Back to resources

Building a Diverse, but Cohesive Team

Different Skillsets
Building A Team
Diversity
Cultural Differences

30 December, 2020

Daniel Burke
Daniel Burke

Engineering Manager at Square

Daniel Burke, Engineering Manager at Square, describes how he built a diverse team -- in all possible ways -- that championed cohesion and collaboration in their most unique way.

Problem

I was tasked with building a mobile engineering team at my previous company. I was looking to build a team that would provide growth opportunities and help me balance the workload across the team. Not only was I a big believer in diversity, but I was also a pragmatic who was aware of the tangible benefits diversity provides to the business.

One of the main challenges with building a team is that we tend to hire people similar to us and as we scale we end up with what we started with. I wanted to build a diverse team -- in all possible ways -- and make it cohesive and collaborative in spite of all the differences. I wanted to have people of different mindsets, backgrounds, seniorities, tenures, skills, and skill levels and was much more interested in what people could add to the team than if they would merely fit.

Actions taken

Intentional sourcing

I looked into my network and being from an underrepresented group myself, many people I reached out to also had the same background. This is often the problem, but given that I was the only black engineer in my company at that time, it was in fact empowering for different underrepresented groups. For example, the first person I hired was of Mexican ethnicity and that sent an encouraging signal to other people as well.

What helped me secure diversity of all sorts was the widely casted net and intentional sourcing. I started my sourcing by plucking people directly and filling the funnel with under-resourced candidates.

I also connected with several boot camps from the area and signed up as a mentor and several engineers going through the boot camp had me as their contact. For example, one of my early hires was completing a boot camp when I managed to slot them in our apprenticeship program. I also went to meetups and local engineering events to make people aware that it was a part of our culture to be inclusive.

In-house programs

I introduced two new, in-house programs:

a. Though we already had an internship program I was more interested in training applicants who were not coming from traditional pipelines. To do so, I developed an apprenticeship program, pitched the idea to leadership and managed to secure funding. The apprenticeship program would last for six months during which our apprentices would have to acquire twelve core competencies.

b. I encouraged and offered support to engineers transitioning from one type of engineering to another. The apprenticeship program already established the list of competencies needed for different engineering roles that we could use to help with the transition. For example, we hired a QA engineer who wanted to switch to mobile engineering and we used the list of competencies to develop a plan that would help them make that transition to our team.

Expectations settings

Most companies have levels -- if you are level 3 or 4 you should be able to do this and that. But oftentimes these descriptions are ambiguous and imprecise. Therefore, we decided to plot out the concrete skills needed for different roles that included competencies relating to database technologies, languages, or design patterns. One of the reasons companies are reluctant to hire junior engineers is because they are uncertain how to guide them along their career path. I was intentionally hiring at various levels -- from level 3 to 7 -- ensuring diversity of seniority and skills.

Lessons learned

  • People add more than they fit. On that team back then, I had one person who started out as a designer and became an engineer but I also had people with physics or neuroscience majors who all became engineers. Also, the age gap was around 15 years, some people were very outdoorsy and gregarious and others quiet and contemplative, etc. I would have one-on-ones that would regularly last one hour and those that would hardly last 15 minutes every two weeks. Because of all these differences, they complemented each other well without me having a mould to measure if people would fit.
  • Every kind of diversity brings a unique perspective and adds to unique team culture. We were hiring people from ethnic and gender diverse backgrounds, people from a university pipeline and career switchers, and people who went through a traditional route.
  • Intentional culture building takes time. As I was building the team I knew I wanted one very senior engineer and went after the ideal candidate who was very experienced and social impact-minded. We put a hard sell on this person and they didn’t accept our offer. They went to another company, but a year later they reached out to us telling us that they would like to be part of our team. Also, it took a lot of time and effort to develop people from the apprenticeship program and make them competent and skillful engineers.
  • Non-traditional backgrounds add value and creativity. People coming from different backgrounds would have their own distinct way of solving problems or bouncing off ideas.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

The Importance of Culture and Values When Building Teams

26 May

Elwin Lau, Director of Software at Jana, advocates the importance of maintaining culture within a company when scaling teams.

Mission / Vision / Charter
Scaling Team
Building A Team
Company Culture
Collaboration
Onboarding
Sharing The Vision
Elwin Lau

Elwin Lau

Director of Software at JANA Corporation

10x engineer or 10x impact?

26 May

Hiring 10x engineers is hard for most companies. It’s a tough battle out there for talent. So how should most companies approach building their team?

Building A Team
Leadership
Hiring
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Vaidik Kapoor

Vaidik Kapoor

VP Engineering - DevOps & Security at Grofers

How to Streamline Your Recruitment Process for Quick and Effective Hiring

26 May

Philip Gollucci, Director of Cloud Engineering at CareRev, describes a new method for hiring in a market climate that favors candidates instead of recruiters.

Scaling Team
Building A Team
Hiring
Philip Gollucci

Philip Gollucci

CEO/Founder at P6M7G8 Inc.

How to Maximize Employee Retention in Engineering Teams

25 May

Vimal Patel, Founder and CTO at iMORPHr, shares how he retained all of his employees since beginning his software development company in 2019.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Hiring
Retention
Psychological Safety
Vimal Patel

Vimal Patel

Director of Engineering at iMORPHr

Hiring a Data Team With a Stubborn Manager

24 May

Liz Henderson, an Executive consultant at Capgemini, shares her experience hiring a data team with a manager who was difficult to work with.

Managing Up
Building A Team
Conflict Solving
Hiring
Data Team
Liz Henderson

Liz Henderson

Executive consultant at Capgemini

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.