Software developers want to get their teeth into tricky challenges rather than free meals

Attracting engineering talent takes more than table football

Dublin may have no problems in attracting the big hitters in the technology industry to set up shop here but with a skills shortage in the industry, tech companies can find it difficult to recruit talented engineers.

It is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector and attracting the top engineering talent is an issue for every company, according to Philip Reynolds, engineering director at WorkDay, a human resource and financial management software company.

“Everyone is looking for them,” says Reynolds of qualified and experienced engineers. “There aren’t enough of them in Dublin at the moment. It’s hard to say what the root cause is. We haven’t produced enough on the graduate side and another level is just the competitive landscape.”

Having a strong company and tech culture is important for recruitment, an issue that cropped up in a recent panel discussion on tech culture hosted by Zalando, a cross-platform, online fashion retailer. Tech culture is often associated with quirky workplace perks, such as free meals, table football and games consoles.


Perks, gimmicks

Graham O’Sullivan, delivery lead at Zalando who took part in the panel discussion, said these sort of perks are just gimmicks: they’re not really what tech culture in a company is about. “I don’t think it’s very important, it’s pop culture,” he says. “The most compelling thing is that there is an authenticity to your culture.”

The way to encourage people to want to join your company is, he explains, if when they come in, they realise “there is much more depth to what you are doing than free meals”.

Something that attracts engineers much more than gimmicks and adds to a tech culture is having difficult problems to solve, according to Roland Tritsch, VP of engineering at Nitro, which designs software to create, edit and secure PDFs and other digital documents.

“Yes, you need to pay people right but in the end the real currency in software engineering is its difficult problems and, if you have that, you will be able to attract people from around the world,” says Tritsch.

Problem solving has played an important role in recruitment for NearForm, a company that specialises in bringing cloud computing to large enterprises.

“The work we are doing and the problems we are solving is really hard and really challenging but really rewarding for people. That plays a part in NearForm’s success in getting the best people,” says Des Martin, head of growth at the technical training and consulting company.

It’s not just that there is a lack of qualified engineers but companies all want the top developers, says Zalando’s O’Sullivan, “so the real battleground is for top talent”.

Having top engineers on staff helps to attract other top engineers and helps create a strong tech culture, says Mr Reynolds of WorkDay. Top engineers “also want to work with strong engineers”, he said. “We look for strong engineers by having strong engineers on staff.”

Attracting engineers to companies based in Dublin also means the city has to appeal to potential recruits. “Not only are we selling WorkDay, we are selling Dublin as a place,” says Reynolds.

He believes the difficulty can be persuading people to relocate from their home country.

But, if they do decide to move, Dublin is a relatively easy sell, he says.

“Dublin is a factor in some cases,” he adds. “It is a great place to live and work. I think it is a super friendly, it is a small city but has a huge tech landscape.”

Gender diversity

Recruiting from abroad means that most technology companies in Dublin have a lot of diversity in terms of nationality and ethnicity.

A bigger issue can be ensuring gender diversity. A lack of female engineers in technology companies is a problem for the industry worldwide.

“The reality is that it can be more difficult to recruit female engineers,” says O’Sullivan.

“It is easy, maybe, to feel at home in a tech company here in Ireland when you come from abroad: in some cases, it may be harder to feel at home in a tech company as a female engineer which is a real big problem,” notes Tritsch.

There are many factors thought to be to be behind the dearth of female engineers but it is an important issue to address, says O’Sullivan. Diversity is an important factor to encourage innovation and having gender diversity is an essential feature in this.

Zalando, he says, has had “some success” in recruiting female data engineers.

One approach they found helpful was encouraging their female employees to actively refer people to the company.

NearForm recruits a little differently. Specialising in bringing cloud computing to large enterprises and based in the Co Waterford town of Tramore, they have managed to attract global talent. Fifty per cent of their workforce work remotely "from all over the world".

Instead of a specific recruitment process, NearForm engages with people who contribute to their open source projects and attend events. “Bizarrely the people we are hiring are almost self selecting,” says Martin, adding that, because their company is “an early technology”, it attracts people who are a bit different or “outliers”.

However, Martin says no matter how you do it, the hiring process and retaining the right staff is vital to the success of any technology company.

“To a degree, tech companies are defined by how well they can hire really good people. If you can’t hire people and retain them, everything will break down,” he said.