How to Create an Engineering Culture That Attracts Top Talent

by Madeline Hester
February 18, 2020

It’s a good time to be a software engineer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of computer software engineers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2018 to 2028. As well, the unemployment rate of software engineers is under 2 percent. Most engineers don’t need to go job-hunting — the offers come to them. 

In order for companies to attract top engineering talent, creating a unique and engaging engineering culture is essential. Candidates know that a healthy engineering culture leads to product innovation and career development. As Cynthia Hayward from Enova said, “Good engineering culture allows everyone on the team to feel like they have an equal opportunity to provide solutions for problems and propose new ideas.”

Each company has their own way of promoting good engineering culture — and not all of them involve code. Whether it be a ‘no-jerks’ policy, sharing customer success stories or engaging in team outings, there are plenty of ways to sustain a unique engineering culture inside and out of the office. Read on to hear how these six leaders define good engineering culture and ensure their engineers feel challenged and engaged. 

 

morningstar
morningstar

Head of Technology Jeffrey Hirsch, as well as most of the executives we’ve talked to, agrees that programming experience isn’t the highest priority when looking at resumes — people can be trained to learn a new practice or language. What matters is aptitude, curiosity and strong critical thinking. At the data and research company Morningstar, Hirsch looks for candidates who complete his team in order to form a cohesive and balanced unit. 

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

It’s less about what programming languages a person knows or what experience with specific frameworks they have. It’s more about aptitude and execution. People can be trained to learn a new language or a best practice like test-driven development. But they need the aptitude to understand the concepts, followed by an execution-oriented mindset to drive impact for the organization. We look for folks who are strong critical thinkers and generally curious; people who want to understand why something works the way it does and not just accept things unconditionally. 

We also try to ensure we’re grabbing the most diverse set of individuals we can, both in personal and professional terms. The more perspectives the better. And finally, we have a “no jerks” policy. We foster a non-intimidating environment where everyone can share their opinion. 

There was a time when we would write candidates off because they didn’t have the background in a skillset we were looking for. Now that we focus on the general quality of candidates and how they complement our existing team, we’ve actually increased our potential hiring pool amidst a high-demand market.

We foster a non-intimidating environment where everyone can share their opinion.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they're doing?

At its core, Morningstar is a data and research company, and fortunately for engineers the data and analytics technology space is teeming with innovation. There’s no shortage of cool things to work on. So the key for our leadership team is to tap into our engineers’ desires. Internal mobility is a core part of that. 

I’ve worked at companies where one manager would try and block the movement of one of their team members to another team because they felt they couldn’t deal with the “key man loss.” Morningstar has a zero-tolerance policy in that regard. Key man loss keeps all of us engaged and sharp, and it’s good for the organization as it helps with business continuity by forcing the management of key man loss through knowledge transfer and documentation. Finally, the nature of mobility fosters a kind of organic collaboration across teams.

 

motorola
motorola solutions

At Motorola Solutions, its mission is to provide communications during mission-critical situations. In order for her team to communicate and develop life-saving software, Vice President of Engineering Thao Tang begins with hiring the best talent. She looks for people who are strong critical thinkers and engage in healthy debates in order to foster an environment of innovation.

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

Good engineering culture starts with hiring the best talent. Regardless of discipline, engineers must demonstrate strong problem-solving skills. A team full of great problem-solvers will generate more ideas and healthy debates to arrive at the best solution. The entire team’s drive, motivation and output are elevated when surrounded by the best talent.

Secondly, it’s important to foster a collaborative and team-oriented environment. Success is measured by holistic team achievements, not just an individual’s.

Lastly, transparency and candor at all levels create a good engineering culture. I strive to empower employees to speak up, make mistakes and learn from them. 

I strive to empower employees to speak up, make mistakes and learn from them.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

To keep engineers challenged and engaged, we foster an environment of innovation. Every customer problem, every customer pain point and every technical problem represents an opportunity for innovation. By bringing transformative ideas with high business impact to market, we keep our best engineers engaged and challenged.

 

enova
enova

Senior Manager of IT Risk Cynthia Hayward said a good engineering culture centers around an atmosphere that includes everyone and ensures all ideas and opinions are safe. To create that culture for fintech company Enova, she encourages teamwork and makes sure everyone is aware of shared challenges and can lean on each other for support.

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

Good engineering culture allows for everyone on the team to feel like they have an equal opportunity to provide solutions for problems and propose new ideas. In this kind of culture, everyone believes that the best answer wins and that it can come from anyone. 

The most impactful actions I’ve taken with the security, engineering and risk management teams are to create an atmosphere where everyone belongs and all ideas and opinions are safe. This plays out in practice when we work through a problem or try to develop a new approach. We make an effort to have everyone engaged in the conversation and respect individual insights by remembering we all look at situations through unique lenses. We also give honest feedback in a way that sets the team up for constructive future conversations because our relationships are long-term and not based on the outcome of single discussions.

In this kind of culture, everyone believes that the best answer wins and that it can come from anyone.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

Engineers feel challenged, engaged and excited when they feel like they’re part of setting the direction of the work they’re doing and actively engaged in solving challenges or improving processes. This requires everyone to be aware of the challenges and lean on each other for expertise. When we are implementing new IT compliance or security initiatives, we reach out to stakeholders at all levels for feedback on the requirements. This allows us to understand more about their challenges and how we can better help them. It keeps them engaged with the project and ultimately excited about the changes we’re making as we evolve our products and processes. 

 

diagoltech
dialogtech

Director of Software Development and Attribution Dan Day believes a good engineering culture is open and inclusive. It’s important for everyone on his team to feel comfortable debating opinions in order to create better solutions. At DialogTech, a company that analyzes marketing calls with AI, Day emphasizes transparency between teams to foster communication.

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

A good engineering culture to me is one that’s open and inclusive. Everyone on the team should feel comfortable voicing their opinions and contributing to conversations about how we solve problems. With development teams that are collaborating with product managers, QA and customer success, it's important for people to contribute openly so we can continue to move quickly.

One of the ways I’ve improved our culture is by helping break down silos between our teams. Having transparency into what other teams are working on has helped foster communication. It's also given engineers the opportunity to move to another team to work on different tech stacks they find interesting.

A good engineering culture to me is one that’s open and inclusive.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

Having engineers involved in every step of the process helps create a sense of ownership over the applications they're building. This includes the initial talks with product managers discussing the customers' needs throughout the design and development of the application. Knowing that they have a hand in how the application will evolve and are doing more than just writing code for a task they were given helps keep engineers engaged. The success stories we hear from customers about how our applications saved them thousands of dollars also goes a long way.

 

nerdery
nerdery

Senior Software Engineer and Engineering Team Manager Laura Shields said it’s okay when engineers don’t know the answer. At digital business consultant company Nerdery, she has cultivated a safe space for engineers to ask questions, contribute ideas and deliver feedback. She checks in regularly with her team to understand what motivates them personally. 

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

As with any positive space, it’s imperative that people feel safe. Every engineer experiences imposter syndrome at some point. A good culture is one where people can feel comfortable admitting when they don’t know something, asking for help, contributing ideas and delivering feedback.

A safe environment is one in which people trust each other. There are a lot of ways to establish trust, but something as simple as getting to know each other better can make a huge difference. Look for or create opportunities to connect with each other: ask a teammate if they’d like to grab coffee or lunch, share stories while waiting for a meeting to start, plan a team outing. 

A safe environment is one in which people trust each other.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

You can help set people up for success by understanding what motivates each person individually. One person might place more value on the outcome of their work while another might care more about the ability to learn new tools. Check in regularly with each person to see how things are going. It’s not uncommon for people to experience changes in their work or personal lives, or simply get project fatigue and want a change of direction and pace.

 

docusign
docusign

Keith Litwin, senior director of software engineering, said the key to attracting top talent is defining career paths and developing managers to build their teams. Engineers at DocuSign get to work on both the platform and product, and they see the impact their work has on customers immediately due to fast release cycles. For engineers on Litwin's team, positive reactions are what motivate them to succeed in their next task. 

 

What makes a good engineering culture? What are the most impactful actions you’ve taken to improve your engineering culture?

At DocuSign, we recognize that the best engineers thrive when they are empowered to work on challenging problems, can voice their ideas openly, see their code ship and their product used, get an equal opportunity to succeed and work with people who they respect and trust. To meet those expectations and attract and retain the best engineering talent, we are really doubling down on defining transparent career paths and developing managers so that they can enable their teams at DocuSign.  

The product launches we are working on are high profile, meaningful and strategic to our mission.”

 

How do you ensure engineers continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

Our engineering team in Chicago is entrusted with building out key components of the DocuSign Agreement Cloud. It’s a really exciting moment for the company. The product launches we are working on are high profile, meaningful and strategic to our mission. The C-suite has visibility into what we’re working on and are actively tracking our success. Our engineers here get the chance to work on both our platform and our products. We have fast release cycles so engineers can see the impact of their work on customers almost immediately. You can’t find that everywhere, and that’s pretty exciting to the team.

 

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