Recently we’ve explored the differences between hiring permanent, contract, and freelance developers and dug deeper into understanding the right time to hire a CTO for your business, but what about if you’re ready to commit to taking on a permanent, full-time hire, but don’t necessarily have a CTO in place?

It’s a common position for businesses to be in, particularly for those in a traditionally non-technical sector, such as professional services. In these industries, the opportunities for and potential impact of innovation are significant, be it from a client experience, staff efficiency, or income generation perspective.

It makes sense then that these businesses begin the process of innovation or technology development through partnering with an agency and there are clear benefits for doing so, but what ultimately pushes businesses to hire and bring this in-house is:

  • Cost – long-term projects are sometimes more cost-effective to be built by in-house hires, rather than engaging an external agency. Existing technology that has long-term growth plans and needs ongoing maintenance is a similar scenario.
  • Response – having technology expertise in-house allows for a typically faster response time to issues.
  • Context – an agency by nature works with multiple clients likely across multiple verticals, whereas an internal hire operates solely within your business and gains a deep understanding of your services, challenges, and long-term vision by being a part of the process.
  • Pivot – a business pivoting towards a technology-focused or technology-first stance will see an investment in permanent hiring as the first step towards this pivot, where partnering with an external agency brings an outside dependency on the success of the business’s changing direction.

With that in mind then, when it comes to bringing in a first full-time tech hire, what do you need to do?

Be clear in your current position and vision

Bringing in a first tech hire is an exciting time, and hiring the right person for the role is crucial. Not only do they need to be a fit for your business, but your business needs to be a fit for them – a one-sided relationship has no longevity, your business stands to lose talent when you need it most (and potentially in the middle of a project) and the hired person needs to be able to benefit and grow during their tenure.

When beginning the process of interviewing and hiring, it’s key then that all involved have a clear understanding of:

  • The short-term focus and long-term mission of your business, and how tech supplements both,
  • Any existing technology, projects, or otherwise that the hire will be inheriting and will oversee,
  • The current discovery and scoping of any proposed development or innovation,
  • The opportunities that exist as part of the role, and how the role can grow over time,
  • A gauge of the financial investment the business is willing to make in technology (a level of reassurance that this isn’t a toe-in-the-water hire),
  • How often you will communicate directly with the hire, and who their wider support network is whilst in the first role of its kind in your business,
  • How the success of technology, and the role, are measured.

Plot potential progression

When it comes to a first hire, it’s straightforward enough to tie the role to a generic-level job title, such as web developersoftware engineer, or data analyst. Regardless of their level of experience, they’re the first (and currently only) hire, so there’s no need for brackets or levels, right? Wrong.

When it comes to advertising any role, this level of specificity might suffice for attracting applicants, but internally there should be a more granular structure, otherwise, you face a much more difficult challenge of nurturing and retaining talent further down the line.

Understandably, most of us don’t join a business to stay in the same role on the same pay forever. The benefit of creating role levels and salary bands before hiring is that it gives every interviewee an idea of progression opportunities in your business – particularly if your long-term ambition is to continue hiring beyond a single tech staff member. Many senior developers look to move into the likes of engineering manager and department-lead roles, juniors look to be promoted into mid-level positions, for example. Having a simple structure in place initially indicates your ambition for growth and the opportunity for any potential hire to picture their long-term growth with you. The structure itself will likely evolve over time and salaries will change with inflation, talent markets, and business performance, but setting a baseline for team structure early is crucial before hiring is ideal.

You’ve likely made a tech hire as part of a long-term investment in innovation. To retain any hire long-term, their role needs to have the scope to grow with your business and its usage of tech.

Aim for knowledge

A first technology hire understandably needs a good level of knowledge. Initially, they’ll have no immediate support network for challenges and issues, so a person able to independently problem solve and self-motivate is key.

A first hire, sometimes subconsciously, takes on responsibilities beyond maintenance or development. Their way of working de facto becomes the way of working for any future hire until firm processes are put into place. Subsequently, hiring a level of knowledge and prior experience first gives reassurance that their way of working is somewhat proven or standardised.

Dependent on the scope and timescale of your proposed innovation, many businesses opt to hire at the mid-level first. This gives the confidence that the hire has a level of knowledge and/or experience and can work independently, but will also continue their career learning in your business (as well as learning your own business).

A senior- or mid-level hire can both work as a first hire, with the mid eventually escalating to a senior role (bringing us back to the clear progression path). It’s not however typical to hire juniors first, on the basis that they are at the beginning of their learning journey and benefit most from being in a collaborative environment of other tech-focused roles. That’s not to say that a junior as a first hire doesn’t work, but brings with it the increased challenge and dependence on others to provide support and training to be able to deliver your technology vision.

Make an upfront investment

Hiring for any role always requires a level of upfront investment. Particularly for a tech hire, or any role that traditionally falls outside of your business discipline, there is a much steeper initial learning curve. It is an unfair expectation that your tech hire will be able immediately to grasp your process and understand in detail the issues that you face as an accountancy firm, for example.

Your senior hire, in a way, is also a junior in your discipline. They will need to understand various elements of your industry and your specific process and obstacles to be able to effectively lead on developing technology that gives a solution to those same obstacles.

Regardless of the level of experience that you’ve hired, invest time upfront in allowing them to embed fully into your business as it is and understand your industry. It yields no immediate reward in terms of technology but gives any new hire a chance to meet and work with your team (avoiding an us vs. them mentality, which happens more often than you’d think) and allows them to fully understand your business and identify further areas of opportunity. It may be desirable to ‘hit the ground running’ from day one, but the speed of innovation will be much faster once started for any hire that already has a good understanding of your business, your issues, and your goals.

When it comes to tackling the technology challenges your business has, your hire then already understands the systems you have in place, the general perception of any processes and tools from your team, and has been given time for their thinking of how to develop any given solution, the latter being crucial when you essentially have a technology/development team of one.

Ask the experts

Whilst your plan may be to bring tech in-house with a first hire, outside expertise are available to support you in doing so. Embeddable support businesses looking to build teams by creating career maps, implementing team processes and procedures, and more.

If you’re looking at your first full-time tech hire or continued internal team expansion, we support your business in doing so through consultancy and guidance backed up by experience.