How to hire a kickass team

May the vibe be with you!

How to hire a kickass team

I know in this current climate not a lot of you are hiring. But those that are have such an abundance of choice that it’s easier than ever to hire the wrong team. This post is for those of you who are suddenly inundated with candidates and are struggling with the paradox of choice. It is also for anyone who is hiring or will ever hire in the future.

Running an effective product engineering org requires the following three ingredients

  • right people
  • working on the right things
  • in the right way.

Hiring good people is critically important. So important in fact that you don’t have management problems, you have only have hiring problems.

Traits like accountability, responsibility, leadership ability and so on are very hard to test in an interview process and yet in the end they are the ones that lead to teams that are dedicated, disciplined and requiring little management overhead. So how then can one consistently hire great talent? How can one get that elusive first ingredient in place?

the philosophy of teams

Building a great team is more like cooking than like anything else — it is in the interaction of the ingredients that the magic happens, not in any individual ingredient. The team is never exactly equal to the sum of its parts. Bad teams will be some fraction of the sum of their parts and good teams will be some sort of force multiplier. And so when hiring into your teams it is critical to understand the fit in the team as much as the qualities of the individual candidates. This, paradoxically, makes hiring easier, not more difficult but there is an important component of hiring that needs to be understood first - vibe.

Yes, I’m about to spend the rest of this article talking about hiring for vibe.

what is vibe?

Vibe? Don’t ask stupid questions just for the sake of completeness — vibe is how we feel about something or how someone makes us feel. Why is that relevant to hiring? Don’t we just hire the best candidate for the job? And if we go by vibe won’t we just end up hiring into a monoculture where everyone looks and talks the same?

Haha! No. If you think that you’re thinking about bling, not vibe. Bling is surface level shit — the right schools, the correct companies on the resume, the interview technique — all of these are unreliable, easy to fake and poor predictors of performance.

No vibe is not about how you look and talk but about how you ‘feel’. It is very easy to mistake surface level stuff for vibe and anyone who says to ‘hire for vibe’ leaves themselves open to cancellation for attempting to build a tech-bro monoculture. Because vibe is just whatever you feel, if you choose the wrong vibe you will choose the wrong people. A racist will feel the vibe from his own race and not from any other race. A misogynist will not feel the vibe from women.

But there is one vibe that if you can feel, will help you hire better, more diverse teams that will make work an absolute pleasure. One vibe that transcends boundaries of caste, creed, religion, race, accent, socio-economic status and pretty much every other marker of a human — the programmer vibe.

the programmer vibe.

I have a simple rule when it comes to hiring programmers. I only hire programmers. And if you are a programmer you will have a programmer vibe. It’s that simple. At some level, programming will be a part of your identity and that surrender to the beauty of programming, that love for the manipulation of concepts, that hunger for ‘truth’ in the admittedly constrained space of program construction —all of these are forms of love and the lover can always be recognised by their devotion to the beloved.

When programming is part of the person’s identity, they will do whatever it takes to preserve it. The idea of being a bad programmer is the same to them as being a bad human being. You know how one is young one paces ones room late at night agonizing over whether one is a good human being? The same thing.

These people are surprisingly pleasant to work with because they’re just so darned good at getting better.

And that’s the other thing — it’s not like we’re only going to hire good or seasoned programmers. No. We’re going to hire programmers who are absolutely obsessed with getting better, no matter where they are in their journey.

recognising the programmer vibe

Pretty much all my advice on this blog is going to be of the same flavour — work on yourself first and get good at programming. Check out this article on career progression for developers to get a sense of how important this is.

Don't Get Eaten
Navigating a career in software engineering can be a confusing process. Different organisations have different terminologies - SDE 1, SDE 2, Staff Engineer, Team Lead, Director, VP and so on. Some organisations have different career tracks for managers and Individual Contributors….this stuff can get confusing fast. In this post I’m going to give you som…

Leaders get paid for the quality of their decisions, including the decisions of everyone they lead. Take this responsibility seriously.  Work on  yourself.

If you’re not in love with programming yourself then you’re not going to be able to reliably recognise this trait in others. I am just going to assume that you have also tasted the sweet nectar of the programming experience to the point where it consumed you wholly and caused you to spend endless days and nights seeking that enlightenment. From the first sense of wonder of what that machine in front of you was, to a sense of awe at the blinking cursor that waited patiently for you, the first sense of power at getting the machine to do your bidding and then a sense of unfolding horror when you realise what you have unleashed from behind that patiently blinking cursor. The horror of chaos and the horror of knowing that you are called to tame this chaos and in order to do it you will have to delve into the secrets of the Universe, to stare into the abyss and remain steadfast.

Something akin to this.

People who have been through this are forever marked by the experience. Hiring is basically looking for people that bear this mark.

Read on to learn more.