As one of the founders of Spreedly, Nathaniel Talbott has been growing the company's team since 2007. Spreedly is a fintech company that helps customers capture, store, and make use of payment data, all while they stay out of PCI-DSS scope. On their customers' behalf, they store millions of credit cards, process millions of transactions every month, and on an annual basis facilitate billions of dollars worth of top-line revenue.
We caught up with Talbott to talk about his current role, how Spreedly's hiring process has changed as they've grown, and the challenges he faces day-to-day.
As Spreedly has grown, I've slowly learned that being an executive at a growing company basically means finding an area that we're struggling in, getting just good enough at it to both alleviate the short-term pain, and then hire someone that's way better at it than I am to take it over. Then, rinse and repeat. In 2015 this meant I spent a lot of time on our hiring processes. 2016 was spent getting better at engineering management and growing that practice at the company. 2017 is shaping up to be a year of product management focus.
A year ago, I was spending 100% of my time managing direct reports and helping managers get good processes established for things like hiring, onboarding, and performance reviews. This year I have more engineering management up-to-speed, so I'm spending two days a week managing a smaller set of direct reports, and the other three days figuring out what our product management practice should look like.
We have a standardized technical hiring process that looks like: intro chat > work sample > hiring manager chat > structured interview > reference check > offer.
The intro chat is decidedly not a phone screen. Someone gets on camera and talks through all things Spreedly. This includes some details on what we do and how we do it, and unique things about our work environment. Then we answer on-the-spot questions from job applicants.
The work sample is a do-at-home, at-your-own-pace assignment that mirrors the work we do at Spreedly. We have multiple versions that we give depending on the role and/or the seniority level. An example is an assignment that asks you to implement an ActiveMerchant gateway adapter (something we do 1-2 times a month) for a fake payment gateway we created just for the work sample. We then take the submissions and score them against pre-defined grading criteria, while keeping the identity of the submitter hidden from the grader to drive out as much bias as we can.
The hiring manager chat is pretty standard, basically answering any further questions the candidate has or digging into compensation a bit deeper.
Structured interviews are a process we've introduced pretty recently, where we have pre-defined questions that the same person asks and evaluates against the same criteria for every single candidate. A typical set of interviews lasts for about half a day, with 3-4 serial interviews with different team members asking their question sets and then answering any questions the interviewee has. We write notes as we do the interview, score the answers against pre-defined criteria, and huddle as a team within one business day to discuss our results. The hiring manager has the final call on whether to proceed.
Reference checks involve talking to 2-3 past peers/managers/reports. Since we deal with sensitive data, we also do a background check at this point. Assuming that all goes well, we move to the offer stage.
Using a work sample process and using structured interviews are both still fairly uncommon in the industry, at least as far as we've seen. We can't claim credit by any means for them; our process was largely cribbed off of this post by Thomas Ptacek.
Our intro chat process—where we actively invest into selling candidates both on Spreedly and on our process up-front—also seems to be fairly unique. In particular, we've started using a webinar format to scale it out to much larger groups of candidates (15+ at a time) and then record it for late entrants into the pipeline.
Our biggest challenge right now is figuring out what we need to change in our hiring process to make it appealing for a more diverse pool of candidates to apply for jobs. Right now we get great candidate flow—especially when the positions are full-time remote friendly—but it's a pretty homogenous set of people that mostly look like the people who are already here. A big ongoing priority for engineering management is changing that. There is no silver bullet to making our engineering team more diverse, so we're working on all kinds of fronts: involvement with local groups for under-represented minorities in tech, opening up more of our positions to junior and mid-level engineers, and better marketing the work we've done to drive bias out of our hiring process.
Hiring and supporting full-time remote employees. Spreedly has always had a remote-friendly workplace, with everyone being free to work from wherever they'd like 3 days/week. But there's still a jump from that to running 100% remote interviews, onboarding employees you've yet to meet face-to-face, etc. The difference in candidate flow, and the quality of engineer we've been able to hire once we opened up to anyone, anywhere in the US, has made all that effort very worthwhile.