Google's Approach to Hiring Engineering Leaders [Video]

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Google's Approach to Hiring Engineering Leaders [Video]

Because it really is an art.

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The DevTeam Project is a library of stories from successful engineering managers around the world about growing, managing, and motivating excellent dev teams. Our mission is to help dev teams learn from great engineering leaders about trends today and what’s shaping their industry. To achieve this we’re going to release a podcast episode and a blog post with highlights from the conversation every other week. In each episode, we’re traveling to meet a prominent engineering leader and talk about their unique perspectives and insights.

You may also like: How to Level Up Your Engineers [Podcast]

For more stories like that check out The DevTeam Project or subscribe to our podcast using one of the platforms below.

Listen on Google Podcasts

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Amy is a Senior Engineering Management Recruiter at Google. Prior to Google, she spent some time at various agencies learning how “real” recruiting is done, before moving to a recruiting role for five and a half years at Microsoft. She has an in-depth understanding of how to build a great engineering team, and what “great” really means when you’re tapping into the skills and experiences of highly talented individuals. 

Amy’s philosophy of engineering management is rooted in a powerful ideology. In her own words, “the heart and soul of the organization is built on engineering, and it’s built on making the world better through products and services.”

Short on time? Here are four key takeaways from Amy’s interview:

  • Engineers are the foundation of any successful enterprise. Shortchanging this element of the hiring process can undermine success for years to come.
  • Vision is just as important as the product. Engineers are idealists as much as they are data-driven creators. Tap into their passions to catalyze your success.
  • Hire an engineering leader with plenty of experience. Strong candidates can effectively communicate the lessons they learned through good and bad experiences.
  • Implement an Engineering Ladder. This tool ensures that the expectations for every role are clear, helping set up developers for success.

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What follows is a long-form write up of the key topics we discussed in our interview.

“The heart and soul of the organization is built on engineering.”

With opportunities to hire some of the brightest minds in cutting-edge platforms like artificial intelligence and machine learning, Amy has learned that the bedrock of successful operations is the modern engineer.

Thanks to global recruitment platforms, the world of engineering management is no longer limited to the Bay Area. Amy’s largest employers, Microsoft and Google, have actively scouted talent across the United States, Europe, and beyond. Ultimately “this helps bring much-needed perspective and diversity into the workplace," according to Amy.

When asked about the process of hiring engineering managers at Google, Amy started with a concise description of how she defines an effective manager. A manager has to be a leader. An affinity for deploying skilled talent is an absolute must — and should be a passion rather than an obligation. 

Amy also poses a unique question that all new managers out there should ask themselves: “What am I expected to inherit as opposed to what am I expected to build?” This isn’t just about evaluating potential workload, but instead understanding how new leadership can seamlessly integrate into a pre-existing operation.

“What am I expected to inherit versus what am I expected to build?”

“Engineers want to have an impact. The impact can look like a lot of different things.” The best technical leaders look beyond the task at hand. Instead, they're thinking about how to strategically leverage developers' innate curiosity and drive to build something brilliant. As Amy says, “it’s about building something cool” — and it's the responsibility of the manager to ensure that developers get this opportunity. 

Say you find your dream engineering manager candidate. How does Google go about evaluating talent? Amy paused for a moment, and said: “trust is important [to the interview process].” There’s an “honor system” when it comes to interviewing a candidate.

First and foremost, candidates “need to show us that [they've] been through it, that [they've] been there, done that.” A candidate can check all the right boxes in terms of hard and soft skills, but true talent can communicate beyond a résumé, and describe an even more valuable commodity: experience. 

“You need to show us that you’ve been through it.”

An effective interview is when there's storytelling involved. When a candidate can synthesize their good and bad experiences into key learnings, hiring teams can trust that their skills remain consistent even in immensely challenging situations. 

Amy went on to explain that, even with the honor system in place, “it’s a small world.” Reputation and integrity speak volumes here. The most impressive candidate can express with confidence their achievements and successes without resorting to hyperboles and half-truths. After all, the truth will eventually be revealed.

A tangible collection of opinions on the hiring process called Project Oxygen is Google's publicly accessible case study on effective leadership and management. Although Project Oxygen started as a Google project, it remains influential for enterprise across various industries and specializations. Project Oxygen brings together a trove of research into the undefined world of soft skills. Soft skills are essential to forging a great leader who is capable of bringing out the best in their employees.

Even though these soft skills are indispensable, Amy is quick to point out that deep technical experience is also critical. “We can’t minimize the importance of knowing your stuff.” The perfect candidate lives and breathes the world of tech, and stays involved in multiple outlets because they have a passion for the work itself. This experience will allow engineering managers to derive actionable solutions for larger, more daunting tasks. “A leader can take a big meaty problem and narrow it down into the work that needs to be done.”

“We want to see you succeed quickly.” 

Amy communicated that interviewing a new engineering manager isn’t about finding “winners” and “losers,” but rather about finding a candidate who will encounter the least resistance to integration. “We want to see you succeed quickly, and that you start a trajectory that is going to benefit you long-term.” 

While level systems have worked well for enterprise, Amy believes that the kaleidoscopic array of engineering talent that's emerging makes it all the more important to prioritize expectations. “Each role has expectations tied to it,” and these expectations can help hiring teams understand specifically what a candidate has done, and how well they've done it. In other words: “Can the candidate perform specific functions at a specific level of expectation?” 

Amy’s approach is holistic and has helped her build high-quality teams of problem-solvers. She hopes the insights discussed can provide prospective managers and recruiters with a valuable, forward-looking perspective.

For more stories like this check out The DevTeam Project or subscribe to our podcast using one of the platforms below.

Listen on Google Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

Further Reading

Managing Engineers: Minimizing Risk and Surprises [Podcast]

Performance Engineering 101: The Brass Tacks to Get You Started


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