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How to Solve the Engineer Recruiting Nightmare: Build A Remote Team

July 11, 2018
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The engineering talent in the Bay Area is undeniable. With more than 40 percent of the nation’s venture capital consolidated between San Jose and San Francisco, the Peninsula attracts a variety of the world’s best engineers to work on well-funded, cutting-edge projects. It is one of the reasons why the area we call home is the number one startup ecosystem in the world.

But something doesn’t add up.

In the optimistic and high-flying Bay Area, hiring managers will be the first to tell you that the ratio between funding and talent is way off. Signing qualified engineers is their primary concern. Recruiting is competitive and costly. Companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook do just fine, but they offer benefits that young startups and mid-level companies cannot. Even if a David can upset a Goliath, the victory is often short-lived. Turnover is high. Engineers in the Bay Area enjoy the luxury of choice. Opportunities are plentiful.

So how should startups piece together quality engineering teams?

Cities like Austin, Seattle, New York, and Boston are all considered talent hubs, but the competition in those cities is also fierce and local opportunities are on the rise. In addition, Bay Area engineers are still rated higher and more productive overall, which brings recruiters back to square one — local searches.

If you take a closer look at engineers in the Bay Area, the real talent makes its way from overseas. In fact, the United States doesn’t even crack the list of top 10 countries for computer programmers. From a collegiate standpoint, the U.S. hasn’t won the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) since 1997, which has proven to be a decent litmus test for future talent pools. The programmers that power the Bay Area currently mirror the U.S.’s two-decade fall from prominence. The latest Silicon Valley Index revealed that more than 70 percent of Bay Area-employed computer and mathematical workers ages 25 to 44 are foreign-born. Even companies that have an easier time recruiting locals are jumping in on the trend. In 2016 alone, Google navigated the difficult waters of securing H1B Visas for 2,500 employees. Apple landed 2,000.

Unless we see a massive change in our education system overnight, the question startups and mid-size businesses need to ask themselves is: how can we create quality foreign pipelines?

A simple, yet powerful example of this approach can be found in what local basketball coach Randy Bennett has done at St. Mary’s College. Bennett has developed one of the most consistent mid-major teams in the country by taking advantage of one pipeline — Australia. Before Bennett arrived at SMC, the school had gone to the NCAA tournament just three times in its history. He’s doubled that number in his 16-year tenure, riding on the back of his aussie elites.

Not only do companies need to establish pipelines, but they also need to evaluate what will be most efficient and cost-effective for the long-term vision of the company. Unlike Bennett’s basketball team, businesses don’t need to play every game in a particular league or timezone to reach their goals. They can set up hubs in other parts of the world. HQ is never more than a Slack or video conference away.

Companies that evaluate new markets will likely find that the best course of action is not to recruit engineers back to their Bay Area or other major American metropolitan headquarters at all.

The path forward is to look remote, but the hill to opening a foreign office is a steep one. The legal technicalities, real estate battles, and tedious entity paperwork can be incredibly resource intensive as well as a nightmare to navigate. Teaming up with a company that specializes in remote operations is a good investment for startups, especially those already struggling with bandwidth issues and pressing product delivery and growth goals. But if they can establish a remote hub, they will find themselves with fewer barriers on their way to success. They will see their increasingly cramped and more expensive office space woes and engineering retention issues decrease. They will also get the added benefit from being a part of two thriving tech communities and expanding their views beyond the horizon of Silicon Valley.

What should companies consider when selecting a remote hub?

There are many factors that will help determine where you should stand up your first remote team. At Terminal, we chose to start close to home — in Canada. Our offices and teams in Canada have proven they can play with the best in the Bay Area. They have helped companies like hims, Eventbrite, and Dialpad reach their goals.

This blog post is the first in a series that explores the programmer landscapes where we work.

Canada, Kitchener Waterloo

The stereotype is accurate — our neighbors to the north are extremely polite and easy to work with, but there are numerous reasons why Canada deserves to be your second home. Time zones and language play a major part, but it is the level of talent, the richness of the developer community, and the buzzing atmosphere that should be the key factors in making the jump across the border.

Kitchener-Waterloo is the heart of the Canadian tech scene — some even call it the Silicon Valley of Canada — and now its the home of our flagship office.

The city’s up-and-coming tech scene is galvanized by the University of Waterloo. Its five-year computer science co-op program is one of the best in the world and is widely considered the top engineer school in the country and a global powerhouse. UW outperformed schools like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard in the 2017 ICPC. If that weren’t enough, the country’s second-ranked engineer school, the University of Toronto, is a mere fifty-eight miles down the road.

Graduates from both schools stay in the area to grow with local companies like Shopify, Vidyard, D2L, among others. Others stick around to bring their own ideas to life, which adds to the growing startup atmosphere. Accelerators are everywhere and the idea that tech can change the world for the better is contagious.

With a blossoming local arts scene, nearby natural attractions, and a downtown alive with bars and restaurants, the quality of life in KW is high.

Our decision to open offices in Kitchener wasn’t based on these facts alone. KW is a town that screams growth. The tech community is full of disruptors and innovators whose influence is manifest in events, conversations, and collaboration. We feel fortunate to be a part of it.

If you want to learn more about KW and how to build remote teams north of the border, give us a shout. We would love to talk.

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