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There's a person who is a team leader and project manager of small project. At the beginning it is planned for 6 people: 3 developers, quality engineer, sys admin and PM/leader. Eventually it may grow larger depending on how business goes.

Anyway, the PM/leader has to recruit the team as she's the first person on the team. Her background is in software development but her technical skills are outdated.

As the project is kind of a startup idea it requires skilled and highly engaged people.

How she can deal with recruiting great engineers?

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Like the old proverb: "A player find A player; B player find C player", if you want to hire A-level people, you must be at least a B+ player. Lacking a bit of technical skill will not hurt much, as long as she has experience & expertise connection to make up for it.

Like Eric, I agree that the best chance to find such good people is using social connection. The birds of same feathers flock together. You can use recommendation from trusted peers, social networking site(Linkedin, Facebook), use words of mouth to spread the news, and when you get an A-player, look around in his/her connection for other candidates.

Remember that there are 2 conditions: the employee should be skilled AND highly engaged. The first part can be guaranteed by candidate's old co-workers. The second part (no less important) is much harder to test, because it's highly individual. I just can advise to look at the candidate's history: did he join any startup before? Did he stick with it? Does he/she have any problems right now, which may result in giving up in the mid-term? But this part depends most in the PM social skills, not technical skills.

After finding the "right" people, the last problem is how you attract good people & keep them. To highly competent people, the best thing is not money. "Give them enough challenge, give them space to succeed, make the open & comfort atmosphere" - those are all buzz words, but they will work if applying well.

At last, you may find this post useful.

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It doesn't sound like this is an isolated project independent of a larger organization, so my first advice would be to seek out other, active employees of the company with similar skill-sets and have them do the technical skills audition, while the PM/leader focuses on the personality and team culture aspects of the candidate.

If this is something that's in isolation of the larger organization, I'd recommend that the leader try some of the following:

  • Attend local technical events to both brush up and to find people that are connected to the local network.
  • Find trusted peers that have professional networks in the desired technology and ask them to help find the right people.
  • Hire for learning capability, not just current skills.
  • Read Johanna Rothman's work, and apply her ideas to get the right people.

If you get a strong leader with good non-technical skills as your first development hire, they can then help you get the "super" second hire. Also, don't forget that average teams can have phenomonal results if the right product and project management is in place, helping them avoid distractions and focus on the right incremental steps.

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    Be careful, because smart people don't like to work with people who aren't on the same level. Someone who's perceived as not up to date may drive away better developers -- see Topgrading for a discussion about this. – ashes999 Apr 27 '11 at 22:18
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    My manager doesn't need to be on the same technical level. If the team is really allowed to do their work - and the current buzzword is they "own" it - then he is not supposed to make technical decisions. Team does. So if a developer has a problem with insufficient skills of a manager then it is all about developer's personality or manager's micro- or 'hit and run' management. – Bartosz Rakowski Apr 28 '11 at 6:36
  • @ashes: Great point - I should be careful to say not to get an "average" hire for the first one, but I also know above-average and exceptional work great together, sometimes better than "all exceptional" unless the personalities work well together. – Eric Willeke Apr 28 '11 at 16:33
  • +1 Eric, particularly re having the right pm in place to get phenomenal results. – Mark Phillips Apr 28 '11 at 23:24
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Here's a wild thought that might yield interesting results.

One of the techniques that a lot of teams use is to avoid the interview format and instead put a candidate into the team situation in the workplace. In other words, if you're hiring a programmer for an XP team, sit them down with the team and have them pair with others and see how they interact. The people who pair with them will get deep insight into their technical ability.

So I'm thinking, if you're really all alone and have to hire technical talent, why not bring in two or three people at the same time and treat them as a team? Tell them to bring laptops. Give them some kind of programming problem to solve together, as a team. Then be there as a PM if they have questions, and watch them work. I think you could learn a lot this way. Certainly you will quickly be able to rank the candidates relative to one another and use that information along with other techniques to help your decision.

Oh, and if you try this, could you come back to the group and tell us how it worked?

alan

  • +1 for idea someone else could try it first ;) It looks more time efficient than interviewing each of them separately but also it requires much more attention and multi-tasking abilities from the host. – Bartosz Rakowski Apr 29 '11 at 18:53
  • @Bartosz - It also takes some time for people to fit into the culture, so I'm not sure if this is a fair assessment of someone's future performance. Even new CEO's that join a company wait several months before trying to make changes, long after they've learned the existing system first. – jmort253 May 8 '11 at 23:59
  • +1 This is a great idea and I have seen it work. It is true that it takes some time to fit into the culture but remember that this should be compared with the alternative standard interview process which is very artificial and nothing like the actual work that the person will be expected to do. If you're hiring someone to be an interviewer that's one thing, but for technical stuff, put them in a more technical situation to check technical skills. Still have the interview for any upper mgt folks. – Michael Durrant May 8 '13 at 14:20
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Interviewing is already a weak indicator used to predict job success. It has been shown in many studies that interviews yield a successful hire a little over 50% of the time. That is a coin toss. Absent a predictor tool such as a proven test of some sort, stale technical skills are not likely going to inhibit a good choice any more than one is already inhibited by the interview process.

That said, if the person does not trust his abilities to assess, then conduct a team interview or multiple individual interviews with other assessors. Focus in on the ONE most critical criterion.

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Hire a part-time contractor to do the interviewing. Explain him your project objectives and required KSA. Ask him to provide a detailed report after every interview, with a unified score.

In general, a project manager should never rely on his/her own technical skills.

  • I don't agree with not relying on one's own technical ability. It doesn't seem wise to just follow the crowd off the edge of the cliff, especially if you can see the cliff coming. – jmort253 May 9 '11 at 0:00
  • My experience is that a part-time contractor is unlikely to be super up-to-date either, though there are some out there and YMMV. – Michael Durrant May 8 '13 at 13:43

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