DragApp is an online tool that helps users organize their messy mailboxes. Email is one of the most popular ways of daily business communication and it hasn’t changed in decades. DragApp will help you transform your inbox into a logical set of data.
Recently, we had an opportunity to communicate with Eduarda Bardavid, Co-Founder and CEO at DragApp, who is non-technical, but yet brilliant at recruitment of tech talent. Eduarda shares her experience and tells what non-technical founders should do to find great software engineers.
Q: Could you start by telling us more about DragApp? How big is your team? Is it collocated or distributed?
Eduarda: Drag turns Gmail into collaborative Trello-like (Kanban) boards. Email is the most used business communication tool worldwide and it hasn't evolved in the last couple of decades. Today, people get lost in their inboxes very easily, especially teams that need to work together. We offer a way to organize this mess. Drag serves both individual Gmail users to organize their messy inbox and teams to manage shared accounts such as support or sales. Drag sits inside Gmail, not intruding on users email experience, and offers a Kanban layout, proven successful via tools such as Trello or Pipedrive. We are a remote team of ten people across five countries and seven cities.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to launch your own tech company?
Eduarda: Nick (my co-founder) and I had the idea to build Drag in early 2017, as a result of our frustration about the limited evolution in email tools along the last decades and an obsession with Kanban boards for organization. Regardless of being non-technical, Nick has previously built and scaled other SaaS. That’s why he had a broad network of good quality software engineers. I’m not technical either, I am an engineer (mechanical). I graduated from a top engineering school in Brazil, so I had access to a big pool of high-quality software engineers as well. We thought that despite the technical knowledge gap, we had a sufficient set of skills to implement our business idea. Nick’s marketing/sales/soft skills and my engineering/consulting/hard background encouraged us to start hunting strong software engineers to help us build Drag.
We noticed that if we didn’t have at least minimal understanding of software development, we would be permanently dependent on our engineers. That’s why we decided to spend some time to learn essentials of the technical side of the business.
Q: What have been the main challenges you’ve had to face when hiring software developers?
Eduarda: In the beginning, it was difficult to interview the candidates, as we couldn’t so to say “speak their language”. We had limited understanding of programming languages so it was impossible to validate their expertise in the area we needed. Besides, we noticed that if we didn’t have at least minimal understanding of software development, we would be permanently dependent on our engineers. That’s why we decided to spend some time to learn essentials of the technical side of the business. We have read some books and even attended quick online courses.
We interview our candidates in three phases to assess them from different perspectives each time.
Q: How is your interview process set up? What key points do you take into account while interviewing candidates?
Eduarda: We interview our candidates in three phases to assess them from different perspectives each time. Although we conduct all interviews via Skype or Appear.in (we are a remote team), we always have both cameras on to increase connection with candidates and establish body language. The first interview is a high level conversation to understand the candidate’s background, check their perception of what we are building with Drag, and find out whether their vision and ambitions fit our business. If everything goes well, we invite them to the second interview where we test technical skills. This phase is a mix of technical questions and assessment of previous experience in software development. After second stage, successful candidates are invited for a third interview which is dedicated to behavioural questions. Basically, we ask them how they would behave in certain situations being in the role they apply for.
Q: You mentioned that it’s important to gain tech knowledge to understand your product better and be less dependent on your software developers. Could you recommend some resources you use to expand your tech expertise?
- Freecodecamp.org—engage in challenges to understand the foundation of programming;
- Udemy.com/other video tutorials—engage in video tutorials to understand foundations;
- Github—understand version control and see what's happening with the code.
- Coding meetups—engross yourself in technical people to speak the language;
Besides that, stay involved in both technical and non-technical meetings with your software development team to understand development processes better.
We believe that technical expertise isn’t all that matters when hiring software engineers. We have already dismissed candidates that were brilliant technically but neither demonstrated team player skills nor fit our work environment.
Q: What test assignments do you give to candidates? How do you manage to come up with technical tasks while being a non-technical founder?
Eduarda: We test both hard and soft skills of our candidates. We believe that technical expertise isn’t all that matters when hiring software engineers. We have already dismissed candidates that were brilliant technically but neither demonstrated team player skills nor fit our work environment. To test their technical skills, we always request and evaluate examples of previous projects they have developed. We also ask our CTO or senior developers to make up a couple of technical questions. To test soft skills of our candidates, we ask behavioral questions both related to their previous experience and case studies on how they would behave in certain situations in Drag. Apart from all formal tests, we’re always happy to communicate with our candidates’ ex-colleagues or employers, whenever it’s possible, to understand how they behave as professionals.
Hiring developers that don't know each other brings a risk of having people that don't work well together, while recommendation from your developers increases the chances of hiring new developers with the same or superior level.
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Q: Would you rather hire a “coding genius” with poor communication skills or an average developer with great communication skills? Please explain your answer.
Eduarda: I’d definitely choose an “average” developer with great communication skills. For the simple reason—they can scale. By contrast, developers with poor communication skills will always be difficult people to work with. As we’ve seen before, these people tend to change jobs quickly and are less reliable. Besides, our current developers recommend us new candidates when we are in search. Hiring developers that don't know each other brings a risk of having people that don't work well together, while recommendation from your developers increases the chances of hiring new developers with of the same or superior level. “Coding genius” with poor communication skills will be less likely to come up with good recommendations of developers that are good to work in a team.
Q: What main piece of advice would you give to a non-technical founder who wants to launch their own tech startup?
- Even when you are non-technical, it's important to spend some time to learn technical background of your business (source control, the basics of the product architecture, etc). If you manage this task, you’ll be able to handover the code and other technical resources to new developers in case your software engineers leave the company.
- Let your developers recommend you new candidates. This way you’ll find developers with strong skills and at the same time build a network of developers who are eager to work together. Most of our developers have known each other before joining us.
- Keep in mind that hiring software developers isn’t all about hunting for technical expertise. Sometimes, "coding genius" might not know the first word about entrepreneurial spirit and team work. Moreover, it’s very important to have a multidisciplinary team when we speak about startups. Thus, general knowledge in several business-related spheres is more important than perfect tech skills in a narrow field. During our interviews, we check not only the quality of previous products developed by candidates but also their team work skills with the help of behavioural questions (conflict-related, teamwork, work ethics, etc.)
Hiring software developers isn’t all about hunting for technical expertise. Sometimes, "coding genius" might not know the first word about entrepreneurial spirit and team work.
- If you interview candidates remotely–make sure both cameras are on to increase the connection with the candidate.
- Check whether their perception of what you’re building coincides with your vision.
- Request and evaluate examples of previous projects candidates have developed.
- Ask your CTO or senior developers to make up some technical questions.
- Model problems candidates may encounter at their prospective position and ask how they would behave in each situation.
- If it’s possible, communicate with your candidates’ ex-colleagues or employers to understand them better.
- In terms of startups, general knowledge in several business-related spheres is more important than perfect tech skills in a narrow field.
- Dismiss candidates that are brilliant technically but don’t fit your work environment.
- Use Freecodecamp.org, Udemy.com, Github to learn new tech skills
- Stay involved in both technical and non-technical meetings with your software development team to understand development processes better.
- Hire developers recommended by your current engineers–it’s very important to have people who are eager to work together.