Insights from Vishwastam Shukla

Vishwastam Shukla from HackerEarth: 5 hiring mistakes I will never make again as a CTO

Every 18 or so months, computer processing speed supposedly doubles. This is known as Moore’s law.

Why do I begin my piece by telling you this? The dizzying speed of change in our tech-first world makes it critical for companies to stay ahead of future trends and anticipate disruptions.

In my years in the tech industry, I have learned that the only way to deal wisely with the change is to hire the right people who can act as your time-traveling buddies.

Together, as a team, you can foresee upcoming needs, and build in the present technologies that can shape your business – and the world’s – future. The first step to doing so is hiring RIGHT. Easier said than done, obviously.

To paraphrase Grant Koeneke, CTO of Driftr, sometimes as a CTO you are hiring, firing, and building architecture in the same breath. You make mistakes, and I have made a fair share of my own. I have also vowed never to repeat these mistakes again, so if hiring right is a conundrum you have been facing, I hope these lessons from my playbook will help you find the balance:

#1 Candidates == Customers

Trying to hire the best engineers is hard work. With countless opportunities available for good engineers, it is important to distinguish your brand as an employer. As a CTO, you should constantly ask yourself if you are using the best hiring tools out there to help with providing the best candidate experience. Moreover, do you continuously work on improving this experience?

I have not seen many CTOs ask rejected candidates for their feedback on the application and interview process. I do know that those who do make an effort to know this has learned a lot about how NOT to hire, and have an objective measure for the flaws in their tech hiring process. 

#2 Skills are coachable. But do you have coaching bandwidth? 

We at HackerEarth firmly believe in the power of skills. While all of us would like to have highly skilled developers on our teams, we do hire people with a skill gap, because given time and space these skills can be learned easily. However, the caveat here is to not bite off more than you chew. 

Teams must look inwards and see if the candidate who they want to hire can be given enough attention and brought up to speed in terms of skill gaps. This is especially true for highly agile, smaller engineering teams, and may not be a problem for bigger organizations. Nonetheless, do remember that while it is okay to hire candidates with certain skill gaps, setting them up for success is a responsibility that sits squarely on the organization’s (and the CTO’s) shoulders, and should be taken into account while hiring.

#3 NO. Hiring doesn’t stop at onboarding

A successful hire is one who can come on board, become effective in a reasonable amount of time, deliver consistent results, and take the bar higher for the organization. Unless all of these are ticked, I am sorry to say but you hired wrong. And if all these are indeed met and you still fail to retain your employees beyond a point, then the problem circles right back to hiring.

As a CTO, the onus is on you to work with the HR and TA teams and ensure that your new hires have a seamless transition period. Research shows that companies with engaging new-hire programs retain 91% of their first-year hires. The key to achieving that is working extensively across teams to ensure that every new employee fits in well with your brand, message, workplace culture, and is guided well to meet the requirements of the position.

#4 Culture fit is not about cookie cutting

Culture fit should determine just the baseline for your organization. It should never restrain you from trying out bagels instead of cookies just because they didn’t fit a certain mold. 

It is important to define a baseline in terms of ethics, integrity, team player potential, working styles, and other measurable metrics. Keep an eye to ensure that none of these become boxes that limit your access to diverse candidates. Hypothetically speaking, the same culture should promote hiring people with diametrically opposite views and ideas. In the long run, hiring beyond a ‘monolithic’ culture fit is going to work wonders for your team strength and productivity. 

#5 Diversity brings efficiency not compliance

There are two universal truths that go beyond tech hiring. First, your IQ is NOT a function of your race. Second, neither is your EQ a function of your gender. 

Having teams that are a melting pot of different socio-economic, ethnic, age, and gender backgrounds helps organizations thrive. These organizations can innovate constantly, and surprise everyone with the outcomes they can achieve consistently over long periods of time. Increased diversity benefits employees at both the individual and the group level. People feel more satisfied with their work and are more motivated to collaborate with others. Teams become more creative and better at coming up with unique, effective, and efficient solutions.

It still remains a CTO’s job to ensure that compliance is not being compromised upon for creativity. So, while you hire for diversity, make sure to pick teammates who will put in the grunt hours while gunning for the bigger picture. 

Written by
Vishwastam Shukla

Vishwastam Shukla is CTO at HackerEarth, graduated from the Indian Institute Of Information Technology, he started his career as an intern at Amazon as Software Development Engineer. Rising through the ranks to become a software development manager and site leader at Amazon in 2013, Vishwastam is known to be a hands-on leader. He spent several years building large-scale distributed payment systems and related web services at Amazon, his team was responsible for launching Pay with Amazon in Germany and UK markets.

Post his stint at Amazon, he joined MoveInSync as the head of technology, where he was responsible for leading the engineering organization and re-architecting a monolith application into a webscale platform. After an association with MoveInSync for 4 years, he moved to MEAWW as the director of engineering and product. He was responsible for evolving the Ad Tech strategy to build an industry-leading yield platform for 300 million monthly impressions with the help of partners like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.

In 2019 he joined HackerEarth to lead the engineering team, he likes to follow startups. His other interests include design thinking, photography, and music. He believes art pervades into everything that's science. One just needs to look deep enough.

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