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Be An Engineer

Adder’s unconventional hiring practices built an amazing team, but it wasn’t free. Here’s our story (so far):

My hiring round in January to bring Adder’s car wrap advertising and analytics software development in-house was a mess.

Our hiring methodology, if you’re feeling generous with the term methodology, didn’t really exist. I had a couple ideas of what an interview or offer shouldn’t be, but that wasn’t useful in figuring out how to go about hiring a team for a project that needed a seasoned unit of developers immediately. I had one unexpected vacancy to fill, but I wanted to go all in on our technology. Google was the first stop in my journey to finding our own ‘A Team’.

Many many hours later, I had managed to consistently dodge the pay-to-play recruiting methods. A few people called and asked what skills we were hiring for, and a handful of hiring websites probably won’t let me login anymore, flagging my IP address as bot traffic.

So it goes.

The most adder team members we've ever gotten together!
Anyone know a 12′ tall photographer that knows how to get an image in focus? Asking for a friend.

It turns out that what I was looking for didn’t really matter — it’s what I found along the way that propelled Adder forward. Being open minded about our work helped keep things moving.

I would undoubtedly regret having hired a team of PHP experts to help with the code we were working on at the time, only to come to the conclusion that many better and more responsive web frameworks were available. Our team hadn’t planned on becoming ReactJS focused, but so far, everyone seems to enjoy the new baseline. Personally, I was happy to work with anything that can fulfill our requirements and basic specs.

Adder’s original development lineup featured Brandon Bush and myself. I designed systems and handled the conceptual architecture, while he focused on implementation and optimization. While looking for LAMP stack developers, I found about 12 people that looked skilled enough to get the job done. We’ve never been trained as recruiters, though. We had a challenge in front of us — and I had to figure out how to attract talented people in an incredibly competitive job marketplace.

Adder developers Brandon Bush, Brad Hoffman, Ian Gerard, and Bayon Forte
There’s a couple more of us, these days!

Adder ended up hiring Brad Hoffman and Bayon Forte, who were both eager to be a part of something bigger in concept than in actual budget, or at least something with more learning potential than the traditional programming gig.

Brad and I were sitting down at Starbucks, talking about Adder’s vision for spatial data and the five year plan within 12 hours of my first message to him on LinkedIn. Bayon was similarly excited to get involved after Brandon and I made our pitch. We hired both of them soon after.

Their enthusiasm wasn’t solely attributable to what Adder was doing — it was also because of how we were doing it. I leveled with both of them in our first interview. I told them we didn’t have much to pay, and that it would be a rough couple months getting started. There was going to be a lot of work ahead if we were going to get things on track.

I told the them that joining our team would be risky.

The Adder team in mid-may 2019, featuring Ian Gerard, Kevin Wiley, Bayon Forte, Mark Jackson, Brad Hoffman, Russ Kimberling, Lillie Beiting, Jesse Doyle, Dr. Tim McDonald, Tyler French, Jeremy Fox, Bennett Rieser, Bridgett Howard, and Brandon Bush
Aren’t we all so pretty?

Five months later, our development team has 9 members, including myself. We’re in the process of hiring more to handle the spatial deep learning work we’re getting into.

Who knew outdoor advertising analytics would lead us to making space exploration proposals to NASA? We didn’t.

The trick in getting our developers on board wasn’t the money offered, or the health benefits package, or the office space (it’s definitely not our $734 per-month office). I’ve always given them as much as we could afford, but they know there’s higher paying work out there. It’s not about that, though.

I’m sure our equity deal was part of their decisions, as well. Adder has been generous about employee ownership — something that we’ve been criticized for in the past.

I understand the investor perspective, but from a founder’s vantage point, I can’t expect anyone to care about this business like a founder does, but giving equity helps close the gaps. I was sad to hear that some of our people had never been offered a stake in the startups they worked for previously. While I understand the reasoning behind not giving everyone a piece of the pie, I don’t think it’s a great way to build a motivated and dedicated team that’s built to last.

What’s bigger than ownership of stock, though, is ownership of ideas. Ownership of a project. Ownership of the solution to a problem that’s had us stuck for weeks.

When April rolled around, we were wrapping up development on our car wrap advertising platform. At the end of all that crunch time, Brandon and I asked everyone what project they wanted to work on the most. For Bayon, it’s a (redacted) front-end tool. For Brad, it’s a (redacted) databasing system. Jeremy is working on the prototype (redacted) hardware. Tyler wants to containerize the AI models to make training easier, and so on.

These projects are full of unknowns, but giving our software developers the opportunity and agency to tackle the problems they want to solve in their own way has been a game changer. It’s why we have such amazing technology released and in development.

Adder finally figured out a solution to the hiring problem — but it takes a certain kind of person to work well with us. I hire on ingenuity, not experience. I hire for keeps.

We don’t have a team of programmers that follow a code of rigorous structures or step by step instructions. I don’t expect my team to know my steps to solving each problem. Instead, I ask everyone to be inquisitive. To ask if our current solution or the common solution really is the best one.

I have a team of engineers — people that solve problems by interest and intuition.

Anyone can follow directions to solve a problem that’s been seen before. That’s what mechanics do. And there are excellent mechanics out there. But we’re not building a team of developers that follow convention as if it were gospel. We hire problem solvers. We hire engineers.

Our team’s motto?

Be an Engineer.

Your team is everything. Treat them with respect and trust them to use the skills that you hired them for in the first place. The sky isn’t even the limit if you have a dedicated crew built on trust, appreciation, and respect.

-Ian G

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