While Arun Umapathy’s current title is CEO, it’s his background as a developer that gives him a unique edge leading a NYC-based development shop. Over the course of his career he’s started four companies, providing him with the expertise needed to make those important hires that are critical to business. Read on to learn more about Umapathy’s thoughts on everything from code reviews to the unlikely place he interviewed his first employee.
As a developer by trade and a CEO by title, my job description includes wearing many hats. My primary role, however, is acting as support for my team and making sure they have everything they need so that business can run smoothly.
A typical day begins with a morning scrum to kick things off. The scrum gives me a sense of the team’s workflow, determining how quickly each member is working, and whether they need help or not. I get a sense of the company’s strengths and where we might need a little more support. After the scrum, I look at the business side of my role. New clients, upcoming projects, timelines, and workload help me structure the upcoming few weeks and months, determining where we’re heading and what we may need in the future. The rest of my day is spent coding, pair programming with the team to make sure we’re all on the same page, and helping them out where they need it. This personal one-on-one time gives me the opportunity to push my developers to be the best they can be and also see how we can, as a company, become better in our workflow and communication.
Devshop’s hiring process consists of three rounds. The first round is making sure the applicant is a culture fit. Typically, a second round interview for developers is a high-pressure situation, testing them with a code review and a series of questions. Unlike a typical developer interview, I prefer to engage more with the applicant through an in-depth conversation. We still have applicants complete a code review, but my personal hiring style is less focused on the technical side, and more on a philosophical conversation with them about the industry and where they believe it’s headed. I’m looking for if they can keep up, if they’re able to challenge what I’m saying, and if they’re able to defend what they’re claiming. I may purposely say something that I know is not factual, just to see their reaction. I want them to call me out. You see how they can work with other people that they disagree with. You’ll see how they communicate and how they defend their position. More comes out of this process than technical know-how. Everyone technically has the ability to learn, but I’m more concerned with how they approach a situation.
Hiring for a developer includes a more technical interview, but all of our applicants receive a similar review process when being considered for a role. Ultimately, we want all our team members to be well rounded, and to have the desire to learn, grow, and be better. All of these ideals are important to us. I believe that if you’re able to see these qualities in the people you hire, you’re able to grow your company in the right way.
At other development shops, they often focus on building a product to a client’s specifications and getting it out the door (fast turnover and not a lot of collaboration). Our agency goes about things a little differently. At Devshop, we handle more than just development. We work with a client to build a business. Our methodology involves creating a partnership with clients where ideas can flow, resulting in a more innovative and successful product. Because of this, it’s extremely important to us to hire people who have the same ideals. While we strive to create the most technically sophisticated web and mobile applications, we also look to hire developers who go beyond these skills and bring more to the table. Do they have business experience, a keen eye, and the ability to communicate properly? I’m looking for someone who challenges me and is smarter than I am in one way or another – someone who thinks in a way that you don’t is important to development. All developers have different strengths, and it’s how these pieces fit together that result in the greatest success.
It can be difficult to find someone who is a culture fit and someone who also has the proper skills. Determining this is probably the biggest challenge we face. If you ask someone to do a code challenge and they crack under the pressure, it may not be a good representation of what they actually know. I don’t believe this is a good measure. Code challenges are not a reliable way to determine if an applicant is capable, so you cannot base your decision on this alone. You want to see how they think through it, and how they approach problems.
The most unique and rewarding hiring experience are bookends for our company. Our first hire was a developer, who interviewed on the top floor of my apartment building. A unique experience for him as well, he took a leap of faith with us that paid off. My most rewarding experience, however, was the last hire I made, because instead of hiring strictly designers and developers, we hired the additional staff needed to round out the company, and officially outgrew our office space.