How One Early-stage Founder Successfully Hired Underrepresented Technical Talent
A micro-case study for Founders from the Startups & Society Initiative.
Ope Bukola, a former Product Lead at Google and founder of Enle, wanted to tap into the technical talent of the African continent, and her home country of Nigeria. Ope on why she started Enle:
“There is an explosion of interest in tech in Africa, and a lot of young people are teaching themselves to code/design and getting into the digital economy. I wanted to create a way to help young techies level up, and give them access to projects and a stronger network so they could improve their skills and future employability.”
As Ope tried to convince new clients to employ talent from elsewhere, it was important for her to also walk the walk and hire talent that may not have passed through traditional hiring signals.
Values or Bust
Ope decided that developing underrepresented talent would be an essential value of her company. While she was extremely time and resource-constrained as an early-stage Founder, she didn’t want to compromise — even if it meant investing significant time upfront in designing hiring systems that could meet this objective.
“We don’t care about the educational background (degrees, schools, GPA), previous companies where they’ve worked, or whether we’d want to be friends with them…just if they can get the job done.”
Committing to not using proxies like educational or professional pedigree that might filter out capable but non-traditional candidates, Ope built a 5-stage application process to focus on the essential skills she was looking for. At each stage, she ultimately made design choices that would help stay true to her values and still surface the information she needed to make great hires. This process took most of her time for a few months.
Values-driven design choices
Two choices stand out in particular as useful:
1 ) Accessible first-contact. To test for written communication, Ope used a Google form with short answer questions in lieu of a cover. Cover letters can be intimidating and often demand a format that talent with non-traditional training may not be familiar with.
2) Project-based technical assessment. Instead of theoretical or abstract coding challenges that bias towards people with certain educational backgrounds or professional preparation, Ope built a project-based technical challenge that would be “Really true to the job that you (candidates) are doing. For example, write a technical design. Build this feature.” She also allowed candidates to take time to think, noting “some people just need time to process…then they come back and blow you away.” She saw first-hand from doing dozens of interviews in her previous role that on-the-spot and abstract coding challenges led to missed candidates.
Six months later, the results have spoken for themselves — showing that patience and staying true to values can pay off in the long run.
“They’ve (the new hires) done excellently! We’ve built two client projects (a mobile app for a SaaS healthcare company, and a web app for a company bringing more transparency to D&I). We’ve also built and launched our own mediation and wellness app. Throughout this, the team has honed their skills and built robust and quality software that has made our clients and the end-users happy.