I was surprised to discover recently that I have been involved in engineering recruitment at Tyro for a good five years now. While at first I considered it a necessary but unwelcome distraction from my work, looking back now, I must say that it has actually been a very rewarding experience. I, along with my fellow hiring team colleagues, have had the opportunity to shape the Tyro engineering team into what it is today, and into what it will become in the future.
At the end of each of our face-to-face interviews, we give the candidate the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have on their mind. One of the things that we like to point out during our interviews is that our engineers seem to enjoy working here and, as a result, our staff turnover is relatively low compared to other software jobs. This often prompts the question, “what is it that has kept you here?”.
Naturally, different interviewers answer this question in different ways. Most of our interviewers have been with us for over five years, so they do have the perspective to provide some personal insight into this question.
Many talk about real work-life balance. We had an amusing moment in a recent interview where the candidate told us that they had heard that we enforce a 5pm finish. It’s not true, of course; no-one is tasked with herding people into the lifts as soon as the clock strikes five. Rather, we live by the motto, “work hard and go home” – we put in a good day’s work, then we get back to whatever it is that helps us to relax and unwind, be it family, friends, hobbies or personal pursuits (some engineers like to write code in Common Lisp in their free time, and that’s fine by us). We’re an XP team, and we truly believe in the idea of sustainable pace – the idea that our work is more akin to a marathon than to a sprint, and that burning out our team for the accomplishment of short-term goals is both damaging for our people and counterproductive for our business.
I have seen many workplaces where they proudly proclaim that they officially have 40-hour weeks, but if you head for the door before 6:30 or 7pm, then you’re probably the first one to do so, and you have to endure the “long walk of shame” past the judging eyes of your colleagues and managers. Peer pressure overrides any company platitudes of work-life balance in that sort of environment. At Tyro, everyone who has been around for a while gets up at 5pm and heads for the exit, because they are happy that they have done their best for eight hours. Guess what our new engineers learn very quickly to do? So do we enforce a 5pm finish? No, but that’s a reputation that we’re not unhappy to have.
Others talk about the fact that at Tyro, they feel that they can actually make a noticeable contribution. Most likely those people have worked at places in the past where they felt that they were nothing more than a tiny cog in a huge machine, and that their personal contribution probably didn’t make a huge difference to the long-term success of the organisation. We have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) in that since our inception, we have had many, many more good ideas than we have had the engineers to implement them. This means that our people are never “treading water” – we are always working on something of strategic importance to the company. If I look around at the engineers who have been with us for more than a couple of years, I can point to at least a couple of important pieces of work that each has played an integral role in delivering. Knowing that you have made a positive contribution does wonders for one’s happiness in the workplace.
Another reason is the fact that our people can actually see, touch and feel the fruits of their labour. I’ve previously been involved in work where all I was doing was enhancing a system for persons whom I would never meet working in an office that I would never visit. My work may have made their lives better, but if it did, I would never learn of it. The nice thing about working on a product, particularly one that has gained a (small) foothold in the market, is that on my stroll around the CBD at lunch time, I can pass dozens of small business using our terminals. There’s a small twinge of pride that goes along with paying for a coffee using a payment terminal that is running a program that you committed code to.
For me, though, the reasons go a little deeper. My first reason is that here at Tyro there is a great belief across all parts of the organisation that what we’re doing matters; that our cause is just. We are building products aimed at making the lives of small business owners easier. We’re the little guy helping out the other little guys.
In a previous life, I was a consultant with one of the worldwide IT consultancies. For the first couple of years, most of my work was in the finance sector, creating systems that would save large organisations a bit of money in the medium to long term. The work was interesting enough, but there was really little that could be called noble about the cause. “Creating shareholder value” is a little too detached from reality to make one feel good about their work.
I then had the opportunity to work on a project in the health sector improving post-hospital discharge patient care. Suddenly I was doing something that was actually helping people in a real and tangible way, and the difference in my job satisfaction was dramatic.
At Tyro, we often get feedback from our merchants profusely thanking us for implementing feature X or Y, telling us how much easier it has made the running of their business. It’s easy to show up to the office every morning when you know that what you are doing makes a real difference to the lives of real people.
My second reason relates to how the Tyro engineering team fits into our wider organisation. We have the following hanging on the wall in our engineering space:
The logo was constructed by Matt, one of Tyro’s longest serving people and a self-confessed Lego nut. Kickstarter aficionados might recognise the sign below it. I was a backer of the Ouya – an Android-based games console that was crowdfunded via Kickstarter in 2012-13. Inside the console’s packaging was this sign – “Thank you for believing”, thanking the funders for making the product idea a reality. I put the sign to the side while I played with the console itself, but after a couple of days, I realised that the words made a perfect “unofficial motto” for our engineering team.
You see, our team has always believed that no matter how difficult the challenge, we have both the skill and the fortitude to overcome it. We hire smart people who openly admit when they don’t know the answer, and who then do their very best to figure it out. Freed from the pressure of artificial deadlines and petty office politics, the people on our team are in an environment where they can produce their best work.
Coupled with this is the support that our engineering team receives from all corners of the organisation. Founded by three engineers, Tyro has technology in its DNA. We truly believe that our deep understanding of technology provides us with a real competitive advantage. We have delivered some impressive results over the years, and we continue to produce innovative products that our entire organisation gets right behind. We don’t always get it right on the first go, but with responsible and passionate people in a supportive environment, we’re certain that in the end, we can justify the faith that our organisation, our investors and our customers have in us. Which is why I personally find great resonance with the motto, “Thank you for believing”.