What Start-Up Hiring Managers look for in an Engineering Profile

Posted on 02 March 2023

In the last few weeks, I’ve reached out to some of the top engineering contacts in my network to get their thoughts on the industry and what they’re looking for when they hire software engineering talent. I’ve spoken to a number of professionals, working in different industries within tech, and received insightful responses. This is the first installment of a two-part article so keep your eyes open for the second part, which will be published in a few weeks. 

 

Below are the names of the tech leaders who have contributed to the first part of this article: 

Edward Minnett – Principal Product Manager, Twitch

Benjamin Davies – Senior Talent Partner, Perlego 

Samantha Hornsby – Co-founder, ERIC 

Roman Frolov – Co-founder, Codesphere 

Mircea Bodog – VP of Engineering, Creatopy 

Josh Bryant – Group Engineering Manager, Zappi 

Kasia Borowska – Managing Director, Brainpool.ai 

 

I asked each of them questions about what they look for in an engineering profile when they hire software engineers, and why you should still be joining start-ups despite the current economic situation.  

 

How important to you is start-up experience in previous roles? 

“Not essential – if they don’t have start-up experience, contracting can be a good substitute,  as being independently proactive as well as productive is a critical skill.” – Edward Minnett, Twitch 

“It’s so important to us. It’s a mentality that we need people to understand. The environment in a start-up is different to anywhere else; it’s a creative, problem-solving atmosphere.” – Samantha Hornsby, ERIC 

“Any experience is important to us. For senior engineers start-up experience is a bit more important as we'd ideally like someone who has experienced the chaos of a start-up and understands that it's more than just about engineering. It is a massive asset to us if a senior has previous start-up experience. For junior engineers it's not as important.” – Mircea Bodog, Creatopy 

“It's something that we do look for as it demonstrates an ability to adapt and re-prioritise efficiently. It's not a culture shock if they've worked at a start-up before. However, not having start-up experience is not a deal-breaker.” –Ben Davies, Perlego 

“Not essential for engineers. It's important for other roles in the company but not essential for engineering positions. We make it clear in the interviews that the environment is different at a start-up.” – Kasia Borowska, Brainpool 

“Not essential at all.” – Roman Frolov, Codesphere 

What’s the main thing you look for on an engineer’s CV? Tech focus? Length of time at a company? Previous industries? 

“The ‘About Me’ section. We are looking for someone with real personality – an aspiring, smart, and motivated person. We really want someone with tenacity.” – Roman Frolov, Codesphere 

“There are two equally important things. Firstly, a great tech stack is essential and secondly, we’d like a jack-of-all-trades. Someone who has the ability and desire to learn new languages; a scrappy thinking engineer with natural curiosity.” – Samantha Hornsby, ERIC 

“On the initial application skills and experience are the most important thing. On a CV it's hard to get your full personality across so the main thing we look for on the CV is skills. If an engineer has the right skillset and experience they will get an interview. However, in the interviews the most important thing to us is showing attitude and engagement for the job itself.” – Mircea Bodog, Creatopy 

“We look for growth within a company. Have they moved up through the ranks quickly? Have they been able to successfully change career paths? For example, our CPO worked her way up from UX/UI Designer. If they have provided a cover letter with the CV then we would like to see evidence that they are really driven.” – Ben Davies, Perlego 

“We look for people with a strong technical background, but we have no required qualifications or technologies. We believe in hiring smart people who are ready to learn and come on a journey with us. We are also interested in the things you have contributed to projects beyond just writing code. The length of time at a company is really important as well as we want our employees to be committed to the company, so it's best if they haven't jumped from company to company quickly in their past roles.” – Josh Bryant, Zappi 

 

Would you take on an engineer who may need a bit more mentoring? Or is it important to you that they can come straight in and work on your product? 

“We hire engineers all the time who need a bit more mentoring. We have a buddy system, and everyone is given a buddy when they join. The teams here are smaller, so everyone has an opportunity to learn from each other.” – Roman Frolov, Codesphere 

“We would be happy to mentor engineers who need more time, so this isn’t an issue for us.” – Head of Software Engineering, London Start-up 

“For seniors, we don't want to have to mentor you too much. They should be able to take on tasks in a matter of days. They'll be mentored on products, practices, and the industry as this isn't something we'd expect them to know. If it takes more than two weeks to fix a bug, for example, then they're probably not as good as we thought they were in the interviews. For juniors it's a completely different story, we're very happy to mentor them.” – Mircea Bodog, Creatopy 

“Yes, we're happy to hire engineers who need a bit more mentoring. We hire people straight out of university. We hire people from bootcamps as well and have done so successfully. It's important to have a balance when it comes to hiring, we want to ensure more junior people joining our team are set up for success. If there's a more senior or lead level engineer that wants to have the opportunity to mentor someone then we may hire an engineer with the knowledge that a certain team member will be interested in mentoring them up.” – Josh Bryant, Zappi 

“Depends on the requirement of the project. If we're hiring a lead engineer or a senior then we don't expect to have to mentor them however if the hire is for a more junior or supporting engineer then we are happy to mentor them. We hired a Frontend Engineer who had ambitions to work on their backend skills and we gave them the mentoring and training in their first few months and now they work as a Fullstack Engineer.” – Kasia Borowska, Brainpool 

“Taking on someone who needs a lot of mentoring is an investment but can be a worthwhile one. It will require the Senior/Lead developers to invest a bit more time in those more junior than they are but when working in a startup it is important to recognise that professional development is an important investment for both individuals and the team as a whole.” – Edward Minnett, Twitch 

 

What advice would you give to engineers who are skeptical of joining start-ups/scale-ups due to the current economic situation? 

“Do your due diligence on the company’s financials and use different websites to do so. Don't be afraid to ask about the health of the company when you are interviewing. It sends a strong signal that this is important to you, and you can learn a lot from these types of questions. It will help you make an informed decision about the job. Remember start-ups are great career accelerators so it’s worth spending time working at one.” – Edward Minnett, Twitch 

“Well, people are making layoffs everywhere. Right now start-ups are just as secure or perhaps more secure than the big tech companies. At start-ups you get the opportunity to learn quickly which will provide you with more varied experience and skills for the future.” – Samantha Hornsby, ERIC 

“Ask in the interviews about financial planning and growth plans. Remember start-ups give you the best opportunity to grow as you’ll be wearing many hats and learning really quickly.” – Head of Engineering, London Start-up 

“There's definitely a concern around the economy at the moment but being honest most of the redundancies are coming from the big companies. If you're passionate about the company's mission then throw yourself into it. There are also way more growth opportunities at a start-up so it's worth the "risk".” – Ben Davies, Perlego 

“Ask a lot of questions in the interview; do you have product market fit? Who are their customers what value does the product bring to them? Understand the hiring strategy; How aggressively are you hiring? Are these hires targeted? What would your onboarding look like? What does the reporting lines and support structures look like? Who would you be learning from?” – Josh Bryant, Zappi 

“People are right to have concerns but it's ok to ask founders about their expansion plans and runway. Founders should be honest with their answers.” – Kasia Borowska, Brainpool 

 

I hope you enjoyed reading the Q&A! I’d like to thank Edward, Ben, Samantha, Roman, Mircea, Josh and Kasia for contributing to the article and allowing me to publish it to my network. Please check out their companies’ websites below and take a look at the great products they’re building: 

https://www.twitch.tv/ 

https://www.perlego.com/ 

https://www.meet-eric.com/ 

https://codesphere.com/ 

https://www.creatopy.com/ 

https://www.zappi.io/ 

https://brainpool.ai/ 

 

 

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