Are you a non-technical startup founder looking to build a technical team right from scratch? If that’s the case, you must have already googled through tons of articles. Unfortunately, there is no one article which tells you what are the things that you should do to hire a developer being a non-tech founder. Or in case if you don’t have a tech co-founder, you might also become apprehensive about building a tech-product as a non-tech founder.

And, if you think it’s difficult, you’re right. It IS difficult. But, you shouldn’t be disheartened.

This is the average distribution of the background of a founder,

Credits - Studyinternational

See, you’re not alone. For some more confidence, Plenty of growth stage startups have non-technical founders, some of them include FoodyBuddy Rachna Rao - IIM B alumnus, Ex-Zynga; Remedico -Ranjit Bhatia, Ex-Sequoia; Transfin- Nikhil Arora Ex-EY et al.

So, how do you go about hiring the technical people when you’re a non-technical founder?

Educate yourself about Market Condition

Finding employees is a pretty much standard process. But, when you are hiring tech-talent on niche skills like React, Node, Data Science or the likes, the process is quite difficult. It’s hard to find the good developers because either they have already been absorbed by reputed tech companies, or they have already started on their own.

So, while you’re out for job hunting, you have to be realistic. You cannot expect talent on the likes of Amazon or Facebook (unless your product and the founding team has something great to offer). Also, you have to understand what talent the market can offer you. For example, there is a scarcity of good React developers, in case you get one, you might have to compromise on the salary or the educational pedigree if the talent is good enough.

Build your own instincts about technology

You might not know anything about the technical jargons, but once you have decided to build a technical product, as a founder, you have to be a part of the ship. As a non-techie co-founder, it is at least very desirable to have an overview of how technologies come together to help your company achieve the solution that satisfies your customers requirements, which aspects of the technical systems involved handles customer data, what components of your technical architecture will or may come under regulatory constraints (either Industry drivers like PCI compliance or other Govt. regulations ) , how technology will help you in supporting your customers post launch of your products, how is your software released and delivered securely to customers (and who controls those digital channels) and a host of other similar questions.

So get involved and get to know the overviews of the technologies being used and what aspects of your business are these technologies really building/supporting. What questions are they answering and overtime you have to develop the ability where you understand them better and are able to if required in the future actually contribute meaningfully alongside your technical co-founder into the important decisions of say build-vs-buy/replacements of technology elements of the value proposition/products & service that you are or plan to offer to your customers in the future.

Once, you understand the short term and long term product roadmap, you’ll be able to plan your resources accordingly. The feature release list should be able to show you a roadmap for the next 6 months or so and you can form your tech-hiring pipeline accordingly.

Know what to ask your tech-candidates

If you’re hiring for technical people, you’ll be receiving a lot of applications from different sources, as a non-tech founder, you’ll have two major challenges before you,

Screening the resumes

To be sure of the criteria that you’re looking for in the resume, make a checklist,

  • What is the new employee’s business purpose?
  • What their career course will be like?
  • What are the good to have and must have skills possessed by them?
  • What kind of projects should he/she have done?

With the criteria cleared up, the task of initial shortlisting becomes easy and saves you from getting distracted by a flashy resume. You can do it manually but it’s going to cost you some time. There are various tech-hiring tools that can do the initial screening for you.

Initial call with the candidates

As a non-tech interviewer interviewing a tech candidate, it becomes very easy to be swayed by great communication skills and technical jargons.To avoid that, here are some good questions to ask in the early stages of the programming interview process:

Tell me a little about yourself and something interesting that you’ve been working on recently

This question will help you get to know the candidate a little better, and you can hear about some of their recent work in order gauge passion and dedication. For example, if someone likes to make open source contributions or is actively involved in personal projects, it means he has some real passion in programming.

Do you have a blog of your own? Are you active in social media

Another interesting parameter, not a necessity, but having a blog(a nice one) will definitely give the candidate an edge over the others. It will help you understand his thought process and discover his real passion for programming. Another plus point is if the candidate is active on StackOverflow and has good karma scores.

Another thing to look for is the social media handles of the candidate. For example, someone who is really passionate about programming and keeps himself updated on the industry news, his twitter handle will reflect the same or he will have answered some good questions on Quora. These are the attributes to fetch some bonus points.

If you’re hiring a part-time programmer or a freelancer, you can ask about his other time commitments

Depending on the length and complexity of your project, you may only want to hire someone you know will be dedicated to your project. For example, if you want someone 4 hours everyday for the next two months, then a full-time working guy might not be your best bet. However, many programmers will juggle multiple projects at once, especially if the project is smaller. Just make sure that both you and your programmer are aware of what you need.

In case of frontend developers, you can ask,
What do you think about user experience? Which is more important, UI or UX?

Generally, the answer is both and that neither of them can be ignored. This answer will generally go in the direction of user flow and behavior from interface and design perspectives and help you to gauge your programmer’s perspective on them.

Do you think of yourself as a software developer or product manager?

The ideal answer here is usually both, but assess the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate compared to the team you already have or are planning to create. Product managers are great to help design new features and interfaces and understand the business side of your product if your developer has an idea of product direction w.r.t business and understands the consumers and the industry, there is nothing better you can expect.

How would you manage a team of programmers?

This question will help you assess leadership skills and style. It also depends on the position that you are hiring for, it won't make sense if you're hiring a fresher, but anything abouve 2 years, this question can be a real deciding factor.

Real-life test

You can get a lot from seeing how a candidate solves a real technical problem. Save yourself some time and don’t fall into hypothetical talks, instead see how they perform in a real-life scenario. Look at approaches, mindset, and methodology, rather than aesthetics and scrutiny. Ask the candidate to think aloud, even if you’re a non-techie you’ll be able to have an idea of how he thinks and if he is contradicting himself at any point. To help you with some real-life questions on various tech-interviews, we have created a question database, which focuses on different technologies like frontend, backend, data science, mobile apps development etc. You can also read the interview of AirCTO experts.This will be a good head-start to go ahead with tech-hiring.

Apart from these, be straightforward with your expectations. If you think that it’s too much and you need a helping hand, you can use the services of AirCTO, which focuses specifically on helping non-tech founders build a tech team. They have already helped startups like Foodybuddy (founded by IIM A and IIM B alumni) to build their initial engineering team and plenty of others as well.

Know what to offer

We have faced queries from various non-tech founders on the standard market rate for a specific technology. Well, there is no CTC fits all kind of thing. It depends on a lot of factors like how much you can offer, the work that you expect,the quality and the background of the candidate etc. We will be creating an article very soon which covers the range of CTC that you can offer to the candidates.

Always go for a detailed tech-interview WITH coding test

Here is the most important takeaway from this article, you should never, ever hire a programmer without conducting a technical round of interview with an expert in the particular domain. Also, make a coding test compulsory in such an exercise. In our experience of conducting over 5000+ interviews, we have noticed that often a developer clears the theory round easily but falters when it comes to the coding test, it is a challenge to implement a solution in the code format.

It can be tempting to hire the first programmer that looks promising—after all, you want to get started—but do not extend an offer until you have seen the work that your candidate produces.

However, it is difficult to create an appropriate coding exercise if you are not a programmer yourself. You can take the help of interview services which lets your candidate be interviewed by programming experts. Extend an offer only when you have a recommendation from an expert.

So, these are some of the ways in which you can hire an engineering person even if you come from a non-tech background. Did we miss any point? If you think we did, write to team@aircto.com and we will try to resolve your doubts.

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