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Dolby’s Head of Recruitment was tasked with starting an R&D center in Australia in 2011 — fast-forward eight years and he would grow the engineering team to over 140 developers.

If you’ve ever tuned into popular entertainment or sporting events like the Grammys or Wimbledon, then chances are you were listening to a Dolby broadcast. According to their website, nearly every movie that has won an Academy Award since 1977 in the sound categories has featured Dolby technology.

Today, Dolby has more than 2,200 employees across 21 countries. Steve Byrne, Head of Recruitment, was given the opportunity to start a dedicated R&D center in Australia — and over the course of 8 years, he would grow the engineering team to over 140 developers.

Dolby’s culture is synergistic and hands-on

When Steve first joined Dolby in 2011 the company “was going through a sustained period of growth” and was using more “traditional” practices like the waterfall model for software development. Over the years, as Agile Methodology grew more popular, Dolby’s scaling team would embrace Agile. In the recruiting context, this means that the team would do Sprints, adopt a system for prioritizing tickets, and hold routine feedback sessions in an effort to improve flexibility, efficiency, and visibility among hiring teams.

“In the past [Dolby] used live coding exercises with engineers and candidates so that they could interact in real-time. Of course, there was a tradeoff of time spent on that … we were looking for something that could save us time and streamline the process.”

Recruiting reinvented

Engineers at Dolby were the first to recommend switching to a code testing platform like Codility. Steve said one of Dolby’s main pain points “was figuring out how engineers could best use their time in the hiring process. We have applicants that we get through our ATS and others that are proactively sourced — we are thorough in how we evaluate candidates and put them through a fairly rigorous process.” The Sydney office now uses the Codility platform for 90% of the roles that they hire for in the current market.

When asked what type of candidate they look for, Steve was quick to say that candidates need to “have a strong grounding in software engineering principles, and a good background in single-processing.” The best engineers are the ones who have “knowledge of multiple low-level languages like C, C++, Python, Julia, R … whatever tool is needed at the time.”

Aside from having strong capabilities in writing code, Steve looks for candidates who can “see the big picture” and who can “think around a problem” even when there’s no clear solution. This is because every team faces communication challenges around day-to-day problems that are “fuzzy” — this happens most often when scrum masters or project managers are either too prescriptive or too vague with their direction.

The root cause of poor hiring is slow, outdated processes. Here are Dolby’s tech hiring best practices aimed to improve retention:

  • Hiring managers should focus on curating tasks that are relevant to the role
  • For university or entry-level recruiting where there tends to be a high volume of applicants, using a coding test is a good way to filter out top talent
  • Remember that sometimes the best candidates may not have the best resumes — use online assessment solutions to objectively screen candidates and minimize subconscious bias
  • Look beyond the scope and consider the playback of how a candidate approaches a given task because sometimes there can be limitations — for example, a candidate can get the syntax wrong but have the right approach that you’re looking for
  • Whiteboard testing isn’t a typical environment anymore, and sometimes it could be social factors, like introversion, that influence performance

4 trends to watch for in 2020

Hiring managers and recruiters need to work together

Hiring teams need to work together to determine the difficulty and type of test. Steve recalled a time when a hiring manager once suggested to him that they set the limit on a task to 12 hours. His thought process was that it would be “great” for the candidate to have a built-in break. Having knowledge of existing behavioral data that shows that candidates freak out when they see a time limit this long, Steve had the opportunity to educate on how best to use tools such as coding tests — and more importantly that 3-4 hours is key to good candidate experience (CX).

Cloud is everything

Cloud computing is a hotly sought-after skill in the market. Over the last year Dolby has focused a lot of its hiring efforts on cloud services. “One of the biggest trends here in Sydney is Cloud Computing, and that’s an important skill set that’s often sought after. AI, Machine Learning, and IoT are key growth areas too — these are very exciting times for Dolby, especially as we dive deeper.” He also observed that it’s been a “challenge for recruiters” in “knowing how to hire for these types of engineers.” It’s a competitive market so brands need to be able to tell their story and offer good CX.

Moving towards workplace flexibility

Increased workplace flexibility is becoming more important as a way to attract and retain talent. Although having engineers collaborating together in-person is the preference for most teams in Sydney, there’s increasing flexibility in being able to work remotely. Steve noted that “more and more candidates are asking for this as well.”

Building programs that encourage diversity

Perhaps one of the most hands-on initiatives that Dolby has rolled out recently is their STEM education program for high school students. This initiative promotes STEM subjects to students of all backgrounds because oftentimes “by the time you get to University, it could be too late to encourage people to make the decision to study STEM.” Steve continues that Dolby is “really trying to attract women and empower them. We have great female engineering leaders here, so we want to show that there is a great career potential for all genders at Dolby.”

Wrap up

Companies that don’t check to see how well their practices predict the quality of their hires are in danger of missing out on top talent. The secret to competing with Big Tech starts with looking at your own processes because the biggest bottleneck to building engineering teams lies in sourcing, screening, and interviewing.

Shelby Penfield

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