What If You Never Hire Senior Engineers?

What would you do if you were told you could not hire anyone with seniority? Oh, and that 90% of your employees would leave when they reach three years in the company? That might sound like an impossible task, but that pretty much how the technological units in the Israeli army work. I’ve served there for four years and only, later on, realized the unique setup: 99% of the workforce is 18-year-old high school graduates that come in with no experience and have to work on projects like critical anti-terror intelligence systems, where a bug or a delay can translate to a bomb going off or a person getting kidnapped.

Contrasting this with what the state of the industry currently is, it seems that that vast preponderance of companies focuses entirely on hiring more and more senior people, which are becoming as rare (and as expensive) as diamonds.

Instead of spending thousands of hours in interviews and hiring efforts to staff all your positions, what would happen if you decided to grow the talent instead of purchasing it? The issue with most junior-hiring-efforts is that they are not planned and managed to optimize learning, improvement, and impact. Hires are not provided the needed guidance and attention to maximize their rate of growth, which results in a bad Peter Pan Count.

However, all great people started somewhere. Why not have them start at your company? It is possible to hire great mid-level and even junior engineers and invest in their education. This sort of thinking is becoming more and more popular in Big Corps that have to hire droves of people anyway (I just yesterday learned Google hired 20,000 new employees in 2019, most of them engineers).

Instead of pouring time and money into great hiring efforts and fees, consider investing that time in:

  • An onboarding academy: Construct a serious, well planned, and full of hands-on practice course for your new employees. These can range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
  • Coaching and mentoring: Serving as a growth opportunity for your more senior staff, they can help in coaching and mentoring their new colleagues to help them improve fast, as an extra support layer for the coaching they should be getting from their managers. These can also work in a group setting, where cohorts of new employees support one another and learn together.
  • Constant education and workshops: Instead of expecting some initial training to turn your employees into panjandrums in their fields, accept that everyone should regularly be learning. Plan to have education efforts in place for the team a few times a year.
  • A learning culture: Lunch and learns, internal tech talks, hackathons. A team that learns together grows together.
  • Feedback: The essential tenet of a successful talent growing approach is to put in place a reliable and regular feedback process that helps pull everyone up. The bar should be continuously raised, never stopping.

As hard as it might be to imagine, I believe that most organizations past 15 people in R&D should start considering these efforts. For further reading, I highly recommend the Evergreen Talent by the talented Roberta Matuson, which succinctly captures this and more.