Talking Talent with Stack Overflow & The Muse

Last week, in honor of the two Andela developers in town from Lagos, Nigeria, we hosted an event at Fueled with Jon Chan, head developer evangelist from Stack Overflow, and Yusuf Simonson, CTO of The Muse. The evening offered us and others in the ecosystem a chance to peer into the minds of two super smart folks who think deeply about how to find great people and, just as importantly, ensure that those people have a great experience on your team.

While the topics ranged broadly, three key themes emerged:

  • The Importance of Continuous Learning
  • Why Mentorship Matters
  • Expanding Your Own Borders

The Importance of Continuous Learning

Stack Overflow was founded in part because of the importance of continuous learning to engineers, so it’s no surprise that the company takes integrating this core principle into their dev teams seriously. As a way to increase engagement while also improving productivity, Stack Overflow hosts training sessions, internal mini-conferences, and brown-bag lunches (sometimes even with Joel), as professional development options for employees. In addition, team members are encouraged to experiment, try new languages, and work on passion projects. Given the mission of the company - to support the learning of the world’s developers - I’m sure you’re not surprised by this focus on learning internally.Not everyone can work at Stack Overflow, though. Chan suggested that early stage companies provide employees unique opportunities. Being an early engineer allows the opportunity to provide expertise and guidance that may be overlooked otherwise. In addition, great engineers have an innate desire to solve tough problems. Working in an earlier stage company often creates room for that level of risk taking in a way that can get tougher as companies scale.At The Muse, engineers are encouraged not just to constantly improve their technical skills, but also to take the chance to engage with people in other departments and better understand their goals. To facilitate this, the engineering team built a Slack bot that randomly assigns a coffee meeting between two people on the team, regardless of their department, once a week. And while this has been hugely popular to help maintain company culture as the company has grown from under 25 to over 60 employees during 2015, it can also cause challenges - like the time when it paired the CEO with a team member from Boston. Don’t worry though - they still made it work.

Why Mentorship Matters

For Stack Overflow, mentorship isn’t just an important part of their culture - it’s a central tenet of the product itself. Because of this focus on learning and teaching, Jon has spearheaded a mentorship program that’s seen Stack Overflow developers working with both graduates of the Flatiron School as well as Andela Fellows.These mentorship sprints typically last for 3 months and involve weekly in-person or video meetings between the mentor and mentee. While the process frequently involves a technical discussion and helping the mentee chart their progress, it’s not uncommon to spend the time discussion career development and how to continue growing as a leader.There a reason this approach has worked so well: 88% of millennials report a preference for a collaborative work environment over a competitive one. And to add accountability to the mix, Stack Overflow’s annual review criteria includes an evaluation of an employee’s public engagement and outreach, including their involvement with the mentorship program. As a result, the program has not only improved interactions within the company, but also the lives of their employees through an enhanced understanding of their own impact on the software development ecosystem.

Expanding Your Borders

Both Chan and Simonson echoed another common theme: to attract and retain top talent in the coming years, companies should look beyond a 20 mile radius of their office and focus on finding the most talented person - period. In addition, diversity in all forms, and the diverse life experiences that come with it, are increasingly viewed as an advantage for teams.For Stack Overflow, nearly half of the engineering team operates remotely, and Jon just arrived back in NYC after 4 months of travelling - all while working full time.For The Muse, securing two developers from Andela represented their first foray into distributed teams. According to Simonson, the push to scale talent makes a distributed team an asset – if you are able to use it effectively. In addition, he spoke of his recent trip to Nigeria to see Andela’s campus and how much his team had enjoyed getting to know Chibuzor and Gbolahan, their two newest members. Through fast paced daily standups, the perpetual connectivity of Slack, and spontaneous Google Hangouts, two developers from Lagos, Nigeria were already starting to blend into the frenetic flow of one of NYC’s fastest growing startups.What would you have asked Stack Overflow and The Muse about their engineering teams? As you scale, what are the challenges you’re seeing and what tips would you offer to those going through it themselves? Let us know in the comments below!

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