first round of interviews, what sort of practical tests are they put through?

“We prefer not to disclose that information — where’s the fun if there’s no surprise?”

What’s the culture like in KEYPR’S engineering team?

“We strive to be very customer-focused,” he said. “As a B2B2C company, we have two key external stakeholders: the hotel guest and the ‘affiliate,’ as we call our hotel customers. We want to be constantly asking ourselves, first, ‘How does this delight the hotel guest?’ because that is the key to generating loyalty for our hotel customers. The next key question is, ‘How does this improve the hotel’s operational efficiency?’ because, like any business, our customers are looking to generate returns on investment. Lastly, we ask ‘How is this going to grow the hotel’s revenue,’ since revenue per guest is the ultimate measure of guest engagement. For a startup like ours, it’s critical that every person in the company is focused on the customer and that we deliver on these three promises.” 

 

Responses were edited for clarity and length. Images via featured companies.

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