This blogpost shares the story behind FindHotel’s engineering growth model that we made public a little more than a month ago. We decided to share the story, as this helped us grow an amazing team that is deeply connected with our vision and culture.
It has been over a year since we introduced the model and engineering career ladder. It was successfully embedded into our evaluation process and used in the last two evaluation rounds. The feedback has been positive, and most importantly we have seen our engineers grow successfully together with FindHotel. As we have learnt from other companies' experiences, we figured that sharing our thought process behind the model might help others become better at growing their people too.
We have been collecting feedback from our team and in late 2019 I interviewed all our 20 engineers to learn more about their concerns and challenges. The most mentioned expectation was to bring focus on people management and development and help everyone with their professional growth. We realised that there is a reference point missing for our engineers to understand where they stand and how they can identify the next steps to grow within FindHotel. We started thinking what tools and methods we can build and use to help everyone grow. That was especially important as we were getting ready for scaling the engineering team from 20 to 60+ engineers in the course of 2020. (As we know the pandemic hit the world and things went a little different but we are still proud that our engineering team grew with over 50% for the last 12 months, with only 1 engineer leaving us.)
It was clear that in order to scale we had to have a system that allows us to develop engineering leadership that is able to coach and mentor others in their growth, while working with product to build software delighting travellers all around the world. We had to be able to decentralise people management, hiring, growth and decision-making for the scale ahead.
A growth system
We wanted to have a system that has the following features:
- Recognises and supports the development of a diverse set of skills. Talented people often would like to grow in many different and complimentary areas. Hence, this feature is a unique concept of our growth system, that allows diversity and professional development in different directions and does not emphasise only the technical aspects.
- Learning new technical skills such as front-end, back-end, InfraOps, data engineering, and more, is recognised and allows people grow in the ladder even if not part of their core engineering competence. This way making any transitions becomes very natural.
- Transition between manager and individual contributor is an adjacent move. This eliminates the bias that becoming a manager is a promotion and the only way to grow, making equally important and recognised both individual contributors and managers while recognising that leadership is part of both.
- Engineering career ladder independent of functional titles (FE, BE, and alike). This is an important feature because when an organisation scales more functions will become relevant and a ladder based on specific functions becomes difficult to evolve and maintain. In addition, the general requirements for any engineer are the same when it comes to quality, good system design, communication, delivery, mentorship, and more.
- Fosters the development of a T-shaped profile for more senior roles, while the more junior roles can clearly focus on developing the I of their I-shaped profile. This is natural, as more senior engineers have significant influence on technical strategic directions within a squad or a tribe and have to communicate with different stakeholders while leading tech initiatives.
- Enables people to make small steps in their growth with every 6-month evaluation period. It was important for us because at FindHotel we would like our people to continuously develop.
- Has strong and transparent connection with our compensation formula. We have a culture of transparency and this is also the case when it comes to compensation. Everyone’s compensation is based on their expertise (seniority) and tenure in the company.
- Fosters growth and expectations-alignment conversations between the manager and the employee. Having such conversations helps mangers and their people align their point of views of the expected growth and timelines as early as possible. This stimulates thinking about what growth opportunities are or will become available.
- Sets clear expectations within and outside of engineering for each level at the engineering ladder. It was clear that making everyone’s level available on Confluence helps everyone at FindHotel to have clear expectations towards each engineer/manager. Such transparency allows engineers earlier in their growth to have a reference of successful senior engineers/managers and follow their example. Engineers are able to choose mentors and seek advice from the more experienced, even if those colleagues are not in their squad/tribe.
We evaluated what we already had and what others in the industry were doing successfully. We really liked the work that Medium has done on their growth rubric and decided to reuse as much as possible of this great tool. We took a decision to make use of three tools to help our people grow:
- Growth model - outlining a clear set of specialisations that everyone can use to ensure they grow the way they like in the context of FindHotel.
- Progression levels - allowing everyone at FindHotel to have a clear overview of the expectations at each level of the engineering career ladder.
- Growth plan - a set of growth OKRs that are embedded in our bi-annual evaluation process. The idea is to provide guidance and a forum for a manager and an engineer to discuss opportunities and ways to make progress in one’s professional development. Such a plan also helps aligning on a set of actions on achieving the objectives. Most importantly key results are defined that clearly describe the difference between point A (current state) and point B (the desired state). This way at a very early stage one can identify how to progress to the next step in their career. As you can see in the example below some objectives will also lead to conversations with one’s team to ensure support and alignment.
How has the growth model been helping us to scale?
We deployed the growth model in February 2020. We have been using it throughout two evaluation periods and while our engineering team grew from 20 to 35 people. At this point we can say that the model is well-tested, deeply embedded in our company, and is working well for us.
In the past 15 months we were able to help people identify areas they have been interested in developing. We were also able to help our engineers grow either as managers or makers (individual contributors). When we started some engineers weren’t sure which track they would like to follow - managers or makers. We walked the path together and some fell in love with the managers track where they support engineers to grow and are part of the organisation growth of FindHotel, while others realised that they are in love with being a hands-on maker making a difference inventing scalable and robust solutions to enable travellers all around the world.
In the past 15 months something great happened as well. Believe it or not, we have already had people moving between the tracks after trying, learning a lot and deciding they would like to focus on the other track at this moment of their career. That was great as instead of feeling uncomfortable, being evaluated negatively or even deciding to search for opportunities outside of FindHotel these great colleagues are still with us. The best way we found to help people learn is to let them try while they have the full support of the organisation. It works.
Our engineering management team grew to 3 engineering managers and 7 engineering leads that are now helping us scale the organisation from 35 to 100 people in the next 18 months. We are also proud that we supported the growth and development of our makers and we have now four principal engineers (15 months ago we had one) and four staff engineers with nearly all of them growing from within the organisation. It has also been a great experience to hire and help grow Engineer I & II level engineers who made it to Senior Engineers. As a result, our engineering team consists mainly of senior engineers and above. This is great because soon we will have enough capacity to hire more junior engineers offering them the opportunity to learn the art of engineering at FindHotel. This will also enable our senior engineers to develop skills such as mentoring and continuous feedback. Once the circle is complete, it starts again ensuring that we can continuously stay attractive for young engineers while opening growth opportunities for our more senior engineers.
We are proud of helping our people grow by finding opportunities for their personal and professional development. This is of immense importance for us as it is not a secret that people leave companies due to lack of opportunities or because of their managers. We are proud to have sustained our team during the pandemic.
How does the growth model help our new joiners?
Since the beginning we embedded the growth model into our recruitment process. During the recruitment process we map every candidate to one of the sub-levels described in the model. This allows us to ensure that every candidate will receive a fair offer and will help us raise the bar. Right after a candidate has accepted our offer we create an onboarding plan and every new-joiner is introduced to the growth model including their very own mapping to the different specialisations. This has been a great improvement into our onboarding, as it clearly sets the expectations for every new engineer and allows them to show their potential and exceed expectations within their first 6 months already.
What is next?
A couple of weeks ago FindHotel achieved a new milestone of 2M bookings for the past 12 months. During the same period we have been scaling the organisation and hiring people despite the world leaving in a lockdown with limited travel. This experience has taught us a lot and it is just the beginning for a new chapter in the FindHotel's book. Now that everything is slowly getting back to normal there is a lot more to offer to our customers. FindHotel’s team will grow to 200 people by the end of 2022 with an engineering organisation of over 100 engineers. We will continue learning, adapting and building a great place for motivated and talented people where they can achieve their full potential and make a difference for millions of travellers around the world.