We recently had the chance to sit down with Jonathan Siddharth, CEO & Founder at Turing, to discuss the process of building a platform for remote engineers and how to assess that talent so that companies can unlock the human potential beyond their borders.
Jonathan first hired remote engineers while working at his previous company, which was later successfully acquired. This was in 2012, right out of graduate school at Stanford. Jonathan and his partners were building a machine-learning-based content recommendation company and they were in fundraising mode and knew that having a mobile app would help. This meant having to hire a number of strong iOS engineers, but everyone suitable was already at Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., and were unlikely to leave dream jobs to work at a startup. Jonathan did what is common sense now but was only starting to be known back then: he hired remote team members. He found them in Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, and China. Not only did the app ship but it won awards from Apple, which led to publicity and connections that allowed the company to raise its Series A.
After the acquisition, Jonathan took some time off to think about what to do next. He was aware that in 2018, even more so than in 2012, a world powered by technology needs those who produce and maintain that technology. Yet engineers were even scarcer, despite the talent pool growing. Without engineers, companies cannot scale, much less begin and grow.
These days, post-pandemic, we are very much in a remote-first world, so every company wants to reap the rewards of remote engineering talent, but that’s easier said than done. First, you have to deal with the challenges of remote work.
Remote Is Hard
While there are many reasons why remote work is challenging, Jonathan focuses on three:
- Pipeline — it’s hard to build a big enough global pipeline to find truly great people. Often, to find 50 good engineers, you’ll need a pipeline of at least 500 or maybe 5,000 engineers.
- Evaluation — Educational systems around the world are different so they can’t all be evaluated on the same criteria. Just because someone lacks an Ivy League diploma or a Silicon Valley employer on a resume, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t a great talent. But it takes a lot of bandwidth to evaluate people from different backgrounds and countries.
- Management — time zones and performance management at distance are challenging and it’s been demonstrated that it takes the right balance of supervision and autonomy to make remote workers feel valued.
When looking at these three problems, the answer for Jonathan was straightforward: software. He wanted to build a platform that could:
- Source engineers from a planetary pool
- Vet engineers for Silicon Valley caliber work
- Use AI and machine learning to match the right developers to the right jobs
Turing has also made sure that candidates aren’t just a number with quantitative scores; it built an index, which it calls a deep developer profile, that crosses job type with tech stack with seniority level. This solution enables entrepreneurs to put together an engineering dream team from scratch, without having to build a pipeline, vet it, and screen it themselves.
The software also helps create a more objective, data-driven, and consistent vetting process that’s removed from the unconscious biases that humans can sometimes bring to the process.
After the Hire
Turing doesn’t only want to get engineers hired, it wants to set them up for success. So it offers checklists to companies to make sure that onboarding happens the right way, which includes setting standards for communication. It also has software installed that helps track productivity in a privacy-friendly way, allowing both employer and employee to share feedback on the process.
It’s steps like these that have led Turing to have almost a 97% engagement success rate.
The Way Forward
Needless to say, Turing uses its own service to find team members to help build the company. Its database has 1.75 million developers from almost 140 countries.
One of the challenges Turing works on internally is enforcing culture. This is difficult in any business but especially so in a globally-distributed workforce. Here Jonathan finds it helpful to link communication and connection. Communication is fostered and made more relevant by authentic connection, and connections are best fostered in person.
How to foster that in-person connection in a remote company? — Create events that allow team members to meet in real life and celebrate core values. Turing’s core values are speed, continuous improvement, and customer-centricity. Sometimes that means meeting every month, other times meeting once a quarter.
Jonathan says that the way those meetings are conducted matters, too. They can’t be set up like a conference or continuing education, where everything is scheduled and structured. Instead, they should involve three elements: structured work, structured fun, and unstructured fun. Unstructured fun, as its name suggests, involves unplanned activities such as walking or chatting that help build a more human connection which manifests in better working relationships.
Once you’ve left that in-person environment, to continue to build connection virtually and motivate remote employees, Jonathan recommends:
- Celebrating wins — Turing has a tradition of each individual thanking someone else on the team. This happens every couple of weeks and generates a lot of positivity and goodwill.
- Virtual happy hours — while some people might have got burned out on these during the pandemic, they still provide a helpful and largely unstructured way for people to have conversations and get to know each other better outside of specific work goals or projects.
What’s clear from talking to Jonathan is that he is not only building a business to provide employers with better options for team members, but is also enabling employees to grow their careers outside of their geographic constraints. He’s doing so with his eyes wide open to the challenges of remote and is coming up with innovative and thoughtful ways to tackle those challenges.
Check Out the Full Episode
Interested in learning more about how Jonathan creates a strong culture with remote teams? Check out the episode of The BragWorthy Culture podcast on Apple or Spotify. We discuss challenges in remote work and Turing’s solutions, and then Jonathan turns the tables and asks host Jordan Peace about Fringe’s approach to team engagement.
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