Episode 34: How a small tech company competes for talent: with Scott Loughmiller


April 14th, 2020

48 mins 12 secs

Your Hosts

About this Episode

How does a tech company in San Francisco compete with Google & Facebook to get and keep the best talent? Kat and Liz talk with Scale Computing's Scott Loughmiller.

This week we welcome Scott Loughmiller, the chief product officer and co-founder of Scale Computing. He is a serial start-up person who has focused his career on engineering management. He has worked with his co-founders at Scale several times, and has hired a lot of employees many times over. Scott has passion around finding and retaining a great team, and he has a great track record of doing just that. By Scott's estimation, over the last five years, he's had only three regrettable losses on his team of over 30. All this in the city of San Francisco, competing against places like Google and Facebook and thousands of smaller startups that can dangle a lot in front of engineers that they want to hire.

How does Scott do it? Scott “cheats” by paying people well and keeping up with the market to make sure his people are paid well, targeting to pay over the top of 75% of the market. He wants to promote people when they are at the top of their current range, which then encourages job growth. He also thinks that he has a better feel of what the consequences of attrition is than an HR person who is more removed from the work.

One of Scott' s keys to retention is making sure people have clear career paths. As an example, moving people from support or QA to engineering can help them build both skills and purpose in their career. A key to retaining employees is understanding where someone wants to go.

How does Scott hire? His process has evolved over the years. Candidates start with a fairly standard hiring process -- a technical phone screen and other conversations. For one of the final phases, Scott stole a trick from universities and how they judge candidates for research and teaching positions. The candidates for engineer roles present a project to the team that they’re experts on. They answer questions, show how they think through things like design decisions, and explain technical concepts. Scott talks through the process and supports them before ethey present, like he would as their manager. His goal is to find the real person and help them present themselves as their real best selves.

The last step in Scott’s hiring process is that he puts the candidate into a room with some folks from the team and asks them to interview the team, no holds barred and no questions off limits. The success rate of hiring went up after Scott implemented this, especially when he put newer people in the room to answer questions.

Scott encourages people to ask the following when interviewing: Why do you work here? What is your day like? What do you like or not like?

How do you find out about company values? Ask about how they play out in day-to-day life at a company, and listen to hear what people say. If employees can’t talk about how they live company values, they may be more paper values than real ones.

It’s a team decision to make the final decision. Scott does remind his teams of what they can expect of people at different levels - don't apply the same criteria to hire junior people that you'd use to hire senior people!

Scott thinks that performance management takes an investment in knowing your people. Scale does a formal review annually, with explicit seniority levels and attributes expected of each level for an engineer. Each engineer knows where they are for each attribute, and when they’re above in all attributes, they know they’re ready for promotion. Right after promotion, they should be below or at expectations because they’re learning. Scott and his team looks at raises and promotions every quarter.

“My job is to set up framework for employees to kick ass.”

Transparency is key to hiring and retention. For instance, Scott tells engineers who want to work by the early Facebook motto, "go fast and break things," that his team at Scale Computing likely isn't going to be the right place for them. If the person wants to build high-quality, foundational software, then they’re going to be very happy at Scale.

“You can’t stay at a place for 10 years if you don’t have work/life balance”. If you want to retain people and build a successful company, you need to continuously and sustainably deliver without burning out your people.

Scott Loughmiller on LinkedIn