How you can build a solid engineering culture

Companies with strong cultures enjoy a wide array of benefits, from more productive and engaged employees to higher customer satisfaction rates and reduced workforce churn. This is true across virtually all industries and underscores the importance of building a robust corporate culture.

In a 2013 talk at the First Round CTO Summit, Joe Stump, co-founder of attachments.me, Sprint.ly and SimpleGeo and ex-Digg lead architect, offered some tips for building a solid engineering culture.

Recruit right
According to Stump, the first step involves engineering staffing. After all, if you don’t recruit the right people, how can you expect your organization to shine? However, companies often find that onboarding the cream of the crop is easier said than done. If these professionals are truly worth their stripes, they’re likely already being courted by – or working for – the competition. So, how can firms get this type of talent on their side?

“They are not looking for jobs; people are poaching them,” Stump said. “[Companies] are absolutely paying top dollar.”

Stump also warned against placing too much trust and responsibility in the hands of recruiters who don’t have an understanding of engineering as a career. Rather, enterprises should bring in individuals who have the relevant experience to truly speak the candidates’ language and can ultimately determine whether they are worth their weight in gold.

Stay in your lane
Sometimes, Stump noted, leaders get so caught up in ensuring engineers know what they’re doing that they forget to ask themselves the same question. They should be solely focused on management, as trying to divide their time between overseeing their subordinates and tackling other duties that aren’t in their job descriptions will likely end poorly. That being said, they do still need to have a working knowledge of what the people they’re managing are actually doing.

“For some reason, engineering happens to be one of the only skilled professions where it’s acceptable to put people who are not trained in that profession in charge of those people,” Stump observed. “Do not allow engineers to be managed by non-engineers. That will kill the engineering culture in your organization very quickly.”

Prioritize communication
Stump cited regular one-on-ones as a critical component of any corporate culture-building initiative. Rather than being just status updates, these meetings should encourage employees to say what’s on their minds.

“All sorts of things come out of those one-on-ones,” he said. “The one-on-one is the place where you really need to build trust with your employees and you need to have an open line of communication where they know that essentially, they can say whatever they want and it won’t get back and you can have an honest conversation about the health of their job at the company along with the health of the team that they’re working in and how they perceive the company.”

In addition to one-on-one communication, Stump also advocated keeping the workforce in the loop as a whole about the company’s plan for the future, upcoming initiatives and other things that might be gossiped about and misconstrued if not addressed directly.

“You’ve got to nip the gossip in the bud,” he emphasized, recommending that management hold regular presentations or send out email newsletters that highlight recent accomplishments and shed some light on the road ahead. “This is what 1:1s are for, and … being a part of your team and communicating that vision.”

Ultimately, building a solid engineering culture requires onboarding top-notch professionals, ensuring they (and their managers) understand their roles and responsibilities and prioritizing communication at both individual and mass levels.

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Scott Russell Dempster

Scott Russell Dempster

Scott is the Creative Director at Ian Martin. His goal in life is to take boring stuff and make it easier to understand. When not pushing pixels around, he can be heard (from great distances) playing the bagpipes.
Scott Russell Dempster

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