Building agile teams in India: Part 3 - challenges at the hiring stage (especially for a fresh face in the market)

Part 3: Constraints/Challenges of building a ‘boutique’ agile team in Bangalore/India (especially if you’re an unknown in the market)

Low brand recognition
In India, brand is seen as really important for a lot of candidates even in 'considering' an organisation. Family recognition of the organisation is seen as very important to candidates, acceptance of the organisation by candidates parents is often a key factor.

There is also evidence that candidates enhance matrimonial chances by joining a known brand, I've even had conversations that dowry can be increased dependent on the name of the company. 
All of this leads to an uphill challenge for smaller organisations, however:

The candidates that do join you are joining because you've sold the company culture and challenge well, which increases loyalty/retention. Also, working on brand building is shown to pay off over time, hence partly an answer to the question of “Are you ready for this to take ‘x’ years.

Hiring Season
The experience and feedback from recruiters and other organisations has confirmed that there is a 'hiring season' in India/Bangalore. Typically, job seekers are at their busiest in the May to September period. There are a number of reasons for this. 

1) This is when University ends, so there are a lot of Job Fairs on. People already employed go to these job fairs as well as freshers

2) The normal pay rise period in India is between March to May, so a lot of candidates wait for their hikes before moving jobs. Either they are disenchanted, or they use the hike as the base salary when they are negotiating their move. It is common practice in India to seek a 10-20% hike when shifting jobs, so having a payslip post hike gets you an additional raise when jumping companies.
Positives: Plan your hiring/growth of teams around this hiring season if possible

Ways to raise your profile include
- Host Meetups on a range of topics from the agile community such as  Scrum users, Angular, TDD and other agile mainstays. This gets you into contact with passionate folks and builds your network
- Increase your online presence in a number of key sites: Hasgeek, Glassdoor and Stack Overflow for example by fleshing out company profile or regular advertising. 
- Regularly attending Agile India and other tech conferences, where you can network and spread the company name.
- Utilising more specialised recruitment agencies and regularly reviewing and changing poor performing agencies
- When Amazon and Paypal opened development recruiting in Bangalore 2012, they took out huge billboards all over town. These not just advertised jobs, but also sought to raise the profile of the company (parental approval). Net spend was upwards of $100,000.

Reluctance to take code challenge or other pre-interview steps
A lot of tech companies assign code challenges to prospective candidates to aid in the filtering process. This might include a sample solution to a problem to see what exposure the candidate has to TDD or other core agile practises. 

Companies who employ this method each report a less than 20% code challenge completion rate of all shortlisted candidates. This is probably comparable to Australia, however increasing the throughput here will help. Aconex view the code challenge as a key step in the recruitment process. As mentioned above, it is standard Engineering recruitment practice globally. 

Positives: Almost all candidates who come through this  process will be more in tune with your companies practises. It is generally easier to get them productive on your code base, whilst increasing confidence and trust within the teams.

Optional method: Walk in interviews
One method companies use is Walk in interviews. This however, can result in a large number of candidates with little or no likelihood of hiring. One approach can be to curate a number of candidates and have an invitation only walk in.

That is, invite them to come in on a Saturday to sit an abridged version of your code challenge in your office. They will than, ideally be interviewed, or pair with in-house engineers to shorten the screening process.

Long notice periods - No shows/Counter offers
It is very common in India for software engineers to have long notice periods (up to 3 months). This means it is also standard practice for an engineer to accept an offer and than shop around for another job. You are than caught in a bidding war if your candidate is offered elsewhere. 

There are also no-shows where candidates who take up offers in other companies, don't tell you and basically don’t show up on their supposed joining date. Often refusing to take your calls. This culture has actually spawned a successful start up deal in exactly this behaviour, where candidates spruik themselves in this notice period online, specifically looking for better offers.

One practice to avert this is getting the recruitment team to keep these candidates hot via phone calls, visits etc, but this is a very common practise with job seekers, esp in IT/Engineering. 

How have companies combated this:
Joining bonuses are a common tactic to combat ‘no-shows’. This has led to a marked increase in joinees actually turning up. Basically, after they completed probation they are paid a joining bonus of ‘x’ (typically 1 months salary).

Competitors for skillsets
Agile organisations hire for quite specific skillsets. Agile software engineers or product people are still very much a minority in India. That is, culturally, the archetypal agile engineer would be: outspoken, independent. Technically skilled but highly collaborative individuals.

They also have to have a niche set of technical skills, with Test Driven Development, Pair Programming, OO Java or Ruby and High Level JScript experience. This alone puts us into an elite pool. Sure there are 1 million software engineers graduating each year in India, but a lot of them end up as QA's or working on low end bug fixing teams as they have neither the aptitude or intertest in gaining the skillsets agile development companies are looking for.

Cultural differences in 'Title/Aspirations'
Whilst we at Aconex are attempting to ensure the technical standards of engineers between Bangalore and Melbourne are the same, title is also a discussion point. In India, it is common for software engineers to get the title "Senior" based on longevity with competency less important.

There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is peer pressure or parental pressure. In what is a hierarchical society, title is seen as very aspirational and important. In Australia for instance, there are engineers who've worked for 8 or more years without getting the title promotion. There are some strict criteria for title, which, to make 'change management' of having an engineering office in Bangalore easier, have been applied equally.

This has made it difficult to attract some 'junior' candidates as some prospects have refused to accept that title. There is also the associated side effect that engineers who would map to the Melbourne 'Senior' title expect to be called Manager or Architect and expect a role change associated with that.

Things that could work here include setting expectations with the home office early with regards to title, something like the table below. Whereby, in a typical non-hierarchical work culture like Australia you have a small set of bands, whereas the team in India have greater range of title to appeal to the local audience.

Title band in Australia
Title Band in India
Engineering Manager
Senior Engineering Manager
Engineering Manager
Senior Engineer
Tech Lead
Team Lead
Senior Software Engineer
Junior Engineer
Table: Example of how a split ‘title’ band might work between India/Australia

Experience level of available candidates

In Bangalore, Aconex has a roughly a 30/70 split Seniors/Juniors. With the bulk of  hires in the 2-5 year experience range. It is not common/easy to find software engineers in India happy to continue in hands-on roles beyond 10 years. The cultural expectation in the industry is that you would have moved into a management/architect role by this point.

Positives: There is a good range of youth and experience in Bangalore. It would definitely be preferable for more experienced engineers to want to continue hands on coding, but the overall cost per engineer in Bangalore would be around 1/3 the cost of Melbourne. There are also recruited experienced guys who are happy techies, not particularly pushing for management/architect roles, but this is, as discussed, a rarity.


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