SaaS Engineering Talent Quality vs Quantity
By Katie Burns
Apr 09 2019
In my experience, leading a tech company for over ten years, SaaS engineering talent is the hardest to find. I was at a barbecue over the weekend and ended up commiserating with another CEO over the challenges and philosophies around SaaS engineering quality vs. quantity. We all know that demand outstrips supply for software engineers, but different companies deal with that challenge in different ways. And in a secondary tech market (like Nashville), scarcity and quality are exacerbated by a fundamental, underlying shortage at every level. It’s not just competitive, like Boston. They’re not even here.
Focusing on SaaS Engineering Talent Quality
I would rather have three rock star engineers than five or six B players. I’m generally a quality over quantity guy, and amp up that predisposition quite a bit when it comes to product development. Over the course of that barbecue conversation, we roughed out a list of why quality makes so much sense, and why the ridiculous salaries have high ROI.
So, here are my top five reasons for hiring the best software engineers:
TOP SAAS ENGINEERS LIKE TO WORK WITH OTHER TOP ENGINEERS
Yes, this makes the first rock star hard to get, but from there on out, things get easier. In a cutthroat recruiting and retention world, team and job satisfaction are essential motivators in attracting and retaining top SaaS engineering talent.
TOP SAAS ENGINEERS ARE FASTER THAN THEY ARE EXPENSIVE
I’ll never forget a reaction I got in an M&A process when I shared our engineering comp and headcount. The analyst was comparing our little team of Boston-based engineers with our innovation, scale, customer count and release cadence. He was dumbfounded and thought there was a mistake. There was no mistake. That well-heeled group more than paid for itself with stellar productivity and efficiency.
TOP SAAS ENGINEERS CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE
Personal excellence and accountability are both infectious and competitive. As you may know from my recent post on transparency, everyone knew how everyone else was performing. That can be a lot of pressure. But again, top engineers take that accountability personally and turn it into the expectation that everything must and should be excellent — all the time. They expect that of themselves and everyone around them. That’s cool. And it serves the culture in extraordinary ways.
TOP SAAS ENGINEERS DON’T PUNT
Confidence is a powerful thing. Top SaaS engineering talent doesn’t give up. They are dogged in their relentless pursuit of solutions to even the most perplexing challenges. Most of us in SaaS are in highly competitive situations that require constant innovation with consistent iterative improvement layered on top. The confidence to consistently attack, innovate and deliver market-leading products is what leads to a lucrative future. Top engineers do just that.
TOP SAAS ENGINEERS TAKE FAILURE PERSONALLY
Bugs and technical debt are distracting and consequently expensive. Top SaaS engineering talent takes defects personally. As a result, there are fewer bugs and rollbacks. Customers are happier, retention and expansion benefit, and the product spends more time in innovation cycles. Pride of authorship combined with a sense of ownership results in near-flawless execution that drives the product and company forward.
The Other Side of the Coin
The other side of my M&A conversation (above) that I didn’t disclose was that he thought we were nuts to pay our team what we paid them. There are plenty of companies that look at their SaaS engineering talent a bit like they look at their sales talent — some will, some won’t, so what, move on. They pay less and get less, but average it out across a much larger team. To each their own, but if I’m running a SaaS company to differentiate and accelerate via product and market fit, I’m betting on the best SaaS engineering talent, assembled in a small, incredibly productive and efficient team.