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“Getting a head start is key” – Why Gusto’s Head of Engineering believes in global hiring

November 19, 2020
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Even as the pandemic grinds on, a shortage of software engineers continues to persist in the background. There are over one million unfilled software development positions in the US alone, driven by extremely short supply — only three full-stack engineers exist for every job opening — and competition is fierce, expenditures are high, and many engineering leaders are turning their eyes to new markets to expand their footprint. 

We recently caught up with Rohini Pradeep, Gusto’s Head of Engineering, Benefits, and EEL, to dive into the realities of expanding into new markets and what to consider when searching for new talent pools. Here’s what we found out.


1. Clearly define your goals before entering a new market

When deciding on a new talent market, you’ll inevitably face trade offs. That’s why it’s crucial to do some pre-work to determine what’s most important to your organization. Is it low cost? Short time to hire? Pradeep points out that clearly defined goals are a must before you begin your recruiting efforts. 

“There are a lot of different inputs that you can take into account, whether it’s the number of universities in a target city, the number of incumbent employers, or the size and quality of the talent pool,” Pradeep says. “And of course, it’s also about bringing diverse perspectives into the mix. Every new person, new culture, and new background you bring on board makes the product richer.”

But all else equal, one criteria seems to rise to the top. “People often overlook time zone alignment,” Pradeep says. “You never want your new team members to be a bottleneck. I always prioritize time zone overlap whenever possible. That way new hires tend to work more seamlessly with existing team members.”

2. Creating an independent pod isn’t always best

Many people associate remote teams with independent pods of workers based out of an international office. While that can work, it’s best to weigh your options based on company needs, as several other models exist for distributed teams as well. 

“One of the most popular models is the augmentation model,’” says Pradeep. “This is where engineers plug into existing teams at HQ or elsewhere. New hires augment existing functions and teams, rather than creating a self-sustaining pod.” 

According to Pradeep, your headcount can be a deciding factor in how you structure your distributed teams. “Are you adding two engineers or five engineers? If it’s two, then adding engineers to existing teams probably makes more sense. But if you’re expanding by five or more new hires for product engineering, then creating an independent, fully staffed team with engineering, product, and design could be a better bet.”

3. Engineering leadership should be front and center

Expanding your engineering capabilities requires many teams — recruiting, HR, product, and the C-suite — but it’s important to remember who the new hires are ultimately for. Each team should have their say of course, but engineering leadership is best suited to lead the charge when it comes to strategic planning, market selection, and hiring remote engineers.

“Hiring remote engineering talent is not just about bringing contractors on board,” Pradeep says. “It’s about the engineering firepower you’re investing in. At the end of the day, engineering leadership knows what’s necessary to set these teams up for success.”

Engineering managers and executives deeply understand the dynamics of engineering teams and may anticipate issues with certain markets, work structures, or even individual candidates. It takes a village to expand into a new market, and engineering should be the chief.

4. Be ready to address cultural challenges

There’s no easy way to expand into a new market. Cultural nuances, remote-work infrastructure, and government red tape can all hamstring your best intentions when building out a remote presence. Understanding the potential roadblocks before setting out on your distributed team journey can help things go smoothly when you finally encounter them.

“I can’t stress enough how important time zones are,” Pradeep says. “This is especially true when there are dependencies between teams. You don’t want a several-hour delay in decisions if you can avoid it.” 

Understanding cultural differences can also be the difference between success and failure. “What’s accepted as the norm in the US might be met with skepticism in some countries,” Pradeep points out. “For example, in Mexico, a take-home technical assessment is much more common than an in-person or live coding exercise. If you rely on the latter in your interviews, you may turn off potential candidates.”

Knowing the common barriers ahead of time can help save you headaches down the line.

5. It’s beneficial to build an engineering-only office – sometimes

There’s a trend in the engineering world to build out international teams with purely an engineering focus — offices that are 100% engineers, without any product, design, marketing, customer success, or sales based out of the geo. This model has its benefits, but Pradeep underscores the importance of anticipating the effects on your overall productivity.

“If you’re planning on expanding product engineering or infrastructure roles, I strongly believe in engineering-product-design partnerships,” Pradeep says. “When these teams eventually become fully staffed teams, they’re empowered to do what’s right for the product with little outside direction.” This kind of autonomy can go a long way in the long run or where scaling matters most.

On the other hand, if you’re building an infrastructure team that doesn’t have a strong need for product and design input, a team with an independent charter can be more dynamic and agile. “Either way, my recommendation is to keep dependencies between different teams to a minimum so people are not blocking each other,” Pradeep says.

6. Preparing for a post-pandemic world starts now

As the economy slowly recovers, and hiring plans become more certain, the shortage of engineers will once again take center stage. That’s why businesses should start now by understanding the benefits and risks of building a remote presence and the work that goes into it.

“In my personal experience, the need for remote teams comes from a need to deliver increased capacity fast, at minimal cost, without significant lag with hiring,” Pradeep says. “This will only accelerate as time goes on.”

“Getting a head start is key,” she adds. “Businesses who start now will be poised to hit the ground running when the pandemic finally comes to an end.”

To learn more about different ways to build your remote team, read our new guide, The Cost of Remote, including 34 real (and hidden) costs to consider when building a remote team.

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