Diversity, as a concept in technical recruiting and hiring, covers a lot of ground. It can include race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and religion. Diversity can also include different thinking, working, and communication styles. But there’s one specific form of diversity doesn’t get a lot of press, but is extremely important for companies that want to build innovative engineering teams: experience diversity.
Experience diversity basically refers to having a variety of different life experiences and backgrounds. These experiences will naturally lead to different viewpoints and problem-solving styles. From the perspective of an engineering team, two important factors in experience diversity are a candidate’s schooling and their work history. When hiring engineers, a candidate who comes from an educational background that’s not the expected path for an engineer (a computer science degree, preferably from a “good” school) is bringing experience diversity to the table. And someone who comes from a different industry, or perhaps even from different starting career, also has experience diversity to offer to an engineering team.
Of course, people have other life experiences that impact how they work and interact with a team. These can include their cultural backgrounds and their geographic backgrounds. (Since different regions have different work expectations and norms, a developer who’s only worked in Silicon Valley will work differently than a developer who’s only worked in Dallas’s Silicon Prairie.) Essentially, when you are considering experience diversity, think about the ways a person’s lived experiences, both personal and professional, will inform their unique perspectives, strengths, and problem-solving tactics.
What happens without experience diversity?
Have you ever used a product and thought to yourself, Why didn’t they think about this very obvious issue? Often it’s because the people working on it didn’t even consider that use case! Homogenous teams tend to have fairly limited perspectives. People don’t know what they don’t know. And engineering teams can’t solve for problems they don’t know exist. So if a team is composed primarily of people who have similar experiences and backgrounds, there are problems and use cases that they simply won’t think of.
People with similar backgrounds are often like-minded because they have similar experiences to draw from. Consider the echo-chamber effect, where voices amplify voices that are similar to their own. Affirmation from like-minded colleagues creates a feedback loop that can squelch innovative, outside-the-box thinking.
Why experience diversity matters
Diversity is an asset to companies, and the whole engineering team benefits when it’s composed of diverse members. Psychological research indicates that members of diverse teams are more likely to question their own biases and look at problems from different viewpoints. Diverse teams are better able to think about issues from different perspectives, and work accordingly. Teams comprised of people from a broad range of life experiences are more innovative and adaptable. Since they pull from a variety of viewpoints, the teams can more rapidly assess and adapt to new challenges. Additionally, studies show that diverse companies are both more successful and more profitable than competitor companies that lack diversity.
Say your engineering team is composed solely of people who graduated with computer science degrees from large schools. They will necessarily think about problems and create solutions from that perspective. But if you hire engineers who came from different industries before becoming engineers, you’ve automatically injected new points of view into your process. Different experiences breed new perspectives! People who aren’t industry insiders bring fresh solutions to problems.
Get a broad range of perspectives beyond your company’s tech stack, your vertical, and beyond even the tech industry itself. Your company will give itself a serious competitive edge! In an industry that’s constantly changing and growing, experience diversity is extremely important.
So how do you increase experience diversity in your own company?
Remove arbitrary barriers
Remove language in job descriptions (if you’re using them) that set up arbitrary barriers for interested applicants. Stating that the role requires a computer science degree or a certain number of years of industry experience are usually meant to indicate that a role requires a certain skill level. But a degree and years of experience are imperfect proxies for skills. And they often cause qualified candidates to self-select themselves out of the process! Remove limiting language like this. Instead, focus on the skills necessary to do the job successfully.
Use skills-based recruiting techniques
Skills-based recruiting, also known as skills-based hiring, uses machine learning to take inefficiency and human error out of the tech recruiting process. It helps you ensure a candidate meets or exceeds all the technical specifications for a specific position before you even talk to them. A tool like CodeSignal Recruiter Test helps you assess skills using an unbiased, automatic platform that circumvents people’s natural unconscious biases. When you hire based on skills, not on background and credentials, your experience diversity – and your overall diversity – will increase.
Widen your net
Recruit and hire people who come from outside of the tech industry. And be open to hiring people who might be in tech already, but come from different verticals or specialties. If the skills and the interest are there, they’ll learn about the particulars of your stack and vertical market, and they’ll bring exciting new perspectives. So instead of automatically rejecting a candidate because they don’t have a computer science degree or any relevant industry work, consider how their unique work experiences might enhance your team. Then send them a coding assessment and see how they do!
Having an engineering team full of people from diverse backgrounds doesn’t just happen by accident. When it comes to candidates, focus on skills first and foremost. Just because a candidate doesn’t fit your idea of what an engineer looks like, or doesn’t have the “right” background, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a great fit. That’s why it’s so important to have objective skill data to inform your recruiting and hiring processes.
People with diverse experiences will challenge assumptions and beliefs. These engineers will shake things up at your company, in the best way possible. So start hiring for experience diversity, and watch as your engineering team becomes even more innovative!
CodeSignal Recruiter is a skills-based recruiting platform for modern hiring teams. The platform gives companies the tools they need to source, test, and measure engineers. CodeSignal Recruiter will help you start focusing on skills and increasing experience diversity on your engineering team. Sign up today for a free demo!