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How We Hire Engineers

May 23, 2022

As a small start-up with big ambitions, Hedgehog needs to build an engineering team to match those ambitions. Given the extremely competitive hiring market, driven by pent up demand from the pandemic, we knew we needed to think very carefully about how we attempted to hire engineers. Based on our own experiences and where we saw the engineering team going, we landed on a few key priorities:

  • Prioritise personality and cultural alignment
  • Accurately assess the candidates’ technical ability
  • Move quickly and adapt

Each of these priorities shaped the process that we are currently using. We think we’ve been pretty successful so far (two contract hires and one permanent employee onboarded already, with three more permanent hires joining in the next 4 weeks), but we’re still hiring for more engineering positions. Read on to find out more about how we hire, and if it sounds reasonable to you then get in touch to hear about our current open positions that will enable you to work on an innovative and driven real estate investment platform.

Cultural alignment and personality

A start-up can change quickly, be potentially demanding, and often builds intense relationships between the people who work there. At Hedgehog we want to make sure everyone who works here can help us build a culture where we work together to navigate the changing demands, support each other when things get tough, and ultimately have fun while we’re doing it. We believe that this is more important for a company of our size than any technical skill or past experience could be. Our ability to work well together and pull in the same direction will ultimately decide how successful we are as a team, rather than any individual’s ability.

For these reasons, we actually kick off our interview process with an interview with one of the co-founders. Normally these interviews are left to the end (we do have another co-founder interview at the end), but ultimately we feel the best gauge and early filter of cultural alignment are the people who started the company. By doing this interview up front, we remove candidates who would never be hired regardless of their performance in other interviews. This has the added benefit of protecting time - our engineering team has less technical interviews to do, and candidates are also able to find out early whether Hedgehog is a good fit for them. The interview process is as much about selling the role to the candidate as it is assessing the candidate, so we encourage them to ask questions and figure out if it’s a good fit for them as well.

We also expect our engineers to do a lot more than deliver tickets on repeat. We want them to understand our business, product and users, and solve the problems they face. We give engineers the autonomy and responsibility to do this. However, this also requires hiring engineers who are passionate about user experience, are able to take initiative and own parts of our product, and are willing to work outside their own comfort zone. Therefore part of the interview process involves meeting our Head of Product where we asses these things, as well as of course how fun it will be to work with this person!

Assessing technical ability

There are two main things we look for when it comes to an engineer’s technical abilities. First, we want a proven track record of delivering work into production for a working product. We find this out during a detailed discussion with the candidate, focusing on a recent project they’ve worked on. This also helps us get to know how they communicate, how they break problems down, and how they explain things to other people who may know nothing about the subject area.

Second, we need engineers who know how to solve engineering problems. This may sound obvious, but often in larger organisations engineers can move further and further away from hands-on delivery, and their day-to-day can often involve only high-level design and planning meetings. This model can work, of course, but it’s not something we can afford given our need to move quickly.

Generally, problem solving ability is assessed either by a take home test or a live coding exercise. Both of these methods are fraught with challenges - take home tests place an unreasonable demand on the candidate’s personal time (particularly if you have family or other commitments outside of work) and a live coding exercise places an extreme amount of pressure on a one-time exercise, which is not representative of how we work day-to-day. Ultimately we decided we couldn’t afford the delay that would be introduced by take home tests, nor did we feel we had the engineering capacity to accurately mark these. We settled on asking two problem solving questions, one easy and one harder, and giving the candidate a number of helping hands to ease the difficulty with live assessments:

  • The candidate can choose any language to solve the problems, even pseudo code or pen and paper. We don’t prioritise a particular method, but are more interested in how the candidate approaches the problem and the steps they take, rather than the final result.
  • A free pass. We appreciate the situation where you’re asked to perform live on demand can be stressful, and we understand this can cause people to perform below their best. If a candidate feels the format of the interview affected their performance in an adverse way, we are happy to arrange another time to do the interview a second time, with no marks from the first try counted towards their result. Knowing this up front should help put the candidate at ease and enable them to perform well.
  • Give candidates clear instructions on what to expect and what to prepare for. An unknown challenge during an interview can be a great source of anxiety, so we aim to eliminate this as much as possible.

Move quickly and adapt

Engineering candidates have a huge number of opportunities available to them, and we take it as a compliment when they choose to engage with Hedgehog. The least we can do to return this compliment is respond quickly to the candidate, aiming to get back to them either the same day or as early as possible the next day on interview results and feedback. The whole process takes less than 3 hours of the candidate’s time, and requires no extra time to prepare for interviews or tasks. On occasions, we fall short, but this is the standard we aim for.

Finally, we reflect regularly on our hiring practices and look to candidates who go through the process for feedback. As we grow and learn this process will inevitably change, but for now it’s bringing us great results and we hope that continues.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this process then let us know! We’re always up for talking about hiring and finding out how we can do better. Or, if you’re looking for a new engineering role, get in touch:

Hedgehog is a blockchain-driven investing platform that makes fractional investments in real-world assets available to individual investors. Sign up and start investing today.