Startup CTO: How to Hire Software Engineers

By Mark Siebert on September 3, 2019

Software EngineerAt some point, your startup will scale to the point that you need additional help building your product, and as the CTO, it’s up to you to find, hire, and onboard new software engineers. This process is intimidating because engineering hires are critical to the success or failure of your startup. In this series, we’ll talk about Blue Matador’s approach to the hiring process as well as the insights I’ve gained as CTO. This first post will cover when and who to hire.


When to Hire

Before we get too far, let’s talk about when to hire. There’s often the feeling in a startup that you hire when you get funding, but that might not necessarily be a good idea. Having less capacity for feature development forces you to prioritize and cut ideas that would distract you from your product vision. 

Hiring an additional engineer just because you have the necessary resources can make your product roadmap a mess.

Instead, a more useful cue is when you start delaying features that are critical to your vision because there isn’t enough capacity at the moment to complete them. At that point, you should bring on someone because you already know what will be important for them to be working on.


Who to Hire

Look at any job board and you’ll see loads of postings looking for the “10x developer,” a “rockstar developer,” or a “code ninja.” When I hire a software engineer, I want none of those things. An algorithmic whiz or speedy codeslinger may appear impressive on paper, but if they lack the social skills to treat their teammates as equals or don’t have the humility to accept the best solution regardless of its source, they will ultimately drag down your productivity and hurt team morale. Searching for high performers is not a problem, but making intelligence the most important criteria for a hire is shortsighted and can result in costly churn.


“You don’t want this guy writing unmaintainable code just because he’s a genius”

These days, any software of interest is large enough that it is built by a team. Team dynamics are critical. It doesn’t matter how talented or productive a single team member is. If they are bringing down the rest of the team, they are deadweight. Conversely, if a team member increases the efficacy of the team, they will become a critical part of your startup. When hiring, I’m looking for someone capable who can complement my team and increase our overall productivity. To that end our interview process seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. Does the candidate have the necessary skills to perform on our team?
  2. Can the candidate converse about technical subjects they are passionate about in a clear and understandable manner?
  3. Can the candidate resolve conflicts without being overbearing or adversarial?

Take time to sit down with your team and determine if you have any additional requirements for your hire. Consider weaknesses in your current team that could be filled by this position. As a startup, be wary of specialists who can only do one thing. By being intentional about who you seek to attract, you will waste less time in the interview process.


Next Steps

The rest of this series will focus on the concrete steps of how to find the type of person you’re looking for. We’ll cover the screening process and the in-office interview process. Finally, we’ll talk about how to successfully onboard your new software engineer.

  1. Introduction to Hiring Software Engineers (this post)
  2. How to Write a Job Posting for Software Engineers
  3. How to Screen Software Engineers (coming soon)
  4. How to Interview Software Engineers (coming soon)
  5. How to Onboard a New Software Engineer (coming soon)

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