Hiring developers in a Series-A startup stage

After some time with this blog switched off, I decided to switch it on again and write about how to hire right software developers to strongly grow your technical team in a Series-A startup stage. I want to share it through my experience.

In my last executive position, I had the opportunity to co-found a successful startup in Brazil in 2012. We have built a digital lending platform called BankFacil - now named Creditas. We grew up from five to over a hundred people in almost five years. Between 2015 and 2016, after we got a Series-A investment, we scaled the company up by nearly three times, from around 30 to 100 in the whole startup and the product/technical team from approximately 10 to 30. When you set up a business, you wear a lot of hats, and at that time as CTO I spent far more time hiring than another time before. This year (2017), Creditas got a Series-B round, and they are again growing and hiring.

I’m living in Melbourne, Australia at present, and I have been working as tech advisor at Rapidoo since I left Creditas in August 2016. Rapidoo is a digital invoice factoring in Brazil and recently has been growing and hiring developers too.

Seeking the best developer

At BankFacil I had interviewed more than 1000 people in my last year, and we hired around 20 of them. It meant an average of four interviews per work day in 365 days. We achieved less than 2% of successful hires in the end. We didn’t hire just software developers, but also people as product managers, product designers, data engineers and data scientists.

We selected top professionals and created excellent teams. After many interviews, we developed our interview process which consisted of five parts. Here I outline them for the software engineer interview process:

The interview process

1) Applications filtering

We spread the job opportunities through many channels - this post won’t cover how we did it. Once the candidates completed the hiring application online and sent it to us, we quickly did a standard filter of their applications to remove the unqualified candidates within 48 hours. For the candidates who were successful after this first stage, we made contact and sent a coding challenge. When they finished and sent it back, we analyzed it and asked them for an interview in person.

2) Culture

This was the most significant part of the process. Here we investigated the culture in general. Do our values match the candidate’s values? We had a favorable environment and a nice office, and this package also demonstrated our culture to them. Other important questions we asked the candidates: Do you like reading? What is your dream? Why did you choose us? What is your hobby? What do you think about our business/mission? What are you passionate about? How was the team you are/were working on?

3) Tech culture

I contributed to developing at BankFacil a robust technical culture based on open-source, a community spirit, maintenance of a quality software, an Agile development culture, and be conscious that the theory and the practice have both coming together while developing software. It was essential to attract the professionals with right mindset.

We asked the candidates questions like: Have you been to any community events? Have you read any relevant books recently? Have you ever contributed to open-source? Why did you choose this profession? What is a genuinely good team for you?

4) Technical skills questions

Once the cultural questions were all answered, we moved on to ask questions about technical and team skills. I knew that what was important was “show me the code” rather than talking about coding, but we asked them about some situations like: “Could you draw on the board your best architecture that you have developed in the past, please?”. That question was perfect to see their communication skills and to understand if they could explain things to us or not and express themselves well. The communication skill is completely crucial for small problem solving teams. If is not able to do that at least adequately, you will have a big problem. Your whole team will get stressed in many situations while solving or understanding problems.

5) Pair programming

This step is the best part of the process :) We did it using the candidate’s coding challenge results or a new one if they hadn’t been able to solve it before. We asked them to refactor a feature or include something new. The pairing is so important because it show us a lot of things about the candidates, like their ability, talent, knowledge, and intelligence. Don’t miss it if you want to find the right developer for your team.

How was the process organized?

It’s important to mention we started this process with ten product/technical people already in place, in other words, we already had two senior lead developers to help with hiring when we began scaling, and after that, we found more three great lead developers.

The process from stage 2 to stage 5 took between 30 minutes and 3 hours. It depended on how many steps of the process a candidate passed. The culture, tech culture and tech skill questions parts were conducted by me. The 1st part of analyzing the results of the code challenge and the 5th part of pair programming were done by a lead developer together with the candidate. As a way to build a health culture and to disseminate the process to the team, from the 2nd to 4th, a lead developer accompanied me. At the end of these steps the team also was invited to meet the candidate. Leonardo Andreucci was the CPO - now the current CTO of Creditas, he also was at some those steps when was necessary.

In some cases depending on the seniority and position, the candidate was invited to have a talk with the CEO and other directors at the end of the whole process.

Which were my learnings?

We had great benchmarks in our team to compare the new hires with, and we were able to aim to hire a variety of people to create winning teams. I prefer working with a professional who has more action than talent. To be intelligent is fundamental.

Following those steps was crucial for us to find the best professionals for our context, size, and culture.

Written in by Leandro Alvares da Costa