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Finding Developers in a Desert: Secrets for Snatching Up Top Talent

Hiring in high-growth stages tends to fall into two extremes: either you’re flooded with CVs and don’t know how to choose the absolute best candidates, or you’re in a talent desert where the CVs are barely trickling in
Yotpo's staff at work. (YouTube screenshot)
Yotpo's staff at work. (YouTube screenshot)

Developers are in high demand, and nowhere is this more true that in startup hubs like Tel Aviv.

Hiring in high-growth stages tends to fall into two extremes: either you’re flooded with CVs and don’t know how to choose the absolute best candidates, or you’re in a talent desert where the CVs are barely trickling in.

In either situation, you need to focus on working quickly and efficiently to snatch up talent before the competition gets to them.

Yotpo knows a thing or two about handling hiring obstacles.

As the company tripled in size over the last year, the HR team had to think creatively to find ways to keep up with the growth, like creating a plan for hiring 12 people in 1 month on a $600 budget.

Head of Talent Acquisition Tamar Tepper shares Yotpo’s secrets for finding and hiring great developers before anyone else can get to them.


How We Came Up With Yotpo Academy

When searching for developers, one of the Yotpo employees suggested that the hiring team take a cue from Silicon Valley, where companies pluck up students before they’ve even put on their cap and gown.

This strategy hasn’t yet caught on in Israel, partially because internships and jobs before finishing college are less common than in the States.

Additionally, for bootstrapped Israeli startups, matching the recruitment efforts of huge tech giants can be difficult.

These startups don’t have the same resources or reach as companies like Google and Facebook – and they’re not just competing to get employees, but also to convince these candidates to choose them over bigger companies.

Yotpo’s Head of Talent Acquisition set out to see if Israeli companies could successfully copy Silicon Valley’s tactics. The journey was stop and go, but ultimately got really good results, which Yotpo wants to share to help other startups facing similar problems.

Here’s a guide to walk you through the necessary steps to create an academy – planning, creating the course, recruiting students and choosing applicants – as well as lessons Yotpo learned about how to integrate students socially, check for comprehension, and more.

Step 1: Planning

First, decide the length of the course, considering factors like how much you can budget to pay the students, how much time they have left in their studies, and how many resources your startup can afford to expend.

If you’re holding the training course in your office – which you should, because it allows the students to interact with current employees and create bonds within the company – you need to remember that this will take up meeting rooms, space in the kitchen, etc.

Lessons learned:

“Creating a program like this is really a massive operation and took way more resources than we expected – we underestimated how many HR hours and developer hours it would take to build presentations, work with the students through practice, homework, and follow-up questions,” Micha Zana, R&D Team leader and Head of Yotpo Academy, explains.

“There’s no doubt it was worth it, but we didn’t consider the impact when planning the length of the course.”

Step 2: Creating a syllabus

The next step is to create a syllabus, which should be guided by your specific goals. Our goal was to get students working alongside our developers as quickly as possible, so we chose to narrow our topics of focus – rather than cover everything, we just wanted to cover the practical tools students would need to know to start working without a ramp up.

Our core lectures dealt with the fundamentals of web development, like databases, MVC, and other web basics. We also had enrichment lectures that covered more advanced, “nice to have” tools such as caching, Redis, Go, etc.

Lessons learned: Students come in with a blank slate, for better and worse

“When you take students in the middle of their degree, they all start from the same point, but they don’t advance at the same pace,” Micha says.

“You need to factor in extra time to make sure comprehension is clear. Make your lectures shorter or schedule extra time for questions, because if you’ve picked the right students – the brightest and most eager to learn – they’re going to have tons of questions.”

Step 3: Planning lessons

It’s rare for a startup to ask developers to dedicate days of their time on anything other than work.

In the fast-paced startup world, every minute matters. But it’s imperative for the academy to work.

We involved every developer in the course planning process – not just team leaders. This may have expended more resources, but the collaboration between employees made them all feel connected to the program.

What we learned: Hands on lessons are easier said than done

“It’s easy to say that you’re teaching with the goal of hands-on experience, but unless you have a developer sitting behind the students checking their code and watching them work, you’re not really giving them true experience,” Micha says.


“This means to do it right, it’s going to cost you a lot of developer time. But if you do do it right, it’s worth it.”

Step 3: Recruiting students

The key to executing recruiting efforts well is to work quickly. When you find a good developer who is smart, friendly, and motivated, you can be sure you’re not the only one who thinks so.

These developers always tend to have more than one offer, so you must get them before anyone else.

What we learned: Prioritize branding

“You’re trying to get highly desirable students to join a startup whose name they probably don’t know. When you’re competing with big companies, you must invest in branding. The more they see your brand, the more likely they are to trust you,” Tamar Tepper explains.


“Create a logo and unique landing page for your course and publish it everywhere, and constantly advertise your academy – whether at local talks, meetups, or on college campuses, you should show up dressed in branded t-shirts and distribute flyers that encourage students to apply.”

Step 4. Choosing applicants

Your R&D team leaders should identify a set of technical skills that you want your developers to have. Out of 400 people who applied, we chose 100 for phone calls and decided to bring 60 in for interviews.

We then split those 60 Academy candidates into 3 groups and invited them to 3 sorting days in which they passed technical tests and a brief HR interview.

The ones who passed this stage were summoned for a second day in which they passed a much more deep HR interview which were meant to check their cultural fit and another technical test that meant to check how they think.

What we learned: Your expectations will likely change as you go

“We originally thought we would create an academy for a dozen or so students and hold a test halfway through the course to decide who would continue,”  says Avi Zrachya, VP R&D. “But then we realized the smarter choice for us was to have a dedicated program for two months with only the absolute top students. By forcing ourselves to be picky, we knew the resources we were investing would be well spent.”

Important Points to Remember During the Academy:

Plan how you will integrate students socially. These students will soon be part of the company, so you need to pre-plan team and company-wide activities for the students to attend. You should also involve multiple departments in the planning of the academy so that everyone is aware of the importance of the academy.

Create a plan for checking comprehension: Don’t just assume students are getting the material. You need to have a process for checking comprehension daily and weekly. Additionally, in order to ensure students were competent in each topic, they were responsible for building a project at the end of the course in which each step corresponded to a lesson from the course.

Getting feedback: After every course, we had the students complete a feedback form so we could better understand the content they liked and didn’t like, how the lessons went, and suggestions for how to improve. For us, the first week was awful – we didn’t take enough time to explain, they didn’t have time to practice, students didn’t understand. Second week was totally different, more practice and enrichment, more things that the students asked for. Schedule regular face-to-face check in talks with R&D team leaders and HR so you can get a better understanding of how they’re doing.

About the Author
Aimee Millwood is the blog manager at Yotpo and co-founder of Mashu Designs. She writes for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch, The Next Web, and more.
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