How Intercom Attracts Exceptional Engineers

Darragh Curran, VP of Engineering at Intercom, offered advice on how to hire exceptional engineers during the Plato event hosted on June 29, 2017 in Paris.

Darragh Curran, VP Engineering at Intercom

When your company is new and still unknown, finding exceptional engineers can take some time, and once you’ve hired them, it’s hard to keep them. In a recent “Engineering Management Talks with Plato” event, Darragh Curran, VP of Engineering at Intercom shared insights about how his company recruits and retains outstanding talent.

Read on for some of the highlights from Darragh’s talk, “Our Culture and How We Attract Exceptional Engineers to Intercom.”

Set yourself and your employees up for big and exciting challenges

Five years ago, Darragh left a good job at Amazon to join a startup that, at the time, had no customers or money. He had two children to support and it was a big risk, but he went for it anyway because he realized that life is short and can disappear in a moment, and we shouldn’t waste time doing things that aren’t truly aligned with our passions. And so he left a good job to chase a dream job.

For Darragh, being satisfied with his job meant working with people who inspired him and who he really believed in, and who believed in him and would push him to be a better version of himself. It wasn’t “just another job.” Darragh felt like he was truly making an impact. He learned from his own experience as an employee that working on big, exciting challenges makes you feel fulfilled and satisfied. “And I think that what’s important when you’re trying to attract engineers — the useful exercise is to put yourself in those shoes again,” he said.

To attract talented engineers to your company, Darragh said it’s important to follow Luc Vincent’s advice and become a storyteller, and also mentioned a few interesting examples of well-known companies and how they tell their stories. Microsoft, for example, had a great mission to put a computer on every desk, while Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. When you look at Facebook, on the surface it’s a social network, or at least that’s how most people describe it, but if you look at their roadmap 30 years into the future, Facebook plans on building lasers and satellites and drones, to name just a few. But it all makes sense in the context of why they exist. When telling your story, it’s important to explain what problem you are solving and why.

Minimize friction in your work processes

Once you analyze the working processes, the amount of code you have, the length of time it takes to run tests, and how long it takes to deploy all these different things, you realize that daily work gets more difficult and time-consuming down the road. Plus, it gets harder to attract people, all of which can cause friction.

Friction within a company can have severe consequences, not just to the organization as a whole, but also how problems within the organization are approached. Darragh said that Intercom has a common basic framework for approaching problems: no matter how big the problem is, start small and figure out the first step, which will help you determine the next step, and so forth. Reducing company-wide friction creates opportunities to do things far greater than just resolving problems; it can also create a pleasant working environment.

Work with the right people

When you’re trying to form teams, you assume that engineers want to work with other engineers. True, a lot of companies organize departments based on profession and people skills. Intercom actually does the complete opposite — it mixes different professions together in the same team. The idea is that having people with different skill sets on the same team creates opportunities for teammates to learn from each other and enhance their own skill set. “The more empathy and understanding you can have for the designers you work with, or the researchers you work with, the more you can shorten those feedback loops and get to the right solution,” said Darragh.

The more empathy and understanding you can have for the designers you work with, or the researchers you work with, the more you can shorten those feedback loops and get to the right solution.

How can you fight the “everything is getting worse” situation?

Darragh shared an interesting piece of advice: to accept or subscribe to the idea that everything is getting worse all the time and fight against it. Why give in to predicted doom and gloom? Because it empowers employees to feel a sense of responsibility, expectation, and empowerment to see things in their environment that are suboptimal and to fix them or improve them.

Darragh emphasized that it’s important to teach people to not feel distressed and frustrated in a bad situation, but to think, “There’s something we can make better here, and I can contribute to improving it.” That kind of mindset might be referred to as acting as leaders, not victims. It’s honest and realistic.

To summarize:

  • Frame your problem well and explain why you exist, not only what you do
  • Remove friction, which relieves tension and makes work enjoyable.
  • Put the right people together on the same team so they can be more effective.
  • Empower everyone to solve their problems. Don’t put it all on your shoulders.

Check out the full video below, and visit our YouTube channel for the rest of the videos from the event!


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