Experience report: Building an offshore agile team in India - The Australian perspective - Part 1

Experience report: Offshore agile teams – An Australian in India’s perspective

Offshoring software development, in this case, using agile as a software development methodology contains many opportunities to learn. These kinds of teams have specialised requirements both in the technical realm as well as social expectations on the individuals hired.

A lot of organisations have tried, and failed in a lot of cases, to set up independent agile teams in India . With the right approaches and expectations set, Aconex has shown that it is possible to successfully set up agile offshore operations as we did. To get your offshore program on a sustainable footing you’ve got to understand the market and be prepared to be responsive to local conditions.

What sort of people are/were we looking for?
A simple explanation would be, agile software engineers and product people with a desire to work in self managed, highly collaborative teams. We use the terms ‘passionate, self-starter, independent thinker and good communicator’ a lot when talking about our ideal candidates.

Aconex has gained a reputation in Melbourne as a hotbed of great agile talent (recruiters, hands off!). We have, in my humble opinion, some of the best engineers in Australia either working there, or having passed through it’s hallowed halls.

We didn’t drop our standards either when recruiting in Bangalore. Each engineer had to meet the same standards and have to measure up to their Melbourne colleagues. This created a challenge to those tasked with recruiting in Bangalore (myself included).

Needle in the haystack – our hunt for the typical ‘Aconex’ engineer.
When we started talking to recruiters in Bangalore we outlined the key traits for our potential hires. “They have to be independent, strong willed, autonomous etc etc” The recruiters would respond “Oh, you want western thinkers” and explain that all the big ‘multinationals’ say the same thing, that they are looking for ‘western thinkers’ and have the same difficulty hiring them.

“The typical Indian software engineer is very good at following requirements, less good at working off-plan” a statement I remember quite strongly from early discussions with recruiters. I knew this couldn’t be true, Bangalore is home to hundreds, thousands of start-ups, those guys are making it up as they go along.

However, our early experiences in recruiting seemed to bear witness to that assumption. We knocked back countless engineers at the ‘cultural fit’ round. Too quiet, too shy, didn’t ask questions, couldn’t stand being interrupted etc etc. Why was this happening?

Precedents, pre-cursors etc
A large part of the IT boom in India was on the back of ‘repeatable’ IT work, that is QA services, small bug fixes and other more ‘waterfall’ style approaches to software development. The waterfall approach meant teams were handed well defined sets of requirements which helped reduce (or even discourage) back and forth comms and collaboration.

The market of engineers looking for work in Bangalore is flooded with an endless supply of engineers who have been through the big Consultancies.  The culture in most  is very much a Waterfall/process, driven by requirements following for an overseas customer. Unfortunately for us these candidates have, as a result, been institutionalised with the behaviour of those organisations.

This pool of recruits were mostly what we were shown by recruiters. This meant we had limited success with recruitment firms in looking for talent. The traditional methods for identifying the right people were flawed. High scores at Uni, Job title, current organisation rep etc. Our hit rate was very low going through the traditional channels. We were looking for needles in haystacks.


The good news is, we have, by trial and error, I believe, started down the road to building a competitor to our Melbourne team in terms of quality.  Have we got there yet, not quite, but we are making good progress. How did we do this? well, some of it will remain our secret, but, I will share some of the discoveries we made later. Thanks for reading so far.

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