Ten ways to attract and keep the best tech talent (when everyone says it’s impossible)

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There is no question that strong tech talent is scarce, but how come some companies get the lion's share of the best and the brightest? Kablamo is a small but fast-growing cloud application development business and, so far, we seem to have a good formula for attracting and retaining really great technical talent, including some engineers with budding global reputations. How? Here are ten ways for organisations large and small that want to do the same. 

  1. Give them choices, change and challenge: The best technical talent needs to live in an environment of rapid customisation and variability – that’s the way they like it. No single solution is ever the same and you can't do cookie cutter. That means your tech team needs to constantly be able to find unique solutions to unique problems. Give them puzzles, hard puzzles and they will thrive.

  2. Forget the flash: Focus on skills and substance, rather than superficial polish. No one likes the developer who speaks the loudest but doesn’t have anyone understanding them. You want to promote as spirit of humility in that we’re here to look after each other and our customers, and stay committed to achieving the smartest answers – smart doesn’t mean shiny, it means real.

  3. Talk about Humans not Human Resources: Thinking of people as resources to be managed is counter-productive. Don’t have a rigid performance management framework. Don’t do mandatory breakfasts or culture-boosting posters. The traditional idea is building a beautiful office where you have employees who never want to leave from sunrise to, well, sunrise again. That’s old fashioned. Instead, work with a more flexible approach to geographic placement. When you attract the best, you trust and you adapt. And when you’re thinking about building human, rather than transactional relationships, you start to get materially better outcomes. 

  4. The best techs are looking for fast and different: Fewer and fewer top graduates from IT programs want to work for a big enterprise tech consultancies. The best tech talent are avoiding slow-moving enterprises and traditional IT vendors because it means a lack of interesting work. They’re not afraid of hard work, but they thrive when each day is different and things are fast-moving. And they now have more choice than ever.

  5. Count on gravity: Ultimately, we get drawn to the people we’d like to work with. This is especially true of tech talent. Great tech talent flocks together. Being interviewed by an outstanding technical mind, implies a wealth of opportunity in development and ground-breaking work. It’s the learning environment that pulls exceptionally bright minds together to tackle challenges in AI, machine learning, robotics, cloud and more. 

  6. Use real values not phoney corporate talk: Businesses talk a lot about values these days, but don’t even get us started on acronyms which sit on an about us pages gathering cobwebs. Yet actions speak louder than words. Not unlike other leading tech companies, Kablamo has already produced several open source projects. We actually built tech for techies that will never pay us a cent – we did this because the team believed in doing it. This also demonstrates commitment to our global developer community about what we contribute, what we stand for and what world we’re trying to create. The right (read: best) people get this. 

  7. Let them roam free: Top tech talent are mobile and flexible. These girls and guys embrace different communication tools and channels in order to make things happen. They work from home, from the train, or during unusual hours of the night – but they do so on their own terms. Unshackle your workforce. The worst trend is companies requiring a return to work-from-base model. 

  8. Treat them like adults and be transparent: You want your tech team to know the things that matter to the business – in other words, treat them like adults. Humans generally like some level of predictability when it comes to major changes to their work environment. It’s common sense, so we apply that basic knowledge to our business, and remain transparent with our team.

  9. Drive competition hard but leave egos at the door: We do ‘Thunder Dome’ at Kablamo, inspired by the movie Mad Max. Our Thunderdome involves someone throwing in a new idea, and having 20 or so engineers brainstorm, thrash, and debate it over drinks and a good time. It’s run by the engineering team and owned by them. Some of our people spend the weekend coding their own projects. It’s a way of life. So don’t get in its way; encourage it.

  10. Don’t force roles on great people who don’t want them: Some engineers strive to become managers. Some engineers strive to become subject matter experts. The latter approach shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving significant leadership positions on your team. Some individuals want to keep working with tools, follow a technical career path, and avoid the distraction or lack of passion for managing people. Too much to ask for? We tell them they can do that if they want to. A humans-first approach will keep driving both individual careers and your mission forward.