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Turing Fest day one: what I learned about recruiting Rockstars

Written by Rhona Kennedy
03/09/19 - 09:17

For the uninitiated, Turing Fest is a cross-sectional tech conference which aims to bring together the best and brightest in technology and teach them a thing or two about building and growing a successful tech company, product and team.

The EICC played host to some local talent and an impressive number of delegates and speakers from further afield (no doubt here to meet our brilliant Engineers and tempt them to work in Berlin/San Francisco/remotely!). Turing Fest was sponsored by Edinburgh-based startup/scaleup Administrate and Deliveroo Engineering (who are building an Edinburgh-based team), with iZettle and UserTesting keeping everyone fed and watered.

This was our first year at Turing Fest and I imagine we’ll be back next year after some pretty positive reviews. In between catching up with folk and swiping lots of tablet and Lindor truffles from fellow exhibitors, I did manage to catch one or two of the talks:

On Wednesday afternoon, I caught Danae Shell (Co-founder and CEO of Valla, and general marketing guru who has been involved in helping to grow some pretty big-deal tech companies like Care Sourcer and FreeAgent). Danae’s talk was called “Stop Recruiting for Rockstars: The Skills You Really Want to Hire For, and Why”. I reckon it struck a chord with a few folk – we’ve all rolled our eyes at adverts/job specs which are loaded with calls for “rockstars”, “ninjas”, “unicorns” and “10x Engineers”.

The idea of hiring the “Rockstar”, posits Danae, comes from an outdated view of the environment we are hiring in (this “old school” view is based on Taylorism or Scientific Management). No Rockstar can save you from the craziness of 2019, sadly!

Danae describes the modern landscape as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), an acronym coined by the US Army after the Cold War – and hiring in a VUCA environment means seeking out personality attributes which can help us navigate this turbulent environment, rather than relying on someone exceptional to "save the day".

Some attributes we should be hiring for while VUCA-proofing our teams (rather than focusing on those elusive 10xers):

Vulnerability

Problem-seeking

Consistency

Context setting

Comfort with uncertainty

Danae closed with a thought which really stuck with me; while hiring new people, it is important not to forget about your existing team. Maybe you have some unsung heroes already working for you - people who are as deserving of praise as any Rockstar…I recently got hooked on Silicon Valley and there’s a great quote where series underdog Nelson "Big Head" Bighetti admits “Richard is a 10xer. I'm barely a 1xer.” – but a team full of Big Heads, might just end up more productive than a team full of big headed rockstars!