Focus Group Discussion – Technically vetting candidates – June 2018

Hiring a new employee is not a walk in the park and making a good hire is crucial.  Training a new employee is time consuming and can be costly if your new team member doesn’t work out.  How do you make sure you’re hiring the right candidate?

I am a Technical Recruiter, BUT I can only dig so deep because I’m not an Engineer in any way, shape or form.  What I will do is ask my candidates where their proficiencies lie and also ask them to rate themselves on a scale from 1-10 (10 being they can write a book) in terms of languages, technologies and tools.  Many professionals in the tech sector will not oversell themselves and are quite honest in their self-rating.  Of course, there is the rare occasion when a candidate will rate themselves a 10 in everything.  Woah.. Hold the phone!  If that’s the case I’m definitely checking references before representing them.  That’s a bit of a red flag.

Because I can only penetrate the surface, it is up to our clients to do the heavier vetting.  Here are some methods my clients have used for technically vetting candidates:

Technical questionnaire – Pretty straight forward.  This questionnaire is sent to a candidate prior to scheduling an interview to verify candidate skill levels.

Code challenge – To complete at home.  The objective of this exercise is to see how one approaches problems and then to understand their thought process (how’s, what’s, why’s to the solution) when asked to walk through the code

Whiteboarding (Skype) – A shared page for notes and drawing.  It allows the interviewer to deliver a technical problem to someone during the meeting and the candidate is asked to solve the problem at that time in front of the “audience”.  Impromptu.  This exercise allows the employer to get a better idea of someone’s thought process while on the fly.  Yes, they’re definitely being put on the spot with this one!

Mock calls / role playing – For an end user support type of position, a role playing scenario may be used to dig deeper into a candidate’s technical skillset and shows the steps they may take prior to escalating a call or how they come to a resolution.

Job shadow – Spending a half day with a potential candidate is a good way to measure how they think about problems (questions they ask), engage with peers and suggest solutions (if asked).

Whatever method you choose (or not), cheers to continued success in finding the best fit for your team!

Focus Group Discussion – Hand written notes – May 2018

So, my question to you is… What are your thoughts on handwritten notes?  Appreciated?  Old school?  Not necessary?  Stand out?

Here’s what you had to say…

  • Love hand written notes!
  • Hand written notes stand out
  • Nostalgic, and therefore appreciated
  • Much value in sending and receiving
  • They set you apart
  • Show you care, show you didn’t cut and paste and put your heart and thought into it
  • Extra points in my book!
  • Hand written notes convey a personal interest in motivating, appreciating and engaging team members.

“I went back to hand writing thank you notes to staff that do special things, need a bump up or deserve an extra praise”

“I do believe it is the right thing to do after either a candidate or hiring committee takes time out of their day for the opportunity.”  “Lack of any type of thank you note, handwritten or not, is alarming”

“Many people don’t get a ton of mail anymore so hand written cards and gifts show thought.  It should be done more often throughout day to day business life”

“I am more apt to read an unsolicited hand-written letter than I am to read an unsolicited e-mail”

“I made a practice of writing 3 per week”

“Taking the time to physically write a note in this digital age is almost an art, a connection from human to human vs the machines we hold onto all day and typically engage with other humans on”

“This, to me, shows additional effort on the part of the thank”er”.  Unfortunately we live in a world of convenience opposed to taking the time, especially if someone did something for you.”

Focus Group Discussion – BI Tools – April 2018

BI tools – what do you use and why?

Response was a little low with our last focus group.  Not surprising as (I think) 95% of West Michigan was getting out of dodge for Spring Break!  But that’s ok.  Here are the responses we did receive…

Microsoft’s Power BI is the most popular amongst responders.  Why?  Because it’s Microsoft (fits with current tech stacks and existing licenses) and it outputs great graphs and visuals.  Making data/metrics visual is a powerful thing and the ability to pick and monitor the appropriate metrics with ease is attractive.

One member’s organization uses ConnectWise to dig deep into their financials.  Although not a true business analytics tool, CW is integrated with GP to manage the many legs of their business.  This same provider of managed services has long-used CW for a ticket-tracking system, but has grown it’s use to include sales activity tracking and to tie Opportunities and Quotes (QuoteWerx) to service tickets and projects.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a BI tool:

  • Visual Functionality and Presentation
  • Customization
  • Training requirements
  • Integration
  • Pricing
  • IT Support

Focus Group Discussion – Attraction and Retention – March 2018

Attraction and Retention

What do you do to attract and retain good skilled computer professionals?  What makes your company special compared to the others in the area?

Paid training and certification – The brain is a sponge..

Grand Rapids based managed service company provides paid training and certifications.  They pay for the actual training and also the test expenses.  In addition, they allow for coursework study during business hours.

When I interview candidates, one of the questions I ask is “What are the top 3 most important benefits to you when considering a new opportunity?”  At least half of the candidates I talk to are always striving to learn more, whether it’s professionally or independently.

Flexible hours – Doctor’s visits, children’s sports, school functions.  There are not enough hours in a day!

I have a lakeshore based client who offers remote work / WFH options two days out of the week.  This flexibility attracts more talent from outside the lakeshore area.

Another Holland based client is very open to hiring talent to work a nontraditional work schedule.  A couple of years ago they hired in a candidate who wanted to work while finishing school.  They hired him as a FTE (employed 30 hours per week) and were able to work with him and his class schedule.  Win win for everyone!

Weekend hours (3 12 hour shifts) for full time students (in support roles) is being offered by a tech company in GR.

Balance – When the economic downturn happened in 2008, many companies decided to/had to run lean.  That was a common theme at that time.  Over the last 10 years we’ve gotten accustomed to “job enhancement” (aka: extra roles and responsibilities) and it’s been somewhat of a challenge to try and restore balance in the workplace.  Very few have perfected it, but everyone wants it.

One responder states that their company makes it a point to provide a healthy work life balance and staff projects accordingly to help maintain that balance.

I have another GR based client who offers unlimited PTO (as long as it’s not taken advantage of and projects are completed on time).  Since this benefit has been in place, it has been successful.

Variety is the spice of life – no one wants to be bored!

A local consulting firm makes it a point to provide interesting tasks and offers a variety of projects.  The majority of technical professionals want to be challenged.  Give it to them!

Collaboration and cross training is also beneficial for both employee and employer

Wage increases – A growing GR based company has had to raise the base wage for entry level technical staff and increase wages among their current employees.

One growing Grand Rapids tech company attributes their attraction/retention to a fully stocked kitchen, flexible hours, certification support, advancement encouragement, tuition reimbursement, quarterly bonuses and a startup culture.

I’ve come across the fully stocked kitchen with several of my clients.  GREAT benefit!  (For them) Super happy I don’t work there though… I love to snack and would be as big as a house.  Ha!

Foosball, open work spaces, video games, quiet rooms, coffee bars, and comfy seating/couches are becoming more popular as well.

Retention techniques will continue to transform as the challenge to find great technical talent continues.  Stand out.  Set yourself apart.  Be unique.

Focus Group Discussion – the Cloud – February 2018

Thoughts on the cloud:

The Cloud is maturing at an astonishing rate, it’s a great concept, it has big potential but it has a long way to go, and it’s awesome!  The Cloud is as secure as you make it, it’s not a cost savings like it was originally marketed towards, I love the Cloud and there is a time and place for the Cloud.

Having access to data, resources, docs from any platform/device is invaluable.  With all these different devices, there are a lot of factors in play that will need to be supported in the Cloud before it can do all we want it to do and all that we dream it can do.  The Cloud continues to introduce new capabilities and add tools each quarter in hopes to accommodate the quickly changing needs of technical professionals performing the work and also the end user.

Clients / End Users:

There are some skeptical end users who question security, speed and functionality and maybe just need to be educated a bit on the benefits it can offer them/their business.  Even so, for some, it can be tough to wrap your head around the complexity of the Cloud if you’re used to being able to see what you own and how it’s working.  In addition, for the Cloud to be successful, it is essential to have a great internet pipe with guaranteed uptime and solid facility wifi coverage.  In addition, it is a must to have a knowledgeable person on site that can troubleshoot any issues that might pop up.

Smaller companies and startups, looking to have lower overhead including hardware costs, will be more likely to embrace the Cloud.  BUT it still needs to make sense for them.  Function over form!  This goes back to “there is a time and place”.

Focus Group Discussion – Remote work / WFH – January 2018

Productivity definitely depends on the person, their personality and discipline.  Some people thrive inside the 4 walls of the office and others can lose themselves in a flurry of productivity at home.  Key word “some”.

It is agreed, the office allows for focused work where systems are already set up to allow for better flow and face to face collaboration builds relationships and strengthens the team.  However, some people are easily distracted by others so WFM offers the comfort of being secluded in an environment they can control.

I think it goes without much saying that new team members should spend some time in the office to build rapport with the other team members and get up to speed on the position and responsibilities prior to taking advantage of the WFH benefit.

Here are a couple of things to think about prior to allowing remote work:  Has the employee proven to be trustworthy and productive in an office environment?  Has the employee shown good time management skills in the office?

Several of our respondents do not have a formal policy and it’s left up to the Manager’s discretion.  The Manager needs to provide clear direction and expectations and they are responsible to ensure their department runs smoothly to meet its goals.

Here are some tips and tools to assist in making WFH/remote work successful:

  • Policies and practices should be in place to ensure productivity and effective communication. How is progress/work tracked?
  • Use the variety of technologies to keep in touch; video conferencing, daily group chats, Skype, o365, shared documents, etc…
  • The employee must be logged into the system, provide a summary of work completed and must be available during business hours and attend meetings via webinar.

One manager stated that she doesn’t look over the shoulders of the employees who are sitting in the office and she would not do that with a remote employee as they should be treated the same.  Certainly something to think about….

Having a good balance of WFH and being in the office is most common among our respondents.  Those who currently offer a benefit of WFH do not see their policy changing.  Companies that do not currently offer a WFH option foresee implementing some sort of WFH opportunity in the future.  Studies have shown that remote employees are more satisfied with their roles.

Some agreed upon closing sentiments:

  • Nothing can replace the face to face interaction for creating stronger teams, collaboration and capturing nuance. Relationships and trust build quicker when you are working personally with someone.
  • If you can’t trust your employees to hold themselves accountable, then don’t hire them!
  • If you’re not currently offering a WFH policy, then it’s something to look into. Offering this kind of benefit / flexibility will help with retention of employees.

Focus Group Discussion – Code Camps – December 2017

Some common thoughts on Code Camps are that they’re focused and purposeful and can provide really good value once the base programming knowledge already exists.  In general, the perception is that they provide theory behind writing code; teach a bit more in depth knowledge and offer some hands on training.  The drawback?  Code camp graduates are lacking real world experience where they have a feedback loop.  One of our participants has attended a code camp (as a leader) and he states “the focus is not on learning or changing behavior, but to get the facts and strategy to pass an exam” which directly coincides with another CTO’s perception that “only so much theory can be applied when you are faced with deadlines, technology challenges and interpersonal challenges…”  Meaning, someone who already possesses real world experience could benefit more so from the training.

One participant brought my attention to another type of boot camp, outside of the coding world, for Project Management.  The PMP boot camp was 10-12 hours/day for 4 days that lead up to an exam on the 5th day.  Again, this person had some pretty significant experience under her belt already, but this particular boot camp enhanced her existing knowledge and provided her the opportunity to get deep into project management methodology.  Overall, a positive experience for her.

I think we can all agree, there are quality boot camps and not so quality boot camps.  Each camp differs in length, entry requirements and expectations in terms of participation and collaboration and completion.  It’s important as an employer to understand and maybe dig (or have your recruiter dig) a little bit deeper to find out what that particular boot camp has to offer.

I actually met with the Director of Grand Circus (code camp) a couple of weeks ago and learned a bit more about what they offer.  Grand Circus is new to GR in 2017; originated in Detroit in 2012 for corporate trainings and then transitioned to a boot camp in 2015.  Having been a recruiter in the tech industry for a while, it was interesting for me to hear more about their offerings.  I was undeniably educated during my visit with him.

At Grand Circus, the potential students must pass a “test” in order to get into the code camp.  Each individual must have some sort of coding knowledge in order to attend.  Someone like me?  Not a chance to get in!  8 weeks in length; 6 weeks of training and 2 weeks for a project.  If someone is not at a certain point in terms of learning after 6 weeks they will not move onto the project and will receive more training.  It’s very important for the leaders at GC to see their students graduate with a good knowledge base.  They offer a .NET (C#) boot camp and also a Front End boot camp.

One participant said it best, “boot camps have a place and a purpose”.

jjj