Lessons learnt finding tech talent after 20 years leading 4mation

Dane Eldridge

OPINION: Growing from a small software development agency, working out of a home office, to a team of more than 80 software developers, strategists, project managers and designers, 4mation has come a long way since 2001. We’ve learnt a lot about finding great tech talent within Australia, and in our twentieth year, we are looking back at some of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt.

Competition for tech talent has always been fierce. Over the last 20 years I can’t recall there ever being a significant oversupply. We’ve adapted every step of the way – continuously improving as we learned to successfully compete with bigger players – banks and global SAAS players.

Lessons starting out

The barrier to entry to become a software developer was low – all you needed was a PC. So as a software development company, we had to find a way to filter through and select the best candidates for any role.

In 2001, the pool of candidates was pretty significant, which was positive for a new business starting out. In saying that, as a small business just getting started, we weren’t a particularly attractive employer in those early days.

Our process was pretty unsophisticated early on – we placed too much emphasis on resumés, and overweighted the value of ‘big company experience’. Poor hires are a painful and expensive mistake for all involved.

Over time, we’ve structured our process with very specific questions for very specific reasons, and today we look much more closely at candidates’ values and attitudes. You can teach technical skills fairly quickly, but fundamental beliefs and behaviours are very difficult to train if they are not in-built.

Apart from crucial timed technical assessments, there are some key things to look out for when it comes to assessing tech talent:

  • Do they genuinely care about the work they do and the people they work with?
  • How well can they describe a solution?
  • Are they a cultural fit that the rest of the team will enjoy working with?
  • What is their primary motivation, and are they motivated to do this particular role?
  • Have they demonstrated a trajectory of learning and progression?

Building culture to drive success

“Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organisations, culture is destiny.” ― Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Inspired by Tony Hsieh’s ‘Delivering Happiness’, we realised we needed to build on our culture to drive our success and scale-up. Early on, you are often hiring people that you already know, and with a small team that you’re in contact with daily, positive culture happens by osmosis. But that was never going to get us to the next level.

For every hire, good or bad, we’d reflect on what characteristics drove that success or failure, and adjust our recruitment process, questions and assessments accordingly. It’s never perfect – but a process of continuous improvement increases our effectiveness month on month, year on year.

Having a solid foundation of people, culture and process and maintaining transparency as a core value has created an environment where mistakes enable improvement and drive future success.

The challenges continue

The demand for tech talent in Australia is at an all-time high. The lack of overseas talent is putting a handbrake on the Australian tech economy, and the big companies have big budgets to spend. Our challenge in the mid-tier tech scene is to compete where we can win for local talent – providing a culture where people can learn and grow faster than anywhere else – as a result of being surrounded by great people and an exciting variety of clients and projects.

We’ve spent the last 20 years at 4mation always focusing on the next thing – the next learning, the next opportunity, the next improvement.

One of our learnings is that hiring is an art and a science, and that employees who are fundamentally great people drive great culture, great teams and ultimately great solutions.

Now onto the next twenty…

Dane Eldridge is CEO of web and software development agency, 4mation. 4mation has partnered with InnovationAus.com to celebrate its 20th anniversary. An interactive timeline of the company’s achievements can be viewed here.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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