Identifying engineering talent in unusual places

Hiring
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
Onboarding

29 March, 2020

Hal Eisen

Hal Eisen

VP of Engineering at VeriSIM Life

Hal reminds us how important it is to stay open-minded when assessing engineering candidates.

Problem

I was responsible for a Perl development team during the dot com boom. Hiring qualified talent was a huge challenge, and I was having trouble finding great engineers to grow my team.

Actions taken

Our company had a foosball table, and I would often take a break in the afternoon to play with my colleagues. The best player in the company was our webmaster, and he and I would often end up as opponents, giving us a lot of opportunities for banter and getting to know each other. He didn't have any programming background or a degree in computer science, but I knew he had the right attitude and mindset for engineering, he just needed a chance and some guidance. I convinced my supervisor to take the risk. I invested heavily in him, teaching him about both the technical skills of coding, and also industry best practices. He grew quickly into a senior engineer. Two years later when I left that company, he was able to step into my place as the engineering manager of the team. We're still friends, and he later went on to hold engineering leadership positions at Google and then later at Amazon.

Lessons learned

When hiring, it is important to distinguish between skills that must be innate to the candidate versus skills that can be taught. Be open minded and self-aware about any counter-productive prejudice you might have. Hiring managers tend to look for recruits who resemble the manager, and that can be limiting.


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