Andrew Stein spent two decades as a top Wall Street fintech developer before co-founding The Prospective Company, a startup building “high capacity data analytics” software that grew out of an open-source project he created at JPMorgan Chase.
Andrew’s experience in banking informed his approach to recruiting and developing tech talent for his company – but not in the way a bank would expect.
“I knew we had hit on a cool technology path with Prospective – taking high-performance, open-source software and using really aggressive, forward-looking engineering techniques to give it new life and re-contextualize it in new places,” says Andrew.
But they needed to find the right engineers to help solve this retooling problem.
How do you hire and nurture developers to create this kind of high octane software?
Andrew explains that at the banks, technology managers generally hire to mitigate risk. They accomplish this by recruiting engineers who demonstrate proven chops in established technologies like Java, as well as metrics like the ability to commit a certain number of lines of code or pull requests in a certain time.
Prospective’s approach is worlds apart.
Framework for Recruiting
“We’re looking for engineers who can identify new tech that has value before the rest of the industry does, and who can think about how we’re going to be solving our challenges a year from now,” explains Andrew.
“It’s like the cart leading the horse, in a way. I can’t tell you for certain what technology we’re going to be building in a year and a half. Data analytics is a pretty loaded term. There are a lot of ways you can interpret that in terms of providing value. I have a bunch of ideas. I expect the people we hire to have ideas, and to research, validate, share and communicate those ideas.”
To quantify these abstract abilities in a developer, Andrew rethought the typical job posting.
Identifying Top Tech Talent
Rather than ticking off their experience, he asks applicants to share things like, what they see in Hacker News, what to them are the hottest topics in the industry, and what tech they’re most excited about.
“When someone contacts me and says, ‘I saw your ad and the reason I’m interested is that I’m doing hobby projects in Haskell and I really think it’s a fantastic language’ – that immediately communicates to me that this developer is taking time outside of their 9 to 5 to learn about a technology and how to do it better,” says Andrew.
“They’re telling me they have a core, fundamental interest in how to engineer things better and how to move themselves forward. I don’t even have to interview them to know immediately that this person has the right mindset. It’s self-selecting.”
“Without speaking a word to the applicant, I’ve already solved a problem I saw back in the banks, of getting a bunch of extremely expensive Java experts with tons of experience, but who couldn’t take the technology forward.”
Supporting the Development Team
Once they land the right engineer, Prospective has evolved a fresh approach to keeping them engaged and growing at the company, one that centers around something not typically heard at the office.
“I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret,” says Andrew. “I use a lot of Rust for this project. But I’m not using Rust because it’s the exact right language for the job. I’m using it because – it’s fun.”
“I strongly believe that’s how, like, 90% of technology decisions get made. And we as technology leaders need to embrace that, to really advance the software. More than anything else, that’s what keeps our developers engaged.”
Prospective nurtures their tech talent in other ways, too.
“We involve our hires in sales calls and calls with early clients and design partners, in ways they may not have done before or have experience in,” says Andrew. “I want to help them understand why the company’s priorities are certain ways, and I want them to opine on those things and help us establish them.”
“And they can’t do that if the only visibility they have into the company’s direction is the bug list for the week. I want our team to understand, Why are these clients important? Why are their needs important?”
Is this approach sustainable as Prospective grows?
“I worked in a traditional corporate environment for a long time and I know this stuff sounds like heresy. If my old manager was listening to this, he’d be saying, ‘I can’t believe I allowed this guy to run free at my company!’,” says Andrew, laughing.
“It is indeed a challenge to manage a large team of people who are opinionated and have good ideas. Soft skills, communications, and empathy are crucial in a research environment like ours, and they are all critical qualities we look for in the people we bring onboard.”
“It’s really, really important that we don’t get siloed and married to individual topics, and our team works with each other and communicates their technology ideas effectively,” adds Andrew. “This is how we will grow – and succeed.”