Startup advice: How and why to build a diverse engineering team

Justin Beals, CEO of StrikeGraph. (StrikeGraph photo)

The question of what happens if you prioritize diversity and what if you don’t is at the forefront of the startup discussion.

During my career I have always tried to build different teams. I believe it is important for the health of the company, but on a deeper level it is important for the health of the company culture.

Granted, I’m not an expert on diversity and inclusion. I cannot and will not try to speak for underrepresented minorities. I can only share my perspective as a successful team leader with several successful startups.

My perspective is supported by a variety of research. According to Gartner (2019), different teams are 12% more productive than homogeneous teams, and I’ve seen that from my own experience. The benefits and importance of diversity range from greater financial returns to better decision-making. The boundaries of diversity are not limited to race and gender, but also include attributes such as age, geographic location, and different approaches to problem-solving.

I want to share my insights into building a creative and committed team.

Start over

The most effective way to build a diverse team is to start from the beginning. It’s important not to fall into the trap of believing that a good “cultural fit” is simply someone you want to have a beer with. Building a culturally rich team must be intentional. I approach with the intention of building a team with a variety of backgrounds and expertise. When teammates who think differently work together, they generate the most innovative ideas.

To find underrepresented talent, I partner with educational institutions dedicated to underserved communities. I enjoy working with community colleges, HBCUs, business schools, certification programs, and quality bootcamps. These institutions specialize in preparing non-citizens, non-native speakers, and those with less fortunate socio-economic backgrounds for successful careers.

These alumni are motivated to build and contribute. You just need the right opportunity to demonstrate your potential. With my remote startups, I’m not limited to hiring in a single geographic location. The skills of graduates from Chile and graduates from Montana are very different.

At a previous startup, we had an employee with a business degree who solved problems by writing code. This worker was a first-generation college graduate, and as he grew up, computer science repeatedly turned them off because it would be “too difficult” for them. I am proud to report that you have become a Senior Engineer and have completed a Masters in Data Science.

When starting a new business, I consider educational institutions that are often overlooked, depending on the location. This gives me the opportunity to choose from a different talent pool.

Create a network

Each employee brings his or her unique community to the team. Your first three attitudes are critical to how you can ultimately grow your team. These three people set the stage for the next 30 in terms of thinking, recruiting and retaining talent, as well as entering new communities and networks.

The Seattle HR company is creating a virtual program to meet the growing demand for diversity training

For the best results, hire with different communities as early as possible. The team will be culturally heterogeneous and feel culturally heterogeneous, and members will appreciate this diversity as the team grows. An initially diverse team opens doors to talent pools you didn’t even know existed.

In my experience, a more diverse team produces the most positive and dynamic results. I don’t want to build a team that consists mostly of graduates from the same university with some outliers. I want to form a team of runaways because they connect across their unique perspectives and form their own pack.

At a previous startup, I built our first team in San Jose, Costa Rica. The main employment opportunities for software developers in this region have been in finance. These stuffy corporate environments did not tolerate dress code violations. Their recruitment practices focused on restoring a sense of “equality” among their employees.

We recruited people who wanted to work in a community where unique individuals were celebrated. Our first five developers were skateboarders and punk rockers. They came from different economic and geographic areas. Since we built our team on a culture of acceptance, it quickly grew to include women, LGBTQ + and people of color. In two years we’ve grown to 90 developers in Costa Rica.

It is power to create community in the workplace. At my current startup, Strike Graph, we didn’t use a recruiter at all. In fact, we’ve almost exclusively used personal references to add to our incredible team.

Here we classify individual qualities a little differently. We’re a technology company, but our team is evenly filled with computer science degrees, bootcamp graduates, and Fulbright scholars turned into ski bums and customer success managers.

While these experience traits are important, our employees also come from color communities and are gender specific. We are a multitude of developers, critical thinkers, and liberal arts graduates uniquely willing to communicate our data model effectively. These different perspectives give our work both breadth and depth when we achieve our goals and serve our customers.

Diversity feels good

Having a diverse workforce is undoubtedly useful. When your customers are different, your solutions need to follow suit. A diverse team focused on inclusive behavior requires a culture of loyalty, support, and innovative problem solving. A team with these values ​​is sure to do better quality work, better feedback loops, and more creative solutions. The benefits of this approach to team building go well beyond business metrics and just feel great.

Simply put, hiring a diverse team is the right thing to do. If you do it with your heart, as I have always strived to do, you will build a better future for your employees, customers, and their communities.

My team consists equally of men, women and non-binary members. We come from several countries and speak different mother tongues. I learn from my team every day. They challenge me to broaden my mood and approach problems from different perspectives. You come up with ideas that I would never have thought of.

My colleagues are probably fed up with my mantra: “Software development is a team sport.” With a diverse team, the common sense of belonging is the common thread for all employees. That makes our work a pleasure. What we do cannot be achieved by a senior engineer. To be successful, we must unite in the name of a collective outcome.

Simply put, hiring a diverse team is the right thing to do. If you do it with your heart, as I have always strived to do, you will build a better future for your employees, customers, and their communities.

As a person, it is only natural to feel like an “outsider” at times. When I started my first cybersecurity job at a multinational telecommunications company, some of my colleagues let me be treated like a scam because of my dreadlocks and tattoos. I have been repeatedly downsized and humiliated for my appearance. Finally, I went to find a company that had a basic culture of acceptance.

Eventually, I decided that I needed to create the deeply collaborative environment I wanted. I’ve worked hard and have been fortunate enough to be the founder or former employee of many great companies. At Strike Graph, we have a simple mission: “Deliver obvious value to our customers and take care of our employees.” This includes all employees, regardless of which path they have taken or what culture they contribute to our team. We hired with the intention of cultivating diversity. Because of this, our many different individuals form an exceptionally strong and unique collective.

I’m proud of the great things my team has already achieved. Our investors are impressed with our progress, and our clients are excited to see what we will achieve next. I am confident that we will continue to learn from one another as we grow our diverse fellowship in 2021.

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