PasswordPing is a cloud database that helps users prevent attacks due to compromised credentials. Even though cybersecurity is a familiar topic to most, many people still reuse their passwords, which is the most frequent cause of harm on the Internet. PasswordPing solves this issue by ensuring security of your passwords and logins.
A little while ago we interviewed Josh Horwitz, Co-Founder and COO at PasswordPing. What makes Josh special is that despite being non-technical, he’s exceptional at hiring talented developers. We decided to ask him to share his recruitment approaches.
Q: How did PasswordPing get started? How big is your team?
Josh: The idea to create PasswordPing appeared when we were fixing some computer issues for a family member who was using the same password for all family accounts. A quick online scan showed that their password and username were exposed on the dark web, and we wished for a solution that could prevent customers from using compromised credentials. To make this wish come true, we started PasswordPing. In the beginning, there were just two of us: Mike Wilson (a technical co-founder) and I (a non-technical co-founder). Within a year, we grew to eight people and we’re still expanding our in-house talent.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to a non-technical founder who wants to launch their own tech startup?
Josh: Based on my experience, my advice to a non-engineering founder is to find a good technical co-founder. However, I know first hand that this isn’t always immediately possible. It can be necessary to put your idea forward and demonstrate viability before being able to attract the right technical talent. One way to get started is paying a software development shop to build a prototype. But after that, I believe it’s necessary to bring your engineering team in-house. It depends on the type of your business, but usually the quality of the development team decides whether your company will be successful. So get it right from the start!
It depends on the type of your business, but usually the quality of the development team decides whether your company will be successful. So get it right from the start!
Q: What have been the main challenges you’ve faced when hiring software developers?
Josh: The job market is definitely the biggest challenge. The demand for developers has grown significantly over the past few years and competition in Boulder/Denver has become really high. Companies need to have a great package on offer to get the attention of potential candidates. 401(k), unlimited time off, full health benefits, etc. are a dime a dozen these days.
Another large challenge is determining the skills of a developer. To solve this issue, we developed a coding challenge which helps us make final hiring decisions.
Companies need to have a great package on offer to get the attention of potential candidates. 401(k), unlimited time off, full health benefits, etc. are a dime a dozen these days.
Q: Could you explain your personal approach to the interviewing process as a non-technical founder?
Since I have a technical co-founder at PasswordPing, I don’t have to worry about tech-related nuances during the interview. However, when I was developing my previous startup, the process was more complicated and I had to develop my own recruitment strategy.
As I’m non-technical, the key for me was to emphasize communication skills above everything else. Here’s how: I asked candidate engineers to review the existing code base. My goal was less about whether they would find something in the code and more about whether they were able to speak intelligently about the good and bad.
Next, I asked them to consider a particular feature that I wanted to build. I was interested in the questions they asked and the assumptions they made about my intention. Before implementing the test feature, I asked them to describe their approach. I then asked them to explain the next best alternative approach and the pros and cons. If they couldn’t come up with other approaches or make a clear case—that was a big red flag for me.
Then, I asked them to estimate effort. Most people don’t like setting deadlines for themselves, but it’s an essential part of being able to manage progress. Given their unfamiliarity with the code base and the business problem I was trying to solve, there was additional pressure—and my aim was to see how they handled the uncertainty.
And finally, I asked them to build the feature. Here, I was looking to see their ability to quickly set themselves to work against our existing development environment, interface the feature to the existing area of code, and ultimately deliver the specified feature.
For sure, the recruitment process is much easier now when I have a technical co-founder.
Q: What question do you usually ask at the beginning of an interview? Do you start by introducing your company or ask candidates what they already know about you instead?
Josh: At PasswordPing, we usually start with asking candidates what they know about us and why they’re interested in the role. Then we walk them through the company, the history, and what projects we’re working on. We ask a lot of questions and try to give them a lot of information so we can ensure we fit one another.
Q: Would you rather hire a “coding genius” with poor communication skills or an average developer with great communication skills?
Josh: For the development team, we want a combination of both because good Agile teams need a variety of skills. If forced to choose one, we’d choose a coding genius as we can work with them on communication skills. For the manager, we’d appreciate communication skills more. But still we want someone tech savvy because no developer wants to work for someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Q: How long do you think the average interview process should last?
Josh: We start with initial phone screens first with the recruiter (30 minutes) and then with the hiring manager (one hour). Once we’ve done the initial phone screening, we move as fast as possible. The market for tech talent is too hot to have good candidates wait long. We try to introduce the candidates to our team within a week to conduct a series of casual interviews in the surrounding of their potential colleagues. Finally, we try to make the hiring decision fast as well.
The market for tech talent is too hot to have good candidates wait long.
Q: What are the top three skills you expect from an ideal candidate?
We look for tech skills first and foremost, then experience with the technologies we use, then cultural fit (we ask ourselves a simple question: would you want to work with this person or would they drive you crazy?)
We look for tech skills first and foremost, then experience with the technologies we use, then cultural fit.
Q: Could you recommend a few resources that non-technical founders can use to expand their knowledge?
- Qualified.io has a great code testing tool you can use, depending on your tech stack.
- Agile Academy is a great way to understand the Agile methodology and the software development lifecycle.
- Code Academy is a useful resource to learn and test new coding skills.
- Product School is a resource that will help founders learn some product management skills and find out valuable insights on how to work with teams of developers.
In addition, I’d recommend to read this article about best practices for working with developers.
Q: How important is it for a developer to be customer-oriented? Is it as important as their coding skills?
Josh: A good developer looks at the UI and the flow from a customer perspective, but it really depends on the size of your team. If you have a UX designer, a Product Manager, and a QA engineer, it’s less important. Product Managers are supposed to be customer’s advocates and are responsible for creating new features and functions on behalf of the customer.
Q: What signs can indicate that a software developer you’re interviewing isn’t the right one?
1. They lie on their resume. We recently had a candidate that we were very close to hiring but then they failed the background check because they lied about their education (went to school but didn’t get the degree). We had to discard them because we felt this was dishonest.
2. We talk to them about the architecture and they can’t follow along or provide any commentary. If they get lost, we’d prefer them to tell us about it and admit where they may have skill gaps. We’re looking for well-rounded developers who can be upfront when they don’t know something, not someone who hides it.
3. We discuss different languages and technologies and they say “I only do XYZ.” We want people that are intellectually curious and want to learn new skills. We seek people who use some of their personal time learning new technologies because they’re passionate about them. We’re not looking for someone who just punches the clock.
Q: Should the founder delegate hiring and interviewing developers so that they can focus on business growth?
Josh: Possibly, but it depends on who they delegate to. A non-technical person won’t know what questions to ask. Another technical person could help, but if you want to shape a great team, you should stay a part of that process. I conduct interviews and check candidates for communication abilities, and my team is so committed to the project that they have a vested interest in making sure new developers are good for the project from the technical point of view.
I conduct interviews and check candidates for communication abilities, and my team is so committed to the project that they have a vested interest in making sure new developers are good for the project from the technical point of view.
- Find a good technical co-founder.
- Use Qualified.io, Agile Academy, Code Academy, Product School to improve your technical knowledge and management skills.
- Take part in the interviewing process to develop better connection with your team.
- Start interviews with asking candidates what they know about your company and why they’re interested in the role you’re offering.
- Ask a lot of questions during the interview—it will help ensure you fit one another.
- When choosing between a developer with strong communication skills and a developer with extraordinary tech skills, prefer the latter.
- Don’t make good candidates wait long—the market for tech talent is too hot.
- Discard candidates who: lie on their resume, hide their skill gaps, aren’t passionate about learning new technologies.