How do enterprise-grade companies interview engineering leaders? Learn from seasoned recruitment professional, Amy Miller, Senior Tech Recruiter at Google!
Amy Miller is a seasoned tech recruitment professional. She previously spent five and a half years at Microsoft learning how to build great engineering teams based on the skills and experiences of highly talented candidates. Today, she brings top engineering leaders to one of the most cutting-edge tech companies out there: Google.
To Amy, the importance of tech recruitment is straightforward: “the heart and soul of the organization is built on engineering. It’s built on making the world better through products and services.”
Amy’s interviewed some of the brightest minds in new tech like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Along the way she learned that engineering power is the bedrock of successful operations.
Amy’s approach to hiring top engineering talent
As challenging as hiring can be, you have to trust in the interview process because a developer’s integrity will eventually surface. Amy mentioned that there can be an “honor system” when it comes to interviewing a candidate — and that even with the honor system in place, “it’s a small world” so reputation and integrity speak volumes.
Stay in touch with expectations. Expectations can help a manager better understand what a candidate has done, and how well they have accomplished these tasks.
“Each role has expectations tied to it.”
As long as you’re defining the role clearly, it doesn’t matter if you have a level system or not. Many enterprise-grade companies tend to use level systems, whereas for startups it may not be necessary. Amy noted that the array of talent emerging from a variety of backgrounds makes it all the more important to prioritize expectations as opposed to broadly categorizing candidates.
Hiring in general shouldn’t be about finding “winners” and “losers,” but instead about finding a candidate who will encounter the least resistance to integration. “We [Google] want to see you succeed quickly,” so it’s imperative for a candidate to start a trajectory that’s going to benefit them long-term.
Qualities of a good engineering manager candidate
Even though a list of soft and hard skills can check all the right boxes, a tech candidate should be able to communicate beyond their résumé.
“You need to show us that you’ve been there, done that.”
Great candidates can effectively communicate the lessons they’ve learned through good and bad experiences. An effective interview is about storytelling. When a candidate can synthesize their experiences into an effective summary of lessons learned, it lets recruiter trust their ability to deploy their skillset consistently, even in challenging situations.
Leadership is also critical. The candidate has to be a leader and “have an affinity for effectively deploying skilled talent — this is an absolute must, and it must be a passion rather than an obligation.” When interviewing, try to tap into the candidate’s passions and remember that engineers are idealists as much as they are data-driven creators.
“Engineers want to have an impact, and the impact can look like a lot of different things.”
It’s no surprise that deep technical experience is essential to hiring a talented engineering manager. “We can’t minimize the importance of knowing your stuff,” Amy said. She places high importance on finding candidates who live and breathe the world of tech — “they need to have a passion for the work itself” — this, coupled with a passion for leadership, means that you’ve hit a goldmine of talent.
Amy also looks for intellectual curiosity.
“There’s always more to learn — whether it’s new technology or moving into a new organization. Showing a humbleness, and willingness to learn and improve your own soft and hard skills is critical.”
Really hone in on the candidate’s technical skills and management skills. Do they have a mentor or manager who they look up to? Oftentimes, successful people have mentors who are within or outside of the organization, who they can learn from and lean on.
What trends impact tech hiring the most?
Tech recruitment is becoming more decentralized — engineering hubs are diversifying companies outside of the tech sector, and engineers are no longer limited to the Bay Area. Companies like Microsoft and Google have actively scouted talent across the United States, Europe, Asia, and beyond. Ultimately, Amy says, this helps bring much-needed perspective and diversity into the workplace.
“Google has invested in a lot of [remote] areas. A lot of tech companies are paying more attention to building where engineers are because their work can be done from anywhere.”
Within the US, there are now tech hubs in big cities like Austin, Chicago, and Seattle. “This is such an improvement from 10 years ago when if you weren’t in the Bay Area then you weren’t in tech.” Fully remote work is trickier — but Amy thinks there might be “more to come, because there’s an argument to be made for stand ups and working on projects side-by-side.”
Another industry shift that we’re seeing is that we’re moving away from requirements like college degrees.
“You don’t have to have a CS degree to be an engineer at Google. Ten years ago that would’ve been unheard of — in any tech company.”
There’s an influx of non-traditional candidates seeking education in different ways, like through boot camps and online courses. “I recently hired an engineer without a degree — he flew through the process. I love seeing other companies jump on this bandwagon of removing the degree requirement. It’s amazing to see the people being hired now that this isn’t as much of a challenge.”
Growing digitization means that more and more companies are trying to incorporate AI and machine learning into their technologies and systems. From an HR tech standpoint, Amy hasn’t seen AI at an interview level much yet, but “from a sourcing perspective, recruiters now have so many tools like AI sorting functions that help us aggregate all of this data.” There’s no shortage of information [about candidates], and using these tools makes finding candidates faster, which also makes for a better candidate experience.
“I can take more time to get to know my candidates, my engineering leaders, and really figure out if I have the right opportunity for the candidate. This has been game-changer for external recruitment.”
Demand for tech talent will continue to grow in 2020
The tech industry is continuing to see strong growth into 2020. “We [Google] are still seeing strong demand, so recruiters here are as busy as ever.” To combat growing competition for talent, Amy encourages recruiters to sync with their engineering leaders on how to approach candidates.
“Ask your engineering colleagues how they’d want to be approached? Move away from outdated language like ‘I’m a recruiter come talk to me’ — nobody wants to hear that anymore.”
Amy’s focus for next year is to engage more with hiring managers, who really “should be involved in the hiring process starting day one.” Hiring teams should meet regularly so that everyone is aligned on how to approach and engage talent. She continued that “it’s not just about educating the hiring manager, but also about bringing something valuable to them.” Recruiters can sometimes make the mistake of dumping a hiring request on the manager’s desk.
“That’s not how we do it [at Google]. We take the time to put together an ideal profile and determine the business problems that we want to solve. It’s about coming together and making it meaningful and fun.”
Amy’s advice: try meeting with hiring managers once a week to review ideal candidate profiles live, and give real-time feedback about likes and dislikes.