SENLA was founded in 2012 and has grown to more than 700 highly skilled tech workers. What’s surprising is that throughout all these years SENLA has been consistently adding top 3%-level tech talent to its team.
SENLA’s CEO on tech talent nurturing
We sat down with Igor Danilov, SENLA’s CEO, to talk about talent nurture programs that have been established and evolving for more than ten years both inside and outside the company, and how he managed to scale top-caliber talent acquisition to two hundred specialists per year in an incredibly competitive market.
How it all happens
Igor, how does the majority of tech talent join SENLA?
Most of our engineers come from our own talent academies, called Schools of Development, a project we started more than 10 years ago at a tech college campus, to give all students an opportunity to succeed in an IT career. Right now we have 7 Schools located at different college and university campuses across the country. All our Schools are free of charge.
Schools of Development vs Traditional programs
How are these Schools different from 2 or 4 year tech talent programs at colleges and universities?
Universities are too slow to match the pace of software development innovation. By the time you reach your last year at a university, there will be new technologies, new languages, new frameworks. Most of the work you do is very impractical, so we are actively trying to change that.
Our IT talent programs last 8 months and are designed around very specific qualities we are looking for at a potential SENLA hire. Our goal is to give students an environment that will allow them to grow their skills in true to life software development scenarios. Skills that are applicable, highly relevant to the industry and resonate with students.
What are some of the skills that you value at SENLA?
Curiosity is number one. We strongly believe in continuous learning, there is simply no other way to succeed in this business. Curiosity and learning are the two sides of the same coin. You can really tell a lot about what kind of engineer and a colleague someone will be by observing the way they learn, what kind of questions they ask, the way they solve problems.
It goes in the opposite direction as well: students can peek into the world of software development and get insights about what qualities they need to develop to succeed.
We value top-notch technical prowess, but soft skills are equally important. Trust, communication within the team and clients, loyalty, empathy towards your peers, these are all absolutely necessary skills to join SENLA.
Up-to-date tech talent programs
How do you make sure your tech talent programs are up-to-date and relevant?
Real life experience is something you can’t teach, you have to code through it. All our curriculum is developed around real life cases: building a marketplace, or a social network, or a mobile app. By the time you graduate from our Schools with a certificate of completion there will be dozens of headhunters looking your way.
That’s also the reason why our programs last 8 months – it gives us enough time to reassess the market trends and come up with an offering that will attract the top tech talent pool. Because they already know what skills are hot at the moment and they are looking to train in them specifically.
Hiring programs graduates
Who gets to join SENLA after finishing one of your IT talent programs?
We hire only the top 3-5% of the students who complete and graduate from our Schools. So out of 100 students, only 3 to 5 people will start an IT career in SENLA. Because we have years of data and experience, we’ve been scaling up our facilities around the country to sustain our own growth.
We have very real exams that are conducted every other month to make sure that you are not just coasting and are serious about your intentions of becoming a software engineer. If you fail to pass three tests, we recommend you come back next year.
Our competitors are more than happy to snag graduates from our programmes. Maybe we are doing our work a bit too well (laughs).
Online talent academies
Are there online versions of your IT talent programs?
Every school year we kick off with a special event called Sensei IT. This event is geared towards anyone who’d like to switch a career and join IT. It gathers thousands of attendees of different professions, ages and levels of education. Teachers, policemen, waiters, musicians, all kinds of people are interested in tech and we try to guide them through the crazy world of options and possibilities available to them.
There are so many choices nowadays, from being a QA engineer, or a UX designer to a DevOps specialist, that most people freeze and go with the first “obvious” option: software engineer. We created these events to outline the steps required for anyone to make a knowledgeable decision and find something that they will actually enjoy doing.
Collaborations in tech talent programs
What’s your relationship with colleges and universities?
They actually recommend our tech talent programs to all of their students. Professors and teachers know the quality of our intensive curriculum and encourage everyone to sign up, as it can be a sureproof start to an IT career. They know we are more agile and have more practical experience than is available at any of the colleges.
I see our relationship as a collaboration, rather than competition.
L&D for the newcomers
What happens after a graduate joins SENLA?
Just as we’ve been working on attracting new IT talent, we have been deploying, testing and developing Learning and Development initiatives for all our employees.
We have a massive L&D Department and a Competency Center that are both responsible for making sure our people have the mastery of the skills to do their jobs efficiently, maintain high levels of engagement and motivation, feel connected and taken care of.
Everyone at SENLA creates a Personal Development Plan together with their mentor and works on achieving their goals and objectives. We encourage our tech talent to share their knowledge and speak at in-house and public events, mentor others or become a Guardian of Skills, a person who has mastered a certain skill to such a high degree, that they are known in the company as a most trustworthy expert on the subject.
Tech talent investments
Do you think investment in L&D to nurture tech talent has brought tangible business results for SENLA?
Absolutely! I believe that if your employees are happy, your clients will be happy. After more than a decade of hard work we have a sophisticated highly-tuned mechanism to attract and retain top tech talent. Our attrition rate is at 6% annually, which is one of the lowest in the industry.
We don’t rely on headhunters or recruiting: we nurture our own people, so when they become part of the team they fit perfectly and share our company’s values, ethics and skills. Projects run smoothly, people are more engaged with their work and our clients can sense that.
At the end of the day, an office without people is just a building filled with furniture and gadgets, it’s not a company. It is people who make companies thrive or fall, so investing into people is the way to go.